The Holocaust Historiography Project

Soviet scorched-earth warfare: Facts and consequences

Walter N. Sanning

  • Paper Presented to the Sixth International Revisionist Conference.

The Soviet scorched-earth policy has many facets: Military, economic, and so on. In The Dissolution of Eastern European Jewry I touched only on those which are of importance in connection with the demographic changes of Eastern European Jewry. Here I want to emphasize the economic side of a little-known portion of the Second World War. However, in order to present the whole picture I must refer to portions of the subject which have already been covered in The Dissolution. Space allows only the most important references to those findings, and anybody who wishes to know more about this is advised to check The Dissolution.

The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty of 23 August 1939 provided for the following territorial divisions: Estonia and Latvia would fall into the Soviet sphere of interest while Lithuania would fall into the German. From Lithuania the line of demarcation would run toward East Prussia, from there along the Narew, Vistula, and San rivers toward the Carpathian mountains (Map 1). After the Polish defeat, the Soviet government immediately exerted heavy pressure on Germany for a revision of the treaty. In order to maintain peace, Hitler agreed in the second treaty, the so-called Border and Friendship Agreement of 28 September 1939, that Germany would relinquish its interest in most of Lithuania in exchange for the area between the Vistula and the Bug rivers with a population of about 3.5 million, including more than 300,000 Jews.2 This area had been occupied by the Soviets for only a few days, but the Red Army had taken the area’s food supplies and livestock with it as it departed. As a result the Germans actually had to bring in large quantities of food to forestall starvation in this agricultural area.3 This episode should have been a lesson to Germany. It was not.

While Germany was engaged in the Western Campaign from 10 May until 24 June, 1940 the Soviet Union occupied the entirety of Lithuania between 16 and 22 June following the ultimatum of 15 June — that is, including even that portion which was to remain within the German sphere of interest according to the treaty. This occupation constituted not only a gross violation of the two Soviet-German treaties but also of the Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of Mutual Assistance (10 October 1939). The German government was neither consulted nor informed of this Soviet action as required under the treaty provisions.4 The northern Bukovina region of Rumania, which was outside the agreed-upon Soviet sphere of interest, was similarly appropriated by the Soviets, although in this case the Soviets pressured Germany into giving its “consent” within an ultimative time period of 24 hours before occupation (Map 2). I mention these developments only because they demonstrate the determination with which Russia removed German strategic advantages while improving her own. They also show that Germany had no definite military objectives against the Soviet Union because otherwise it is inconceivable that she would have tolerated Soviet usurpation of the strategically invaluable Lithuanian gateway to Leningrad and Moscow.

Scorched Earth

Faced with a massive build-up of Soviet military strength across the line of demarcation, concerned by the Soviet breach of the so-called Hitler-Stalin Pact and forewarned by new and enormous Soviet demands for geographic concessions in Europe, Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. The Soviets immediately began to execute German prisoners-of-war right after capture or a short interrogation. Even seriously wounded soldiers were not spared. Numerous high level orders to this effect are on record. The West German Military History Research Institute (Militaergeschichtliche Forschungsamt), which is not known for its pro-German bias, puts the percentage of captured German soldiers who died while in Soviet captivity in the years 1941-1942 at 90-95 percent Within days after hostilities began, the Kremlin’s Central Committee issued orders to the effect that only scorched earth be left to the enemy. Everything of value was ordered to be destroyed, regardless of the needs of the civilian population left behind. For this purpose special demolition battalions were sent into action. The above-mentioned Military Research Institute commented further: “From the very beginning of the war Stalin and the leadership of the Soviet Union indicated through these measures that as far as they were concerned the armed conflict with Germany was of an entirely different character than the historical ‘European national wars’.”5b

The measures taken by the Soviet Union between 1940 and 1942 aimed not only at furthering the Soviet war effort, but also at harming the German enemy even at the cost of huge losses of life among Soviet civilians. The Soviet scorched-earth strategy included the deportation of millions of men, women and children; the resettlement and reestablishment of thousands of factories; the withdrawal of almost the entire railway rolling stock; the-annihilation of raw material depots; the removal of most of the agricultural machinery, cattle and grain stocks; the systematic destruction, burning and blowing up of the immovable infrastructure, inventories of all kinds, factory buildings, mines, residential areas, public buildings, public records, and even cultural monuments; and the intentional starvation of the civilian population which remained behind to face German occupation. It was basically a policy which unscrupulously used the civilian population as a strategic pawn. The extent and timing of this policy action is confirmed by so many sources that no real difference of opinion exists in this regard: What is strange is how scantily it has been covered so far in the scholarly literature. Until now, this policy has not been analyzed to the extent it deserves with an eye to identifying the party responsible for the conflict, nor to appreciating the German difficulties in prosecuting a war along established civilized lines, nor to assessing the claims of German brutality in Russia, nor to sizing up the numerical potential of the alleged German genocide of Soviet Jews, or indeed, of the Soviet Slavs.

