Special Tasks of the OOs

In addition to finding traitors and spies among the troops, Abakumov’s men were charged with some general tasks such as clearing regions near front lines of the local civilian population, organizing barrage units behind the fighting Soviet troops—the role of osobisty and later SMERSH officers most hated by Russian veterans—and vetting former POWs.

Civilian Casualties

In 1941, the OOs were involved in ‘cleansing’ regions near the front lines—that is, clearing out the local Russian population. Stalin ordered the troops to show no consideration for civilians caught up in military actions. In November 1941, he advised the commanders of the Leningrad Front: ‘While moving forward, do not try to take over a particular place…[but instead] raze built-up areas to the ground and burn them down, burying the German staffs and units hiding there. Leave any sentimentality aside and destroy all built-up areas in your path. This is the best course.’1

Four days later the Stavka (Stalin and Shaposhnikov) ordered the destruction of villages in the enemy rear:

1. All built-up areas in the German rear located in a 40–60 kilometer zone from the front line and 20–30 kilometers to the left and right of the roads must be destroyed and burned down.

To destroy the built-up areas in this location, aviation should be sent in immediately; intensive artillery and mortars should also be used…

3. During enforced retreats of our units in various parts [of the front line], the Soviet locals must be taken with the troops, and buildings in all built-up areas must be destroyed, without exception, to prevent the enemy from using them.2

A directive of the Military Council of the Western Front ordered the OOs to take charge of enforcing the eviction of civilians: ‘All citizens who resist eviction must be arrested and transferred to the NKVD organs… This order is to be executed by local officials and Special Departments of the formations and units.’3

Stalin’s cable (paragraphs added) to the leaders of the defense of Leningrad illustrates his callous attitude toward his own countrymen:

To: Zhukov, Zhdanov, Kuznetsov, Merkulov

There are rumors that the German scoundrels, while marching to Leningrad, are sending old men and old women, along with younger women and children, ahead of their troops as civilian delegates from the occupied regions with a request to the Bolsheviks to surrender LENINGRAD. There are also rumors that among the Leningrad Bolsheviks are people who think that arms should not be used against such delegates.

In my opinion, if such people do in fact exist among the Bolsheviks, they should be the first to be destroyed because they are more dangerous than the fascists. My advice is: do not be sentimental, kick the enemy and its supporters, whether they volunteered to be human shields or not, in their teeth. War is implacable, and those who are weak or hesitant are the first to be defeated.

If one among us hesitates, he will be the main person guilty of the downfall of Leningrad. You must destroy the Germans and their delegates, no matter whether they volunteered or not, and kill the enemies. There should be no mercy toward the German scoundrels or their delegates.

I ask you to inform the commanders and commissars of all divisions and corps about this, as well as the Military Council of the Baltic Fleet and commanders and commissars of ships.

      September 21, 1941                       J. Stalin4

Most of the evicted civilians were doomed to die. In July 1942, the German Secret Field Police reported from the occupied territory: ‘Refugees from the areas of military actions… frequently eat peculiar bread consisting of rotten potatoes from the previous season mixed up with moss and garbage… Many times we found the corpses of female refugees who had died of hunger. It is not surprising that under these circumstances refugees join partisans or begin stealing and robbing while moving around alone or in groups.’5

Between 15 and 17 million Soviet civilians died during the Great Patriotic War.6 Apparently, the evicted persons constituted a high percentage of this number.

Teenagers were special OO targets. In December 1941, Nikolai Selivanovsky, OO head of the Southwestern Front, who would later be Abakumov’s first deputy in SMERSH, ordered that ‘all teenagers appearing at the front line and in the rear who do not have parents, or have lost their parents’ were to be detained and questioned.7 These teenagers were suspected of being German agents. Three weeks later the acting chief USSR prosecutor approved the death sentence for treason and espionage for Soviet citizens aged 16 and older.8

Inevitably, the entire population of ethnic Germans living in the Soviet Union became suspects. During 1942, all ethnic German males aged 15 to 55 and females aged 16 to 45 were ‘mobilized’ (in fact, arrested) for work in the ‘labor battalions’ supervised by the NKVD.9 On October 14, 1942, the GKO ordered that the same measures be applied to all nationalities with whom the Soviet Union was in a state of war—Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, and Finns. All such people were considered a potential ‘fifth column’.

