On April 25, the day after Paul was liberated to Soviet control, a significant event happened not far away from where he was. Westward thrusting elements of the Soviet First Ukrainian Front linked up with the eastward moving U.S. First Army at a town named Torgau on the Elbe River. It was approximately 40 miles east of the city of Halle, and 20 miles northwest of the city of Riesa, where Paul and his companion escapers would eventually end up in a Soviet-run collection center for U.S. citizens. Traveling in a southeasterly direction, they had to have been very near to Torgau, the place where Nazi Germany was split in two. He learned of the link-up from his Soviet liberators.
Asked if the word of this event generated excitement, Paul responded: “I remember it was a good feeling to know that the war was about to be over. But there was no big celebration about it. The Russians were pleased that they had joined the Americans, yes, but the link-up wasn’t rejoiced.”
Paul’s group had joined a Red Army patrol that had an established daily routine. “We tagged along with that unit for a couple of weeks,” he said. “They were sweeping the area for German soldiers and it was interesting to watch them work.” The Americans observed a phenomenon that had happened since the dawn of civilization; that is, watching a conquering army advancing over enemy territory. Asked what was interesting about it, he responded: “The way they approached a town. The way they went into buildings. They did it with a mechanical precision, no fuss. The sergeant was good. He’d get together with his men every morning and explain to them what needed to be done. It was all planned out. Some would go in one direction and others in another direction.”
There was little, if any, disagreement on patrol. The Soviet soldiers knew their assignments and carried them out in a professional manner. When they entered a building, some would remain outside to provide cover if the enemy appeared. The Americans were not able to observe as much as they might have liked, however. While the sweeps were carried out they were instructed, or rather motioned, to stay put in areas that the Soviets deemed safe.
This procedure went on for many days, and no contact was ever made with German soldiers or others, as this area had been completely evacuated. There were no white flags hanging out of windows, and weapons were never fired. Asked to estimate the number of hamlets, villages and towns that the Soviet soldiers swept, Paul answered: “About one a day, I think, except for near the end when there was a larger town not too far from Riesa. We stayed in that one for a couple of days.” No natural obstacles were encountered such as rivers or ridges; it was mostly countryside interspersed with small population centers.
Paul did not remember seeing the Soviets search for landmines but indicated that they may have. He never heard an explosion, and the Soviet soldiers didn’t seem concerned.
Asked if the Red Army soldiers positioned snipers in advance, Paul replied: “No. I think at this point the Russians were not worried about being attacked. They were being cautious, yes, going through towns thoroughly one at a time. They wanted to make sure there were no surprises.” The four Americans had indeed been fortunate. The Nazis had not yet surrendered but for all intents and purposes, the war was over in this area.
The Red Army sergeant had about 30 infantry soldiers under his command. “Things were very informal and the soldiers had a great deal of respect for the sergeant,” Paul said. “I imagine they had been fighting together for some time.” Paul communicated with the sergeant on several occasions by drawing pictures in the dirt or sharing a few basic German words that they both knew. “He had a very pleasant, happy personality. I found out that in one of the big battles in Russia a German soldier threw a grenade at him and he picked it up to throw it back; it exploded in the air and he lost his fingers. I think he was lucky that the injury was not more serious but he seemed very casual about the loss.”
Paul came to sense that this sergeant, with his positive outlook on things, was a natural leader. On the flip side, over the weeks they spent together the sergeant may have made a similar assessment of Paul. In any event, the two got along well together.
Asked how old the sergeant was and what “big battle” he had been wounded in, Paul answered, “late twenties” and “I believe it was Stalingrad.” Digesting this response, one can envision that the Red Army sergeant was akin to an infantry version of Manny Klette. Like Klette, he was probably a few years older than most of the men he commanded, had extensive combat experience and was not prone to make mistakes.
Some individuals simply stand out in the art of war.
Hitler had been unwise to invade the Soviet Union, and doubly so while being engaged in a war with Great Britain. The corporal-turned-Führer should have read what Peter the Great did to all-powerful Sweden or what the Russians did to Napoleon’s army after it reached Moscow. The “jovial” Red Army sergeant was about as robust a warrior as ever stalked the earth, and the Red Army was full of men like him. No doubt SHAEF appreciated this.
