German soldiers in Russian captivity until the 1970s?

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Harri
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Post by Harri » 26 Sep 2003 20:08

Thank you for support Xavier.

So, why it was illegal? Soviet accusations of "war crimes" are very well known to Finns too (but that's another story; just say that I refer to the so called "List #1" or "Zhdanov's list"). In western countries you have to have really good proves to be sure someone really is a war criminal. In Soviet union even the slightest suspicions were enough for quite senseless sentences.

Typically fabricated accusations were based on the information of a person or a group of persons. "Witnesses" were dead-scared for their own life and said what "was needed" for such sentence. I bet if we compared these "evidences" we could find their similarities. These accusations wouldn't be acceptable in any western court.
oleg wrote:Is that entirely impossible, that Hartman for instance gunned some poor shmak down after he parachuted out of burning plane? Or that he by mistake strafed some refugee column? After all he could have gotten his 10 for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" - which is most likelly. When again what would Soviet pilot get for the same kind of activities against Germany , in the German POW camp?
So, you really believe all Soviet era sentences were quite correct and acceptable? It it quite clear that most of them were illegal and based on lies and false evidences.

Using your point of view all German soldiers were war criminals just because they attacked. When we are talking about war crimes there is no reciprocity i.e. crimes of Germans' are quite separate of crimes of Soviets' and the crimes of other sides can not be justified by the crimes of the other side. So, stop accusing Germans, Oleg. We are now talking about Soviets' behaviour and treating of German POWs in USSR during and after WW II.

If we go back to the topic I can tell that I'm reading the Finnish book "God Will Overthrow one's Angel" [worth reading, also published in German: "Der Gott stürz seine Engel", Fritz Molden Verlag, 1972] written by Aino Kuusinen (the second wife of Otto Wilhelm Kuusinen) and there is mentioned an Austrian soldier who after WW I had a similar kind of "fate" I told about earlier. So that same happened also after WW I not only after WW II.

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Oleg Grigoryev
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Post by Oleg Grigoryev » 26 Sep 2003 20:52

In Soviet union even the slightest suspicions were enough for quite senseless sentences.
nobody was sentenced on suspicion – even in USSR.
Typically fabricated accusations were based on the information of a person or a group of persons. "Witnesses" were dead-scared for their own life and said what "was needed" for such sentence. I bet if we compared these "evidences" we could find their similarities. These accusations wouldn't be acceptable in any western court.
You are BSing Harri just as you BSed with your 60 million figure. While many Soviet sentences were indeed not accepted by West German Courts –many were during The West German Kameradenschinder Trials . http://www.thirdreichforum.com/viewtopi ... highlight= for instance
The questionable methods used in the Soviet trials of German POWs, to be sure, contributed significantly to discrediting any differentiated effort at assessing individual responsibility for criminal transgressions on the Eastern Front. By portraying thousands of German POWs as collectively guilty (largely based on mere association with certain army units), these trials led most West Germans to believe that returning POWs from the Soviet Union were collectively innocent." Still, in at least one case, a West German court actually confirmed-based on the testimony of several witnesses-the conviction of a German POW by a Soviet court. In February 1950, a returnee organization brought charges against Rolf S. for having accused Rudolf M. before a Soviet court of killing three Russian "partisans" by tying them to his tank and dragging them to death. After hearing several witnesses, the West German court decided that Rudolf M. had actually committed this offense. As a result, the court cleared Rolf S. of all charges, even though the court considered it morally problematic that he had presented this evidence to a Soviet rather than to a German court . As these trials demonstrated, West German courts during the 1950s were unlikely to prosecute or even investigate criminal acts by German soldiers toward non-German victims on the Eastern Front."
So, you really believe all Soviet era sentences were quite correct and acceptable? It it quite clear that most of them were illegal and based on lies and false evidences.
I am sure that it is not impossible. I am also sure that for the person who operates with 60 million dead GULAG victims it is not. What is the next claim? That none of Germans who were in Soviet hands committed any war crimes? That masses of dead Soviet civilians died of overeating?
Using your point of view all German soldiers were war criminals just because they attacked.
where exactly did I express this point of view?
When we are talking about war crimes there is no reciprocity i.e. crimes of Germans' are quite separate of crimes of Soviets' and the crimes of other sides can not be justified by the crimes of the other side.
Of course there is – or are you now going to claim that German war crimes had no affect on Soviet outlook towards Germans? While Soviet war crimes are still war crimes I believe legal term for “German war crimes” in this contest will be “mitigating circumstances”.
If we go back to the topic I can tell that I'm reading the Finnish book "God Will Overthrow one's Angel" [worth reading, also published in German: "Der Gott stürz seine Engel", Fritz Molden Verlag, 1972] written by Aino Kuusinen (the second wife of Otto Wilhelm Kuusinen) and there is mentioned an Austrian soldier who after WW I had a similar kind of "fate" I told about earlier. So that same happened also after WW I not only after WW II.
What “fate” ?

