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The political role of prisoners of war in postwar Germany

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  1. German prisoners taken by the Soviet's.
  2. POW's in Soviet camps.
  3. POWs as crucial pieces in the SED's propagandist.
  4. End of repatriation of soldiers.
  5. Political role played by German POWs.

In the period immediately following its defeat in the Second World War Germany was faced with many problems: rebuilding itself after the destruction of the war, re-establishing a political infrastructure, and coming to grips with its Nazi past. Although these were critical issues, perhaps one of the most serious was the matter of the millions of prisoners of war taken by the Soviet army and expellees that were driven out of eastern German territories in the wake of the Soviet push in the spring of 1945. Both of these issues were at the forefront of postwar German society, in particular the question of the POW's. The absence of millions of German men and subsequent reintegration process into the two post-war societies had tremendous political ramifications for both the Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic. Politically, the former POWs were crucial pieces in the emergence of postwar German politics. In both the East and the West, returning prisoners of war were used to the political advantage of their respective governments

[...] In particular, former POWs played an immense role in the rearmament of East Germany via the paramilitary Alert Police or People's Police. Many joined not out of any real communist zeal, but out of necessity. In his book, The Russians in Germany, Norman Naimark describes the options that some of these men had, some cases, POWs already on their way home at the transfer station in Frankfurt-Oder were offered a choice of working in the mines in the Erzgebirge or joining the Alert Police.?[11] Another description in Biess's piece describes how some POWs in Russia were simply offered release in exchange for their service in this new (East) German military[12]. [...]


[...] One incident mentioned in Biess's piece had former prisoners of war yelling that they ?were only hungry and that many of us perished? and that they did not ?want to have a thing to do with the Russians?[15]. Despite episodes like that, these meetings did play an important role in the creation of the SED's political agenda. Biess writes, publicly demonstrating the transformation of former soldiers of Hitler's army into ideal antifascist citizens, the conferences assumed a larger symbolic importance for all (East) Germans[16]?. [...]


[...] Although the vast majority of West Germans were overjoyed with the news that the War could finally come to an end in their personal lives, there were those who looked more critically at the implications of Adenauer's decision. For example German reporter Marion Grafin Donhoff claimed the settlement as an ?acceptance of the division of Germany? and that it provided ?freedom of tens of thousands [but] sealed the servitude of seventeen million [East Germans]?[27]. At least one observer in the United States felt in a similar manner. [...]

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