“They never offered us weapons to use nor did we ask for any,” Paul said. “I think we were considered to be guests. I imagine if they had gotten into a bind we would have pitched in to help. We sort of tagged along and kept out of their way so they could do their job.”
The Red Army unit that the escapers travelled with moved in a southerly direction. Paul consistently referred to these soldiers as Russian but in reality many were Ukrainian. As stated, the Soviet Union referred to its forces south of Berlin, in the area where Paul’s escape took place, as the First Ukrainian Front.”1 The southern spearhead was commanded by Field Marshal Koniev, himself a Russian. Koniev competed with Marshal Zhukov (in the field and also for the world press) who commanded the northern spearhead then nearing center city Berlin. About Ukrainian nationality, Paul said: “Maybe they did mention this but we didn’t get it.”
“Evenings were agreeable because we tried to communicate as much as possible,” Paul related. “They were very interested in things we had in America. In spite of the language barrier, we seemed to be able to get a picture of what they had in Russia and it wasn’t much.” Asked how he sensed these Red Army soldiers came from poverty, Paul’s response was telling. “It was what the soldiers did not say,” he explained. “They didn’t mention schools, automobiles or even their homes. We got the impression that there wasn’t much there.”
At this stage in the conflict the Red Army was the most powerful ever assembled in history. It had 6,250 tanks, 41,600 guns, 7,000 aircraft and almost 2.5 million hardened front-line combat troops.2 Asked to comment on this, Paul said: “All I remember is those 30 men. And later those assigned to take care of us at Riesa.” He added: “Most there were women.”
Paul was also asked to give his impression of a comment made by a victorious commanding general about his troops’ behavior during the closing days of a different, earlier war: “Nothing seemed to fatigue them. They were ready to move without rations and travel without rest until the end.”3 Paul opined that the Russians were as pleased as he was at the prospect of surviving the war and going home. He added nothing more, however, suggesting there existed no special enthusiasm on the part of the 30 Red Army soldiers to experience more combat.
Finally, Paul was asked to comment on this:
The men of the Red Army, advancing relentlessly westward showed no mercy. “You are now on German soil,” they’d been told as they crossed the border. “The hour of revenge has struck!” Each regiment was encouraged to keep its own “revenge score.” One battalion carried with it across eastern Germany a hand-lettered poster that read: WE ARE NOW GETTING OUR REVENGE FOR 775 OF OUR RELATIVES WHO WERE KILLED, FOR 909 RELATIVES WHO WERE TAKEN AWAY TO SLAVERY IN GERMANY, FOR 478 BURNT-DOWN HOUSES AND FOR 303 DESTROYED FARMS.4
Paul made clear: “The villages that we walked through were not looted or burned.” He would later witness the infliction of a ruthless revenge extracted on a surrendered people, however.
“One day we came to a German village, and as the Russians checked for soldiers we went into an attractive home previously occupied by the Burgermeister,” Paul said. “Things were not damaged so the place had been lived in recently. We checked all through the house and then went down into the cellar. What a surprise, there was a huge pile of discarded parts of Red Cross packages strewn all over the floor. He had been stealing our food on a grand scale.”
He continued: “About that time one of the other fellows called us from outside. There was the fat Burgermeister in full uniform stretched out on the floor of the chicken house with a self-inflicted bullet hole in his head. None of us wasted much sympathy on him.”
This proved to be the only corpse that Paul Lynch and the other Americans viewed. “We got permission from the Red Army soldiers to stay in this house,” Paul explained. “The Russians did not know he [the Burgermeister] was in the chicken coop, they had left the area. There were no Russians with us when we found the body.” He added: “There wasn’t any aroma or decay.”
“He was stretched out on a bench-like bed of sorts, with his arms to his side. He shot himself with his left hand I do believe.” Paul opined that if the Soviets had shot him his body would not have been laid out in an orderly fashion. Also, Paul heard no shots ring out in the village that day. Paul did not recollect seeing the weapon used, however. “We did not really look,” he said.
Surprisingly, while in the field Paul did not learn of Hitler’s suicide that was announced on Nazi radio on April 30. Paul offered: “The ordinary Russian soldiers were not as well clued in as the Americans soldiers on world happenings. They lived from day to day and one bottle of vodka to the next, one loaf of bread to the other, and that was their life.” Paul reemphasized that there had been considerable drinking. “Not while they were on duty, but yes, when they could do it, there was,” he said.
