TROPHIES TAKEN BY THE RED ARMY
At first, on their own land, the soldiers’ trophies were military property: German boots, a lighter, a cigarette case, a folding knife, a straight razor, a flask, a flashlight, a pistol.
Ordinary wristwatches were considered to be of great value, since in the USSR it was a rarity worthy of the elite. They were more significant than any medal, they were awarded to commanders. Since then and today the command watch has been one of the highest military awards in the post-Soviet space. And the Soviet watch quality was rather mediocre. The officers favoured German tablets, binoculars, compasses, headquarters stationery, and the above-described soldier’s kit. All of this in the Red Army simply did not exist, and what was had a disgusting quality.
As it moved through Europe, the Red Army began to transform from military units into a gypsy camp. At first, the carts were packed with all sorts of ‘accidentally found’ belongings, then trucks, tanks and self-propelled guns took half as much cargo and ammunition. And the soldiers with their overflowing duffel bags became like pack camels.
The problem was solved by the State Defense Committee by decrees No. 7054 of December 1, 1944 and No. 7192c of December 23, 1944, which allowed well-performing Red Army men, sergeants and officers, as well as generals of active fronts, to send personal parcels to their homes. Parcels could be sent no more than once a month in sizes: for soldiers and sergeants – 5 kg, for officers – 10 kg and for generals -16 kg.
Subsequently, the decree by Order of the NKO of the USSR No. 0409 of December 26, 1944, was ‘corrected’ in the direction of tightening, and the procedure for organizing the reception and delivery of parcels to the rear was determined.
In particular, parcels were allowed to be sent only with the permission of the unit commander in each case. Reception of parcels from the Red Army and NKO is free of charge. From the officers and generals, a shipping fee was charged, 2 rubles per kilogram.
It was forbidden to send in parcels: weapons, items of military equipment and uniforms of the Red Army, flammable, explosives, poisonous substances, medicines, all kinds of liquids, perishable food, written attachments, money in various currencies, all kinds of literature and other printed material.
Parcels that were not delivered to the addressees, due to their not being found, were not returned back to the senders, and after a 2-month storage period at the points of issue were transferred for sale to the state trading network for sale at state prices to invalids of the Patriotic War and families of front-line soldiers.
According to the reported data, the flow of parcels was not large enough to paralyze the military mail, but sufficient to increase its staff several times, and its transport five times.
The approximate volume can be estimated from such data. Every day, four echelons of 60 wagons with parcels left Germany. Sometimes there were cases when soldiers and officers sent not one parcel per month, as permitted, but 3-7. However, there were a lot of premises, and few ‘discoveries’.
Among the popular consignments were: fabrics, shoes, clothes and not always new, sugar, soap, sewing needles, nails, notebooks, pencils. They also sent American dry rations, consisting of canned food, biscuits, egg powder, jam, and even instant coffee. The medicinal preparations of the allies, streptomycin and penicillin, were also highly valued.
By orders of some front commanders, it was allowed to give out to servicemen free of charge, including those who are being treated for the wounded, trophy goods from army warehouses for sending parcels home.
For example, on the 1st Belorussian Front, they gave out once a month: a pair of socks, stockings, gloves, ladies’ shoes and underwear, lipstick, a comb, toothpaste and a brush, cologne, pencils (6 pcs), buttons (12 pcs). They also gave out 1 kg of sugar and 200 gr. soap. A similar thing happened on the 1st Ukrainian Front. This practice was introduced in order to be able to send parcels to the rear, since only 30% of the soldiers from the entire number of the fronts were on the front line.
In some units, it was the practice of sending parcels by the command to the relatives of the dead and wounded, which was positively perceived both by the servicemen themselves and by the population of the Soviet Union.
From the reports of the military censorship and the military prosecutor’s office, it is known about frequent cases of theft of the contents of parcels by military postal workers. The situation went so far that this issue came under the control of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b). The punishment for theft was toughened up to 5 years in the camps, control was tightened, but they did not stop stealing.
On June 9, 1945, by decree No. 90360, the State Defense Committee allowed all the generals of the Group of Soviet Occupation Forces in Germany to be given ownership, free of charge, from among the captured one passenger car.
