The role of Commissar (Politruk) in the Red Army in WW2

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Igorn
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The role of Commissar (Politruk) in the Red Army in WW2

Post by Igorn » 23 Apr 2005 08:21

Having browsed through many threads in different forums dedicated to WW2 , I came across misunderstanding and simplification of the role of Commissar or Politruk in the Red Army. For many of westerners a commissar was a fanatic ruthless communist whose role was to threaten solders and shoot at their back in case of retreat. However, the commissar was the most controversial man in the Russian Army and what Germans perceived as fanaticism was often nothing else but patriotism, heroism and self-sacrifice. The war against the Soviet Union was described by the leaders of the Third Reich as a ‘ Weltanschauunngkrieg’, that is a war of ideologies. Political indoctrination among the combat elements of both armies is essential to examine to understand the causes of barbarization and brutality of warfare on the Eastern front.

“…The Commissar was the driving force of the Red Army, ruling with cunning and cold-bloodedness. Commissars came mostly from the working class, were almost without exceptions city people, brave, intelligent, and unscrupulous. But they also took care of the troops. The example set by commissars is largely responsible for the tenacious resistance of the Russian solder, even in hopeless situations. It is not wholly true that the German commissar order, directing that upon capture commissars be turned over to the SD for “special treatment”, that is execution, was solely responsible for inciting the commissars to bitter last-ditch resistance; the impetus much rather was fanaticism together with soldierly qualities, and probably also the feeling of responsibility for the victory of the Soviet Union. Then too, in innumerable other cases dogged perseverance even under hopeless conditions was to be credited to the soldierly conduct of the commissars. For instance, in September 1941, long after the castle of Posyolok Taytsy (south of Leningrad) had been taken, and strong German troop units had been drawn up in the castle park, German tanks passing near the park wall with open hatches drew single rounds of rifle fire from close range. The shots were aimed at the unprotected tank commanders who were looking out of the turrets. Not until three Germans had been killed by bullets through the head did the passing tank unit realize that the shots were coming from a narrow trench close under the park wall ten yards away. The tanks then returned the fire, whereupon all thirteen occupants of the trench met death. They were the officers of a Russian regimental headquarters, grouped about their commissar who fell with his rifle cocked and aimed. After the German divisions broke out of the Luga bridgeheads in August 1941, the commander of a task force inspected several Russian tanks which had been knocked out two hours earlier near a church. A large number of men were looking on. Suddenly, the turret of one of knocked out tanks began to revolve and fire. The tank had to be blown up . It turned out that among the crew, which had been assumed dead, there was a commissar who had merely been unconscious. When he revived and saw many German solders around him he opened fire. When in April 1942 the Germans took a strong position along the Osuga (southwest of Rzhev), they continued to receive fire from one lone barricaded bunker. All demands for surrender were in vain. When an attempt was made to shoot through the embrasure with a rifle, the Red soldier grabbed it and fired the last three shots. Two of the bullets wounded German soldiers. The commissar, who was defending the bunker alone in the midst of his dead comrades, then shot himself with the third. The commissars found special support among the women who served within the framework of the Soviet Army. Russian women served in all-female units with the so-called partisan bands, individually as gunners in the artillery, as spies dropped by parachute, as medical corps aides with the fighting troops, and n the rear in the auxiliary services. They were political fanatics, filled with hate for every opponent, cruel, and incorruptible. The women were enthusiastic communists-and dangerous. It was also not unusual for women to fight in the front lines. Thus, uniformed women took part in the final breakout struggle at Sevastopol in 1942; medical corps women in 1941 defended the last positions of Leningrad with pistols and hand grenades until they fell in the battle. In the fighting along the middle Donets in February 1943, a Russian tank was apparently rendered immobile by a direct hit. When German tanks approached, it suddenly reopened fire and attempted to break out. A second direct hit again brought it to a standstill, but in spite of its hopeless position it defended itself while a tank-killer team advanced on it. Finally it burst into flame from a demolition charge and only then did the turret hatch open. A woman in tanker uniform climbed out. She was the wife and co-fighter of a tank company commander who, killed by the first hit, lay beside her in the turret. So far as Red soldiers were concerned, women in uniform were superiors or comrades to whom respect was paid. The four elements which determine the nature of Russian warfare-the higher command, the troops, the commissar, and the Russian terrain-fitted together in such a way that their combination was responsible for good performance and great successes…”

GeneralOberst Erhard Rauss, Commander, Fourth and Third Panzer Armies, Russian Combat Methods in World War II.