Long before the outbreak of the German-Soviet conflict, Stalin had begun to prepare for a future war in Europe when he began to develop heavy industry in the Urals and Western Siberia starting with the first Five-Year Plan which commenced in 1928. His plans were for the long run. In the early 1930s he had already announced his determination to overtake the most advanced industrialized countries with respect to industrial and military capacity not later than 19416-the year when, according to numerous admissions of Soviet leaders, including Stalin’s son, the Red Army would strike Germany late that summer.7 With the help of thousands of engineers and experts from Europe and North America, the core of the Soviet armaments industry was established in the region where Europe meets Asia. Millions of Soviet citizens were also mercilessly sacrificed in the drive to attain Soviet military supremacy. The Ural industrial region was covered with a farflung network of power lines and electric-power generation plants. In 1940, this rather underpopulated area, with just four percent of the Soviet population, produced 4 billion kWh of electricity, and the existing capacity allowed for a great expansions By comparison, the Soviet territory later occupied by Germany-the so-called Occupied Eastern Territories-produced no more than 10 billion kWh before the war even though it accounted for about 40 percent of the Soviet population. In other words, on a per capita basis the electric power output of the Urals region was four times larger. In preparation for the coming conflict, substitute factory building shells were raised all across the southern Urals and western Siberia for the purpose of accepting the machinery from the territory the German enemy might threaten during the anticipated hostilities. A railroad network far out of proportion to the needs of this thinly populated area was vigorously expanded right up to the outbreak of war.9

As soon as the Germans crossed the frontier, the Soviets put their Plan of Economic Mobilization into action. This plan incorporated the possibility that the enemy might succeed in occupying large sections of the country — as had happened during the First World War. For this reason detailed plans specified the locations to which the dismantled factories should be transported and the successive steps in which the removal was to take place. The interrelationships between the individual enterprises and their dependence on one another were painstakingly taken into account.1 The carefully executed plan included the removal and evacuation of equipment and people 8-10 days before the retreat of the Red Army, followed by 24 hours of extensive destruction by special demolition squads just prior to the retreat. If necessary, the Soviet troops would put up last-ditch resistance to provide sufficient time for their demolition squads to complete their tasks.

Destination addresses found by the surprised Germans pointed practically always in the direction of the Ural industrial region, specifically to the area encompassed by Sverdlovsk, Molotov, Ufa, Chkalov, and Magnitogorsk. This was the region where the factory shells had been built years before the war and where the equipment dismantled in the factories of the western Soviet Union was reassembled.

In just the first three months after the outbreak of war more than 1,360 large industrial enterprises were transplanted and the movable equipment of thousands of collective farms was transported to the interior. It seems that owing to the brutal regimentation of the miserable deportees the evacuated enterprises rose in an unbelievably short time at their new locations: it took just three to four weeks to reassemble large factories and enterprises. The workers had to labor 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week. Within three to four months Soviet production had again reached prewar levels.12

The Soviet feat was possible only because millions of trained workers, managers, engineers and specialists had been transported to those areas along with their factories. As early as February 1940, German intelligence had reported the systematic deportation of the Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish population from the western Ukraine.l3 In June 1940, up to one million Jewish refugees from German-occupied Poland along with many hundreds of thousands of Poles were deported to Siberia. Then, a few weeks before 22 June 1941, mass deportations of the civilian populations along the entire frontier with Germany, Hungary, and Rumania took place. The Soviets, informed by their own spies, Allied intelligence, and German traitors, lost no time in removing those civilians who were most critically needed in the Ural armaments centers.14

Soviet historians admitted years ago that the Soviet Union had laid plans long before the war to put the entire Soviet railroad system on a war footing overnight. The purpose was to prevent the Germans from getting hold of the strategic rolling equipment. The Soviet success in this endeavor was almost total: Despite the huge number of rail cars, locomotives, and special transportation equipment in the frontier areas, and the deployment of troops and war materials for the gigantic Soviet military build-up in preparation for an attack on central Europe, most of the rolling stock was removed in time before the Germans struck in a lightning preventive action on 22 June 1941. During the first five weeks, when German armies pushed hundreds of miles into the Soviet interior, only 577 locomotives, 270 passenger cars and 21,947 rail freight cars were captured. In relative terms, this amounted to just 2.3, 0.8, and 2.5 percent respectively.

