Historical photographs

On site, the media station Photographs makes it possible to critically examine the photographs shown in the exhibition. Without contextual knowledge, we can always only inadequately classify photographs. Most of the pictures shown in the exhibition are taken from the perspective of the perpetrators. The prisoners were photographed for various purposes, e.g. for recording, documentation or also for private reasons. In particular, the commissioned works taken by the propaganda companies for Nazi propaganda and the private photographs often reproduce an ideologically preconceived view of the Soviet prisoners. The pictorial tradition of victims of Nazi mass crimes in particular must be viewed critically. As a rule, we do not know the names of those depicted. At the same time, the pictures are in many cases the last testimonies of these people, as a high percentage of those photographed did not survive. Giving visitors access to the photographs in a source-critical way with the help of contextualising information helps to avoid a renewed disparagement of those portrayed. The media station approaches the topic through questions.

Here you can see a selection of historical photos that are shown in the exhibition.

Soviet prisoners of war at a Wehrmacht collecting point, probably in Belarus, in early July 1941.

Photo PK: unknown, dpa Picture Alliance

Prisoners of war building a boulder dam, Yershchichi near Roslavl, 19 September 1941.

Photo PK: Mehls, Federal Archives, Koblenz


The Germans had Soviet prisoners of war work for them. International law of war permitted this, as long as the labour assignment did not serve military purposes. However, the treatment and working conditions of the captured Red Army prisoners were so bad that many of them died.

Capture of a group of Red Army soldiers, occupied Soviet territories, no date.

Photo: unknown, Zeithain memorial site

Wehrmacht members force Soviet prisoners of war to dig their own graves, occupied Soviet territory, probably 1941

Photo: unknown, dpa Picture Alliance


With the "Commissar's Order", the Wehrmacht orders before the invasion of the Soviet Union that political functionaries of the Red Army be shot immediately after their capture. The Wehrmacht shoots about 10,000 prisoners on the basis of this order.

Transit camp for Soviet prisoners of war, Orscha, August 1941.

Photo private: Albert Dieckmann, MBK, Berlin


The Wehrmacht makes hardly any preparations. The completely overcrowded camps usually lack any kind of infrastructure. The prisoners are inadequately supplied.

A woman distributes bread to prisoners of war, probably occupied Soviet territories, no date.

Photo: unknown, SNG, Celle / Central Museum of the Armed Forces, Moscow


The food in the occupied territories is primarily intended to supply the Wehrmacht. In autumn 1941, mass deaths began among the starving prisoners in the camps. By the spring of 1942, more than two million Soviet prisoners of war perished miserably, about two thirds of those who had been taken prisoner by then.

Prisoner column, near Gshatsk in the Smolensk region, November 1941.

Photo private: Albert Dieckmann, MBK, Berlin


The marches to the camps in the back often stretched for hundreds of kilometres. Anyone who falls behind is shot.

Soviet prisoners of war after their liberation, Staraja Russa, 11 January 1942.

Photo: Timofei Melnik, MBK, Berlin


In the course of its offensives, especially from 1943 onwards, the Red Army succeeded in liberating a large number of its military personnel. The liberated are given medical care, like these men suffering from typhus. The Soviet authorities check whether the prisoners have collaborated with the Germans. Usually, the Red Army soldiers return to military service.