Barrage Units

The cruelty of Stalin’s draconian orders could not prevent soldiers from retreating in 1941, and the OOs and the newly created NKVD barrage units (zagraditel’nye otryady or, for short, zagradotryady; literally, ‘fence detachments’), which belonged to the OOs, were tasked with preventing retreats and desertions. These units are remembered with deepest hatred by literally every war veteran who fought at the front line and survived. As during the war with Finland, the barrage units were usually positioned behind the fighting troops, firing on them until they turned around if they started to retreat. In June 1941, OO barrage detachments also scoured the roads and train stations near the front lines for deserters.10 From July 19, 1941, barrage units grew until the divisional and corps OOs had NKVD barrage platoons, an army OO had a company, and an OO directorate of the front had a barrage battalion. On October 31, 1941, Abakumov’s deputy Milshtein reported to Beria:

From the beginning of the war until October 10, 1941, the NKVD Special Departments and the NKVD Barrage Units for Guarding the Rear detained 657,364 servicemen who detached from their units or deserted from the front.

Of them… Special Departments captured 249,969 men, and… NKVD Barrage Units… captured 407,395 servicemen.

Of those, 632,486 men were sent back to the front…

By decisions of Special Departments and military tribunals, 10,201 men were shot; of that number, 3,321 men were shot in front of their formations.11

By October 1942, 193 NKVD barrage units were operating at all fronts. Grigorii Falkovsky, a former infantryman, recalled in 2008 the death of his friend, Naum Shuster, at the beginning of the Battle of Kursk in July 1943: ‘A zagradotryad was stationed behind our backs… A few soldiers scrambled out of the first row of our just-destroyed trenches trying to save themselves from the [German] tanks, and rushed toward us. My friend Naum Shuster was among them. He ran straight toward a lieutenant, a member of the zagradotryad. And when Naum was within three meters of him, the lieutenant shot Naum point-blank with his handgun, firing directly into Naum’s forehead. Naum died instantly. This scoundrel killed my friend!’12

In addition to these OO units, Stalin ordered that each rifle division have a barrage unit, ‘a battalion of reliable soldiers’.13 Soldiers called these units ‘rear outposts’, ‘covering forces’, or even ‘Mekhlis’s men’. A survivor from the Western Front recalled: ‘They shot everybody who did not have a special permit to leave the front line, and sometimes even those who had the permits, but didn’t have time to show them.’14

Barrage units were unable to stop the defeat of troops encircled by the enemy. In mid-1942, possibly the worst situation was in the 2nd Shock Army at the Volkhov Front, where the barrage units were formed in April 1942.15 By June 1942, many detachments of this army were completely cut off from supplies. Later, the head of the front’s OO reported to Abakumov that in June ‘there were days when servicemen received no food at all and some died of hunger. Zubov, deputy head of the political department of the 46th Division, detained Afinogenov, a private of the 57th Rifle Brigade, who had cut a piece of flesh from the corpse of a dead Soviet soldier for food. Afinogenov died of exhaustion on the way’.16 More likely, he was shot on the spot because there was no mercy for cannibals. On July 11, 1942, 2nd Shock Army commander Andrei Vlasov was taken prisoner while trying to get through the enemy encirclement. This was the same Lieutenant General Vlasov who soon began the creation of the Russian Liberation Army (ROA) under German control. Contrary to Vlasov, Aleksandr Shashkov, head of the OO of the 2nd Shock Army, committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner.

The NKVD rear guard troops also could not stop the wave of deserters at the Volkhov Front and in nearby areas. In September 1942, the deputy head of the NKVD Directorate of the Leningrad Province complained to Moscow in a report with the long title ‘On the Inadequate Supervision of the Barrage Service of Field Units and NKVD Troops Guarding the Rear of the Northwestern and Volkhov Fronts and the 7th Separate Army’:

As a result of the decreased attention of the Special Organs [OOs] of the field detachments and headquarters of the NKVD Troops… the number of deserters recently increased in the rear of front units.

