I just finished reading Timothy Snyder’s instant classic Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books, 2010) in which he chronicles the suffering of countries that were alternately occupied by Russia and Germany: Poland, the Ukraine, Belarus, and the Balkan states. In the course of looking art World War II through this prism, he dispenses much little-known history.
For instance, along with the POW camps, where Soviet prisoners were sometimes held in open, “The Germans shot, on a conservative estimate, half a million Soviet prisoners of war. By way of starvation or mistreatment during transit, they killed almost 2.6 million more. All in all, perhaps 3.1 million Soviet prisoners of war were killed.”
The German prisoner-of-war camps in the East were far deadlier than the German concentration camps. Indeed, the existing concentration camps changed their character upon contact with prisoners of war. Dachau … became … killing facilities. … At Auschwitz in early September 1941, hundreds of Soviet prisoners were gassed with hydrogen cyanide, a pesticide (trade name Zyklon B) that had been used previously the fumigate the barracks of the Polish prisoners in the camp. Later, about a million Jews would be asphyxiated by Zyklon B at Auschwitz.