“…The clue, I suppose to be found in Hitler’s infamous ‘Kommissar Befehl’, according to which all political prisoners, Politruks (Political Army officers) and other members of Communist party were to be shot. For the Communists, the ‘Kommissar Befehl’ was what the ‘Final Solution’ was to the Jews… I suppose that at that time most of us accepted that communism was a crime, that communists were criminals, and that there was no legal necessity to prove any further individual guilt. It dawned on me that I was now guarding a camp which had been set up to erase the evil of communism. Of all prisoners who walked into the Kolchose compound, none walked out again. Whether they knew this would be their fate, I am not sure. We being only the guards, the compound was run by a small detachment of the SD which was under command of SS. In each case there was a vague investigation, after which the execution was carried out, always at the same place against a wall of a burnt-out cottage, which could not be seen from anywhere outside. The burial place, consisting of a few large trenches, was further to the rear. Having soaked up a full Nazi education at school and in the Hitler Youth, this first experience of direct contact with communists in the flesh was very baffling. The prisoners who were daily brought into compound, either along, or in small groups, were very different from the masses of the prisoners outside who on the whole looked and behaved like typical East European peasants. What struck me most about these Politruks and Party members was their intelligence and pride. I never, or hardly ever, noticed any of them whining or complaining, and they never asked for anything for themselves, When their time for execution came, and I saw many go, they did so with their heads held high. Almost all of them impressed me as persons whom one could trust, and, I was sure, had we been living under peaceful conditions, that I would have liked some of them to be my friends.
One of the prisoners had a fair knowledge of German, which he had learnt at school. I have forgotten his family name but his first name was Boris. As I spoke Russian fairly well in a pidgin fashion we had no difficulty conversing on most subjects. Boris was a Lieutenant, a Politruk, and about two years older than me. We discovered that that we had both learnt the trade of locksmith, he in Gorlovka-Artemovsk region in a large engineering complex, and I at the Railway workshops in Hamburg. On our advance I had passed through his town. He was blond, about six feet tall and had laughing blue eyes which even in this desperate situation had not lost their friendly twinkle. Often, especially at nights, I felt drawn to chat with him. As I called him Boris anyway, he had asked me if he could call me by my first name and I think that it surprised us both to find how easily we could get on with each other. We mostly talked about our families, our homes, our school and apprentice days. I knew the names of his brothers and sisters, how old they were, what his parents did for a living, and even some of their personal habits. He naturally was very worried about how they were faring under German occupation, and I was in no position to console him. He even gave me their address and asked me, that if ever I was going their way, to look after them. ‘But tell them what?. I thought, and we both knew that I would never go, and that therefore his family would never find out what had happened to their Boris. In turn he learnt all about my family and all the things which were close to my heart. I told him how in a harmless way I had had a girlfriend for whom I had felt much love. He smiled understandingly and told me that he too had had a girl-friend who had been a student. We felt very close at moments like this-until standing there with a rifle on my shoulder and that he was my prisoner I knew, of course, that his only crime had been that he was a soldier and a Politruk, and my instinct told me all right that there was something very wrong somewhere… Then came Boris’s last night. I had found out from SD that it was his turn to be shot in the morning. He had been to ‘investigation’ in the afternoon, and I could see that he had been beaten and hit in the face. He had also been injured in his side, but he said nothing- and neither did I-for what was the point? I am not sure whether he was aware that he was to be shot at sunrise, and, I certainly did not tell him. But being an intelligent man, he must have come to some conclusion on why his fellow prisoners were led away after investigation and never returned. I was on night duty from two to four, the night was beautiful warm and quiet. Boris was sitting on the straw outside in the pigsty, with his back leaning against the wall playing, very quietly on his small mouth-organ, whih fitted unseen in his hands. It was his only possession left, everything else had been taken from him. The tune he played when I arrived was beautiful, a typical Russian melancholic one, something about the wide steppe and love. There was a deep tension in me, and I did not know what to talk about. I was sad, wanted to be friendly and perhaps help- and did not know how. Why it happened, I do not really know, but somehow he looked in a challenging way at me and for the first time our conversation turned to politics. Perhaps deep down I wanted an explanation from him at this late hour, wanted to know what it was he so fervently believed in-or at least admit to me that he had been wrong in his belief all along. ‘And what about your World Revolution?’ I said ‘it is all over now, is it not, and it has been a criminal nonsense- a conspiracy against freedom and peace from the very beginning?’ At that time, let us remember, it looked very much as if Germany would triumph over Russia. He kept quiet for a while, just sitting there on his heap of straw, still fiddling with his mouth-organ. I would have been satisfied, had he shown me some anger. And when he raised himself very slowly and came to the wall to look me straight into my eyes, I could see that he was very agitated indeed. His voice was calm, though with a shade of sadness and disappointment, but not for himself-but for me. ‘Genry!, he said: ‘You told me all about your life, you come as I do from the poor, the working people. You are friendly enough and not stupid – but on the other hand you are very stupid because you have learnt nothing from your life. I can clearly see that your brainwashers have done a very successful job on you for you have swallowed so totally the propaganda fed into your mind. What is very tragic is that you are supporting ideas which by their very nature are directed against your own fundamental interests and which have made you are willing, sad tool in their evil hands. The World Revolution is ongoing history. Even if you win the war, which I don’t think you will, the World Revolution will not and cannot be stopped by military means. Your very powerful army can do much harm to us, can kill many of our people – but it cannot kill ideas! Its movement might seem dormant to you at the moment, but it is there and will come to the fore again out of the awakening of the poor, the downtrodden ordinary people the world over in Africa, the Americas, in Asia and Europe too. People in their masses will one day understand that it is the power of capital over them which not only oppresses and robs them, but stifles their human potential, which either uses or discards them as mere pawns to make monetary profits out of them. Once the people grasp that idea, it will mature into an almost material force in popular uprisings like spreading wild-fires and will do what has to be done in the name of humanity. It will not be Russia who will do it for them, although the Russian working people were the first who have broken the chains. The people of the world will do it for themselves in their own countries, against their own oppressors, in their own ways, and in their own time!’ His outburst gave me no chance to interrupt and it allowed no argument. Even though he had spoken quietly, it shook me to the core. Nobody had ever touched a chord of understanding in me that way and I felt naked and defenseless. And to give me the final knock, he pointed to my rifle, saying that ‘that thing’ could do nothing against ideas. ‘And if you think that you have the intellectual capacity to respond to me meaningfully ‘, he concluded, ‘please don’t use any of your silly slogans about country, freedom and God!’ Anger, almost suffocatingly, welled up in me. My natural reaction was to put him in his place. But then I thought better of it, I remembered that within a few hours he would be dead, and that perhaps this had been his way to take a last swipe at me. My guard duty was now up. And not wanting to make a final show of saying ‘Do Swidanya’ or ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to him, I gave him one last look, perhaps with a mixture of anger and sadness in which he might have detected a glimmer of almost lost humanism, turned on my heel and slowly walked over to the stables which were our quarters. Boris did not move at all, not one sound came from him and I did not turn once in my stride. But I knew for sure, I felt it, that he was watching me intently as I trotted away from him with my ridiculous rifle. And in the horizon there rose the first light of the coming morning. We guards also bedded down on straw, and I always loved my first sleep after coming from duty. But this morning I could not sleep. I did not even undress, just lay there and watched down creeping up. I twisted and turned, felt sorry for Boris- and also for myself. There was so much I simply could not understand. And then, with the sun already up, I heard the shots, a short salvo, that was all. I got up at once and walked over to the place where I knew the graves were ready. Morning had arrived in all its pristine beauty and the birds were singing as if nothing had happened. I met the firing squad coming back with their rifles, looking bored. They just nodded at me, obviously wondering why I was going in that direction. There were two or three prisoners already shoveling earth over the bodies. Beside Boris there were three others, already partially covered. I could still recognize him, his tunic looked crumpled and his boots had been taken off but he still wore his leather belt, and I could see blood on it. The diggers looked at me, obviously wondering what I was doing there. Their expression was sullen, but I could also see fear and hatred in their eyes. I wanted to ask them what had happened to Boris’s mouth-organ, had they taken it or was it still in his pocket? But then I changed my mind, thinking that they might suspect me of wanting to steal from dead, and I walked away from it all, back to my stable, and I tried to get some sleep…”