During the first few months of the war one million railroad cars loaded with industrial equipment, raw materials, and people departed from the frontline areas.16 I won’t delve into specifics of the scale of the Soviet program of deporting the civilian population. This I have done in some detail in The Dissolution. Suffice it here to note that before the war upward of 90 million people were living in the Soviet areas conquered by Germany during the Second World War. The Soviets deported anywhere between 25 and 30 million of them. They concentrated their deportation efforts on specific groups. Thus, they preferred the urban to the rural population, the skilled to the unskilled, and large educated minorities (Jews and Russians in the Ukraine, White Russia, and in the Baltic countries) to the more hostile native population. Because the Soviets had begun their deportation program long before the outbreak of the war and because the western frontier areas were generally not densely populated, the Soviet cities which fell into German hands during the first few days and weeks of the war were greatly depopulated-up to 90 percent in some cases and over 50 percent on the average. The cities tended to show greater deportation percentages if they were located in the Ukraine or White Russia, rather than in the Baltic countries; if they were located near the western frontier rather than further east; and if they had large educated minorities than if the native population predominated.17

In summary, the scorched-earth policy was extremely well geared to Soviet objectives. A huge armaments program had been initiated 13 years before 1941 and long before Adolf Hitler was in sight as a serious contender for German leadership. Extensive investments had been made in a rather thinly populated and underdeveloped area in order to develop its transportation facilities, power stations and network, and heavy industry. Last but not least, substitute factories had been systematically erected, ready to accept the industrial equipment from the more developed Soviet areas to the west should an unfavorable course of the war necessitate their removal to safer areas. What was lacking, however, was the social infrastructure, such as housing and hospitals, to accommodate the many millions of civilians deported there between 1940 and 1941. As a result, 15-20 million civilians died of epidemics, hunger, overwork, lack of housing, lack of clothing and the brutal Siberian winter.

The Economic Breakdown in the Occupied Eastern Territories

The picture presenting itself to the advancing German troops was one of despair. Of the railroad system only the tracks remained. The rolling stock was gone. Water works and power stations were destroyed. In order to organize the production of war-essential raw materials and mineral oil products, the Germans created the so-called Economic Staff East. However, the Soviet strategy of scorching the earth very quickly forced the Economic Staff to reactivate all productive facilities of any kind. Even the production of consumer goods was included in its program, because domestic industry was incapable of resuming production on its own following the almost total destruction and dismantling by the Soviets and the deportation of most of the managerial personnel and technical specialists.

Of the original power generation capacity of 2.57 million kW in the Occupied Eastern Territories-which was equivalent to roughly one-fourth of total prewar Soviet generating capacity-less then one-eighth (300,000 kW) was found to be intact. Soviet demolition efforts were so thorough that until the end of March 1943, capacity could be increased to not more than 630,000 kW, which was still only one-quarter of the prewar level.l8 (See Table 1.) And yet, regional differences were quite obvious. In the Reichskommissariat (RK) Ostland (Baltic countries and White Russia) about half of the original capacity of 270,000 kW was found to be intact and until the end of March 1943 almost 90 percent of the former capacity was returned to operation. But in the Ukraine only 7 percent (145,000 kW) of the original power-generation capacity of 2.2 million kW was still operational. The thoroughness of the Bolsheviks is shown by the fact that until the end of March 1943, not more than 350,000 kW were usable again. This was just 16 percent of prewar capacity. These figures refer only to available capacities. In practice, these were rarely operated fully because of the growing partisan menace and an almost total lack of coal supplies. Obviously, industrial production had been dealt a fatal blow. As mentioned already, electric power generation before the war amounted to 10 billion kWh annually in the Occupied Eastern Territories. The German administration succeeded in producing only 750 million kWh from the time of occupation until the end of 1942. For the year 1943 the planned increase to 1.4 billion kWh-which would still have been 86 percent below pre-war levels-was never attained as only 1 billion kWh were actually produced.l9 It is significant that the planned increases in manufacturing and mining production for the year 1943 were realized in only a few cases. Actual production of essential raw materials or energy supplies fell far short of stated goals despite the high priority attached to redeveloping the Ukrainian economy.