At the same time, fuel, spare parts and drivers were provided at the expense of the army. In addition, the generals were allowed to purchase a piano-grand piano, a radio, cameras, hunting rifles, and watches for a fee. Generals and officers could buy carpets, tapestries, furs, tea and dining sets, cameras and consumer goods. Trophy motorcycles and bicycles were given to the officers for free.
GKO decree of June 23, 1945, No. 9054s, when demobilizing senior personnel of the active army, it was allowed: Free delivery of certain household items from captured property as gifts to Red Army men, sergeants and officers who have performed well in service, who are dismissed by demobilization, such as: bicycles, radios, cameras, watches, musical instruments, razors and other items available in availability in front-line and army trophy warehouses. As a gift, they could give out cotton, woollen, woollen or silk fabric, men’s suits, men’s or women’s coats, women’s dresses, women’s or men’s shoes, various items of children’s clothing; sale for cash to the dismissed military personnel of trophy goods and consumer goods at the rate per person: civilian fabrics no more than 6 meters, outer dress, linen and jersey of a civilian pattern.
For an idea of the prices of selling goods to the military, we present the following data. The major received 1,500 rubles a month and for the same amount in occupation stamps at the exchange rate. In addition, officers from the position of company commander and above were paid money to hire German servants.
The car cost 2,500 marks, or 750 Soviet rubles.
In addition, the servicemen were paid the debts for the allowances for the past, and they had plenty of money even if they sent home a ruble certificate. Therefore, it was simply stupid and there was no need to risk getting caught and be punished for looting.
Knowing the resourcefulness of the Soviet customs officers and other controllers, the State Defense Committee freed servicemen dismissed from the Red Army when crossing the State Border from customs inspection. Therefore, the soldiers carried as much good as they could carry on themselves on completely ‘legal’ grounds. In addition, everyone who was dismissed for all the gifts and purchased goods had documents, because already in the Union no less pedantic officers were waiting for them to fight the plunderers of Soviet property from the NKVD.
Naturally, when moving home during demobilization, officers and soldiers were not allocated luggage spaces. They found a simple way out. They tied all large-sized things into several floors on the roofs of the heating houses, turning them into gypsy wagons. The nimble Poles found a way to plunder the loot with impunity on their territory. They pulled things on the way of the train with ropes and hooks. It did not always work out and trains arrived at the next station, hung with ropes, like a New Year’s serpentine.
The volume of the German goods taken out by the soldiers cannot be estimated. It is also impossible to determine which part of the good sent to the USSR was a trophy in the exact sense of the word, and which was exchanged with the local population for food and smoke.
It should be noted that by May 1945 there were 11.5 million Soviet troops in Europe, and none of them returned empty-handed. From Soviet point of view, the export of goods was absolutely correct and, according to the laws of wartime, it was completely legitimate.
The removed German property was scanty compensation for the suffering and grief brought by the ‘Nazis’ to Soviet citizens. All this looked very wild in the eyes of the defeated Germans, and even more so in the eyes of the Allies. The Red Army demonstrated to the whole world the incredible poverty of the victorious people.
Literature and memoirs of contemporaries have brought to this day a lot of sad and curious episodes with the use of exported goods. Someone, out of the Soviet habit of taking everything they give, brought home a whole bag of bicycle bells. Officers’ wives came to the theatre in nightgowns with flounces, mistaking them for luxurious evening dresses. A colonel brought a suitcase of lacquered low shoes, which began to fall apart after an hour’s walk. It turned out that due to his lack of knowledge of the language, he grabbed shoes for the deceased from the store of funeral supplies, whipped up on a living thread. To be continued…
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MICHAEL WALSH is an Irish British-born journalist. His 70 books include best-selling historical books THE ALL LIES INVASION, WITNESS TO HISTORY, TESTIGO DE LA HISTORIA: HISTORIA SIN CENSURA (SPANISH EDITION), REICH AND WRONG, HEROES HANG WHEN TRAITORS TRIUMPH , HEROES OF THE REICH, THE FUHRER’S PROCLAMATION TO THE GERMAN PEOPLE , FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK, MEGACAUST, THE RED BRIGANDS, RANSACKING THE REICH, SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD RIECH: ARNO BREKER AND REICH SCULPTORS , SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD REICH VOLUME III Porcelain and Reich Sculptors, and DEATH OF A CITY.
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