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Post by Xavier » 26 Sep 2003 22:30

oleg wrote:
by what authoity (sic) if you don't mind me asking? and who said that they were not?
Mine, as a non beligerant party, is higher than yours. As I am not biased.

your post are ALWAYS biased, always, and when you do not find a way out you always try the now famous "...have you seen his file..?"

"nobody was sentenced on suspicion – even in USSR. " LOL... :D

will one of the forum moderators move this thread to the lounge pleaseeeee!!!!


your one liners do not work with me.
take it like a man

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Post by David Thompson » 26 Sep 2003 22:36

Xavier -- Please do not engage in personal remarks here. The topic is serious, within the subject matter of this section of the forum, and has yet to see a full discussion.

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Oleg Grigoryev
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Post by Oleg Grigoryev » 26 Sep 2003 22:54

Xavier wrote:oleg wrote:
by what authoity (sic) if you don't mind me asking? and who said that they were not?
Mine, as a non beligerant party, is higher than yours. As I am not biased.

your post are ALWAYS biased, always, and when you do not find a way out you always try the now famous "...have you seen his file..?"

"nobody was sentenced on suspicion – even in USSR. " LOL... :D

will one of the forum moderators move this thread to the lounge pleaseeeee!!!!


your one liners do not work with me.
take it like a man

Xavier
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Mine, as a non beligerant party, is higher than yours. As I am not biased.
is that so? So this is ubaised statement then
"nobody was sentenced on suspicion – even in USSR. " LOL... :D
A person can detained on suspicions. A person cannot be prosecuted on mere suspicions. USSR jurisprudence just like anybody else’s requires evidence of various kind to prosecute. Evidences were in many cases tainted but that does not mean that was the situation with every single investigation. Even in the case of Katyn, Beria had to put some energy into convincing Politburo to go with his plan. Now how exactly you as “non belligerent party” and somebody who is not biased manages to come to concussion without even seeing what other side has to offer? Unbiased – maybe in parallel reality.

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Oleg Grigoryev
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Post by Oleg Grigoryev » 26 Sep 2003 23:31

Actually it seems that even those who in fact were sentenced to 25 years for war crimes were released upon USSR striking diplomatic relations with West Germany. That was the case with people who were sentenced during Sebastopol trail anyway…

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Post by Xanthro » 27 Sep 2003 00:00

Hartmann was convicted of illegal deaths of civilians. The rational being that not all of his rounds hit their targets and those that missed hit the ground and killed civilians. Hartmann protested that all his rounds hit their target, so it was changed that the falling brass killed civilians.

It's possible this did happen, and he wasn't charged with DELIBERATELY killing civilians. Though the charge itself was obviously politically motivated in order to imprison someone who inflicted great loss against the Soviets.

In fairness, Hartmann didn't receive treatment that was out of line with what Soviet Citizens could often expect under Stalin.

There was a great call for revenge killings at the end of WWII, and in the long run it was better to have some jail sentences handed out by Soviet authorities than these people simply disappearing.

Afterall, Stalinest Soviet Union wasn't known as a bastion of fair trials and charges.

Xanthro

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Post by Harri » 02 Oct 2003 00:01

oleg wrote:
Harri wrote:In Soviet union even the slightest suspicions were enough for quite senseless sentences.
nobody was sentenced on suspicion – even in USSR.
You are correct Oleg, most people in camps were not sentenced at all. They were just in illegal "captivity" or worked as slaves in camps... :roll:

If there were any sentences People were not allowed to see any protocols and if it was allowed foreigners (like POWs) couldn't read papers written in Russian. Prisoners and defendants also had to sign many kinds of "papers" and "confessions" they didn't know anything about. In many cases these signings were used against helpless people - the consequence was perhaps yet another additional "sentence" of five or ten years.