The Soviets declared V-E Day on May 9, a day later than the other Allies, because of a separate surrender they took from the Nazis, and on this date Paul and the other Americans were still on patrol with the 30 Red Army soldiers. “The war simply ended,” Paul related. There had been no firing of weapons into the air, arm waving or even time given off for rest and relaxation. This may have been so because the 30 soldiers needed to complete the sweep of the area they had been assigned to clear before returning to a place where they could get a hot meal—the good sized city of Riesa.
“When we came to Riesa, we were put into an abandoned German technical school,” Paul related. “It was rather sad to part company with this group as we seemed to get along well together. I think the Russians felt the same way. The sergeant came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and his expression told me that he was sad to leave us here. I have often thought of him.”
They arrived at the technical school on May 12, 1945, and were housed in a dormitory complex that had been turned by the Soviets into a “collection center” exclusively for U.S. citizens per the Yalta agreement. The war had been over for three days when they arrived, and Paul’s group would remain there for almost two more weeks, finally returning to U.S. military control on May 25. Paul was again on the west side of the Elba River, which the Soviets occupied at the time.5 In 2012 while being interviewed for this book Paul would learn something significant relating to his stay at the collection center, something that he said U.S. government representatives never told him about in 1945 or that he learned from newspapers, newsreels or radio broadcasts after his return to U.S. military control.
Per the Yalta agreement, repatriation teams from the United States and the Soviet Union were supposed to have “. . . immediate access into the camps and points of concentration where their citizens are located”6 U.S. authorities should have had access to Paul and the other Americans on the very day they arrived at the Riesa collection center; that is, May 12, yet that did not happen. Paul and the other Americans in Soviet custody did not know what the Yalta agreement provided for or what was actually going on at the time.
When he was a POW, Paul regarded himself as a “bargaining chip” for Hitler. He did not know until 2012 that when he entered that collection center at Riesa, he had become a bargaining chip for Stalin. Paul viewed the Russians as allies, and he had been protected by the Red Army sergeant and his men. And asked if he had been treated well by the Russians while at Riesa, Paul replied: “Yes, I was. We all were.”
“I was assigned a small room on the second floor of the dorm with a single cot,” Paul said. He described in specific detail the view from his window: “The back side of an apartment building with long balconies on each floor running the length of the building.”
“My room was littered with papers and textbooks. I found some post cards with a picture of the dorms and decided to take several to show where I stayed.” Referring to the picture of the dormitory appearing on one of the post cards, Paul said: “My room was on the back side, left corner of the center dorm.”
“We hadn’t been there very long when a large group of U.S. infantry soldiers came in to stay,” Paul continued. “They had been captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge and liberated by the Russians.” They were all privates, and there were about 160 of them.
Paul described the food at Riesa as “plain but adequate” which, although perhaps was faint praise, also meant it was a big step up from a steady diet of kohlrabi and ersatz butter-grease! “The Russians sent a crew to work in the kitchen. Most were rather husky women but very friendly. One day I saw one lift a full garbage can off the ground and throw it on a truck as if it was filled with feathers. At first, I thought she might be exceptionally strong but later I saw several others do the same thing. Don’t think I wanted to tangle with those gals. One thing that did impress me was that they seemed to be happy while they worked.” Paul expressed a similar opinion for most of the male Red Army soldiers he observed.
Paul told of another memorable encounter with a different kind of Russian woman. He was selected to take what he thought would be a physical examination, and when he reported to the medical section: “There stood a petite, cute, female Russian Army doctor,” he effused. “I thought, ‘Oh no, she is going to have me drop my pants and cough.’ She didn’t, but asked about my age, my unit, family back home, where I was shot down and how I happened to be here in Riesa. She was very interested in my story and told me I was lucky to have made it all this way.”
The doctor ended the session cordially, Paul reported, that is without requiring a salute. “She extended her hand for a shake and told me I seemed as well as expected,” he said. Asked if other Americans got the same interview with the cute Doctor, Paul responded: “I don’t know if they did or not.”
