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67 years ago: Assault on the Soviet Union

Seventy-six years ago today, on June 22, 1941, the German Reich invaded the Soviet Union. The campaign was planned as a “eugenic” war of extermination from the very start. The objectives were to exploit the people and territories economically, conquer “lebensraum,” and systematically murder the Jewish population as well as the Soviet élite. Millions starved in the conquered territories as a result of the invasion. The Nazis suspended military jurisdiction in their dealings with civilians and prisoners alike.

Millions of Soviet prisoners of war likewise fell victim to the Nazi policy of extermination. Between June 1941 and May 1945, the Germans captured and imprisoned nearly six million Soviet soldiers. One in every two members of the Red Army died of systematic undernourishment in captivity– in the camps, on marches, or while performing forced labor. By way of comparison: approximately 97 percent of all Western Allied soldiers taken prisoner of war by the Germans survived their imprisonment.

The ITS has in its holdings many documents pertaining to these crimes. One map, for example, shows the POW camps on German Reich territory known to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1943. Nearly 1,200 death reports from the POW camp on Bergisch Landstrasse in the Gerresheim district of Düsseldorf bear witness to the murders that took place there. The number of Russian prisoners of war committed to that camp increased from June 1941 onward.