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Russian Volunteers in the German Wehrmacht in WorldWar II

by Lt. Gen. Władysław Anders and Antonio Muňoz [ed.]


In July, 1944 a sudden turn occurred. Himmler, always a great enemy of General Vlasov and the Liberation Army, finally came to the conclusion that in the critical situation of the Reich it was worth while to try a course of policy different from the official one that had so far prevailed. His change of mind was brought about mainly by his closest SS lieutenants. At that time Himmler was, after Hitler, the most important and powerful person in the Reich. He was Chief of the SS, Hitler's praetorians, Chief of the Police, including the secret Gestapo, Minister of the Interior and, since the attempt on Hitler's life on July 20th, also Commander of the Reserve Troops [Home Army - the editor]. He had the full confidence of Hitler, who gave him a free hand in dealing with General Vlasov.

The meeting between General Vlasov and Himmler was to take place on July 21st. But this date almost coincided with the attempt on Hitler's life; the meeting therefore took place two months later, on September 16th. It resulted in Himmler's consent to the creation of a new committee, called KONR - Committee for the Liberation of the People's of Russia [Komitet Osvobozhdyeniya Narodov Rossii - the Editor.], and the KONR Army under General Vlasov's command. The Committee and Army were to embrace all Soviet citizens living under German rule, in order to unite their political and military activities in the fight against Bolshevism. 

General Vlasov confirmed his declaration in the Smolensk Manifesto, that in the new Russia "every people will obtain national freedom, including the right of self- determination. The realization of this right to national independence and freedom is possible, however, only after destroying Stalin and his clique" [Soviet Opposition to Stalin, p. 74.].

Himmler agreed to this interpretation and promised to help with the formation of the KONR Army. To start with, 5 divisions were to be organized from among prisoners and workers brought to Germany from the occupied territories in the east; their number reached almost 5 million. As the majority of the Eastern Troops (ROA) were engaged at various fronts, their transfer to the KONR Army was to take place gradually. Thus the new Committee and its Army owed their creation to Himmler who, by taking them under his wing, removed them from the sphere of influence of the Wehrmacht and Rosenberg, both of whom he hated. 

The creation of the Committee for the Liberation of the People's of Russia, and the consent to the organization of its Army, met strong opposition in many influential German circles, chiefly because the Committee and Army were led by a Russian, general Vlasov, and were to embrace nationals of all the peoples of Russia. Not only Rosenberg opposed this but also many high officials and officers. Vlasov's strongest opposition, however, came from the representatives of the non-Russian nations, whose aim was to cut off all bonds with Russia and create their own independent states.

In their eyes the KONR was mainly a Russian enterprise and controlled by Russians whom they did not trust. The declaration of "equality of all peoples of Russia and their real right for national development, self-determination, and state inde- pendence" [Ibid, Prague Manifesto, Appendix IV, p.196.] was regarded as merely a concession to circumstances which in the future, as so often in the past, would be forgotten. This time, the non-Russian representatives expressed the experience of hundreds of years of relations between their peoples and Russia. 

Thus, although Himmler - who wanted only one all-Russian committee rather than several national committees - exercised pressure and made various threats, the following nationals refused to join KONR: Ukrainians, White Ruthenians, Georgians, Cossacks. The Kalmuks, who were grouped as "Cossacks", decided to join KONR. General Vlasov however, prompted by his closest friends, came to an understanding with certain Ukrainians, White Ruthenians, Cossacks and Georgians who pretended to be "representatives" of their nations. Thus, for example, the Russian General Balabin joined KONR as "representative" of the Cossacks although his only ground for "representation" was that he had served some time ago in the Cossack troops. 

General Vlasov by the way, had no illusions; He realized fully his defeat. When one of the Germans congratulated him on the "satisfactory" solution of the non-Russian representatives, he replied sadly: "Those?" "The others are only the shadows of their peoples, but those are the shadows of the shadows". [Wen Sie Verderben Wollen, p. 424.]. The majority of the old Russian emigrants who declared themselves against KONR and General Vlasov, describing his program as "Bolshevistic" because it stressed the preservation of the fruits of the 1917 Revolution. However, those factions of the old emigrants which realized that a return to the state of affairs before 1917 was impossible, backed General Vlasov. Yet KONR remained to the end under the influence of the Russians who were Soviet citizens; It was the expression of their protest against the tyranny of Stalin. 

On November 14th, 1944 the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia held its inaugural meeting in Prague. Here the Prague Manifesto was proclaimed. In it the aims of the KONR were described: "a) The overthrow of Stalin's tyranny, the liberation of the peoples of Russia from the Bolshevik system, and the restitution of those rights to the peoples of Russia which they fought for and won in the people's revolution of 1917; b) Discontinuation of the war and an honorable peace with Germany; c) Creation of a new free people's political system without Bolsheviks and exploiters" [Soviet Opposition to Stalin, Prague Manifesto, pp. 196-199.].

The political program was almost identical with that of the Smolensk Manifesto of December, 1942; But it stressed in its very first point the right of the peoples of Russia to self-determination and full national independence. The Manifesto stated further that it "decisively rejects all reactionary projects connected with a limitation of the peoples' rights" [Ibid, pp.196-199.], and that it welcomed Germany's help under conditions which would not impair the honor and independence of Russia. The declaration ended with an appeal to officers and soldiers of the Red Army to stop the war of aggression and turn their arms against the Bolshevik usurpers, and to "brothers and sisters" in the "motherland," to continue in the fight against Stalin's tyranny and the war of aggression. 

After its first meeting, the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia met a few more times in Prague, but it had no opportunity to develop its activity. The end of the Third Reich was approaching with great speed; Besides, German control was constantly hampering the Committee's work, and all decisions and instructions had to be "coordinated" with the appropriate German commissar. Nevertheless, the publication of the Prague Manifesto made a deep impression on the Russians. First of all, it brought forth a great number of voluntary applications for service in the Liberation Army, a number surpassing all expectations. in one single day, the 20th of November, about 60,000 applications were received [Ibid, p. 96. Kasantsev states in his Tretia Sila, p. 290, that the number of applications that day was 62,000 , in November grew to 300,000 and at the end of December was 1,000,000.].

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