“Soon, the Russians got us all together and had us give our name, rank, outfit, last unit address and home address,” Paul related. “Since I was one of the highest ranked Americans, the Russians put me in charge of a platoon but didn’t tell me what was expected at the time.” Asked how big his platoon was, Paul responded, “About a third of the G.I.s,” suggesting 50-plus men. “I can’t say why I was picked,” Paul said, “just a matter of chance, I guess.” Asked whether any of his other USAAF sergeant-escapers were selected for platoon leaderships, Paul answered: “Not that I know about.”
“The next thing that happened,” Paul explained, “was that I was called in to see a Major in the Red Army. He spoke very correct English and his uniform was immaculate. He was very friendly, informal and cordial. He was very concerned for the conditions and well being of the men. He told me the U.S. Army would be contacted immediately and given a list of Americans and the location of this place. We would be informed as soon as the Americans set up a date to pick us up. That was the best news I heard in months. Then came one demand or order; we were not to leave the area of the school. That worried me some at first because this might be one more prison, but soon I would understand why that order was given.”
Paul did not have to wait long. In his “small room on the second floor” that evening, Paul heard a commotion outside. He looked out his window at the building across the street, the one with the “long balconies on each floor running the length of the building.” The building housed tenants and Paul said he saw, “the Germans running out the back door of one apartment, along the balcony and into the door of another apartment.”
Paul continued: “I assumed the Russian soldiers were coming in the front door of each successive apartment looking for women. I suspect the soldiers were drunk because many drank Vodka like water. Several times I heard screams and often shots.”
Paul did not use the words “rape” or “murder” but he left little doubt about what he thought was happening across the way. “I really felt sorry for these people but I didn’t dare intervene. Now I understood why we were restricted to the school grounds.”
Paul and the other U.S. servicemen internees were still dressed in the filthy uniforms they had worn as POWs, and if they had left the campus and gone into the town of Riesa they might well have been mistaken for displaced persons and shot for no other reason than malevolent sport by blindly intoxicated, marauding, vengeful Red Army soldiers. The Red Army Major had been correct to issue his “one demand or order.” Paul agreed: “The drunks might have taken us for Germans and shot us,” he observed.
The horror lasted three or four days, and then tapered off. By the day of his repatriation, May 25, the behavior had pretty much stopped.
There was another, additional reason that the Red Army Major issued his order, and Paul would learn about it in 2012. The Major did not want any of the U.S. soldiers in his custody to attempt to flee to their own countrymen. Asked what distance the U.S. Army was from him while he was at the collection center in Riesa, Paul replied: “Four miles.”
A daily routine set in at the collection center, albeit an uncomfortable one owing to what happened nearby to the school at night. There were no showers available, but the G.I.s were fed hot meals and were well treated. Paul proved to be an easygoing platoon leader. Chuckling at the memory, he elucidated on his military wisdom: “I decided there would be no mind-numbing marching to pass the time. We had roll call, sick call and about twenty minutes of calisthenics a day in the morning and that was it. I even got a fellow to lead the calisthenics so he would take the gripes.”
With each passing day, however, Paul and his fellow Americans became more anxious about repatriation. The distance to the American line was minimal, so why the delay?
On or about May 18, about a week before his release, representatives of the U.S. Army showed up on the campus. “An American jeep drove in carrying three chaplains,” Paul related. “They were on a visit to determine our location, see how many of us were there, how we were doing and to let us know what was happening. They explained that we would be going out across bridges and that there was only one U.S. controlled pontoon bridge over the Elbe River and ‘military traffic’ had first priority. Trucks would be sent as soon as there was an opportunity—in other words a delay.”
Paul and the other American internees took at face value what the chaplains told them about “military traffic” tying up the pontoon bridge and causing a delay in their return to U.S. military control. Asked if he ever questioned what that “military traffic” might have been between the Americans and the Soviets, whether it be food, equipment or supplies, Paul responded, “No.” Asked if he ever thought about why the U.S. Army chose to send in chaplains, as opposed to say, infantry or staff officers, Paul again responded in the negative. In short, Paul and the others accepted the delay as customary U.S. Army bureaucratic inefficiency and nothing more—“red tape” of course!