The effects of the systematic destruction by the Soviets on industrial production are shown in Table 2. The basic industrial structure-coal, iron ore, crude steel, electricity, and cement-was for all practical purposes totally destroyed. Compared with pre-war levels, coal mining averaged 2.4 percent, iron ore production 1.2 percent, crude steel production nothing, electricity 8.8 percent, and cement production 11.6 percent!

Another indication of the sorry state of the economy in Germanoccupied Russia was the size of industrial manpower. In 1940, Soviet blueand white-collar workers numbered 31.2 million.20 Even if their proportionate share in the regions later occupied by Germany was less than the Soviet average, it is reasonable to assume that there was a total of at least 10 million blueand whitecollar workers in these areas before the war. At the end of 1942, employment in industry (excluding the food industry) totalled only 750,000. In the purely industrial enterprises, that is, excluding the handicrafts, the number of employees was just six hundred thousand in an area which prior to the war had a population of perhaps 75 million! Even if we add the unknown number of people employed in the food industry, it is obvious that industrial employment under German administration was equivalent to one-tenth of prewar levels at most. To make matters worse, the productivity of this remnant manpower was far below prewar standards. It is noteworthy that although the Baltic countries (the largest of which, Lithuania, had very little industry) accounted for only 8 percent of the prewar population of the Occupied Eastern Territories, they nevertheless furnished onequarter of the industrial manpower under German administration (Table 3).

Soviet deportations reduced skilled personnel to such an extent that not enough local managerial or technical experts could be found in the Occupied Eastern Territories for even the tiny number of remaining industrial employees. The Germans were forced to bring in about 10,000 civilian specialists from the Reich in order to overcome the most severe personnel shortages.2o On the basis of available statistics I estimate that the Soviets deported at least 70 percent of the workers prior to German occupation. This means that the number of workers available to the German administration (generally lesser-skilled) was about 2 to 3 million. Inasmuch as not more than a million could be put back to work despite the enormous need for every kind of production, unemployment assumed huge proportions (50-70 percent) in the midst of a vociferous demand for goods of any kind.

According to Soviet Prof. Telpuchowski, the areas occupied by the Germans until November 1941 accounted for 63 percent of the coal, 68 percent of pig iron, 58 percent of the steel, 60 percent of the aluminum, 38 percent of grains and 84 percent of the sugar produced in the entire Soviet Union before the war.22 The documents of the German Economic Staff East show essentially very similar magnitudes. The Soviets managed to make all this unavailable to the German enemy. The means employed were ruthless dismantling, demolition, fire, sabotage and deportation. Instead of adding to Germany’s military strength, these areas became a tremendous drain on her already strained industrial capacity.


As for the conquered raw material supplies, the following secret report of the German Economic Staff for the period 1-10 October 1941, provides a vivid description of the situation:

Few supplies of any size have been found so that care will have to be taken during the hostilities … It appears that all raw material stocks were either systematically removed from the areas conquered so Or or made unusable. Thus, the small quantities found until now are not a significant help in relieving the raw material needs of the Reich… The factories have not been supplied with raw materials for some time.23

The same situation applied in the case of food, especially grains. An interdepartmental proposal of the Economic Staff dated 3 October 1941 on the supplies needed for Russian cities even went so far as to suggest that the remaining larger cities not yet in German hands should be cut off and encircled, and that their capitulation should not be accepted. This, of course, was militarily quite out of the question, but it shows the desperation with which the German authorities of the conquered areas viewed the effects of the Soviet strategy of leaving it up to the occupying armies to feed millions of starving Soviet citizens! The report continued:

It has been our experience that the Russians remove or destroy systematically all of the food supplies before retreating. The urban population of the conquered cities thus will either have to be fed by the Wehrmacht or it will have to starve. Obviously, by forcing us to provide additional food to the Russian population, the Russian leadership intends to worsen the already difficult food situation of the German Reich through a reduction of the domestic German food supply. As a matter of fact, the present food situation permits us to feed the Russian urban population from our own stocks only if we reduce the supplies to the Army or if we lower the rations at home.24

