The tragic story of the 50,000 British and American soldiers who disappeared into the Soviet Gulag, never to return

German soldiers working in the Gulag after the end of WW2

After visiting the town of Goygol in Azerbaijan founded by German settlers in 1819, only to be deported to Siberia, I decided to read around the subject. I like to think of myself as well read, with a good understanding of modern history but what I found out shocked me utterly. Not only were millions of Soviet citizens and German POWs condemned to decades in the Gulag but also tens-of-thousands of British and American soldiers “liberated” by the Red Army.

 At the end of the war, Stalin insisted that the five million Soviet citizens in Allied controlled areas be returned to the Soviet Union. Three million had been forced laborers (OST-Arbeiters) under Nazi control. On their return, the OST-Arbeiters were treated as traitors and executed or sent to labour camps where most died of hunger and overwork. Stalin demanded the return of an additional two-million former Soviet citizens to exact revenge on them. They included anti-communists, Cossacks, Slavs and Poles many of whom were civilians who sought asylum in the West, knowing that a return to the Soviet Union meant execution. To appease Stalin and to ensure the return of more than 50,000 Allied troops captured by the Nazis and later freed by Soviet troops, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to this forced repatriation.

Work in the Gulag

Unfortunately for the Allied troops awaiting repatriation, British intelligence retained a number of anti-Communist prisoners with the intention of reviving “anti-Soviet operations”, under orders from Churchill.  In response, the Soviets did not complete the repatriation of the Allied prisoners of war in their possession, leaving roughly 23,500 American and 30,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers in Soviet hands.  Some of these men were to be repatriated in the coming years, but others were sent to the GULAG camp system and never returned home.

In The Iron Cage by Nigel Cawthorne [ISBN-10: 1857021010] the author exposes Britain and America’s betrayal of its own soldiers who ended up as pawns in a game over which they had no control. They were never mentioned as a group and have all but disappeared from the pages of history. Occasionally a story did emerge like that of Frank Kelly from Lewisham who was captured by the Germans at Arnhem and ‘liberated’ from Stalag 4B by Soviet soldiers only to be incarcerated in a labour camp until his release eight years later in 1953. On his return to the UK he was immediately arrested for being AWOL.

In June 1992, President Boris Yeltsin admitted that Americans taken in the same way had been imprisoned in Soviet labour camps. ‘We don’t have complete data,” he said, “and can only surmise that some of them may be alive.” See: http://www.arrse.co.uk/current-affairs-news-analysis/24250-britain-ran-secret-prison-germany-after-end-wwii-2.html

Where did they go? What happened tp them? How did they live their lives? How did they die? Where are they buried? Perhaps we will never know but we should not forget that more British troops than all of those who died in Ireland, Cyprus, the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan “disappeared” forever into the endless wastes of Siberia, never to return.

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About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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12 Responses to The tragic story of the 50,000 British and American soldiers who disappeared into the Soviet Gulag, never to return

  1. hugh paxton says:

    A hideous soul revolting affair. I had no idea.

  2. stevehollier says:

    I regret to say, there is plenty more to come…

  3. hugh paxton says:

    I was afraid that you might say that.

  4. Mason Wiley says:

    Haha, allies indeed! What a nutjob.

    Homunculus was awesome, Hugh. I’m passing it around some of the other PCVs in Azerbaijan.

  5. Michael Rosebery says:

    My grandmother Klara or Katherine Rohmer was born in Helenendorf in 1893. Her mother’s maiden name was Kleng. I have been trying to get information about her family. She left in 1919 when she married & moved to Odessa, Istanbul, Berlin, London, Bournemouth, Montreal Quebec and lastly to Kingston Ontario where she died in 1992 age 98. I do not know if she had sisters & brothers & if so what happened to them when Stalin sent the Germans to the Gulag. Are there birth, marriage & death records in the Lutheran church in Goygol? How would one get information? I would like to visit the city & I see that tours are now offered. Your story was most interesting -perhaps Canadian Commomwealth soldiers were among the missing?

    • Aki says:

      Michael, you should first visit the town namely Helenendorf and look for the archives. I guess documents have been archived. Then you should also ask the German Embassy to help you. Then you should try to find an Azerbaijani historian who can deal with the state archives. I can help you in this mission.
      I currently reside in Germany and have met a lot of Germans from Kazakhstan and Russia. They don’t know, but i guess some of them are descendents of the Germans who lived in Helenendorf a long time ago. They also have a newspaper in Germany.
      You should contact me to get more information. Since I speak English, Russian, Azerbaijani and a little German, I can be helpful.
      My email: c.surfer@yahoo.com

  6. Derek Ramsay says:

    My heart goes out to all these brave men abandoned by there goverments even today both Britian and the USA are hiding the real story of what happened to these servicemen who went to war to protect our freedom and this is how they have been treated. To all Russians please help those with any information you have to bring all there bodies home to be buried so there familes can end there nightmares in these appalling saga that should never have happened.

  7. Bill says:

    Here in the States I worked with a Hungarian that was captured in Poland during 1945 and wound up in a Siberian Gulag until 1953. He was trained there to be a tool and die maker so worked inside the next 8 years recieving better treatment than most. Said thier guards were equally trapped because they were forced to remain in the army and there during that period, too. Was told by his Gulag commander that there were quite a few camps like thiers of foriegn nationals turning out similar quality work and wouldn’t be surprised if Stalin wouldn’t keep them forever. He resigned himself to that fate until in 1953 when they suddenly marched them to the railhead, loaded them up in boxcars and shipped them back west. The gaurds told them they were going home and hoped they’d be on the next train out, too!

  8. Sedgwick says:

    I read somwhere that general George s. Patton himself expressed deep concerns over revelations that many british and american prisoners of war who were “liberated” by the red army and vanished, and remain unacounted for. In the mid 90’s as well as the 2000’s, joint us russian commitees where held to resolve this issue. The commitees returned with the conviction that “no evidence that can prove these allegations can be found”. Who knew? The commitee is ongoing. However with the rescent upsurge in Stalin “nostalgia” in russia, something tells me that this subject, as well as the atrocities commited under his cold iron watch both before,during and after ww2 , are about to become taboo and forgotten yet again , except by the those who survived.

  9. Pingback: The tragic story of the 50,000 British and American soldiers who disappeared into the Soviet Gulag, never to return « Hofflandia

  10. Matt Anderson says:

    Did Patton know something about the Allied POWs sent to Russia that he was going to make public so the ‘traffic accident’ that was contrived to kill him in December 1945 was put into action by the OSS/CIA to keep him quiet. This story seems to go hand in hand with the American POWs supposedly kept in Vietnam after 1973.

  11. Aaron Mercurio says:

    This is hard to digest. I understand that president Eisenhour knew of this. Perhaps same could be said of Korean war MIAs. Strangely we were shipping war supplies to Russia during WW11. If it weren’t for the allies landings on western front (Normandy) perhaps the Germans could have allocated their forces to the Eastern front and kicked the Russians ass.

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