January 13, 2016

1949. The Dispute Over Missing German War Prisoners in Russia

The Western Powers and the Soviet Union Compete for Influence in Germany
"The mother of a prisoner thanks Konrad Adenauer upon his return from Moscow on September 14, 1955. Adenauer had succeeded in concluding negotiations for the release to Germany, by the end of that year, of 15,000 German civilians and prisoners of war" (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

January 13, 1949

German manpower is becoming a number one issue in the international struggle between East and West. This is what is behind the current dispute over the missing prisoners of war which the United States and Britain charge that Russia is holding behind her own borders.

Last night's British statement that there are still two million German war prisoners in Russia reflects American concern over this matter. Both nations charge that, by holding these men, the Soviet Union is violating the Potsdam Agreement that called for repatriation of all prisoners of war by last December 31st.

These men are needed for the reconstruction of this defeated nation. There are also fears in some quarters that the Soviet Union may be organizing them into a potential military force.

But there is another consideration in this dispute over the former German soldiers now alleged to be held in Russia. They have also become a political issue as the East and West struggle for support from the German people. By stressing the plight of these missing men, the Western Powers feel they can gain the sympathy of the German people and thus implement occupation regulations such as international control of the Ruhr, with a minimum of opposition from the concerned, even though these measures are distasteful to the Germans.

Determining exactly how many German POWs are still in Russia is problematic. The Russians deny the two million figure; many Germans died in the winter of 1943. The Soviet military command does not have the efficient organization for repatriation that was employed by Britain, America, and France in returning the men they held.

Almost every day it is possible here in Berlin to meet a soldier who has just returned from Russia.

The charges and counter-charges over who has how many German war prisoners is still continuing as part of the cold war of words between the East and West.

The argument, carried on as it is in this atmosphere of crisis, is a serious one tending to further separate the disputing powers.

But a cynical observer would say that the accusations being hurled back and forth are more for German consumption than anything else. The fact that the much-violated Potsdam Agreement has been broken again has certainly receded into the background.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.