The regional NKVD organs and militia [police] arrested 381 deserters in 1942…

Deserters are leaving their units with arms, documents, and horses and they even steal vehicles. In the forests in the rear of the troops, deserters are building comfortable dugouts where they can live for a long time. They are robbing [the local population], and are real bandits. Upon detection and during arrests they are putting up armed resistance.17

Nikolai Nikoulin, an infantry veteran, explained in his memoirs how the whole punishment system worked before, during, and after attacks:

The troops used to attack while being galvanized by fear. Facing the Germans with all their heavy machine guns and tanks, [and enduring the] horrific mincing-machine-like bombing and artillery shelling, was terrifying. But the inexorable threat of being shot to death [by our own side] was no less frightening.

To keep an amorphous crowd of poorly trained soldiers under control, shootings were conducted before a combat. Some weak, almost dying soldiers, or those who had accidentally said something anti-Soviet, or, occasionally, deserters, were used for this purpose. The division was formed into the shape of the [Russian] letter ‘П’, and the doomed were slaughtered without mercy. As a result of this ‘prophylactic political work’, the fear of the NKVD and commissars was deeper than the fear of the Germans.

And during the attack, if somebody turned back, he was shot by the barrage detachment. Fear forced soldiers to move forward and be killed. This was exactly what our wise [Communist] Party, [supposedly] the leader and organizer of our victories, was counting on.

Of course, shootings to death also continued after an unsuccessful combat. And if regiments retreated without an order, barrage detachments used heavy machine guns against them.18

Barrage units existed until October 1944.

Vetting POWs

In August 1941, Stalin ordered commanders, political commissars, and OOs at the corps and division levels to write up lists of servicemen who ‘had surrendered to the enemy’, and to send these lists to the General Staff.19 This was a preparation for the fil’tratsiya (vetting; literally, ‘filtering’) of Soviet servicemen who had been POWs or had been encircled by German troops.

Three months later, in December 1941, the GKO ordered the setting up of special NKVD camps to assist in vetting ‘former Red Army servicemen who were captured or surrounded by the enemy’.20 From 1941 to 1942, twenty-two of these camps were organized, and the officers of the OO, and later SMERSH, conducted the interrogations there. The vetting procedure in the NKVD Podolsk Camp near Moscow in 1944 was described by Junior Lieutenant Roman Lazebnik in a 2008 interview:

During the night we were brought to a camp surrounded by two lines of barbed wire. Immediately…we were given the uniforms of privates without officers’ shoulder boards, as well as soldiers’ boots, and brought to barracks. Our barrack was for the Red Army commanders who had been taken prisoner or were in the detachments surrounded by the enemy. There were also barracks for privates and sergeants, and separate barracks for civilians. In the barracks, there were iron beds [not wooden bunks, as in labor camps]. We were given 350 grams of bread daily and a bowl of porridge twice a day… Daily newspapers were brought to our barrack… It was forbidden to write letters to relatives.

No officer in the barrack talked about his past, the war or his experiences as a prisoner… The atmosphere was very tense in terms of morale, and some officers could not bear the waiting. One officer threw himself at the camp’s fence which was alive with high-voltage electricity… It was terrible torture to wait, and hope…

After vetting, 95 per cent of officers were sent to penal battalions… Interrogations were conducted only during the night, and officers were interrogated every night. There were no beatings, but the osobisty had other methods for breaking an interrogated prisoner.

My investigator was calm and behaved quite correctly. He never mentioned his name. He did not beat me up or threaten me while he was methodically asking questions. One night I was surprised by not being taken for an interrogation, and in the morning… I was called up to the camp’s komendatura [administration office], where they asked me if I had complaints or was beaten during interrogations… They told me that I would be released as a serviceman who had been successfully vetted and would be sent as a private to the army in the field… The osobisty advised me not to tell anybody that I had been vetted.21

For each prisoner in these special camps, OO/SMERSH investigators opened a Fil’tratsionnoe delo or Filtration File, which contained transcripts of interrogations and other materials. As proof that the prisoner had not collaborated with the Germans, confirmation of the interrogation details was required from at least two people who were with the prisoner during his internment.

According to the NKVD report dated October 1944, the total number of Soviet servicemen, who had been German POWs or encircled by the enemy before breaking out, vetted in filtration camps to date was 354,592. Of them, 50,441 were officers.22 The report stressed that although the camps were administered by the NKVD ‘the vetting…is conducted by counterintelligence SMERSH departments’ and 11,556 of those vetted had been arrested by OO/SMERSH departments. Among the arrested by SMERSH, 2,083 servicemen were identified as enemy intelligence and counterintelligence agents, and 1,284 were officers.

