German prisoners on the east front

Dec 2012
In the past, I've read terrible things about the treatment received by German prisoners caught by the Soviets during WWII. They were almost regularly shot on the spot if caught during a small unit action, or, if they were "lucky" enough to be taken alive as POWs in a negotiated surrender and then transferred to a prison camp, their chance to see Germany again (after many many years) was about 5%, with the majority starving to death in the first months after capture.

Then I've read other sources that present a less dramatic view of the German POWs fate (a death rate of 40, 50 %).
I've seen a video (
at 14:20) where the german death rate in soviet camps is estimated at 13,5%
Well It's hard for me to believe it.

My question is: what is the truth about this?

p.s. this is not about negating harsh treatment of soviet POWs by the Germans, I just want to know the truth.


Jan 2018
San Antonio
I grew up on the in Chicago and the janitor of the apartment building next door to ours was a German immigrant. He fought on the Eastern Front and was captured by the Soviets who kept him captive for a couple of years after the war ended and worked his ass off. I reckon the Soviets figured "you busted it, you fix it".

As I recall they cut him loose in 1948.
Dec 2012
@ Zip: I was asking for sources and estimates and not single stories but I appreciated your answer. Your german immigrant was lucky, because the last POWs were released in the mid 50's


Ad Honorem
Sep 2012
There is the famous photograph of German POWS in tens of thousands (IIRC 50 thousands) being marched in Moscow, and thereafter the Moscow roads being sprinkled with some chemicals which were supposed to kill lice or some creatures like them, which shows how contemptuously they thought of the German POWs.

Tercios Espanoles

Ad Honorem
Mar 2014
Beneath a cold sun, a grey sun, a Heretic sun...
My friend's (Polish) dad was a Red Army guard for German prisoners of war in a Siberian camp. He didn't mention any specific maltreatment, but I didn't ask about it either. He did mention that their camp had no wire, which wasn't considered a problem because there was nowhere to go if one ran away...
Dec 2012
@ Isleifson: thanks (but I can't understand what they say in this movie).

Anyway, I was looking for an analysis, sources, data, etc. not individual experiences or episodes.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
Late Cretaceous
These figures are from wiki:

Soviet Sources:

According to Russian historian Grigori F Krigoshiv Soviet NKVD figures list 2,733,739 German "Wehrmacht"(Военнопленные из войск вермахта) POWs taken with 381,067 having died in captivity.

German Estimates:

According to German historian Rudiger Overmans, ca 3,000,000 POW were taken by the USSR, he put the "maximum" number of German POW deaths in Soviet hands at 1.0 million. Based on his research, Overmans believes that the deaths of 363,000 POWs in Soviet captivity can be confirmed by the files of Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt) in addition he maintains that "It seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that 700,000 German military personnel listed as missing actually died in Soviet custody".

These figures vary from a death rate of 13.9% to 33%.
Last edited:


Ad Honoris
May 2011
Navan, Ireland
As a teenager I read the book below

It about a German POW who is 'sentenced' to a lead map in Siberia (he can almost see Alaska) and escapes and walks to Turkey
  • Like
Reactions: authun