But you are not correct in saying that suspicion was not enough for imprison people "even in USSR". But fabricated and false information was enough. Isn't that almost the same as suspicion? Your claims sound a bit odd because many people have written about the situation in USSR during Stalin's era and it is not a big secret anymore.
oleg wrote:You are BSing Harri just as you BSed with your 60 million figure. While many Soviet sentences were indeed not accepted by West German Courts –many were during The West German Kameradenschinder Trials.
Well, that figure was from the Russian/Soviet writer Soltzhenitsyn. I have seen figures between 15 - 66 million died/killed and I used one which is commonly accepted (I don't remember what figure Chrustsev used in his speech in the 1950's). But never I have seen so ridiculous figure as one million... :lol:

BTW it was/(is?) a common Soviet style to give very accurate figures - which were incorrect, so that's it.

----

The difference between Soviet trials and Western ones was that in the West the prosecutor had to prove his accusations correct but in USSR defendant - in practise - was responsible of proving he/she is not guilty. So there was a huge difference.

I think West German sentences don't have anything to do with this case...

Well, that's the way it was. Anyway, I hope this quite hard text won't spoil our "relationship" in this forum, Oleg (or anyone else). :)

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Post by Oleg Grigoryev » 02 Oct 2003 01:24

Harri wrote:
oleg wrote:
Harri wrote:In Soviet union even the slightest suspicions were enough for quite senseless sentences.
nobody was sentenced on suspicion – even in USSR.
You are correct Oleg, most people in camps were not sentenced at all. They were just in illegal "captivity" or worked as slaves in camps... :roll:

If there were any sentences People were not allowed to see any protocols and if it was allowed foreigners (like POWs) couldn't read papers written in Russian. Prisoners and defendants also had to sign many kinds of "papers" and "confessions" they didn't know anything about. In many cases these signings were used against helpless people - the consequence was perhaps yet another additional "sentence" of five or ten years.

But you are not correct in saying that suspicion was not enough for imprison people "even in USSR". But fabricated and false information was enough. Isn't that almost the same as suspicion? Your claims sound a bit odd because many people have written about the situation in USSR during Stalin's era and it is not a big secret anymore.
oleg wrote:You are BSing Harri just as you BSed with your 60 million figure. While many Soviet sentences were indeed not accepted by West German Courts –many were during The West German Kameradenschinder Trials.
Well, that figure was from the Russian/Soviet writer Soltzhenitsyn. I have seen figures between 15 - 66 million died/killed and I used one which is commonly accepted (I don't remember what figure Chrustsev used in his speech in the 1950's). But never I have seen so ridiculous figure as one million... :lol:

BTW it was/(is?) a common Soviet style to give very accurate figures - which were incorrect, so that's it.

----

The difference between Soviet trials and Western ones was that in the West the prosecutor had to prove his accusations correct but in USSR defendant - in practise - was responsible of proving he/she is not guilty. So there was a huge difference.

I think West German sentences don't have anything to do with this case...

Well, that's the way it was. Anyway, I hope this quite hard text won't spoil our "relationship" in this forum, Oleg (or anyone else). :)
You are correct Oleg, most people in camps were not sentenced at all. They were just in illegal "captivity" or worked as slaves in camps... :roll:
BS as before the statistics in that respect is also available.
If there were any sentences People were not allowed to see any protocols and if it was allowed foreigners (like POWs) couldn't read papers written in Russian. Prisoners and defendants also had to sign many kinds of "papers" and "confessions" they didn't know anything about. In many cases these signings were used against helpless people - the consequence was perhaps yet another additional "sentence" of five or ten years.
while manipulation of the law certainly were there it was not the deal with every case.
But you are not correct in saying that suspicion was not enough for imprison people "even in USSR". But fabricated and false information was enough. Isn't that almost the same as suspicion? Your claims sound a bit odd because many people have written about the situation in USSR during Stalin's era and it is not a big secret anymore.
How many criminals are actually admit that they are guilty? You know GUALG also common criminals – but I guess since it was Soviet penal system they were also incent – by definition. There were no criminals among Soviet citizens –right –of any kind? Just like there were no war criminals among German POWs in Soviet custody –they all were angels with wings –also by definition.
Well, that figure was from the Russian/Soviet writer Soltzhenitsyn. I have seen figures between 15 - 66 million died/killed and I used one which is commonly accepted (I don't remember what figure Chrustsev used in his speech in the 1950's). But never I have seen so ridiculous figure as one million... :lol:
"Ridiculous" number is backed up by hard data –namely by NKVD reports on camps status ,mortality levels, number of executions, number of inmates etc, while the number give by Solzhenitsyn is made out of hot air -for very simple reason he never had access to spastics that would allow him to made this calculation. And while people like you would like to have 60 million to be commonly accepted, for people who actually try to be on the edge in regards to that part of Soviet history it is nothing more but outdated cold war era horror story.
BTW it was/(is?) a common Soviet style to give very accurate figures - which were incorrect, so that's it.
that is what, Harri, not having anything to contradict the number you just proclaim it to be lie because you don’t like it?
The difference between Soviet trials and Western ones was that in the West the prosecutor had to prove his accusations correct but in USSR defendant - in practise - was responsible of proving he/she is not guilty. So there was a huge difference.
yes – if he/she is judged by military tribunal.
I think West German sentences don't have anything to do with this case...
yea if you are blind – West German court agreed with findings of Soviet court –of course it is relevant. It shows that the system worked even if not every single time.