Paul learned in 2012 that these U.S. Army chaplains had participated in a well-meaning obfuscation. It was human traffic going over that pontoon bridge, and no doubt other bridges, that caused the delay in his repatriation process. The U.S. government was both contractually obligated by the Yalta agreement and compelled by circumstances to repatriate Soviet citizens. If Stalin did not get his citizens back, then U.S. citizens under Soviet control would not be returned—it was that basic. If the chaplains had attempted to explain this on May 18, it undoubtedly would have created apprehension, and done absolutely no good. Paul was being held hostage, but he did not know it.
In 2012 Paul learned of a World War II incident described by Time-Life Books, in a chapter entitled, appropriately, The Anxious Deliverance:
Prisoners in German camps relieved by the Red Army often had to endure delays of a month or more under Soviet guard before they were turned over to the Allied forces. For example, the Red Army arrived at Luckenwalde on April 23 when the U.S. Ninth Army was just west of the Elbe River, less than 50 miles away. Because of red tape and Soviet truculence—on one occasion Russian soldiers actually fired shots above a convoy of U.S. trucks sent to fetch the prisoners—it was May 20 before all the Allied prisoners were evacuated to safety behind U. S. lines.7
The U.S. Army likely selected three chaplains to go to the collection center at Riesa because they were non-combatants and if Soviet forces fired upon them or took them hostage, it would undoubtedly spark an international outrage.
“The defectors?” Paul asked when being interviewed. “We returned them to the Russians, is that it?”
Yes, it was the defectors that created a huge moral crisis for the governments of the United States and Great Britain. It was a crisis that was resolved with minimal publicity attributable to the desire to keep as quiet as possible actions taken by democracies under duress that violated basic tenets of human rights, the most fundamental being the denial of asylum for those being persecuted for political reasons. It was also because of the Yalta mandate for no adverse propaganda.
Underneath the story of the collection center at Riesa—one that impacted the lives of approximately 160 Americans—lays a much larger story. The source of much of what follows comes from a lecture presented in the fall of 1988 at Hillsdale College by Nikolai Tolstoy, heir to the great writer, entitled, Forced Repatriation to the Soviet Union: The Secret Betrayal.8
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, millions of Russians, including a large number of soldiers, mistakenly hailed the swiftly advancing Nazi armies as liberators. They welcomed the defeat of the detested Stalin and in some instances Russian military units marched to their surrender with their bands playing. German propagandists recorded scenes of these defections on film.9
After surrendering, the Nazis threw these Russian soldiers into unsheltered barbed-wire stockades on the exposed steppe and millions died of starvation and the elements during the severe winter of 1941-42.10 With this horrible act the Germans made clear their intention to wage a war of territorial conquest followed by population “resettlement.” This was the implementation of Lebensraum, the plan to acquire additional living space for the German “Master Race.” Hitler had chillingly foreshadowed this years earlier in his book Mein Kampf.”11
The Soviet Union, never a signatory of the Geneva Convention, did not lift a diplomatic finger to ease the plight of its suffering, imprisoned and dying countrymen. Indeed, the Tolstoy account describes some POW camps where Russians “were forced to watch [through a barbed wire fence] their British, French and American counterparts receive food parcels, clothing and letters from home.”12 The International Red Cross was barred “except on a few rare occasions” from visiting Russian captives. Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, was quoted as saying, ‘Well, for some reason which we know nothing about, Stalin is determined that nothing should be done for the Russian prisoners.’13 The unstated “reason,” obviously, was that Stalin viewed these men, having willingly surrendered, as traitors to the Soviet Union.
The Soviet captives who survived were turned into slaves of the Third Reich and many were impressed into military service. At war’s end several million Soviet citizens were displaced in Central Europe and a million actually fought in the German Army. Tolstoy states: “During the D-Day invasion in June 1944, British and American military authorities estimated that one out of every ten German soldiers captured was in reality a Soviet citizen.”14 After the war, it seemed no one wanted these people from the East, and no country volunteered asylum.
At the conclusion of the war in Europe, Stalin, being a dictator paranoid over the prospect of losing power, determined to get these men back so that he could either liquidate them or “re-educate” them in his Siberian labor camps, where the chance of survival was slim. Stalin appreciated that such a large number of ex-communist countrymen could, one way or another, create a problem for him in the future and he determined to deal with this possibility quickly and ruthlessly.