Of those not arrested, only 60 percent of the officers were sent back to the army to continue their service. The remaining 40 percent were demoted to private and sent to penal assault battalions (shturmovye batal’ony) created in the Moscow, Volga, and Stalingrad military districts on Stalin’s order.23 Each assault battalion consisted of 929 demoted officers who were used, in Stalin’s words, for ‘the most active parts of the fronts’, such as attacks through minefields. The chance of survival in an assault battalion was almost zero. The few survivors were recommended for promotion to their previous ranks and positions.

In addition, 30,740 servicemen were sent to the ‘labor battalions’ to work in the military industry. Although they were not formally convicted, they were treated as prisoners and forced to work in these battalions for a few months to as long as two years. By May 1945, the number of men in the filtration camps had jumped to 160,969 servicemen. They were used as forced labor workers by 23 industrial commissariats while still under investigation.

Aleksandr Pechersky, the famous leader of the 1943 escape from the Sobibor Nazi extermination camp, was among the rare survivors of the assault battalions. 24 After his escape, Pechersky fought in a partisan detachment. Then the detachment joined the Red Army, and Pechersky was vetted and sent to the 15th Separate Assault Rifle Battalion.25 After he was wounded in battle, Pechersky was released from the assault battalion to continue his service in the regular troops.

Here is an example of a typed certificate for the survivor Luka Petrusev (the formatting of the Russian original is preserved, including the typical two-line levels of signatures following the military hierarchical positions of signatories):

Not everyone survived long enough to be vetted because many had perished earlier at the hands of the osobisty. The former secretary of a military tribunal describes a typical scenario: ‘The head of the NKVD’s OO of the corps was a tall, heavy man. He used to come to the cell that held the servicemen destined for vetting… He would pick a weak or shy serviceman and take him away. Then he would beat him up with his enormous fists until the man confessed to being a spy. After this came a painful investigation and a tribunal meeting, followed by an execution.’27

Penal Detachments

By June 1942, the OOs had arrested 23,000 servicemen for spying and treason as well as for ‘treacherous intentions’ since the beginning of the war.28 An OO deputy head’s report to Abakumov illustrates the scale of arrests made by the OOs at the Stalingrad Front:

On the whole, from October 1, 1942, to February 1, 1943, according to incomplete data, special organs of the Front [the OOs] arrested 203 cowards and panic-mongers who escaped from the battlefield. Of them:

49 men were sentenced [by military tribunals] to death, and shot in front of the troops;

139 men were sentenced to various terms in labor camps and sent to punishment battalions and companies.

Additionally, 120 cowards and panic-mongers were shot in front of the troops on decisions of special organs.29

Now, in mid-1942, Stalin decided not to waste the sentenced men with mass executions, but to use most of them in penal detachments. On July 28, 1942 in his infamous Order No. 227 ‘No Step Back!’ Stalin ordered the creation of penal battalions (shtrafnye batal’ony) for officers (not to be confused with shturmovye batal’ony, where officers were sent after vetting) and penal companies (shtrafnye roty) for privates.30 Tribunals could order the suspension of any sentence, even the death penalty, and send the convicted serviceman to a penal detachment instead. Interestingly, in the order Stalin mentioned similar punishment units in the German army as his reason for creating their Russian counterparts. Information about penal detachments in the Red Army has become available only recently.

Commanders from the brigade level up also had the right to send an officer, with no investigation or trial, to a penal battalion for one to three months. For instance, in April 1944 Georgii Zhukov, the first deputy defense Commissar, sent F. A. Yachmenov, commander of the 342nd Guard Rifle Corps, to a penal battalion for two months for not following orders and for behaving, in Zhukov’s opinion, in a cowardly fashion.31 And from August 1942, commanders at the corps and division level had the authority to send privates and junior officers to penal companies for crimes such as desertion or failure to follow orders.32 Therefore, it was easy for commanders to dispose of any serviceman they disliked. Criminals released from labor camps (750,000 in 1941 and 157,000 in 1942) were also enlisted in penal companies, although political prisoners were not released.33

A penal battalion consisted of 800 former officers called ‘penal privates’ or ‘exchangeable fighters’, while a penal company comprised 150–200 privates. One to three penal battalions were formed at each front, and each army had between five and ten penal companies. By 1944, overall the Red Army had 15 penal battalions and 301 penal companies. The commanders and zampolity assigned to penal units were trusted, experienced officers. A representative (operupolnomochennyi) of the OO directorate of the front was also attached to each penal battalion.

