German Propaganda Archive Calvin College

 

Background: The German defeat at Stalingrad was a challenge for Nazi propaganda. For weeks before the final collapse, Nazi media said almost nothing about Stalingrad. The announcement of the defeat was presented as a triumph of German heroism. But what to do about those who surrendered to the Russians? The Russians were not forthcoming with prisoner lists, and large numbers of Germans were unsure of the fate of their loved ones.

The author was a leading Nazi propagandist, and the report of the Sicherheitsdienst found that this article had a good reception.

The source: Hans Schwarz van Berk, “Die offenen Verlustlisten,” Das Reich, 14 February 1943, p. 3.


The Uncertain Casualty List:

Questions and Concerns after Stalingrad

by Hans Schwarz van Berk


During the three days that followed the announcement of the fall of Stalingrad [there was a three day period of national mourning], we thought not only of the soldiers of the 6th Army, but also of their families. The announcement provided insufficient information to relieve the uncertainty, the hope, the tortuous uncertainty in many homes. That was not possible, given that the fate of an entire army was involved. Even our highly developed modern methods of communication fail when faced with a situation of superhuman enormity. The fate of the individual seems to vanish in the face of such enormous events.

Ships have vanished on the high seas, with no word of their crews, scouts have failed to come back, airplanes have not returned to their bases. In each case they were reported “missing,” but in such cases one can know what happened with a high degree of certainty. That is not the case with the soldiers of the 6th Army, particularly given the nature of our enemy. Many people in our homeland who worry about their soldier relatives now stare into the cold, unreadable face of Bolshevism. Civilized peoples faced with the finality of death refrain from hatred, trickery, and propaganda, but Bolshevism is pitiless and refuses even to give an honest death list.

*

Is there in fact any news about German soldiers in the Soviet Union, and if so how reliable is it? There are several facts. The Soviet Union signed the Geneva Conventions of 27 July 1929 “for the improvement of the condition of the wounded and sick in armies in the field,” but not the convention of the same day on the treatment of prisoners of war. Article Four of the first convention obliges the signatory powers to exchange the names of the wounded, ill and fallen as quickly as possible. The official Soviet offices have never done this. Why? Because the Soviets are not concerned about the fate of their people; the individual counts for nothing in a collective state. For 25 years, the Soviet Union has been the land of the missing. No independent agency has been given access to what happens in the hospitals and POW camps behind Soviet lines. This is unique and unprecedented in modern history.

Our soldiers in the East have had long experience with the Red Armyís methods. The Soviets have long used the methods they are now using to confuse and demoralize the German homeland on our soldiers at the front. The first battles were scarcely over when leaflets rained down on the German lines. They included the names photographs and unit numbers of allegedly fallen comrades. Sometimes there were facsimile signatures and details of birthplaces or home towns. Later there were postcards from comrades in POW camps. But who could know how long they remained alive after sending the postcards? Radio, too, served propaganda. The texts however were so absurd that anyone could see who wrote them. Our military leadership conscientiously checked to see if the lists of prisoners were accurate. Numerous cases have been discussed in the OKWís “Mitteilungen für die Truppe.” Here is but one case: On 31 March 1942, the soldier Martin Amberger of IR 141 and 143 was given as the writer of an essay in a Bolshevist newspaper for the front. Actually, he had died on a scouting mission on 31 December 1941. When his body was found that same day, his pay book and weapon were missing. The Soviets have regularly taken the papers and letters of fallen German soldiers. When they attacked a German baggage train, letters, lists and IDs were their target. Names are what they wanted for propaganda, nothing more

*

Immediately after the last report from the 6th Army, the responsible offices worked to establish a casualty list. All those who were stationed in Stalingrad are currently being questioned. The 47,000 wounded and the sick in hospitals are being asked about losses up to the time they were evacuated. We are gathering all possible information about our soldiers at Stalingrad. In some cases, there will soon be certain information about the death of an army member. Others will face the uncertainty of news that their family member is missing. One hesitates to say more than that, but the families of the missing want to know more. The state cares for the families of the missing; after a waiting period they receive financial support. Instead of family support, the unmarried receive survivorís benefits after one month, the married after three months, for a period of nine months. Support for families with many children is sometimes higher than under normal family support so that the best possible education is provided for the children.

*

As we write this, we sense the inadequacy of words. We sense the worst imaginings that will face many families for a long time. No mother or wife will give up hope that her son or husband may return one day. They remember that in the past the missing have sometimes returned unexpectedly. Think of how many prayers go up to the stars each night, the same stars on which the missing soldiers gaze. The thoughts of the sleepless meet above the roof tops, and a rainbow of immortal love stretches over our homeland. In such times a person should know that sorrow does not make him poorer, that longing is his deepest ability and that loyalty in memory is his noblest deed. No soldier who did his duty at Stalingrad, should he remain alive, will walk alone along the roads of the East. The unending inexhaustible strength of his love, of his comrades, of his people will walk with him, telling him that no German in our day is alone, whatever he may suffer for the Reich.

After we had buried out dead, we sat together and spoke of the family members they left behind. We thought that they had been spared a worse fate. If we had the time to write them, we would have said how fast and easy death comes for most in the field. We know how much mothers and wives worry about the final hour. As we think of the missing of Stalingrad, we know that if they too must die, none will lack the strength of a proud silence that the enemyís mockery cannot break. Our soldiers have developed a humanity that is the best and noblest of the German spirit. What can break the soldiers who withstood the hell of Stalingrad for so many weeks? They have been changed, as we who were or are in the field can sense. They no longer share our understanding of life. They have gone through the bitterest trial, and are far beyond our daily troubles. They may not be able to speak to us, yet they are with us in every thought and with all their heart, wishing and thinking but one thing: that our people may be spared their fate. We have found in them the silent witnesses of our history, who may yet someday speak. They testify as to how much nobler, humane and beautiful life in our country is, where the individual lives in brotherhood and is honored, never lost and never forgotten. Among those who raise the Red flag, the fate of the individual is written in the sands of the steppes.

Now all we can do is to bow our heads to the family members of the heroes of Stalingrad, and to the heroes themselves. They must carry on the battle in their souls, and no one can take that burden from them. Only time will soften and heal their pain. Only the knowledge of a deed well done can console them, only our sympathy can help them, only our loyalty to them can strengthen their loyalty to those missing in the great battle. No one missing in the distant East is lost to our immortal history as long as our own devotion follows his example.

 

[Page copyright © 2000 by Randall Bytwerk. No unauthorized reproduction. My e-mail address is available on the FAQ page.]


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