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Austrian Lives

 | 
Günter Bischof
, 
Fritz Plasser
, 
Eva Maltschnig

Common lives

Lives behind Barbed Wire

A Comparative View of Austrian Prisoners of War during and after World War II in Soviet and American Captivity

Günter Bischof et Barbara Stelzl-Marx

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Introduction

“Siberia” and the Rheinwiesenlager have become metaphors for the suffering of German and Austrian prisoners of war (POWs) in the World War II era. On the one hand the endless columns of exhausted, bent over, freezing figures, tracking through snow covered fields and plains, and close to collapse from hunger, thirst, and sickness, not infrequently death. On the other hand, tens of thousands of emaciated and listless men crowded into temporary enclosures — cages, under open skies, slogging around muddy fields close to the Rhine River, without shelter, toilets, food, or drink, and harassed by the guards.2

Of the roughly 18 million Germans who fought in Hitler’s armed forces in the course of World War II some 11 million ended up in Allied captivity, about a third in Soviet hands.3 Almost 1.3 million Austrians fought in Hitler’s armies, 495,000 of them became prisoners of war at the end of the conflict. 335,500 Austrians ended up in the hands of the Western Allies (almost 140,...

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