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Pursuing the Traces of Russian Prisoners of War

It has been eleven years now that the Dutch journalist Remco Reiding for the first time set his foot on the Russian cemetery near former concentration camp Amersfoort, not knowing that he would be under the sway of this place ever since. Reiding retraces the life story of the people buried there undertaking a parallel search for any of their next of kin alive. In mid-September, he had come to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen attempting to find further information on their fate.

The graveyard in the vicinity of Amersfoort has 865 graves. The people buried there are mostly Russian prisoners of war who either had been murdered by the Germans or perished immediately after the end of World War II, as a consequence of the disastrous conditions under which they had been interned. For years, their fate had remained unsolved, and relatives had been without news on what had become of the soldiers.

It took Reiding two years to find the relatives of two of the soldiers buried in Amersfoort. “Their reaction was very emotional”, recalls the journalist. “Up to then, they held in hands nothing but an official letter, as the soldiers had been reported to be missing. Now they finally got certainty and a place where to mourn them.” Thanks to his perseverance in tracing and many travels, the Dutchman, to this day, has succeeded in tracking down 139 families of the murdered and deceased soldiers.

At the ITS archives, the researcher wanted to clarify some more details. “I wish to learn as much as possible on the true facts of war captivity and the soldiers’ individual fates. Maybe that information can prove helpful in the search for further relatives“, so Reiding. The first group of Russian prisoners of war had been deported to Concentration Camp Amersfoort by the Nazis in September 1941. “Little is known about them”, says the journalist. “They mostly came from Central Asia. Obviously, the Germans endeavoured to spread their racial ideology to the Dutchmen ‘presenting’ them as typical specimens of the so-called ‘Untermenschen’ (sub human beings).” 24 Soviet soldiers died soon as a consequence of their concentration camp confinement, the other 77 were shot by the Nazis on 9th April 1942. “I have neither been able to find in any archives a transport list or a document on the order to shoot them.“

The original burial site of the other 691 graves now located on the Russian field of honour at Amersfoort had been the soldiers’ graveyard Margraten, the corpses, however, had been reburied later. “The ITS archive has much more material on the second group,” knows Reiding. “I have unearthed death certificates and accurate dates of birth. And, above all, I can retrace the camps they were confined to as prisoners of war, the places they were staying in or the hospitals they died in in 1945 as a consequence of their having been imprisoned and forced to labour.“

The results of his research will be shared on the website www.russisch-ereveld.nl and included in a book he intends to make public late in 2010. For years, Reiding has been doing research as side work defraying all costs involved himself. Now he has found the support of the province of Utrecht and the communities of Amersfoort and Leusden. No need to mention that the memorial site in Amersfoort backs his project giving advice and information. Thanks to that, the journalist can spare considerably more time for his pursuit of traces that is both expensive and lengthy. For the time being he is living in Moscow. “But who knows: maybe we will return to the Netherlands soon.”