During the very early period of the war, Soviet destruction in the agricultural sector was confined to the machine and tractor stations. As a rule, these stations were found empty and the machines and vehicles left behind had been made unusable. At first, cattle stocks were relatively intact. But this changed rapidly during the following weeks. As the war progressed from west to east, almost no cattle, grain and gasoline supplies were found. The Luftwaffe and prisoners of war reported that the Soviets busily harvested the fields as they retreated. After the Ukraine was liberated, it became obvious that the food situation would slowly but surely become catastrophic. In many cases even seed grains had to be distributed to help the starving Ukrainians. This, in turn, reduced the acreage that could be planted at a time when the lack of tractors, gasoline, and draft horses had already made its negative effects felt. It is estimated that the so-called Occupied Eastern Territories produced 43 million tons of grain under Soviet rule in 1940. Under German administration the recorded harvest in 1941 was not more than 13 million tons. One reason for this small harvest was the fact that the German drive into Russia was swiftest in the northern and center sections of the theater of war, thus enabling the Soviets to take with them or destroy considerable parts of the harvest in the Ukraine. In 1942 even less was harvested, only 11.7 million tons. According to Dallin, the German administration succeeded in seeding not more than three quarters of the prewar acreage. Fertilizer was practically unavailable and the yield per acre was correspondingly lower in 1942. Compared to the average yields per hectare of approximately 2200 pounds (14 bushels/acre) in the Ukraine in the late 1930s, the Germans managed to obtain just 1500 pounds (10 bushels/acre).25 Furthermore, the Soviet scorched earth policy now began to show its full effects: The use of seed grains to relieve the worst hunger in the cities, the increasing partisan menace and the dearth of personnel and machinery reduced the harvest potential drastically.

German supervisory personnel in the countryside were much too thinly spread to enforce effectively a strict delivery of agricultural products. To be sure, at the expense of the goodwill and the pro-German attitude of the peasant population, it was possible to locate and requisition some additional agricultural produce for the cities, but, judging by the misery in the cities, this was by far not rigorous enough. Of course, the Germans periodically tried to “comb through” the countryside to find these hoarded stocks but their efforts were marked with little success. Theretreating Red Army had removed the entire organization necessary to collect and distribute the harvest of the collectivized agriculture system, and the German administration was forced to set up its own collection and distribution system for agricultural products-not an easy task considering the harrowing wartime conditions. Not only was time much too short and wartime conditions simply too severe to organize such an administration successfully, but the brutality with which the Bolsheviks had enforced their claims on agricultural production was simply not in keeping with the German mentality or German policy which-contrary to Allied and Soviet propaganda-aimed at finding a basis of mutual understanding with the liberated Slavic and Baltic populations.

Far from the ruthlessness which supposedly characterized German occupation rule in Russia, the plain fact is that, as a central European nation, the Germans never came to grips with the inhumane concept of total warfare as applied by their Soviet foe. As even Jewish historian Alexander Dallin admits: “Soviet collection (of the harvest) had, in practice, been far more efficient (italics added) than the German. As a result, peasants in German-held areas were often able to hide larger stocks than before the war. In all probability concealed reserves remained substantial,…"2s From 1941 until 1943, 15,000 rail cars loaded with agricultural equipment and machines left Germany for the Occupied Eastern Territories under the so-called Ostackerprogramm ("Eastern soil program"). This included 7,000 tractors, 20,000 generators, 250,000 steel plows, and 3,000,000 scythes. Furthermore, thousands of bulls, cows, swine, and stallions were sent to those areas for breeding purposes to raise the quality of the livestock. Available statistics indicate that German agricultural assistance between July 1941 and tune 1943 amounted to 445 million RM (Reichsmarks).27

The net prewar Soviet harvest of 1940 yielded 82 million tons of grain, of which about 30 percent was set aside for seed and feed purposes. Theoretically, the Soviet population thus had available 57 million tons, or a little less than 800 grams daily per person. In practice, of course, it was less, because part of this volume was set aside in reserve in anticipation of the coming war with Germany.28 Assuming that 30 percent of the recorded harvest of only 13 millions tons under German occupation in 1941 was set aside for seed and feed purposes, only 9 million tons were left for the native population. Of that amount 2 million tons were taken by the German army. The amount requisitioned by the German army was rather moderate indeed. This is shown by the fact that the Red Army used 3¼ million tons of grain in 1940, the last year of peace! While another 350,000 tons were shipped off to Germany, this was offset by the significant but unknown portion of the grain volume sequestered by the German army but used to feed the native urban civilian population.29 In any case, the civilian population of about Soviet Scorched-Earth Warfare 103

