March 9, 2017

An appreciation of The Gulag in East Germany: Soviet Special Camps 1945-1950, by Ulrich Merten

This is an extremely interesting and much needed study of this aspect of the period of World War Two and afterwards when postwar Germany was under control of the victorious allied powers, and particularly, in the East, of the Soviet occupation forces and their GDR followers. The value of the study devolves perhaps mainly from a dearth of information and of published material, at least in the USA, because of the general feeling that the Nazis and therefore the Germans in general were getting their just due after years of inflicting horrors on populations that they had occupied starting in the late 1930’s through the war period. Never doubting the justice of the Soviets in deserving and taking reparations and vengeance from the defeated Nazi Germany, the West did not know nor could one delve too much into what was really happening behind the fabled iron curtain. Only with time were revelations about the Soviet NKVD and East German concentration and work camps beginning to appear to the public in the West. Mr. Merten has brought together a compilation of materials, data and accounts, including first-hand ones, from the sources existing concerning this subject. An extensive bibliography supports the study, a large percentage of sources being German but also including the major US and British reports.

The text is basically divided into three sections. First there is a description of camps, evolving from the wartime Nazi concentration camps to the special camps of the eastern or Soviet zone. After this, a substantial portion is devoted to the nature and operations of the camps for prisoners held by the three victorious western powers: Britain, France and the USA. Of these, the British and French camps and prisons for Germans are perhaps less harsh than the US prisons, but all tend to shrink in numbers and holdings, as time goes by, and end up retaining finally only major war criminals. Allied objectives had been met, including the most significant one of denazification of Germany. This section is followed by the major part of the work which is to describe the much harsher and extensive Soviet camps, and, eventually with the East German camps. Only after the fall of the DDR in the early 1990’s do discoveries of mass graves begin to occur in that area. The time period covered by this study starts with the end of the war and continues on through the 1950’s and later. An extensive bibliography supports the material and the conclusions.   This book is highly recommended historical reading.

Dr. Robert  A. Meininger

Professor Emeritus, Nebraska Wesleyan University