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Post by Harri » 02 Oct 2003 16:18

oleg wrote:BS as before the statistics in that respect is also available.
I have not said my figures are absolutely correct because I think we have not yet seen the final figures. The truth is maybe somewhere between the two extreme figures.
oleg wrote:while manipulation of the law certainly were there it was not the deal with every case.
Probably not but in most cases sentences and trials (if there were any) were quite miraculous.
oleg wrote:How many criminals are actually admit that they are guilty?
I have no idea. It depends on what do you mean with "criminals". I don't mean ordinary murders and rapists etc, I mean innocent people imprisoned "for political reasons" in USSR.
oleg wrote:You know GULAG also common criminals – but I guess since it was Soviet penal system they were also incent – by definition. There were no criminals among Soviet citizens –right –of any kind? Just like there were no war criminals among German POWs in Soviet custody –they all were angels with wings –also by definition.
I know GULAG was also for ordinary criminals. They had usually much shorter sentences and if they were not separated (like in certain camps) they terrorized other prisoners.

You misunderstood me Oleg. While there were millions of innocent political prisoners there were also lots of innocent war criminals among German POWs. Of course there were "real war criminals" too but comparing their numbers to politically imprisoned people most of the POWs sentenced in USSR have been innocent for their claimed war crimes.

Another case is that not all prisoners and POWs released from camps could not move away from USSR just like that. In most cases they just were not allowed to do that. So, in practise they had to stay in USSR long time after they had been released. Like I said reasons for that were for example that they had changed their nationality (became citizens of USSR) or married a Soviet girl. I think these are the most common reasons why they were not allowed to return back home until very late.
oleg wrote:"Ridiculous" number is backed up by hard data –namely by NKVD reports on camps status ,mortality levels, number of executions, number of inmates etc, while the number give by Solzhenitsyn is made out of hot air -for very simple reason he never had access to spastics that would allow him to made this calculation.
I don't know from where Soltzhenitsyn has taken his number but I don't either know of which date your source is based on. The truth is perhaps possible to find out from Soviet archives but there have been 70 years time to alter and adulterate records, so the reliability of these figures may be too very questionable.
oleg wrote:And while people like you would like to have 60 million to be commonly accepted, for people who actually try to be on the edge in regards to that part of Soviet history it is nothing more but outdated cold war era horror story.
I'm definately not "people like that". I can discuss on every figures because I'm no expert of these. The reason why I said your figure is "ridiculous" is because I was just reading a book where was mentioned that "Soviet authorities have published so many kinds of very accurate correct figures (depending on who was in power) that no-one knows which of them are real" (and what are BS). Sorry, but your figure match perfectly to this sentence because it is too accurate to be true.
oleg wrote:that is what, Harri, not having anything to contradict the number you just proclaim it to be lie because you don’t like it?
See above. I just can't believe it. It doesn't sound truthful knowing the high number of camps and prisoners and the treatment of people in these camps.
oleg wrote:yes – if he/she is judged by military tribunal.
In every cases, Oleg. I think NKVD ruled all courts in USSR so there was no big difference in civilian and military courts (if there was any court at all like I told earlier - most people were sentenced without trial).
oleg wrote:yea if you are blind – West German court agreed with findings of Soviet court –of course it is relevant. It shows that the system worked even if not every single time.
I'm very open minded but I'm talking on general level only, I have not red that book yet and don't know that case.

