April 9, 2017

1943. Red Army Convicts

Russian Convicts Join the Fight
"Soviet soldiers, on their backs, launch a volley of bullets at enemy aircraft in June of 1943" (source)
This report was killed by Soviet officials before it could reach the air.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

April 14, 1943

There are a lot of things that most of us don't know about the Red Army. This goes for me here in Moscow as much as for you people back home.

For example, today I discovered that, among those soldiers of whom the Soviet Union is most proud, are the men who have disobeyed Russian law and been sentenced for minor crimes.

Doctor Goebbels is going to have a lot of fun with that one. He's going to say immediately that the Red Army is an army of "criminals." Nothing could be further from the truth.

I talked to a young Soviet lawyer today who at the age of 35 is one of the assistant prosecutors of the USSR. He not only told me that men with criminal records are serving in the Russian army—but he's proud of it. The evidence he presented explained why.

This young prosecutor, his name is Vladimir Diakonov, said that since the beginning of the war, men who have been convicted of crimes calling for sentences of less than three years detention had on examination been admitted to service in the Red Army.

"Not in a single case have we found that they have failed their country," the prosecutor said. "Of course, we don't send dangerous criminals into the army. They are a danger to society and would be a danger to the army as well. But we feel that a man convicted of a minor crime—say embezzlement or a first offender—is not necessarily an incurable criminal or an unpatriotic citizen. It is the aim of any prison system throughout the world to make these men useful citizens again. We think we have succeeded. And the records prove it."

It seems that there are scores of men with criminal records serving in the Red Army. Some of them have completed terms and joined. Others are serving while under conviction and may have terms to finish after the war is over. And there are others who have joined the army who are waiting for conviction. Settlement of their cases will also be made after the war.

I saw evidence where many of these men have been decorated with the highest Red Army orders for their courage. Many have risen from privates to be officers.

But not one, according to the deputy prosecutor, has turned out to be a bad soldier.