There are documented accounts of Stalin’s treachery. In December 1944, a British ship carrying Soviet citizens to be repatriated arrived in Murmansk. Many of the former POWs were “sent to the educational camps,” an observer recorded, but approximately 150 were selected for special processing. These men were marched by the Soviets to sheds on a nearby quay. Automatic gunfire was heard. Afterwards a covered lorry was seen leaving one of the sheds, and later, a “floor stained dark” was spotted by an observer who got a chance to glance into this shed.15 Following the war the British forcibly returned to Soviet control some 40,000 Cossacks who were arguably not Soviet citizens since they had fought with the White Russians during the Revolution and managed to escape to Austria. Pravda owned up that the leaders of these Cossacks had been hanged by Soviet authorities; the other Cossacks were never heard from again.”16
There are many verified accounts of Soviet crimes against their own people. There is a reference to Russian prisoners being executed by their own kind in a quarry near Riesa. There were eyewitnesses, “who gave statements on this.”17
Before the Yalta Conference the American policy was that no Soviet POW would be repatriated by force. At Yalta this policy changed.18 Why did Roosevelt agree to this? Roosevelt backed away from providing asylum to victims of political persecution in exchange for Stalin’s promise that the Soviet Union would join the war against Japan within three months of the conclusion of the war in Europe. He also did so to get American POWs back. There were 90,000 U.S. POWs in Germany at war’s end and the Soviets picked up approximately a third of them.
Soviet prisoners reportedly hanged themselves in, of all places, the notorious Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich where the Americans set up a collection center for Soviet citizens. Supposedly there is “a rare American Army film that showed a POW stabbing himself 56 times to avoid being taken into custody by SMERSH officers.”19 Things reportedly got so bad that the military leaders Eisenhower, Montgomery and Alexander revolted against their own governments and unilaterally issued orders outlawing forced repatriations.20 In the end, however, the forced repatriations went forward as agreed upon at Yalta. And Stalin, true to his word, declared war on Imperial Japan August 9, 1945, three months to the day after VE-Day and three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This was the same day Nagasaki was bombed. In the weeks remaining before Japan surrendered, the Soviet Union occupied Manchuria and later ended up with half of Korea. The formula for the next war had been set at Yalta.
Undoubtedly each side, East and West, broke its reciprocal promise given at Yalta to allow “immediate access” to the collection centers. There were many heated discussions with Soviet representatives over the repatriation issue, and much of the talking, or rather haggling over human lives, took place in the city of Halle, the last major city that Paul marched through. Also at times the Americans and the British were in disagreement over what the repatriation policy ought to be. Per Tolstoy, “Two million Russians—including White Russians, Cossacks, Slovenians, Croats and Serbs who were POWs or simply living in exile—were forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union.”21 What resulted was a human tragedy of epic proportion.
“I didn’t hear a word about it,” Paul said, referring to the subject of prisoner swapping. He reiterated that he never learned about it while he was at Riesa or later when he waited at the port of Le Harve to board a ship bound for home. Asked specifically if he had ever heard of the phrase “forced POW repatriation,” Paul replied emphatically, “No, no.”
Per his response, one can reasonably infer that Paul was not supposed to know, just as he was not supposed to know about the 7,000 African-Americans stationed on the same military base with him at Biloxi, Mississippi. The press had been selective in reporting during this era, or perhaps more accurately stated, controlled.
U.S. newspaper reports from the period immediately following the Nazi surrender support Tolstoy’s contention of secrecy. A major New York Times headline dated May 11, 1945 declared “Freedom of the Press Curbed in Europe—SHAEF and Russians Keep Iron Censorship in Occupied and Liberated Areas.” Other news articles discussed “new censor rules” regarding press stories,22 the barring of “Alien” (foreign) news media from “distribution in Germany”23 and disciplinary actions taken by the U.S. government against six U.S. correspondents who violated rules—three cases of “suspension” and three cases of “shipped back to the United States” (several violations involved attempted entry into the Soviet-occupied zone to find out what was going on).24
Then there was this, appearing on May 13, 1945:
SHAEF ASKS RUSSIANS ABOUT FREED PW’S
ADVANCE HEADQUARTERS, Reims, France, May 12 (AP)— Nearly half of the estimated 200,000 British and 76,000 American prisoners of war still in Germany are believed to be within the Russian zone of occupation, and Supreme Headquarters has twice requested a meeting or an agreement to arrange for their return.
