1944: Six German POWs, for Stalingrad’s Dulag-205

On this date in 1944, Wehrmacht Oberst Rudolf Körpert, his deputy Hauptmann Carl Frister, and officers Fritz Müsenthin, Otto Mäder, Richard Seidlitz and Kurt Wohlfarth, were shot in the Soviet Union for their treatment of Russian prisoners of war at Stalingrad.

This was nearly two years on since the Germans had surrendered the eastern front’s horrific signature battle.

The six captured men were principals at the little-known Dulag-205, a transit camp the Wehrmacht erected at Stalingrad for Soviet prisoners of war pending westward deportation to less extemporaneous prisons. (And less extemporaneous mistreatment.)

A minuscule 10 acres, the camp was eventually crammed with up to 3,400 prisoners, triple its anticipated capacity. There was nowhere to send them once the Germans were fatally encircled, and as supplies failed in the last terrible weeks of the besieged Kessel (“cauldron”), the subsistence prisoner rations of putrefying-horseflesh soup were cut off entirely.

Several dozen dropped dead of starvation, overwork, and summary execution each day thence until the merciful end. When the Red Army finally took control of the camp on Jan. 22, 1943, it discovered corpses with obvious signs of cannibalism.

Frank Ellis has the definitive treatment of this affair in “Dulag-205: The German Army’s Death Camp for Soviet Prisoners at Stalingrad” (Journal of Slavic Military Studies, March 2006), and the facts in this posts are drawn from Ellis’s examination of the Dulag-205 interrogation and trial records.*

Our captured men enjoyed the company of NKVD and SMERSH interrogators for a number of months, under what duresses one shudders to imagine.

The rescued Soviet soldiers — who were themselves suspect in the eyes of Stalinist authorities merely for having been captured — provided ample firsthand corroboration of Dulag-205’s miserable conditions.

“The guards were allowed to shoot without any warning at prisoners who approached the barbed wire barrier, who tried to jump the queue for food and at prisoners who tried to have a piss in the wrong place,” one POW told his Soviet interrogators. “Hardly any water or bread was given to the prisoners. The prisoners slept in the dugouts without any bedding, jammed tight. The prisoners were never able to rest since they had to sleep standing and sitting. … There were no baths in the camp. During my whole time in the camp — about 5 months — I did not wash once.”

Moscow had by this time already begun rolling out war crimes trials relating to the German invasion. The guys who were captured with starving Red Army prisoners cannibalizing one another were going to be a prime target.

The subaltern officers, according to Ellis, generally tried to put the blame on Körpert and further up the chain of command, and understandably so. Mäder was a mere adjutant. Siedlitz was the director of camp construction. They weren’t the ones who got the Sixth Army encircled or cut prisoner rations or even made camp-specific decisions like when to set the dogs on a disobedient captive. They had no ability to transfer the prisoners back to the Soviets or to any less horrible detention on their side of the lines. Otto Mäder:

My service in the Dulag was a great spiritual torment for me. It was dreadful to see the terrible condition of Russian prisoners.

I stand before the court at that time when the main culprits responsible for the death of 3,000 Soviet prisoners — Field Marshall Paulus, the army’s chief-of-staff, General Schmidt, Lieutenant-Colonel Kunowski and the army quartermaster — do not stand before the court. They are not only guilty of the death of Soviet prisoners-of-war, but have put us on the accused’s bench!

You’d expect the guy to say that to a Soviet tribunal, certainly — especially a lawyer, which Mäder was also — but that doesn’t make it untrue. This case was actually evaluated in post-Soviet Russia for possible posthumous rehabilitation. (No dice.)

Intriguingly, the Wehrmacht officers were not tried for violations of the Geneva Conventions; indeed, the USSR had not ratified all of the Geneva Conventions, and this put Germany (which had ratified them) in an ambiguous position relative to its non-ratifying belligerent. (A less kind way to say it might be that the difference served to rationalize dreadfully inhumane treatment.)

Rather, Körpert et al were charged under Soviet laws promulgated only after the Battle of Stalingrad, a sketchy maneuver which Ellis thinks suggests that prosecutors hoped to avoid setting a precedent that could be cited by Germany relative to the USSR’s none-too-gentle treatment of its own prisoners of war.

* Ellis also has a topical recent book out, The Stalingrad Cauldron: Inside the Encirclement and Destruction of the 6th Army.

On this day..

14 thoughts on “1944: Six German POWs, for Stalingrad’s Dulag-205

  1. Of course those who survived would have given accounts that jibed 100% those who would have given a different account did not live to tell their tale. Then think about this,
    if this was a preplanned massacre why were there 43 surviviors. Are you implying that the SS troops lacked the expierence to carry out a massacre of unarmed people with leaving survivors behind? Furthermore why would the SS implement a policy to carry out massacres of US soldiers on such a limited scale? If the SS was interested in massacring US soldiers as a matter of policy it could have murdered tens of thousands not 88.
    Third if the deaths of these American soldiers was the result of an unplanned massacre carried out by young soldiers who had received to litlle training the heroism of the American soldiers is in no way diminished.
    Considering these factors it is my opinion that this evemt did not happen they way the Americans report. I am not calling the survivors liars just mistaken. Being there does not mean that they can not have been mistaken. The event as I read it rom a German point of view just flat out makes more sense.
    Does the fact that I think that Americans have misunderstood this particular event make me a SS or Wehrmacht sympathizer? I just try to be both sceptical and open minded. It is a balance that can not be taught because no one can say what the balance between scepticism and open mindedness is. Balancing between scepitcism and open mindedness is an art not a science.

