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Unread August 17th, 2008, 06:37 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Philadelphia area
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Arrow Vlasov Never Wore A German Uniform

I rode my motorcycle north to Nanuet, New York, 145 miles on a Friday morning, much of it at 80 MPH behind an Eclipse driven by a cute blonde. In Nanuet, I found a broken, low, stone wall and a narrow drive, marked by a stone sign in Russian. I pulled in, parked the bike, stretched my cramped legs, and took my camera to the cemetery, one conspicuous by crosses with three arms - the bottom one at a 45 degree angle - and labeled in Cyrillic.

The marker, an obelisk, about twelve feet tall in the center of a fifteen-foot square, was surrounded by a low fence. A small, black-and-white portrait of Andrei Vlasov hung about eight feet up. Cyrillic said who it was and mentioned the Russian Liberation Army.

I went to the church, a small one of about the same exterior dimensions as my house. Omigod, it seemed to be full of people! I sat outside on a small collapsing bench and waited. An old guy in a gray suit and a wrinkled shirt but without a tie came out of the church spoke to me in Russian. I responded with a shrug, sigh, and a smile. He walked away.

Families came out of the church, faced it, kneeled, bowed and crossed themselves several times. The women wore long dresses and scarves around their heads and throats.

A blonde boy, about 10 years old smiled and spoke and I gave him the same sigh. My year of Russian study from 45 years ago was out to lunch.

I walked back to where I had parked my bike. An extraordinary beauty...not the bike but a slender woman, about 50 years old, with sun-streaked blond hair and electric blue eyes, chatted with a babushka in a wheelchair. The brown cinderblock building where I had to park was a nursing home.

What in hell was I doing here? And what the hell was the Russian Orthodox Church's interest in Vlasov?

Andrei Vlasov

Andrei Andreevitch Vlasov was born September 14, 1900, in Lomokino, near Novogorod, in central Russia. The youngest of 13, he grew to 6 feet, 5 inches tall. Reared in poverty, talented with books, and discouraged with what he found in religious training or in agriculture, he was drafted by the Red Army. Vlosov loved being a soldier. After an interval of 20 years, he joined the Communist Party and became a lieutenant-general. He was not only tall, he was loud, he was enthusiastic. He brought faith and organization to three different regiments and won decorations or so doing. (He also advised Chiang Kai Shek in China for about a year and his several awards were confiscated when upon return to Russia.)

Credited with helping to save Moscow, Vlasov lost his army to Generals Chaos and Winter and to the Germans in the siege of Leningrad. Vlasov and his starving men sank in chest-deep snow and swamps. Many troopers, unshot but starving, sank exhausted into unmarked graves. Vlasov, disillusioned with Stalin and Bolshevism and expecting to be shot, lost himself in the hilly forests for several weeks and then surrendered to the Germans.
Like a million other Slavs, Vlasov was first impressed with how kind the Germans were, with their morale, and with their apparent freedom to disagree with Hitler! (Stalin would never have tolerated such! And neither would Hitler if he had a little more time! Vlasov was also ignorant of Hitler's beliefs about Jews and Slavs. One source claims that Hitler estimated a need for 40 million Slavs to die!)

There was also an important million or more Russians who escaped Stalin for greater freedoms in Germany and another 800,000 former Red Army soldiers who quickly surrendered to the German army, agreeing to fight at their side or to serve as cooks, mechanics, guides, and drivers.

Thus, a civil war potentially existed in Eastern Germany, Poland, the Baltic countries, and the Ukraine between Stalin's forces on one side and ethnics and anti-Stalinist Russians on the other.
Hitler, however, believed that Slavs were untermenschen, fit in a Darwinian way to be servants and slaves but never political equals. Thus, 70 million ethnic peoples of the Soviet Union - Balts, Ukrainians, Turks, Chechens, and Cossacks - first greeted the German army as liberators from Stalin but learned that Hitler was just as bad. The Russians and ethnic groups who surrendered and offered to fight the Bolsheviks were imprisoned by wire, stubborn cold and its good friends, unending hunger and disease. Both prisoners and escapees found themselves living on tree bark and meat from corpses.