50 million was thus left with only about 7 million tons. On a per capita basis this amounted to less than 400 grams daily (less than one pound)-only half as much as in 1940. Meat and fats were not available as a general rule. But this average does not mean very much. On the one hand, we noted that the harvests probably were considerably larger than German statistics indicate. This means that at least the rural population which was the majority, was able to enjoy a considerably better and more plentiful diet. Also, many urban dwellers were able to obtain food from the peasants on the illegal, but difficult to control black market. In this way the cities obtained from the peasants some of the food which German authorities were unable to trace On the other hand, transportation was often an insurmountable problem so that even the minimal supply of food arrived in the cities either late or not at all. Moreover, partisans either destroyed or confiscated large parts of the harvested grain. Finally, German authorities often tried to obtain extra rations for workers in war-essential factories. Of course, this was only possible at the expense of the rest of the population. The fact that German authorities did not even succeed in getting the special rations for the workers in war-essential industries or for those doing heavy manual labor, as they were entitled, shows how serious the situation was.30 Those urban residents who were either unemployed or did not have anything to trade with the peasants were really in trouble: Starvation was their fate.

To show the desperate food situation in the cities of Germanoccupied Russia, I will quote from the regular secret reports of the Economic Staff East sent to Berlin:

I1 November 1941: The scarcity of food and the lack of even the most essential consumer goods are the main reason why the morale of the Russian and Ukrainian population is becoming more and more depressed … Kiev received no grain whatever since its occupation on 19 September 1941 … The partisans take food from the civilian population at night and force physically able men to join them. In part, food supplies are being burned down by the partisans. Especially great difficulties exist in the southern area where it is impossible to feed all of the prisoners of war because of their huge numbers… The authorities are constantly at pains to find enough to eat for the prisoners, although gruel and buckwheat are available only in limited quantities… We are very concerned about our ability to feed the urban population in the southern areas.3l

8 December 1941: The food situation in the city of Kharkov is extremely critical. There is almost nothing for the population to eat. Bread is not available.32 22 January 1942: The regular distribution of food to the urban civilian population in the southern area must be restricted more and more, and this is not likelv to change in the foreseeable future.33

23 February 1942: The supply of food to the civilian population of the larger cities is so critical that it is cause for the most serious warnings.33 1 March 1942: The morale is low because of food problems… In the densely populated Donets area especially no food has been distributed at all to the population. As a result, several thousand people have died of hunger so far. In some cases even highly qualified specialists and professors were among the victims.33 5 March 1942: The food situation continues to be very serious and in some cities there is actual starvation. In Pushkin it was discovered that there was a trade in human flesh which was offered to the population as pork.33 16 March 1942 (Report by the commander of the military rear central areas): In the large cities (the food situation) continues to be unsatisfactory and in Kharkov it is catastrophic. As time goes on it becomes ever more difficult to feed the urban population …33 3 June 1942: The food situation in the cities grows worse and worse because part of the food supplies collected for the population had to be used for seeding and part of the supplies were destroyed bv the Dartisans.33

The unceasing efforts by the German civil and military authorities to provide a sufficient supply of food to the civilian population within their narrow means were brought to naught by the terribly poor harvests, the catastrophic transport situation, the partisan menace, the removal of the food depots by the Soviets and the impossibility of organizing a satisfactory regular exchange of goods between the large cities and the countryside. While the food supply of the rural population and the small towns was relatively secure, the civilian population of the large cities and the millions of prisoners faced naked starvation. Soviet savagery thus became a legacy of German guilt.

