Branded a Traitor at Home
Moscow researcher Alexej Konopatchenkov spent four days at the International Tracing Service archives examining material on Russian prisoners of the concentration camp Mauthausen. “I was able to get an idea of the scope of the documents,” said the historian. “There is still only limited interest in the topic in Russia, but we “ ´have to understand our history.´ ”
The historian is president of the association of former Russian prisoners of Mauthausen and a doctoral candidate at the University of Moscow. His research combines the roughly 30,000 Russian prisoners of the concentration camp Mauthausen, nearly half of whom were forced labourers, and a quarter German auxiliary troops who defied Nazi orders. An additional 25 per cent of the Russians were Red Army prisoners of war, who stood slim chances of survival as the Nazis considered them to be “racially inferior” and assigned them to the hardest labor detail.
If Russian concentration camp prisoners managed to survive the German terror, they subsequently found themselves abandoned by the Stalinists. “They were considered traitors in their country after the end of the war. Those over 18 were immediately sent to the Gulag in Siberia,” said Konopatchenkov. The subject of concentration camp prisoners was taboo until Perestroika. Only Red Army heroes or those killed in action or who returned as victors were celebrated, which has hardly changed until now. Konopatchenkov thinks that “it will most likely be a generational question.” “The Great Patriotic War was a tragedy in Russian history which has left lasting damage.”
The association of survivors is working with students in order to focus their attention on the fates of concentration camp prisoners through cultural and educational projects. Currently the association has almost 200 members, among them nearly 50 survivors. It relies solely on donations and volunteer members; there are no government subsidies. “Only a few former concentration camp prisoners remain, and they have no public voice.” Moreover, many survivors emigrated to the USA after the war, reported Konopatchenkov. “They usually let go of their past so we would very much like to connect with them now.”
Next year the historian plans to spend more time in Bad Arolsen conducting research. “I am going to look at the lists of prisoners and will have to see how much work that entails,” according to Konopatchenkov. “It is interesting and important to work in this fantastic archive.” The documents will supplement historians´ knowledge of the research at the Mauthausen memorial and in numerous Russian archives. A publication is planned after research work is completed.