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Returnees from Soviet captivity in Berlin (March 1948)
AEIOU -Heimkehrerstraße in Wiener Neustadt
A returned German prisoner of war identifies this woman's son (1955).
The Tübingen returnees plaque with the names of the convicted war criminals Otto Abetz and Eugen Steimle

For the purposes of this article, returnees are prisoners of war of the Second World War and SMT convicts who were able to return to Germany and Austria .


The numbers of German soldiers held in Allied custody as "prisoners of war" in 1947 are given as follows:

The Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov announced in 1947 that 1,003,974 prisoners of war had been released to their homeland by then.

There are also excessive figures on the Soviet Union, such as "three million German and Austrian soldiers" as published in the magazine Der Spiegel in 1949 without verification by sources .

Places of detention in the Soviet Union were usually labor camps. This was justified with the massive damage that the German attack, the occupation and the " scorched earth " retreat of the German military units had caused in the Soviet Union, and which the prisoners of war were supposed to help repair. In accordance with this concept, primarily sick and no longer able to work prisoners were initially released. Many of the prisoners were involved in Nazi crimes. Well-known cases were Bruno Straßenbach , Helmut Bischoff and Gustav Lombard , who were responsible for mass murders of Jews, communists, Roma, alleged partisans or mentally handicapped people behind the front and without any connection to military operations. After their capture, Soviet courts sentenced them to 25 years in prison. They were released to West Germany as early as 1955/1956, when the Soviet Union released the last German prisoners of war and with them numerous criminals known as "prisoners of war" in West Germany.

In returnee camp Gronenfelde in Frankfurt (Oder) , all prisoners of war were taken from the East. The total number from July 27, 1946 to the last transport on May 3, 1950 was 1,125,508 returnees. The first transports came mainly from Hungary , Poland and Romania , only later from the Soviet Union. On January 16, 1956, the last prisoners of war returning from Soviet camps were received at the Hessian border station in Herleshausen .

About two million prisoners returned from the Soviet Union; 1.3 million prisoners are considered dead or missing. (→  Losses among the prisoners of war ).

The legislature describes all former prisoners of war who were released after December 31, 1946 as late returners . According to the Prisoner of War Compensation Act, they received compensation of DM 30 per month of imprisonment from January 1, 1947 and DM 60 per month of imprisonment from January 1, 1950.

Those released from the Soviet Union, including those convicted of Nazi crimes, were "received with euphoria" in many places. In his New Year's Eve address in 1949, Federal President Theodor Heuss admonished his fellow citizens “to give the late returnees a special support so that their hope for a new and free life is not crushed into disappointment”.

Association of returnees

The Association of Returnees, Prisoners of War and Members of Missing Persons in Germany , founded in 1950, drew attention to the situation of prisoners of war and internees and advocated their release. He supported the returnees in their reintegration into society.

The return of the ten thousand

The mother of a prisoner of war thanks Chancellor Konrad Adenauer after his return from Moscow on September 14, 1955 at Cologne / Bonn Airport
West German postage stamp (1953) commemorating German prisoners of war

The question of the fate of the prisoners preoccupied the West German public in the post-war years . With numerous homecoming memorials and demonstrations, their fate was repeatedly pointed out. The return of the ten thousand (from October 7, 1955) from Soviet captivity via Herleshausen and the Friedland camp with the following political history is considered a particularly emotional event :

On June 6, 1955, one month after the Paris Treaties came into force , the Soviet embassy in Paris contacted the German embassy there and handed over an invitation to Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in Moscow. In view of Adenauer's consistent, also military ties to the West , this invitation appeared to many as a sensation. On September 8, 1955, Adenauer flew with his delegation of 141 people, including Hans Globke and Carlo Schmid , on a state visit to the Soviet Union . At that time, almost 10,000 former German Wehrmacht and Waffen SS soldiers as well as around 20,000 civilians from the Soviet occupation zone and the GDR and the four-sector city of Berlin were still convicted of SMTs in Soviet captivity. Before leaving, Adenauer had announced that the return of the prisoners would be the most important issue in Moscow. Further negotiation points were the continuation of the Western treaties and the possibility of reunification. However, the Soviet leadership did not officially mention the problem of prisoners of war in preparation for the state visit, but instead pointed out the possibility of diplomatic relations being established (→  entitlement to sole representation ). The Soviet leadership wanted to release the prisoners of war and had previously signaled this to the SED leadership; the only questionable point was the tactically most favorable time. The release of German prisoners of war was very unpopular among the Soviet population.

The negotiations between the Adenauer delegation and the Soviet side with Nikita Khrushchev were overshadowed by the events of World War II; Nevertheless, on September 12th, an agreement was reached relatively quickly on the return of 10,000 prisoners of war and the establishment of diplomatic relations. Adenauer and Nikolai Bulganin personally agreed that the SMT convicts would be released shortly before the end of the talks . In the leadership of the GDR , the agreement between the Federal Republic and the Soviet Union was criticized because it was not connected with the desired recognition of the GDR by the Federal Republic .

The thesis put forward by Hans Reichelt in 2007 that the government of the GDR had campaigned for the release of prisoners of war since 1946 was rejected by Karl Wilhelm Fricke as unsupported by research.