This article provided the names of the senior Soviet and U.S. military officers involved. It concluded: “. . . and it cannot be foreseen what arrangements the Russians may approve—the last of these men might be on their way to Britain and the United States within two weeks to a month.”
The article says nothing adverse or alarming about the Soviet Union, paints U.S. authorities in a proactive mode, makes no reference to the Soviet POW situation, and foreshadows up to “a month” for the return process to happen.
Some G.I. POWs actually witnessed the prisoner trading. The writer Kurt Vonnegut experienced it and wrote about it in his novel Slaughterhouse 5. What he witnessed likely was not filmed.
The rain was coming down. The war in Europe had been over for a couple of weeks. We were formed in ranks, with Russian soldiers guarding us— Englishmen, Americans, Dutchmen, Belgians, Frenchmen, Canadians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Australians, thousands of us about to stop being prisoners of war.
And the other side of the field thousands of Russians and Poles and Yugoslavians and so on guarded by U.S. soldiers. An exchange was to be made there in the rain—one for one.25
Not all Western Allied POW camps liberated by the Soviets became bargaining chips, and a notable exception was Stalag Luft I near Barth, Germany where Dave Bishop and RJ Miller were held. The Red Army liberated this camp on May 1, 1945 and within a few days following the Nazi surrender on May 9 the Americans and British were permitted to implement an airlift evacuation of approximately 10,000 POWs. Stalin retained enough Americans and British POWs at other locations, however, to achieve his twisted political objective.
It is difficult to blame President Truman for what happened as a result of the POW repatriations, having played from a deck dealt to him by Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference. When Truman assumed the presidency in April 1945, he looked to the future course of the war with Japan and hoped to lessen its cost in American lives. The atomic bomb had not been tested yet. Truman also very much wanted the tens of thousands of young American POWs like Paul to be returned safely home. The last thing he needed was a much-publicized dispute with the Soviet leader, a supposed ally.
“I can clearly recall the day that the American trucks rolled into that school,” Paul said. “We were in formation when we loaded the trucks,” he explained. “Everyone let out a big cheer and we didn’t have any trouble getting the guys into those trucks.” No roll call was needed, Paul related, for no one would miss this movement! “Shortly we crossed over and crossed back the Elbe River, and when we rolled back onto the west bank we knew we were in American territory and really liberated.”
Awaiting Paul and the others was a U.S. Army field mess hall. “My first thrill was to see pitchers of milk,” Paul said. “The second stop was the delousing unit.” Paul told of “steamy showers, new uniforms” and removing “a Nazi blood-filled tick hidden between my legs.” Paul had worn the same uniform for six months. He reported he weighed 126 lbs.; that he had lost 60 lbs.—representing a 32% weight loss over a six-month period, and this measurement was done a month after being fed by the Soviets. The average weight loss for an American POW in the European Theatre was 35 to 45 lbs. Paul lost more weight because he made The Black March.
Paul related that he went through several medical examinations upon his return to U.S. military control and that there was initial concern for his vision. “The lack of food could have impacted my ability to see, or so I was told,” he said. Fortunately for him this was not the case. Paul had no recollection of ever being examined by a military psychiatrist or psychologist.
Paul was sent along with other liberated POWs to Camp Lucky Strike, a tent city near the port of Le Harve where he awaited priority transportation home along with 48,000 others with his status. The U.S. Army came up with an acronym for these men—they were called “RAMPs”—“Recovered Allied Military Personnel.”
After a week or so in camp Paul and thousands of other RAMPs embarked aboard the large Coast Guard ship the USS Alfred H. Mayo, where the major activity was waiting in a chow line twice a day. Underway he was thrilled to learn that his port of arrival would be Boston, only 40 miles from his home.
“I called them,” Paul said, referring to his family of course, “and then took a bus to Worcester where my parents picked me up.”
Like Addison, Paul would be treated special. “The parade through Leominster for the veterans was a thing to behold,” he recollected fondly. “There were so many times I thought that I would never have the opportunity to be home again.”