Two Thinkers and Vlasov

Captain Strik-Strikfeldt, a German-Balt, spoke Russian and thought Hitler to have a rational side in how he ran the war. Strik-Strikfeldt, and the people who agreed with him, urged treatment of Russian ethnics as partners rather than as servants and slaves. That is, arm them and line them up against The Red Army that was still disorganized from extended purges and a dual command structure that paired every decision-maker with a politician known as a commissar. Strik-Strikfield, assigned to German propaganda, was in an ideal position to adopt Vlasov.

Strik-Strikfield became the advocate, protector, and ambassador for Vlasov once the two of them met. Hitler and the Wehrmacht had a mutual suspicion of each other and some of the latter eventually tried to assassinate Hitler. Hitler also saw no need for Vlasov to have any responsibilities aside from staying locked up until 1944 when it was clear even to Hitler that he had lost a gambit that he thought would require only six weeks.

Zykov was a second important ally for Vlasov. Zykov, an angry Jew, loved Communism but hated Bolsheviks. Zykov's thoughts were an important part of Vlosov's Smolensk Declaration of 1942 and the Prague Manifesto in November 1944. (Zykov disappeared himself, according to some sources, escorted away by two men in civilian clothing.)

Vlasov, encouraged by the Nazi propagandists, issued several leaflets that urged Russians to fight for Russia but against Stalin. Strik-Strikfeldt also sent Vlasov on speaking tours to build recognition and followings. (Strik-Strikfeldt even loaned him a holster and pistol. Goebbels and Rosenberg were far more open and had greater respect for what Slavs could do.) Hitler eventually learned of Vlasov's popularity, the notion of a "Russian Liberation Army," and furiously ordered 800,000 Russian soldiers to fight not Stalin but on the western front against the Americans and British.

Vlasov, finding resonance with Strik-Strikfeldt and Zykov, took the opportunities offered by the German propaganda office and became a beacon for Hitler-dissenters in the German army and Stalin-dissenters in the Red Army. The gambit was the Russian ethnics would fight for themselves and create a set of independent countries around Moscow.

Unfortunately, the Red Army, led by men that Stalin once jailed but released, found itself. Stalin's new message - "Save Mother Russia" - and the men he released from prison inspired the army to keep Moscow out of German control, to hold them off at the seige of Leningrad that lasted for 30 months (three million people died protecting that town), and drive German units from every Slav city but Prague.

Himmler, desperately clever and a persistent organizer for Hitler's ambitions finally interviewed Vlasov, found him impressive, and promised ten divisions but delivered only two. It was too late, however, for Vlasov to succeed - Berlin fell a few days before Prague - and Vlasov recognized the possibility of being used for targets while Germans retreated. As was true for Vlasov at Leningrad, there again was too much to do with too little and he ignored German orders to retreat to Austria but marched them, instead, towards Prague.

Half of Vlasov's army, the division under General Sergei Bunyachenko, engaged German troops, and prevented their carrying out Hitler's orders to destroy Prague. (There is some feeling that Bunyachenko actually followed his men who would have ignored any other order.) The Czech resistance, friendly on first contact, overnight became hostile as the Red Army approached. (Whether for émigrés, captured Russians, or for Czechs: the incoming tyrant was more popular than the one you already had!)

Vlasov and his men, seen as traitors by the Soviet forces, and often viewed as such today by their current leaders, sought protection from George Patton and his army, some 60 miles away from Prague, in the town of Pilsn. Patton, by several sources, was eager to capture Prague but Eisenhower and Bradley ordered Patton to hold back. There are multiple stories: 1) Eisenhower ordered Patton to give Vlasov to the Soviets, 2) Vlasov was captured by the Soviets without American assistance, or 3) Vlasov, riding in an American convoy, was captured by the Red Army when they blocked the car he occupied. Vlasov asked the American commander to claim him as a prisoner but heard only a sigh. The last seems most likely.

He and eleven of his comrades (or perhaps twenty of them) were taken to Moscow, held for about a year, convicted of treason either in chambers or in a "show trial," and hung on August 2nd, 1946, by rope or by piano wire, and with or without a hook in the base of his skull.

Thoughts
1) Stalin had revoked citizenship for any Russian fighting in the German army and, therefore, there was no requirement for Patton, Eisenhower, or anyone else to give Vlasov and his men to the Soviets.