I just wonder who really is blind, Oleg? :roll:

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Post by Oleg Grigoryev » 02 Oct 2003 19:00

I have not said my figures are absolutely correct because I think we have not yet seen the final figures. The truth is maybe somewhere between the two extreme figures.
Yes “we” have Harri – you have not, which does not stop you from making stuff up – Solzhenitsyn would have been proud.
Probably not but in most cases sentences and trials (if there were any) were quite miraculous.
unsupported allegation – garbage.
I have no idea. It depends on what do you mean with "criminals". I don't mean ordinary murders and rapists etc, I mean innocent people imprisoned "for political reasons" in USSR.
person imprisoned for political reason cannot be guilty? Do you know that GULAG could make “political” inmate out of every common criminal – very simple as soon as some robber refused to go to work –he was prosecuted in accordance with sabotage article -and thus he become “political”
They had usually much shorter sentences and if they were not separated (like in certain camps) they terrorized other prisoners.
no they did not –see above.
ou misunderstood me Oleg. While there were millions of innocent political prisoners there were also lots of innocent war criminals among German POWs. Of course there were "real war criminals" too but comparing their numbers to politically imprisoned people most of the POWs sentenced in USSR have been innocent for their claimed war crimes.
unsupported allegation - garbage.
Another case is that not all prisoners and POWs released from camps could not move away from USSR just like that. In most cases they just were not allowed to do that. So, in practise they had to stay in USSR long time after they had been released. Like I said reasons for that were for example that they had changed their nationality (became citizens of USSR) or married a Soviet girl. I think these are the most common reasons why they were not allowed to return back home until very late.
in most cases you were happily deported to the country of origin, as for the “Soviet girl” scenario – many of them still live in Russia or whenever else in CIS and still don’t want to move.
I don't know from where Soltzhenitsyn has taken his number but I don't either know of which date your source is based on. The truth is perhaps possible to find out from Soviet archives but there have been 70 years time to alter and adulterate records, so the reliability of these figures may be too very questionable.
I gave you source of my data – it is from archives and it seem perfectly reliable to the western historians so spare me “70 years time to alter and adulterate records, so the reliability of these figures may be too very questionable” – nobody new till the 1990s that the Soviet union will be no more – so there was no reason to later any of them.
'm definately not "people like that". I can discuss on every figures because I'm no expert of these. The reason why I said your figure is "ridiculous" is because I was just reading a book where was mentioned that "Soviet authorities have published so many kinds of very accurate correct figures (depending on who was in power) that no-one knows which of them are real" (and what are BS). Sorry, but your figure match perfectly to this sentence because it is too accurate to be true.
yea the only problem that my data does not come form Soviet sources in case you had not notice but from independent western research on the subject, that based its findings on the Soviet archival sources.
See above. I just can't believe it. It doesn't sound truthful knowing the high number of camps and prisoners and the treatment of people in these camps.
for what I care Harri you can believe that earth is flat, and no Harri you don’t know the number of prisoners – because if you did you would not write these nonsense.
In every cases, Oleg. I think NKVD ruled all courts in USSR so there was no big difference in civilian and military courts (if there was any court at all like I told earlier - most people were sentenced without trial).
Is there any specific reason for you to argue the subject of which you have obviously have rather hazy idea?
I'm very open minded but I'm talking on general level only, I have not red that book yet and don't know that case.
I gave you link to the pages I’ have OCRed nobody is stopping you to read it.
I just wonder who really is blind, Oleg?
well gee how about a person who when confronted with relative first hand information – starts crying – “it is altered”.

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Post by Oswal Boelcke » 03 Oct 2003 18:55

Oleg wrote:nobody was sentenced on suspicion – even in USSR.
To what sentence and/or court you are reffering to? Soldiers sentenced by the ordinary courts, military courts, police courts, administrative judiciary (osobaja Kollegija/osoboje Sovescanije) or the collective convictions?

To the question of this tread:
Lots of German soldiers were missed in many countries. When a soldier wrote a letter after became a POW or was seen by 2 comrades at least he was added to the list of missing soldiers. In 1953 this were 1.320.966 soldiers. An extract sorted by country:
SU: 583.096
Poland: 272.444
Czechoslovakia: 43.843
France: 24.698
etc.

