Moderador: Francis Currey
Erich Hartmann managed to down a Soviet Yak-7 plane on the day of the German capitulation. It happened on the territory of the Czech republic. Later, he was ordered to fly to Dortmund and yield to the British there. Other German units were ordered to wait for the Soviet troops to arrive. Soviet pilots were longing to get even with German ?record-holders,¦ so the German command tried to hide their outstanding fighters. Erich Hartmann could not fulfil that order. He spilled gas on his planes and set them on fire. German aces were taken captives by American tankmen.
In October of 1945, Hartman found himself in the Vologda region of the Soviet Union. Erich spent two years of his life in the prison camp of Gryazovets. This place was like a resort to him, taking into consideration the fact that he was first imprisoned in a camp that was built on a peatbog. That peatbog prison was horrible: Germans would die there like flies.
When in the Gryazovets camp, Hartmann had to ?visit¦ the punishment cell very often. A twenty-three-year-old major would always refuse to cooperate with the Soviet authorities. He even refused to sign statements that were written in the German language (Erich Hartmann was a master of five spoken languages, including Russian and Chinese). Hartmann was astounded to learn about the ?deed¦ of his friend, another fascist Air Force icon, German Graf. All of a sudden, he announced that he was a friend of the USSR. He even wrote a letter of repentance, in which he expressed a wish to serve in the Red Army. Needless to mention that his wish did not come true. Yet, his imprisonment term was cut. On the other hand, Erich was an inspiration for local dissidents. Even old German generals would follow a young guy, who did not care a bit about his own release.
In 1947 he wrote to his wife that he was carried over to another camp 60 kilometers from Vologda. ?We live in big barracks, each packed with 400 people. We sleep on narrow wooden benches. I am sure that they keep cattle in Germany better. The sanitary conditions here are like a thousand years ago. The medical aid is fine. They give us here 600 grams of bread, 30 grams of butter, 40 grams of sugar, and two bowls of soup every day. They also give us a cup of oatmeal porridge. Everyone starves here. There are no washing stands, just wooden tubs. Dystrophy is common for everyone. It seems to me that my organism assimilates this food well, which helps me to stay alive. It is winter here now. Dirty ground is covered with white snow, flees and bugs accompany us always, there are thousands of them here. If I may say so, Russians treat me fine since I am a German hero. I was once present at a session of some sort of a court. However, they did not want to pay any attention to me, because I asked them to shoot me immediately. I just keep hoping that it might be over soon soon. I hope that we will see each other again soon and hug. I just keep repeating this military saying in my mind: ?Stand up and win.¦ We will see each other some day. We will hold each other in our arms and be happy.¦
Erich-s wife wrote about 400 letters to him. He read only forty of them. Erich-s son Peter died at the age of three; Erich learned about it a year later. Prisoners were basically busy with building houses and roads. However, Hartman refused to work for the Soviet Union. He only worked on the territory of the camp. He basically referred to international conventions that banned the exploitation of prisoners of war.
The Soviet intelligence did not want Hartmann to participate in public works either. They did not want a German celebrity to show any influence on other workers. In 1950 Hartmann was the leader of prisoners mutiny in a camp of the Rostov region. Prisoners isolated both the administration and the guards of the camp, then and killed all sneaks. Erich called Soviet headquarters in the city of Rostov-on-Don and demanded the presence of an international committee. A company of shooters arrived instead. The rebellion was suppressed in a blink of an eye. However, this happened years later.
When in the Cherepovets camp, Hartmann was never beaten. As he wrote in his records, an investigator hit him in the face only once. Erich was offered a position in the army of the future German Democratic Republic in return to cooperation. The German pilot answered that he would gladly consider this idea, if he could go back to his fatherland.
The Soviet government wanted to put Hartmann on trial as a war criminal. In this case he would be deprived of his prisoner of war status. This would also push all international conventions away from him. As a result, there were three major allegations: the destruction of 345 planes of the Red Army, the destruction of a bakery on the outskirts of Smolensk and the elimination of 700 civilians (Hartmann shot them from his plane near the city of Bryansk). Erich Hartmann agreed with the first part of the indictment, but rejected all others. He claimed that his military unit did not conduct any military actions either in Smolensk or Bryansk. To crown it all, he said that it was impossible to kill 700 people from a plane.
The trial took place in December of 1949. Erich was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment. After the mentioned rebellion, his imprisonment term became 25 years longer. Erich-s wife and mother wrote letter after letter to the Soviet government, begging for Hartmann-s release. In her 51st letter to Stalin Erich-s mother, Elizabeth Hartmann, promised that she would make her son swear that he would never take any participation in the actions against the USSR. She said that she would make him lead peaceful and quiet life.
Frau Hartmann found great help on the part of the new German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. During his visit to Moscow in 1955, Adenauer asked the Soviet government to release German captives. The new Soviet government did not wish to aggravate the relations with Germany. It was decided to fulfil the German Chancellor-s request, taking into consideration the fact that Germany offered very good loans in return.
Erich Hartmann returned home in the autumn of 1955. He could do nothing but flying, though. That is why he accepted a suggestion from the German government to go to the USA and to train American and German pilots there. He retired in 1970, took a great interest in car racing and organized several piloting schools for young people. Erich Hartmann died in September of 1993 over pneumonia.
Erich Hartmann retired as a colonel. Erich Hartmann was totally against the arms race. Ten years that he spent in Soviet prison camps were not a waste of time for him, as it seems.
Alexandra Pautova used to work in the Gryazovetsky camp. Her responsibility was to read prisoners- translated letters out loud. ?There were about five thousand prisoners in the camp, presumably officers. The prisoners were guarded with only 89 soldiers. There were some Germans amid the prisoners too. They were conspicuous for their sociability, they were so friendly. However, we were rather cautious about it, we were not allowed even to talk to them. Some German man once asked me: ?Could a Russia girl marry a German man?¦ My answer was: ?In this way she would betray her country.¦
Alexander Pautova also said that prisoners got their food and firewood themselves. They would plant a lot of potatoes. Twelve German prisoners escaped from that camp, but they were all caught very quickly, except for one major. He was later found in Poland.
Every prison camp had a special graveyard, where dead German prisoners were buried. Only a few people know, where those graveyards can be found nowadays.
Tan lejos como los pies me lleven narra la aventura de Clemens Forell, un soldado alemán que cayó prisionero de los rusos durante la segunda guerra mundial y fue a parar a uno de los campos de trabajo siberianos.
En este libro se recoge el relato de su huida a través de la inmensidad de la estepa siberiana, en un viaje de 14.000 kilómetros en una denodada lucha por la supervivencia.
El ritmo de la narración y la espectacularidad del argumento han hecho que a menudo se haya leído como una apasionante novela de aventuras.
(1) 2.000 de ellos fueron hechos prisioneros en Stalingrado
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