The commander of the penal battalion and his zampolit had the right to shoot a penal private instantly if he refused to follow orders. For these officers, a month of service in a penal unit was equivalent to six months in the regular troops. A radio operator attached to a penal battalion in 1944 recalled of the punished officers: ‘Most of them were decent men… of high performance of duty and high military morale… Foul language (maternaya bran’) was considered inappropriate among them [although it was a common language of Red Army officers]… They did not take prisoners. They also did not take German trophies… [including] bottles of schnapps and pure alcohol.’34

Chances of survival in a penal unit, as in an assault battalion, were very slim, because these troops were used for forced reconnaissance or attacks through minefields. ‘Shtrafbat [penal battalions] and death were synonymous’, according to one military tribunal member.35 In 1944, monthly losses in the regular military troops totaled 3,685 men, while in the penal units, the figure was 10,506.336 At least 1.5 million servicemen served in the penal units from 1942 to 1945. It is unknown how many survived. If a serviceman completed his term or was wounded in battle, he was promoted to his former rank and sent back to a regular unit, and he had his military awards returned to him.

German POWs

During the first year of war with Germany, Soviet troops took very few German prisoners. By 1942, only 9,174 captured German and Romanian soldiers were being held in NKVD POW camps.37 According to OO reports to Abakumov, some German soldiers surrendered voluntarily.

Most German and other foreign prisoners, as well as wounded enemy soldiers, were simply shot on sight or killed after being tortured.38 Stalin himself issued a direct instruction to General Georgii Zhukov: ‘You should not believe in prisoners of war. You should interrogate a prisoner under torture and then shoot him to death.’39

After interrogating prisoners, the OO would send only a few of them to the NKVD camps for POWs in the rear. Most were shot. Here is a report on the interrogation of a captured German pilot who refused to answer the questions of the OO officer (the formatting of the Russian original, which has the typical structure found in NKVD/SMERSH documents, is retained):

‘I approve’

December 18, 1942

Deputy Head of the NKVD OO of the Western Front,

Major of State Sec.[urity]



Army in the field, December 18, [1942]. I, deputy head of the 6th Section of the NKVD OO of the Western Front, Captain of State Sec.[urity] Gordon, after having examined the materials of the case of a POW of the German Army, a fighter pilot, Lieutenant Justel Martin, b. 1922 in the town of Osterade (East Prussia),

FOUND OUT [that]

Justel was a member of the Hitler youth organization, volunteered for the German Army in 1939, and actively participated in the actions of the German occupation in France and other countries. For this, he was awarded an Iron Cross of the 2nd Class. He did not give testimony on the military equipment of the German Army, saying that he knew nothing about it. On the basis of the above, I

DECIDED [that]

Justel Martin SHOULD BE SHOT as an uncompromising enemy of the USSR.

Deputy head of the 6th Section of the OO NKVD,

Captain of State Sec.[urity] [signature] /Gordon/

‘I agree’:

Head of the 6th Section of the OO NKVD of the W[estern] F[ront],

Captain of State Sec.[urity] [signature] /Zaitsev/

December 18, 1942.40

The second document, handwritten, reported on the execution of the pilot:

Army in the field, December 19, 1942

We, the undersigned Jr. Lieutenant of State Sec.[urity] Ostreiko and Jr. Lieutenant of State Sec.[urity] Samusev, wrote this document to give notice that today, at 2:00 a.m., we executed the decision of the NKVD OO of the W/f [Western Front] regarding the POW Justel Martin.

We sign after the execution,

[signatures] Samusev, Ostreiko.41

Of course, not all POWs refused to answer the counterintelligence officers. 42 If a German prisoner gave important information during his first interrogation, he might be sent to Moscow for further questioning by the head of the 4th Department of the UOO, frequently with colleagues from other departments.

