The seizure of German trophies in 1945 is one of the most painful topics of the former republics of the Soviet Union. In relation to this practice, a huge number of frank myths and speculations have been created. Unfortunately, more and more often the red army is presented in the media as a real gang of robbers and thieves with duffel bags stuffed with all sorts of junk.
1. The moral side of the issue
The topic of trophies, reparations, looting and violence against the local population is extremely painful for any state that participated in the win. War crimes on both sides of the frontline cannot be justified. But as practice shows, in modern society moral priorities are pretty bad when assessing the events of the past. With a light stroke of the pen, the Red Army after 1944 turns into almost no gang of marauders, rapists and robbers.
For objective ideological reasons, modern society cannot afford to accept a simple and seemingly obvious truth: the Soviet leadership, the command of the Red Army and the NKVD made tremendous efforts to humanize the actions of the army on enemy territory. Which, of course, does not negate the fact that corruption and war crimes also took place in the Red Army.
The fundamental difference with the enemy is that in the allied countries the criminal actions of soldiers and commanders have always been incidents, while in the Axis countries many crimes were committed within the framework of a targeted state policy. And therefore, at least blasphemous shudders of modern people about the "taken from the German bicycle" (we will return to it at the very end) against the background of such things as the order on the Wehrmacht "On military jurisdiction in the" Barbarossa "area" or photographs from earlier closed archives made in besieged Leningrad.
2. Comrade Commissar, I want a Schmeisser for myself
"Small looting" in the Red Army took place in full growth, as in fact in any other army in the world. Here we are talking about belts removed from killed or captured Germans, cigarette cases, watches, binoculars, compasses, personal hygiene items, as well as tableware (spoons, pots, cups). Small looting in any army traditionally turns a blind eye, since, in fact, soldiers arbitrarily take for themselves the things that they need in the conditions of front-line life. The most valuable trophies for the Red Army were German knives and belts from which Nazi eagles and swastikas were peeled off. The latter, as a rule, the Red Army did on their own initiative. The junior officers were particularly fond of binoculars, compasses, and tablets. Watches were equally appreciated by both soldiers and officers.
The only thing that was not allowed in this respect was the robbery of prisoners. Of course, such isolated incidents took place, but most often they were suppressed by officers and employees of the NKVD. Cigarette cases and watches are one of the few "safe" items that were allowed to be left to prisoners. Those who had similar items in the POW camp had to receive special certificates from the administration, confirming the fact of ownership. This was done by the NKVD to protect against theft.
It was forbidden to take off the uniform, shoes, weapons and equipment from the killed and prisoners for the purpose of personal appropriation. All weapons (both manual and equipment), as well as items of ammunition and uniforms, in the event of capture, were transferred to trophy teams, which made an inventory and sent trophies to the rear. The bodies of the killed were simultaneously sent to the mass graves by the forces of the funeral teams. The prisoners were sent to the rear for sorting, checking, conducting intelligence and investigative actions, after which they were sent to camps or to special prisons (in the case of high-ranking officers).
Trophy equipment and equipment sent to the rear were sorted, after which its fate was determined: distribution between front-line units, sending to the bins of the homeland, disposal in order to extract valuable resources, distribution among citizens (in the case of clothing and food). In the case of distribution by divisions, its order was established depending on the current situation and the needs of the front.
All the processes described, with the exception of "small looting", were regulated by the relevant orders, decrees and orders of the high command.
3. Frau! Wurst, Bier, Fahrrad
A completely separate topic is the distribution of trophies received as reparations after Germany signed a surrender. Even before the unification of Germany in its capitalist part - the FRG, it was calculated that after 1945 the country paid the USSR in reparations about 12% of the damage to the economy. The Soviet Union believed that Germany paid him about 4% of the damage caused. Poland believed that reparations from Germany to her and the Soviet Union did not exceed 2-3%. In any case, the defeated country could not physically pay 100% of the reparations.
In the spring of 1945, the Soviet command adopted a whole package of orders that prohibited soldiers and officers from unauthorized taking property from German citizens and appropriating any German property, as well as unauthorized eviction of local residents from their homes. In the reports of the NKVD, cases of looters and thieves appear. All their cases were referred to a military tribunal. The punishments could be different, as a rule, it was a prison camp. It is important to understand that after May 8, 1945, from a formal point of view, everything German became "Soviet". That is why the act of looting, robbery, theft and any other violence was considered by the Soviet side not just as violence against the local "conquered" population, but as violence against "their" population and, more importantly, as the plundering of already socialist property.
It was impossible to rob the local population. All property that soldiers and officers received as trophies was distributed in accordance with the orders of the State Defense Committee. The things that the Red Army men received were seized from German warehouses, belonged to the state, private companies, the German army - in other words, they were state property, and not the property of individual citizens. The "Robbery" of Berlin in 1945 did not look like a picture of the sacking of Rome by barbarians.
Some of the trophies were given out to the Red Army soldiers free of charge. Those who served well and did not have flagrant disciplinary sanctions could count on them. Most often, free trophies were given out at the time of demobilization. In addition, in 1945, soldiers of the Red Army began to receive wages for military service for the entire period of the war. The Red Army soldiers could also spend this money on the purchase of trophy property useful for them in order to send them home. Due to fears of the collapse of military mail, restrictions were imposed on the weight of parcels: privates and sergeants - 5 kg, junior and middle officers - 10 kg, senior officers - 16 kg. There were also a number of bans on the transfer of hazardous, including flammable, substances. It was forbidden to transfer literature in parcels.
In addition, the Red Army soldiers were allowed to buy things from the local population. The famous photo about “taking the bike away” is just about that. Today this photograph belongs to the American company CORBIS and is part of the Hulton-Deutsch Collection. The signature on the seller's website reads: “Russian Soldier Tries to Buy Bicycle from Woman in Berlin, 1945” and the note “A misunderstanding ensues after a Russian soldier tries to buy a bucycle from a German woman in Berlin. After giving her money for the bike, the soldier assumes the deal has been struck. However the woman doesn't seem convinced. " In short, a soldier and a German woman had a misunderstanding about the price of a bicycle. By the way, speculation in the media in this photo is one of the most revealing examples.
One more important point should be mentioned regarding the purchase for a better understanding. Major of the Red Army in 1945 received about 1.5 thousand per month in terms of German marks. The cost of the requisitioned trophy car ranged from 1 to 3 thousand marks. The soldiers' salaries were much lower, but they were quite able to buy a gramophone or a bicycle.
If you want to know even more interesting things, then you should read about why German helmets were more vulnerable during World War IIthan the Soviet ones.