2) Vlasov resembles hyperactive males whom I know: moving is better than sitting, an enhanced sense of attachment bonds them to each other, and they do well in military contexts. Thus, Vlasov's deciding at several important moments to stay with his men and share their fate rather than escape from the enemy. Also, like other hyperactive males whom I know, he depended on friends to write formal statements (the Smolensk Declaration, his explanation of why he chose to fight the Bolsheviks, and the Prague Manifesto), and to encourage his persistence despite recurrent disapproval from Hitler who couldn't risk Vlasov's success or popularity or the notion that Slavs could be partners.

3) As for the memorial to Vlosov and the Russian Liberation Army in Nanuet, NY, in the cemetery at Novo-Diveyevo: it is surrounded on three sides by several hundred wooden or stone crosses, each with three arms. Wikipedia comments: "In the period between 1927 and 1940, the number of Orthodox Churches in the Russian Republic fell from 29,584 to less than 500. Between 1917 and 1935, 130,000 Orthodox priests were arrested. Of these, 95,000 were put to death." The legend is that Andrew stood on the future site of Kiev and predicted a great city would be built. In 1943, Kiev was under attack and a portrait of St. Seraphim was removed by a believer and smuggled to safety first to Berlin and then to New York. The Russian Libration Army wore German uniforms with a distinctive patch: a St. Andrew's Cross and colors (a blue cross on a white background, bordered in red), reminded Vlasov's men that they fought for Mother Russia and for God.

4) Vlasov expected to "be remembered with warmth" by the Russian people. His final direction to Strik-Strikfeldt was "...one day you will tell the others that Vlasov and his friends loved their country and were not traitors. Promise me." Strik-Strikfeldt kept that promise 25 years later. Vlasov's story about the years between 1941-1945.Vlasov's (and Strik-Strikfeldt's) vision of a ring to independent countries around Russia appears to be nearly accomplished!
5) Himmler's Aktion Reinhardt stripped, shaved, gassed, burned, and buried 3.5 million Jews in small camps at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Auschwitz became a formal death camp fairly late in the war when, using methods refined at Belzec, approximately 500,000 Hungarian Jews were killed. Reinhardt Heydrich was a confidant of Himmler, planner for the first three death camps, and military ruler of captured Prague before he was killed by Czech partisans.
I returned home: traffic flowed at 90 MPH. I had little to say...

JimB

References
Vlasov's story is shared by web sites, biographies and histories of the German army in WW 2. The Czechs, however, have little to say about what the Russians did for them on May 7th and 8th of 1945. Start with Wikipedia. Expect a fair amount of conjecture, disagreement, and erasure between different sources!

Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrey_Vlasov.
Andreyev, Catherine (1987) Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Movement: Soviet Reality and Émigré Theories. NY: Cambridge University Press. (About $30 on Alibris)
Dallas, Gregor (2005) 1945: The War that Never Ended. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Strik-Strikfeldt, Wilfried (1970) Against Stalin & Hitler: Russian Liberation Movement 1941-1945. NY: John Day. (About $8 on Alibris. Easy read, convincing.)
McTaggart, Pat (2007) Prague uprising. WWII History. March, 61-71, 86.

Http://www.travelingtreby.org/novo-diveyevo/ (Information about the Russian Orthodox Church, convent, and nursing home at Nanuet, NY. Also see Wiki for "Russian Orthodox Church" and "Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.")
Http://www.feldgrau.com/rvol.html (by Lt. Gen Wladyslaw Anders and Antonio Munoz about Russian volunteers in the German army.)

Weeks, Stephen (May 19, 2005) Rewriting history: Prague's World War II commemorations, as usual, all but left out a band of heroes who saved the city. Http://www.praguepost.com/P03/2005/Art/0519/opin1.php. See also Kononcyuk, Peter (May 5, 2005) Prague's war: Legacy of questions - Historians still debate myths and mysteries of the liberation. Http://www.praguepost.com/P03/2005/Art/0505/news2.php. And see Weeks, Stephen (November 11, 2004) Vlasov's forgotten army. Http://www.praguepost.com/P03/2004/Art/1111/news8.php.

Extraordinary clips on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHBj2...eature=related. "My General Vlasov," by RusskayaArmiya.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHf9wVA0SS4&NR=1 "Vlasov" by Sergow
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkzoB...eature=related. Russian Liberation Army by RusskayaArmiya.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O3sd...eature=related.
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