German Counter-Measures

If for no other reason than self-interest, the Germans tried to relieve the catastrophic economic situation and stabilize the economy by importing huge amounts of capital from Germany. Equipment worth one billion RM was imported from the Reich for the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors alone. To this must be added the considerable costs incurred for the transportation sector as well as for road-building equipment, the value of which has been estimated at more than one billion RM. After adding the considerable quantities of coal used as fuel for civilian railroad freight transport, German reconstruction aid for industry and the infrastructure may have totalled more than 2.5 billion RM.34 This amount does not include agricultural assistance worth about a half-billion RM. The extent of German aid to the civilian sector may be better appreciated if one realizes that the gross value of industrial production in those areas (valued on the basis of domestic German prices) from the beginning of the occupation until the end of 1943 amounted to approximately 5 billion RM. (This figure includes the industrial raw materials, finished goods, and repairs furnished by that economy to the German army.)35 Although it is not known precisely what portion of this gross value was actual value-added, comparisons with other countries would suggest that it must have been a little more than 2 billion RM.36 In other words, German non-agricultural economic aid was larger than the entire industrial output of these territories during the time of occupation! The annual net output per worker amounted to 1,000 RM per year. By comparison: The German worker attained a net production of 4,000 RM in the year 1936.37 Naturally, a large part of the much-reduced volume of industrial production was absorbed by the German occupation army. Thus, German army requirements and, to an even greater extent, the Soviet scorched-earth strategy, reduced the supply of consumer goods for a native population of about 50 million to almost nothing. The reason for the failure of the German administration to provide sufficient food for the native urban population is best demonstrated by this dilemma. Consumer goods production was practically non-existent because of Soviet destruction and evacuation of all industrial plants and raw materials, the deportation of the trained industrial manpower, and the impossibility of quickly repairing damages. Thus, there was nothing the urban populations could offer to the peasants in exchange for their food. And since the peasant was unable to buy anything for the money he received, he was unwilling to part with his produce.

German economic aid to the occupied Soviet territories amounted to roughly one percent of German gross national product of those years.38 Even today, this figure is not matched by the level of foreign aid of the industrial nations to developing countries. West Germany, for example, extended foreign aid amounting to about one-half of one percent of GNP since 1960, that is, at a time of relative prosperity and low defense outlays. Indeed, the economic assistance of about 3 billion RM (including both industrial and agricultural aid) furnished to the economy of the occupied Soviet area is even more remarkable when one realizes this this amount was equivalent to one-6ourth of aggregate gross fixed investment in Greater Germany in the years 1942 and 1943 (12 billion RM).39

A comparison of the straight economic tonnage exchanged between the Reich and the Occupied Eastern Territories provides additional information on non-military exchange between those two years. Unfortunately, only data for the year 1943 could be found.

In terms of tonnage, about 20 percent more freight entered Germany than was delivered by the Reich. Considering that about 2 million tons of grain were furnished by the Occupied Eastern Territories to the German armies in 1943,4 the tonnage ration of exchange of 7 to 4 was indeed favorable to Germany. However, the goods made available by those territories were mainly staples (raw materials, ores, etc.) with relatively low weight-specific values, while the products from Germany had very high weight-specific values (with the exception of coal to run the railroads, of course). Inasmuch as finished goods tend to be many times more valuable, pound for pound, than staple products, it would seem that the exchange was much more favorable for the Occupied Eastern Territories, even though this rough approximation certainly does not permit us to calculate the actual value of the trade even within a wide margin of error. On balance, the Occupied Eastern Territories delivered agricultural products worth 1.6 billion RM to the Reich and the German armies.4l The deliveries of German machines, tractors, generators, equipment of all kinds for industry and agriculture, vehicles, railroad coal, etc., amounted to roughly 3.0 billion RM, leaving a difference of about 1.4 billion RM in favor of the Occupied Eastern Territories. From this we would have to deduct the value of captured raw material supplies, the ores and other raw materials produced during the period of occupation, as well as repair services for the German army. It is unknown what value should be applied to these items. However, in view of the very small raw material depots found and the extremely low production of the largely defunct industry (a large part of the industrial output was actually used to rebuild the factories) it must be doubted whether more than 25 percent of industry’s meager output of 2 billion RM was absorbed by the occupation forces. In short, the Occupied Eastern territories as such added little in economic terms to the fight against the common Bolshevik enemy. In fact, they were the beneficiaries of an almost unbelievably generous reconstruction assistance. This aid, like all so-called foreign aid, was hardly made for purely altruistic reasons. Nevertheless, it was unique in the history of relations between an occupying power and the conquered territory of a country with which it was still locked in mortal combat.

It would be too simplistic to attribute the German economic failure in Russia simply to the Soviet success in dismantling, removing and destroying the industrial base, infrastructure and raw material supplies, to the deportation of millions of workers or to the increasing partisan threat. All of these factors were no doubt very important. Another aspect, however, was at least as significant. When Germany invaded the USSR she did so despite an almost total lack of knowledge of real Soviet military strength, of the size of Soviet arms production, of the capacity of the main centers of military industrial output, or of Soviet preparations for total war. Even worse, Germany was totally unprepared to overcome the serious transportation bottlenecks which developed almost immediately and had no plans whatever for running an economy which had depended on centralized planning directives from Moscow, where every kind of private initiative had been stifled, where the entire administrative, managerial and technical class had been deported and where public records had been largely removed. Not only did Soviet brutality and lack of any restraint differ from the practice during the historic national wars in Europe, but it soon also became apparent that the challenge of a smoking remains of an economy, run on an organizational pattern vastly different from that familiar to Europeans, posed insurmountable problems. The added liability of the disappearance of the entire organizational, administrative and technical apparatus turned a task which was almost impossible to begin with into chaos. Chaos brought starvation, and starvation brought support for the partisans. The book has not yet been written which analyses the German military defeat in Russia in terms of her failure to get the economy of the occupied territories organized effectively and producing again.

