NAZIS BACK VLASOV’S RUSSIAN LIBERATION ARMY AND COMMITTEE

Prague, Occupied Czechoslovakia November 14, 1944

On this date in German-occupied Czechoslovakia Lt. Gen. Andrei (Andrey) Andreie­vich Vlasov read aloud the Prague Mani­festo to members of the newly created Com­mit­tee for the Lib­er­a­tion of the Peoples of Russia. Among its 14 prin­ci­ples, the Prague Mani­festo guaran­teed free­dom of speech, press, religion, and assem­bly, as well as a right to self-deter­mi­na­tion of any ethnic group living in terri­tories belonging to the Soviet Union. Known by its four-letter Russian abbre­vi­a­tion KOHP (English, KONR), the com­mit­tee was chaired by Vlasov (1901–1946), a former Soviet gene­ral who com­manded the Russian Lib­er­a­tion Army, itself abbre­vi­ated as ROA (POA in Rus­sian). KONR tended to be viewed as the polit­i­cal arm of Vlasov’s ROA. KONR was popu­lated by mili­tary and civil­ian Nazi collab­o­ra­tors who had joined with German invaders to free their homeland from Soviet tyranny.

Sixty days after Adolf Hitler launched Oper­a­tion Bar­ba­rossa, Germany’s June 22, 1941, inva­sion of the Soviet Union, the first major defec­tion of Soviet sol­diers, a Cos­sack regi­ment, to the German side occurred. More impor­tant was the defec­tion of the very able, recently captured (July 1942) Soviet gene­ral Andrei Vlasov. With help from the Wehr­macht (German mili­tary) offi­cer corps, Vlasov orga­nized the Com­mit­tee for the Lib­er­a­tion of the Peoples of Russia and the Russian Lib­er­at­ion Army with support from Reichs­fuehrer-SS Hein­rich Himm­ler. ROA sol­diers, some­times referred to as Vlasov­tsy, were deserters from the Red Army, Soviet sol­diers sprung from German POW camps, Russian volun­teers, and anti-Com­munist civil­ians. By the start of 1943, 427,000 turn­coat Soviets were embedded in German fighting units on the Eastern Front. Late in the war Vlasov­tsy num­bered a mil­lion men. One German com­mander said that 50 per­cent of his troops were of Rus­sian or Eastern Euro­pean origin. An esti­mated one-quarter of Gen. Fried­rich Paulus’ German Sixth Army at the Battle of Stalin­grad (August 23, 1942, to Febru­ary 2, 1943) was Soviet born.

By late January 1945—four months before the end of the World War II in Europe—Gen. Vlasov had cobbled together three divi­sions in his Russian Lib­er­a­tion Army. That same month the divi­sions were detached from the Wehr­macht and placed under the com­mand of the Com­mit­tee for the Lib­er­a­tion of the Peoples of Russia, or KONR. Only one divi­sion reached oper­a­tional read­i­ness by mid-Febru­ary and did not see com­bat against the Red Army until April 11–14 as Germany’s once mighty military collapsed under withering blows on every front.

Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army, by a quirk of fate, took to the field against German Waffen-SS units in the Prague uprising of May 5–8, 1945. Armed with heavy wea­pons, ROA’s first divi­sion, the 20,000-man 600th Panzer­gre­nadier Divi­sion, assisted Czech insur­gents in saving most of their beau­ti­ful city from wanton destruc­tion. Vlasov hoped unre­al­is­tically that advancing U.S. forces would take the Czech capi­tal and allow the ROA to capit­u­late on “favor­able” terms before the Red Army arrived, which hap­pened on May 9. Some 17,000 Vlasov­tsy, including Vlosov, ended up as Soviet POWs. They were forci­bly repa­tri­ated to the Soviet Union, where they were exe­cuted as trai­tors or worked to death in prison camps. Vlasov’s exe­cu­tion in the Soviet capital Moscow on August 2, 1946, was one of two mil­lion deaths inflicted by Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and his hench­men in their effort to revenge them­selves on every soul who was absent from the Mother­land during the Great Patri­o­tic War (1941–1945). The forced repa­tri­a­tion of Soviet exiles in Europe between 1944 and 1947 has been referred to as the “two-million-person holocaust.”