On October 7, 1955, the first 600 West German returnees of the "ten thousand" arrived at the Friedland transit camp . Federal President Theodor Heuss visited her there a few days later and welcomed her. He represented Chancellor Adenauer, who had flu. Among those released were Erich Hartmann , Harald von Bohlen and Halbach , Leopold Graf Fugger von Babenhausen , Walther von Seydlitz , Hans Baur and Friedrich Foertsch .

War returnees as a topic in literature and film

Numerous literary works, especially novels and feature films, recorded the fate of the homecomers.

See also



  • Elena Agazzi, Erhard Schütz (ed.): Homecoming: a central category of the post-war period. History, literature and media. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-428-53379-4
  • Hans Reichelt: The German war returnees - what did the GDR do for them? Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-360-01089-6
  • Wolfgang Buwert (Ed.): Prisoners and returnees in Frankfurt (Oder)
  • Svenja Goltermann :
  • Helmut Hirthe: The homecoming camp in Frankfurt-Gronenfelde , in: Jürgen Maerz (Hrsg.): We were 19 at the time , Frankfurt (Oder) 1995
  • Helmut Hirthe: The homecoming camp Gronenfelde - important station on the way to a new life , in: Wolfgang Buwert (Hrsg.): Prisoners and homecoming in Frankfurt (Oder) , Potsdam 1998. ISBN 3-932502-10-8
  • Werner Kilian: Adenauer's trip to Moscow. Freiburg im Breisgau u. a. 2005, ISBN 3-451-22995-1
  • Sascha Schießl, "The gateway to freedom". Consequences of the war, politics of remembrance and humanitarian demands in the Friedland camp (1945-1970), Göttingen 2016
  • Arthur L. Smith: The Missing Million. On the fate of German prisoners of war after the Second World War . Oldenburg, Munich 1992 (series of the quarterly books for contemporary history ; 65), ISBN 3-486-64565-X
  • Dieter Riesenberger (ed.): The German Red Cross, Konrad Adenauer and the prisoner of war problem. The return of the German prisoners of war from the Soviet Union (1952–1955). Donat-Verlag, Bremen 1994 (History and Peace Series, Vol. 7), ISBN 3-924444-82-X
  • Dieter Riesenberger: The struggle for the release of German prisoners of war from the Soviet Union (1952–1955) , in: Dieter Riesenberger: Overcoming the war. Donat-Verlag, Bremen 2008, ISBN 978-3-938275-44-3 , pp. 324-339

Web links

Commons : Returnees  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Homecoming  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Wolfgang Benz, German prisoners of war in World War II: Memories, Frankfurt a. M. 1995, p. 54; Manfred Overesch, Occupied Germany. A daily chronicle of politics, economy, culture, Vol. 1, Augsburg 1992, p. 309.
  2. Alexander Fischer / Klaus Hildebrandt / Hans-Peter Schwarz et al. (Ed.): Documents on Germany Policy, Series II, January 1 to December 31, 1950. Published documents - Unpublished documents (special cover) , Vol. 3, Munich 1998, p. 455.
  3. Prisoners of War - Every Fifteenth , In: Der Spiegel , Issue 2/1949 of January 8, 1949, accessed July 31, 2017.
  4. Sascha Schiessl, "The Gate to Freedom". Consequences of the war, politics of remembrance and humanitarian demands in the Friedland camp (1945-1970), Göttingen 2016, p. 240 and passim.
  5. ^ Rösch, review of the Gronenfelde returnees camp near Frankfurt / Oder , May 15, 1950, here based on a copy from Historischer Verein zu Frankfurt (Oder), Mitteilungen Frankfurt (Oder), No. 2 1998, p. 38.
  6. ^ Siegfried Löffler: Coming home on a sunny autumn Sunday , in: Werratal-Bote. 16. Vol. 48 of December 2, 2005, p. 8f.
  8. Sascha Schiessl, "The Gate to Freedom". Consequences of the war, politics of remembrance and humanitarian demands in the Friedland camp (1945-1970), Göttingen 2016, p. 240.
  9. Florian Huber, Behind the Doors Waiting for Ghosts, The German Post-War Family Drama, p. 117.
  10. ^ A b Hanns Jürgen Küsters : Moscow trip 1955 . The invitation is dated '7. June '( PDF )
  11. Christoph Arens, KNA: When Adenauer negotiated over 10,000 fates. In: Südkurier, September 10, 2016, p. 5.
  12. Hans Reichelt: The German war returnees: What did the GDR do for them? Edition Ost 2007, ISBN 978-3-360-01089-6 .
  13. ^ FAZ review of the book by Hans Reichelt (May 13, 2008)
  14. Florian Huber (2017), Ghosts are waiting behind the doors, The German Post-War Family Drama , p. 116.
  15. ^ Friedland 1955 - The return of the last prisoners of war. Retrieved August 20, 2018 .
  16. : Seydlitz: Traitor or Resistance Fighter? In: Der Spiegel . tape 36 , August 29, 1977 ( [accessed August 20, 2018]).
  17. See Bettina Clausen , Der Heimkehrerroman . In: Mittelweg 36 , Volume 5, 1993, p. 57 ff.
  18. ( Memento from April 16, 2014 in the Internet Archive )