The policy of taking as few enemy POWs as possible continued until the end of World War II. In 1944, 2nd Ukrainian Front commander Marshal Ivan Konev described to Yugoslavian Communist Milovan Djilas the Soviet victory at Korsun’-Shevchenkovsky in January 1944. Djilas recalls:

Not without exultation, [Konev] sketched a picture of Germany’s final catastrophe: refusing to surrender, some eighty, if not even one hundred, thousand Germans were forced into a narrow space, then tanks shattered their heavy equipment and machine-gun nests, while the Cossack cavalry finally finished them off. ‘We let the Cossacks cut up as long as they wished. They even hacked off the hands of those who raised them to surrender!’ the Marshal recounted with a smile.43

However, by 1943 the Soviets had begun to capture significant numbers of POWs. On January 30, 1943, the commander in chief of the German troops that encircled Stalingrad, Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, surrendered his army.44 Of approximately 100,000 German servicemen and 19,000 ‘hiwis’ (Soviet POW volunteers used as noncombatants) who became prisoners, only 5,000 Germans—mostly officers, who were treated better than privates—survived the Soviet camps.45 From Stalingrad onwards, a huge flow of German, Italian, Spanish, and Hungarian POWs began to populate POW camps inside Russia. Some of the captured intelligence officers ended up in Lubyanka Prison in the hands of the UOO.

In general, Soviet propaganda depicted the Germans as subhuman beings. Here is an example of a ‘politically correct’ excerpt from a letter written by Private Il’ichev to his relatives, which was included in an official OO report (in translating the letter, I have tried to capture the flavor of the Russian text): ‘I was a live witness to the surrender of the Fascist scum on a mass scale not far from the town of Kalinin. I wish you could see the miserable and terrifying shape of these dogs in human appearance… The day is coming when our army will beat up this scum on its own territory. Then no one will have mercy, even toward a three-month-old child. I will personally tear to pieces a degenerate [child] of these dogs.’46

The attitude of civilians toward the Germans was similar. Nikolai Gavrilov, a Muscovite who visited the city of Kaluga (only 100 miles from Moscow) just after it was liberated from the German troops on December 30, 1941, witnessed the following scene: ‘I saw children sliding down a hill… After I approached them, I realized that they were using [as a sled] the frozen body of a Fritz [a generic name for a German soldier in Russia during World War II]. His boots had been removed and his feet were cut off. Water was poured over the body, and it was covered with dung. The nose was destroyed… The kids pulled the body uphill using a rope with a hook. The ‘burden’ was very heavy, and they worked hard.’47

With the continuation of the war, the morale of the German POWs was changing. Lazar Brontman, a front journalist, wrote in his diary in March 1944: ‘Major Shemyakin, former professor of psychology at Moscow University… introduced an interesting taxonomy: a) the Germans taken prisoner in 1941–42 were proud and arrogant; they began talking only after being punched in the ear; b) a German lance corporal captured in 1943, during the Stalingrad battle… typically not only ordered POWs to line up, but also squatted down beside the line, to check and realign; c) the Germans taken in 1943–44 were completely apathetic and indifferent.’48

In the meantime, in the summer of 1942, the German Army Group South followed Hitler’s order ‘to secure the Caucasian oilfields’ and moved to the Northern Caucasus. Although on August 21 the German soldiers raised a Nazi flag on Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, the Red Army quickly pushed the Germans from that area.

By February 1943, after the surrender of Paulus’s Sixth Army in Stalingrad, the Soviet troops began to regain what they had lost during the previous two years of war. For almost two years a huge territory of Ukraine, Belorussia and a part of Russia had been controlled by the German occupation military and civilian administration, in which German security services played an important role. Additionally, in this territory various German security services opened numerous spy schools that recruited volunteers from the Soviet POWs and local population. At this turning point it became clear that military counterintelligence needed to focus its attention on the real German intelligence and counterintelligence services, and not on the alleged spies within the Red Army. In the meantime, the structure and activity of the German intelligence and counterintelligence services was very complex.


1. Stalin’s instruction to commanders of the Leningrad Front, dated November 13, 1941. Quoted in V. D. Danilin, ‘Stalinskaya strategiya nachala voiny,’ Otechestveyyaya istoriya 3 (1995).

2. Stavka’s Order No. 0428, dated November 17, 1941, in Russkii arkhiv. Velikaya Otechestvennaya. Prikazy, 13 (2-2), 119–20.

3. Directive of the Military Council of the Western Front, dated November 9, in Skrytaya pravda voiny: 1941 god. Neizvestnye documenty, edited by P. N. Knyshevsky et al., 210 (Moscow: Russkaya kniga, 1992) (in Russian).