Gen. Andrei Andreievich Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Army (ROA)

Russian Liberation Army: Vlosov with ROA soldiers, 1944Russian Liberation Army: Vlasov at Dabendorf barracks, 1944

Left: Gen. Vlasov addresses soldiers of his anti-Communist Russian Lib­er­a­tion Army at the end of their field exer­cises, pro­bably August 1944. Never before in the annals of war­fare had so many sol­diers defected to fight for the enemy. Known to the Germans as the Rus­sische Befreiungs­armee and to the Soviets as the Russ­kaya osvoboditel’naya armiya (Latin script, ROA; Cyrillic script, POA), the Russian Lib­er­a­tion Army was at the time still part of the German Army. Not till the last few weeks of the war did the Russian Lib­er­a­tion Army take the field as a single unit. This photo may have been taken at Daben­dorf barracks (Lager Daben­dorf) south of Berlin in the German state of Brandenburg.

Right: Gen. Vlasov (second person on left) at Dabendorf barracks, probably August 1944. The officer wearing the POA (Russian Lib­er­a­tion Army) patch on his upper right sleeve is iden­ti­fied by the photo­grapher as Gen. Trochin. The men to either side of Vlasov are in German uniforms except for their POA insig­nia. The two men on the right side of the photo appear to be servicemembers in the German Army.

Russian Liberation Army: Presidium of the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (KONR), Berlin, November 1944Russian Liberation Army: ROA soldiers in Belgium or France, October–November 1943

Left: This photo, taken in Berlin in November 1944, shows the presidium of the Com­mit­tee for the Lib­er­a­tion of the Peoples of Russia (KONR). Com­mitt­ee chair­man Gen. Vlasov is seated to the left of the speaker. The mission of the com­mit­tee, founded in Prague on Novem­ber 14, 1944, along with that of its mili­tary arm, the Russian Lib­er­a­tion Army, was to topple the Soviet Com­mu­nist regime of Joseph Stalin. Alas, time was running out for the Third Reich and its friends. After the sur­render of Nazi Germany to the Allies in May 1945, KONR ceased to oper­ate. In the imme­di­ate post-war period, seve­ral new orga­ni­za­tions sprang up, started by KONR vete­rans and Vlasov’s ROA who had managed to escape forced repa­tri­a­tion to the Soviet Union. The inten­tion of the new orga­ni­za­tions was to con­tinue KONR’s goal of fighting com­mu­nism. In the United States in the late 1940s/­early 1950s the new Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency funded two Munich-based broad­casters, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. RFE targeted lis­teners in Soviet satel­lites in Eastern Europe and RL targeted lis­teners in the Soviet Union. In 1995 RFE/RL moved its head­quarters from Germany to Prague in the Czech Republic.

Right: Captions on this photo read ROA soldiers in Belgium or France, Octo­ber–Novem­ber 1943. In a strange turn of events, by early 1944 the majority of ROA sol­diers in the East were serving on the Western Front, where in mid-1944 they would encounter Allied sol­diers engaged in lib­er­ating Western Europe from Nazi tyranny. Vari­ously referred to as Ost­truppen or Ost­ein­heiten (Eastern units), Hiwis (short for Hilfs­wil­liger, volun­teers), or landes­eigene Ver­baende (pro­vin­cial for­ma­tions), East Euro­pean “volun­teers” in German com­panies and bat­tal­ions acquired a repu­ta­tion on diverse German fronts for being unre­li­able (unzu­ver­laessig), poorly moti­vated, and prone to mutiny, deser­tion, and seizing any oppor­tun­i­ty to sur­render to the enemy. Seventy-one “Eastern” bat­tal­ions served on the Eastern Front, and 42 bat­tal­ions served in Finland, Belgium, France, and Italy.

Walter Cronkite CBS Documentary on the Russian Liberation Army