Henry Metelmann, Through Hell For Hitler, PP. 77-81

Best Regards from Russia,

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David C. Clarke
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Post by David C. Clarke » 23 Apr 2005 15:20

Great post Igorn! :D

Best Regards,
David

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MD650
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Post by MD650 » 23 Apr 2005 16:47

:roll:

Karman
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Re: The role of Commissar (Politruk) in the Red Army in WW2

Post by Karman » 25 Apr 2005 14:38

Dear Igorn:

The problem with commissars was not that they provided political and ideological support and education. The problem is that they doubled the command and challenged singleness of authority in the army. The attempts to consider a situation from the political but not professional point of view did not bring any good too - Mekhlis is a good example here.

Regards,

Good example of ideological works is given here: http://www.newparadigma.ru/engines/civ- ... 49&t=15449

have fun.

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Steen Ammentorp
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Re: The role of Commissar (Politruk) in the Red Army in WW2

Post by Steen Ammentorp » 25 Apr 2005 16:49

Karman wrote:The attempts to consider a situation from the political but not professional point of view did not bring any good too - Mekhlis is a good example here.


Just wondering what example you were think of here? I would argue that Mekhlis did neither - he did not concider anything except to please. This can of cause be considered a political view (survival in the system) but has nothing to do with the role of the political officer.

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Steen Ammentorp
The Generals of World War II

Karman
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Re: The role of Commissar (Politruk) in the Red Army in WW2

Post by Karman » 25 Apr 2005 17:54

Steen Ammentorp wrote:
Karman wrote:The attempts to consider a situation from the political but not professional point of view did not bring any good too - Mekhlis is a good example here.


Just wondering what example you were think of here? I would argue that Mekhlis did neither - he did not concider anything except to please. This can of cause be considered a political view (survival in the system) but has nothing to do with the role of the political officer.

Kind Regards
Steen Ammentorp
The Generals of World War II


Shtemenko in his "General Staff in the years of War" quoted the correspondence between Mekhlis and Stalin with regard to Crimean events in spring 1942. Stalin in his message to Mekhlis defined his view of the position of the Stavka representative (and a political officer as a whole) to wit: to correct the mistakes of military officers and to bear equal responsibility for all the mistakes commited together with the military command. Mekhlis according to Stalin understood his position as "state control" and thus was wrong. Sure Mekhlis did not have any experience or education to provide the military command.

I do not think that any simlification works here. I can agree that Mekhlis was a bad guy. But he was more than a person trying to survive in the system and simply to please his boss.

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Steen Ammentorp
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Post by Steen Ammentorp » 26 Apr 2005 19:38

You are of cause correct. Simplification never works and I fully understand that Mekhlis is a more complicated person than I have presented above. While I am in complete agreement with your point on the problem on the shared command responsibility I don't think that Mekhlis is the best example on this as a political officer if we argue that they made their decisions based on political considerations. Admittedly I don't know that much on Mekhlis but from what I know I find it difficult to see that his actions on Crimea in 1942 were based on genuinely political considerations other than to please Stalin. I think that his interpretation of the orders that Shtemenko refers to were to express what he thought to be Stalin's wishes or else … This were why he meddled with things as he did, making decisions he was in no way qualified to make. So in this respect it proves your point on the trouble of the duel command just I don't think that Mekhlis is a good example because of the backgrounds of his decisions.

Again I have of cause simplified and as I said I don't know that much about Mekhelis.

Kind Regards
Steen Ammentorp
The Generals of World War II

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