4. Photo of this order in B. M. Bim-Bad, Stalin: issledovanie zhiznennogo stilia (Moscow: URAO, 2002), between pages 128 and 129. Another copy is kept in the U.S. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, ‘Volkogonov Collection,’ Reel 4.

5. Quoted in B. V. Sokolov, Front za liniei fronta. Partizanskaya voina 1939–1945 gg. (Moscow: Veche, 2008), 175 (in Russian).

6. Boris Sokolov, ‘43 milliona,’ Novaya gazeta, no. 65, June 22, 2009 (in Russian),, retrieved September 6, 2011.

7. OO Instruction No. 1244/6, Southwestern Front, dated December 4, 1941. S. G. Chuev, Spetssluzhby III Reikha. Kniga 1 (St. Petersburg: Neva, 2003), 348–51 (in Russian).

8. An order of G. N. Safonov, Acting Prosecutor, to apply the death penalty to teenagers, dated December 22, 1941. Document No. 217, in Deti GULAGa: 1918–1956, ed. by S. S. Vilensky et al., 376 (Moscow, Demokratiya, 2002) (in Russian).

9. GKO orders dated February 14 and October 7, 1942, quoted in M. I. Semiryaga, Kak my upravlyali Germaniei. Politika i zhizn’ (Moscow: Rosspen, 1995), 160–61 (in Russian).

10. Instruction No. 35523, 3rd NKO Directorate, dated June 27, 1941. Document No. 327, in Organy gosudarctvennoi bezopasnosti, 2 (1), 90–93.

11. Milshtein’s report, dated October 31, 1941. Document No. 202, in Lubyanka. Stalin i NKVD, 317–8.

12. Interview with Grigory Falkovsky, former infantryman, September 21, 2008 (in Russian),, retrieved September 6, 2011.

13. Directive to commanders and military councils of all fronts, dated September 12, 1941, dictated by Stalin. Zvyagintsev, Voina na vesakh Femidy, 402. Stalin repeated this order as part of NKO Order No. 227, known as ‘No Step Back!’

14. P. N. Palii, ‘V nemetskom plenu,’ in Nashe nedavnee, Vol. 7 (Paris: YMCA Press, 1987), 56 (in Russian).

15. B. I. Gavrilov, Dolina smerti. Tragediya i podvig 2-i Udarnoi Armii, (Moscow: Dubrava, 2006), 225 (in Russian).

16. Report by Dmitrii Me’lnikov to Abakumov, dated August 6, 1942, pages 31–34 in L. Ye. Reshin and V. S. Stepanov, ‘Sud’by general’skie…’ VIZh, no. 5 (1993), 28–37 (in Russian).

17. Report of Security Major Ivanov, dated September 1942. Quoted in Zvyagintsev, Voina na vesakh Femidy, 448–49.

18. N. N. Nikoulin, Vospominaniya o voine (St. Petersburg, Izdatel’stvo Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha, 2008), 45–46 (in Russian).

19. NKO Order No. 0321, dated August 26, 1941. Document No. 59, in Russkii arkhiv. Velkaya Otechestvennaya. Prikazy, 13 (2-2), 74.

20. A. F. Bichekhvost, ‘K istorii sozdzniya spetsial’nykh i proverochnofil’tratsionnykh lagerei dlya sovetckikh voennoplennykh i organizatsiya v nikh ‘gosudarstvennoi proverki,’ in Voenno-istoricheskie issledovaniya v Povolzh’e. Sbornik nauchnykh trudov. Vypusk 7 (Saratov, 2006), 256-80 (in Russian),, retrieved September 6, 2011.

21. Interview with Roman Lazebnik, former partisan, December 2, 2008 (in Russian),, retrieved September 6, 2011.

22. NKVD’s ‘Information on Vetting of Servicemen from the German Encirclement and Captivity by October 1, 1944’, quoted in V. N. Zemskov, ‘GULAG (istoriko-sotsiologicheskii aspekt)’, Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya, no. 6 (1991), 10-27 (in Russian).

23. Assault battalions were created on Stalin’s secret directive dated August 1, 1942. Zvyagintsev, Voina na vesakh Femidy, 389–90.

