German POWs packed into the Nonant le Pin prisoner camp

German POWs packed into the Nonant le Pin prisoner camp

They were captured in the Falaise Pocket battle, almost 30 000 Germans captured. The guard soldiers would get in a jeep, circle around the camp, and every so often they’d yell “Halt!” and shoot their guns in the air to give the impression escaping soldiers were being shot. But the escapes were rare, none actually, because these prison camps were protecting the prisoners just as much as they were containing them. Anyone who escaped that camp would likely have been recaptured by Allied forces, or caught and executed by Resistance or Resistance-friendly citizens. Most if not all of those men knew their chances were much better inside those fences.

These photos show the human and the more realistic side of the German Army in the war. Many people chalk up the German Army at the end of the Second World War as being big, bulked up, skinhead looking dudes in their twenties and thirties. In almost all surrender/prisoner of war photographs, the German Army was in a decrepit state, overgrown hair, skinny, sleep deprived, messed up uniforms, etc. It was not the camps that made the soldiers look tarnished, it was just a continuation of their condition when they surrendered. This photo is just a really good backing up of the reality of the German Army, not what has been perpetuated in movies and TV.

There is still no real consensus on the death toll of German prisoners in Allied hands Immediately after WWII millions of German soldiers were held as POWs. There was no real organizational structure to deal with this huge amount of people and hunger and all sorts of diseases were rife. In 1946 there were still many hundreds of thousands kept as forced labor and its estimated 2-4000 died a month (this is POWs of Western Allies not USSR where even more died). The estimated number of death range from around 100.000 to 500 000, although possibly it’s towards the lower end. Ending in a Allied camp was a fate a thousand times better than ending up in a Soviet POW camp. Many Germans caught by the Soviets spent the remainder of the lives in the work/death camps. Only a small fractions were ever released back to Germany. The Soviets captured 2.8 million Germans and between 300,000 and 1 million died in captivity. The remainders were released. The last German PoWs in the Soviet Union was released in 1956.

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