  2. Approximately 120 American Prisoners were in a field at Baugnez crossroads, a couple miles from Malmedy on Dec 17 1944. SS troops opened fire on the prisoners with machine guns. This was a war crime and an atrocity resulting in 88 deaths. 43 people did survive this illegal execution and gave testimony. The survivors were interviewed separately and their accounts all jibed 100%. No credible historian has ever made or verified the account by Curt, which is posted above.

    Many facts and incidents do get clouded by the unclear nature of pitched battle. The Malmedy Massacre is not one of those cases, it is well documented and historical fact. It was a mass murder of combat troops in uniform by German SS troops.

    I hope it gets taught to Americans for another 100 years. We need to remember the sacrifice by those brave men.

  3. Not that it really matters to anyone who died at Malmady but there is another interpretation of what happened there other than the one that is constantly taught to Americans. I read this years ago. I no longer remember where. The other side of the story is a large group of American Prisoners was left guarded by a small group of German soldiers, either one of the Americans decided to try to over power one of the guards or the guards thought that they were under attack when they opened fire. So in that version the deaths of the Americans was either justified or it was an accident caused by the fog of war.

    • I’m glad KYGB mentioned Baugnez, as I’ve visited both Malmady and Baugnez, and was about to mention Baugnez as proof that the SS was involved in intentional murder in this region. Indeed, I visited the little hotel mentioned in John Toland’s book, BATTLE, where an SS trooper put his pistol in the mouths of eight Americans and murdered them in the rear of the hotel. Of course, once our guys heard about this, we started killing both Wehrmacht and SS troopers when captured. It just wasn’t going to be any other way.

      Malmady was murder, and the men convicted should have been put to death.

    • If it’s about nazi war crimes, there is always a German vailable who “once read”, but “does not remember where” that the crime didn’t happen, …

  4. Meaghan– you’re confusing killing POW’s with executing soldiers for Nazi war crimes. The men I mentioned above were tried in military court, were convicted, and should have been shot. That is not shooting prisoners.

    • I don’t have a problem with properly tried and convicted war criminals being executed. When I was talking about shooting POWs I was actually thinking of a book I was reading recently, written by a German woman who lived in Berlin when it was overrun by the Soviets. She had said she witnessed that sort of behavior on a regular basis. I should have mentioned that in my comment.

      That said, though, why is it that the Germans got (justly) punished for the crimes their side committed during the war, but the other side didn’t get punished for THEIR war crimes?

  5. Meaghan:

    The Germans began the bombing practice of destroying entire cities (see the bombing of Coventry, England) instead of bombing precise military targets. That they started it and we, the Allies, repaid in kind, did not make it a war crime. The blood of German citizens are on the heads of their leaders. Now, that’s outright warfare. But when I said that the Germans murdered 11 million people – 6 million Jews and 5 million others – that was actually murder and not warfare. As such, the Germans should consider themselves extremely lucky that more of them weren’t killed, i.e. they have nothing to complain about. That they got the worst of carpet bombing (we, the Allies, were better at it), well, they shouldn’t have started it in the first place. And finally…

    If there was ever a country worthy of burning completely to the ground, it was Germany in ww2. I’m not sure you understand just how evil they became during that time. Given what that country did to this world, the Germans should consider themselves very fortunate to have come out of it the way they did.

    • Trust me Kevin, I’m well aware of what the Germans did. I have read 506 books on the Holocaust, according to my Goodreads account. But that still doesn’t give the Allies the right to shoot their POWs.

  6. The Germans of WW2 must never complain about ANY treatment they received during the war., They murdered 11 million people outright (6 million Jews and 5 million others), and they turned the world into a whirlwind of violence and destruction. Whatever they received -from flattened cities, to the deaths of 4 million of their armed forces, they deserved every bit of it. Indeed, had not one German been left alive as the last shot was fired, no one would have shed a tear.

    As an aside, I can’t believe our government did not execute the men involved with the Malmady massacre. I don’t mean they should have executed Piper, as he wasn’t there. But they should have executed all those who eventually received the death penalty who were there and who fired a shot. But alas, we were too weak.

    • “The Germans of WW2 must never complain about ANY treatment they received during the war., They murdered 11 million people outright”

      The phrase “two wrongs don’t make a right” come to mind, Kevin. Understandable though it may be, one country committing war crimes does not give other countries the right to commit war crimes.

  7. The camp conditions described by the Soviet soldier are identical to those which the encircled 6th army soldiers were experiencing.

    It’s not a war crime to feed and supply your prisoners with the same as your own troops are receiving.

    • Do you really believe that the “camp conditions” for the POW were identical to the living conditions of the German invadors ? Apart from the cold weather, nothing was the same. The Geneva Convention is clear ; you have to treat the POW on a decent way. The Germans didn’t. The Herrenvolk considered the Russians as non-humans …

  8. It is hard as a Jew to feel any sympathy for these officers, as their army along with the SS ravaged Russia and killed so many people-Jews and non-Jews. The Werhmact was suppose to be clean as opposed to their fellow soldiers who served in the Waffen SS, but the more you read about WWII the more you find colussion and cooperation between the two when committing atrocities-particularly as related to the Holocasut. No sympathy here!

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