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Post by Peter » 03 Oct 2003 19:01

I have read somewhere, but cannot find my file at the moment, that a number of former Waffen SS officers who had attempted to escape or been a nuisance to the Soviet system, were held at Swerdlowsk October 1955. The article - possibly from Der Freiwillige - did say that 62 failed to return when the others did finally come home and that at least 2 were reported alive in CLOSED AREAS near the camp in 1968.

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Post by Orok » 03 Oct 2003 19:53

The last WWII POW to return home is a Hungarian soldier, not in the 70s, but in 2000! :(
A Hungarian POW had languished in a Russian mental institution for 50 years

A group of Hungarian specialists left for Russia this week on a unique mission. They will visit five psychiatric hospitals throughout the reaches of the former Soviet Union in the hope of finding forgotten Hungarian prisoners of war from the Second World War. Although their chances are slim, they nevertheless carry with them a small measure of hope.

Their expedition is the result of a discovery late last year of Andras Toma, a Hungarian POW that had languished in a Russian mental institution for 50 years. He was discovered by accident when a visiting researcher noticed that he rarely spoke, and mumbled words that appeared incoherent. These incoherent words happened to be Hungarian, which the researcher understood.

An investigation was subsequently launched into the matter and, as it turned out from the few records on him that existed, he indeed was a POW. Since he spoke almost no Russian and the reason he ended up in a mental institution became obscured with the passage of time, it had been assumed by the Russian authorities that the POW was simply a patient who was mentally ill.

Yet exactly when and where he came from was unknown, and after living in a psychiatric ward for half a century, it was difficult to get the answers from him. A psychiatrist from Hungary, Andras Veer, who now heads this latest mission to Russia, examined him and determined that the 75 year old POW was indeed Hungarian. Arrangements were promptly made to have him returned to his country of origin.

Now, ever since his return to Hungary this past summer, the condition of the POW has improved considerably. He has become more articulate and through DNA analysis he was traced to have come from a small town near Nyiregyhaza in east Hungary. Originally called Andras Tamas (two common first names in Hungarian) when found, it was later discovered that his real name is Andras Toma. He now lives with his closest relative, a half-brother. Recently, he has been officially discharged from the Hungarian army, after fifty long years.

While the discovery of a Second World War POW after so many years had taken many by surprise, it has also raised hopes for some. There are about 200,000 Hungarian soldiers from the Second World War still unaccounted for. The story of Andras Toma has thus given them hope that there still might be someone left languishing somewhere in Russia. Neglect and a stifling bureaucracy, some of the hallmarks of Soviet administration, is what makes many believe that someone may yet still be out there.

Others, however, are not so optimistic. They point out that the chances for survival are very small: the youngest POW would be over 70 by now. What is more, conditions in Soviet gulgas and mental institutions were difficult at best. Even now, conditions in Russian mental institutions and correctional facilities are very poor.

Yet despite these and other challenges, the group headed by Andras Veer are optimistic. Even if they fail to find a Hungarian POW still alive somewhere in Russia, at least they hope to be able to find out something of the fate of some of the missing, and largely forgotten, 200,000 soldiers from the Second World War.
Hungarian family: 'We're sure he's ours'

By NICK THORPE / The Guardian
23 Sep 2000



BUDADPEST – The mystery of the identity of the World War II soldier who returned to his native Hungary weeks ago, after 55 years of captivity in Russia, appears to have been solved.

Andras Toma – not Andras Tamas, as he was previously thought to be – was reunited with his brother and sister in the small village of Sulyanbokor, eastern Hungary, on the morning of Sept. 16.

Only DNA tests will prove they are related, but there seems to be little doubt in the minds of the doctors and military officers who have been caring for him since his return.

"Everyone in the room wept, including me," said Col. Laszlo Erdos, head of the Defense Ministry team that has been researching the POW's past, as Toma, 75, embraced his brother Janos and sister Anna. "He looks exactly like our late father," his sister said.

Toma was then taken to his old school, where he met former classmates. He seemed to recognize places he had not seen for more than 50 years, people at the reunion said.

The visit to the village near the Ukrainian border fitted a key piece to a puzzle that began in the summer when Hungary learned of a soldier who had been held for 50 years in a Russian psychiatric hospital and whose identity was uncertain.