24. In the movie Escape From Sobibor (1987), the actor Alan Arkin played Pecherski’s role.

25. Leonid Terushkin, ‘Spartak Sobibora,’ Novaya Gazeta, No. 47, May 5, 2010 (in Russian),, retrieved September 6, 2011.

26. Private collection, Moscow.

27. Delagrammatik, ‘Voennye tribunaly za rabotoi.’

28. Beria’s report No. 1066/B, dated June 18, 1942. Document No. 223, in Lubyanka. Stalin i NKVD, 349–50.

29. Kazakevich’s report to Abakumov, dated February 17, 1943. Document 90 in Stalingradskaya epopeya: Materialy NKVD SSSR i voennoi tsenzury iz tsentral’nogo arkhiva FSB RF, edited by F. Pogonii et al., 403–10 (Moscow: Zvonnitsa-MG, 2000) (in Russian).

30. NKO Order No. 227, dated July 28, 1942. Document No. 1027, in Organy gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti, 3 (2), 76–80. Additionally, GKO Order No. 298 entitled ‘On penal detachments’, dated September 28, 1942, in Skrytaya pravda voiny, 359–65.

31. Zvyagintsev, Voina na vesakh Femidy, 392.

32. Stalin’s order, August 1943. Document No. 159, in Russkii arkhiv. Velikaya otechestvennaya. Prikazy, 13 (2-3), 198.

33. Joint Instructions of the NKVD Commissar Beria and USSR prosecutor Bochkov No. 185, dated April 29, 1942, and No. 194/17/11692/s, dated May 7, 1942. Document Nos. 910 and 918, in Organy gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti, 3 (1), 387–88 and 403–4.

34. Sergei Krapivin, ‘Starshina Grigorii Vlasenko: ‘Ya byl radistom shtrafbata’,’ Sovetskaya Belorussiya, April 1, 2005 (in Russian),, retrieved September 6, 2011.

35. Yakov Aizenstadt, Zapiski sekretarya voennogo tribunala (London: Overseas Publications Interchange Ltd., 1991), 62 (in Russian).

36. Zvyagintsev, Voina na vesakh Femidy, 394–5.

37. N. V. Petrov, ‘Vnesudebnye repressii protiv voennoplennykh nemtsev v 1941–1946 gg.,’ in Problemy voennogo plena: istoriya i sovremennost’:Materialy Mezhdunarodnoi nauchno-prakticheskoi konferentsii 23–25 oktyabrya 1997 g. g. Vologda. Chast’ 2 (Vologda: Vologodskii institut, 1997), 77–94 (in Russian).

38. Joachim Hoffmann, Stalin’s War of Extermination, 1941–1945: Planning, Realization and Documentation, translated by William Deist (Capshaw, AL: Theses & Dissertation Press, 2001), 244–78.

39. Stalin’s telephone conversation with Zhukov on September 4, 1941 (a transcript). In Boris Sokolov, ‘Pokayanie v Den’ Pobedy,’, May 8, 2001 (in Russian),, retrieved September 6, 2011.

40. Document from the Central FSB Archive (Fond 7, Opis’ 1, Delo 137), cited in Petrov, ‘Vnesudebnye repressii protiv voennoplennykh nemtsev v 1941–1946 gg.,’ 79.

41. Ibid., 79–80.

42. For instance, a transcript of the interrogation of Otto Naumen, in Lubyanka v dni bitvy, 380–2.

43. Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin, translated from Serbo-Croat by Michael B. Petrovichn (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World Co., 1962). 54.

44. For instance, Geoffrey Roberts, Victory at Stalingrad: The Battle That Changed History (London: Longman, 2002).

45. On ‘hiwis’ see, for example, Lev Kopelev, No Jail For Thought, translated and edited by Anthony Austin (London: Secker & Warburg, 1977), 98.

46. Report by Isai Babich, dated January 1, 1942. Lubyanka v dni bitvy, 302–6.

47. Sculptor N. P. Gavrilov’s visit to K. K. Rokossovsky’s troops in December of 1941. Document No. III-43 in Moskva voennaya, 1941–1945: memuary i arkhivnye dokumenty, edited by K. I. Bukov, M. M. Gorinov, and A. N. Ponomarev, 586–98 (Moscow: Mosgorarkhiv, 1995) (in Russian).

48. L. K. Brontman, ‘Dnevniki 1932–1947 gg.,’ Samizdat, 2004 (in Russian),, retrieved September 6, 2011.

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