His return, and the investigation by military and medical experts to establish his identity, has since gripped the country.

• A trail of memories

The latest revelations have come as a blow to the 82 families who had claimed him as their missing relative – about 600,000 Hungarians were taken to the Soviet Union as prisoners during and after World War II.

Andras Veer, director of the Hungarian national psychiatry and neurology institute, said experts managed to track down the relatives from the old man's fragmented memories.

"He told us in which village he worked as a blacksmith's apprentice, where he was born and where he went to school, even the name of his teacher," Veer said. That led to a number of tiny villages near the town of Nyiregyhaza, and then to Sulyanbokor, a village of about 40 farmsteads.

"He remembered lots of things, including names, and we also have the documents proving when he disappeared – everything," Janos Toma said.

Janos was only seven, and Anna one, when Toma, then 19, was captured by the Soviet army in the autumn of 1944. He spent his 20th birthday in a prisoner-of-war camp east of Leningrad, where Soviet medical records first mentioned him under the name Andras Tamas, in January 1945.

In 1947, as the camp closed, he was transferred to a mental hospital. He had learned only a few Russian words, and he barely communicated with the world in the next 53 years.

Sulyanbokor, where he grew up and where his brother and sister still live, is about 10 miles west of Nyiregyhaza, the county capital. It is a flat landscape, part of the "bushworld," as it is known locally, where the word bokor, meaning bush, is added to every farm name. He is believed to have served an apprenticeship as a blacksmith there before being conscripted into the Hungarian army.

• New teeth, old tongue

He probably took part in the joint German/Hungarian defense of Nyiregyhaza. His father also fought in the war.

Sitting in a doctor's room at the institute of psychiatry in Budapest, which has been his home since he returned to Hungary, Toma seemed both lost in his memories and alert to what was going on around him.

He spoke all the time, prompted by Col. Erdos, who acts as his "interpreter." He has no teeth – new ones are being fitted this week – and his pronunciation of often old-fashioned Hungarian, dotted with occasional Russian, is hard to follow.

Researchers were led to the "bushworld" near Nyiregyhaza by Toma himself. He began to mention the names of places and relatives. As I sat with him, Col. Erdos gave him a gift of palinka – Hungarian plum brandy – distilled close to where he was born. Toma sniffed the bottle approvingly. "Not like that foreign stuff you tried on me the other day," he joked. He speaks much of alcohol, and was offered a small glass of whisky the week before.

Amid the flood of his memories, it is almost impossible to direct his line of thought. He speaks one moment of a church, then of taking part in the construction of a building, the next moment of the roar of cannon during battle.

• A ‘five pengo' photo

Increasing the problems confronting researchers, he refuses to write anything down, and shows no sense of time in his recollections. The church could have been one of the Protestant establishments that dot the landscape of eastern Hungary – most Hungarians are Catholic.

His knowledge of certain types of military equipment led researchers to believe he had been in an artillery regiment. When he was presented with a Hungarian private soldier's cap – on loan from the museum of war history in Budapest – he tried it on many times, then said: "This isn't mine; the insignia is missing." But no amount of persuasion could get him to describe the insignia, which would have helped to discover his former regiment.

There have been many lighter moments for those who have sat with him for the past weeks. When he was told that he was going to be shown films about World War II, he moved his chair to the very back of the room, only to be disappointed by his first encounter with television and its tiny images.

When he speaks of money, it is about the pre-war Hungarian currency, the pengo. He often mentions a "five pengo photograph," perhaps one taken of him in his new uniform before he was taken off to fight. He also frequently mentions scenes connected with his work as a blacksmith, shoeing the cavalry officers' horses.

Now that his identity is almost certain, the remaining missing pieces of his past should be easier to find.

Janos, a retired farmer, is cautious: "We're sure he is ours, but we're not saying any more until the tests prove it." That could take two weeks.

Many of the wartime Hungarian prisoners were civilians, rounded up on the streets by the conquering Soviet army and transported east in cattle-trucks to rebuild the Soviet Union. One in three of them died of cold, disease, and malnutrition.

The last mass return took place in 1954. By then Toma was hidden from sight in the mental hospital in Kotelnich, 600 miles east of Moscow, from which he has only now emerged.
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David Thompson
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Post by David Thompson » 03 Oct 2003 21:08

Orok -- Thanks for a very interesting post, with its very poignant story.

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