The lack of success in finding a solution to the food problem was partly due to Germany’s inability to effectively revamp Soviet agriculture during the limited time available and to her scruples in burdening an already downtrodden population even further. Thus, assistance measures like the so-called Ostackerprogramm, while gigantic in terms of absolute aid to the agriculture of the Occupied Eastern Territories, were really doomed to failure from the start because they did not remove the cause of the problem. In effect, Germany tried to keep alive by artificial means the amputated trunk of a society devoid of its brains and muscles.


It is an indisputable fact that the systematic Soviet dismantling of factories and their shipment to the Urals, the carefully planned removal and destruction of raw materials stocks and food supplies, and the large-scale deportation of civilians were started long before 22 June 1941. Indeed, evidence indicated that these efforts were greatly intensified ten to fourteen days prior to that date. Now, we do not know whether Stalin believed that a German attack would come on the precise date of 22 June 1941, although Sorge and others had provided such information to him. Possibly, Stalin thought that Germany’s military build-up was insufficient to allow her to strike on the day reported to him. But this is really beside the point. Both sides knew that the other would attack as soon as it was ready. This fact demolishes forever the charge of a German sneak attack on an unprepared, peace-loving Soviet Union. The initial German military successes were achieved not because of the element of surprise but despite Stalin’s knowledge of German preventive action and despite a huge Soviet military build-up for an attack on central Europe, which was the reason for Germany’s preventive war in the first place. Furthermore, the allegation of systematic German brutality in Russia is exposed as plain Soviet propaganda. It is true that starvation was widespread in the large cities of the German-occupied Soviet Union, that large numbers of Soviet prisoners-of-war died of hunger, that the Soviet cities were in ruins after' the German armies retreated, and that the Soviet population suffered tens of millions of dead during the Second World War. However, we also know that the inhumane Soviet scorched-earth strategy was the cause of hunger in the German-occupied Soviet territories, of an orgy of destruction previously unknown in warfare, and of the death of up to 20 million Soviet civilians, many of whom had been deported to the frozen wastes of Siberia and the Urals where epidemics, lack of housing and medical care, unimaginably hard work loads, and an extreme climate allowed only the toughest to survive. Add the costly human-wave tactics of Soviet military strategy and it is evident that Soviet brutality alone was responsible for the unbelievably huge losses of life suffered by the peoples of the Soviet Union-more than 30 million dead!

The real number of Soviet war losses is not the main focus of this paper, and space does not permit a detailed examination of this subject here. However, an appendix has been added which attempts to arrive at a more realistic estimate of Soviet war casualties based on an analysis of postwar USSR census figures from 1959, 1970 and 1979 and a comparison with the Soviet census of 1939 adjusted to the extent possible for border and population changes between 1939 and 1945. Suffice it here to say that the Soviets lost more than 25 percent of their male and almost 9 percent of their female population. For the population left under Stalin’s control at the height of German expansion in Russia, the equivalent losses are 33 percent and 13 percent. It is curious that contemporary standard treatments of Soviet wartime losses generally admit to just 20 million dead. Why this unusual understatement for a wartime ally? Well, to admit that the Soviets lost almost 20 million civilians rather than 6-7 million during the Second World War would place the responsibility for most of the non-military losses on the Soviets themselves.

Naturally, the alleged German rampage in Russia fits neatly into the “Holocaust” tale. After all, the area of the Soviet Union occupied by Germany had been populated by more than 3.5 million Jews before 22 June 1941.42 If one adds the nearly one million Jewish refugees in eastern Poland in early 1940, it is obvious that to maintain the genocide charge it has been necessary to draw a curtain of silence around the Soviet long-term preparation, anticipation, thoroughness, brutality, and scale of scorching the earth during the Second World War. Since the historical framework within which the alleged German mass murder is supposed to have been perpetrated simply did not exist, it became necessary to create the myths which superficially appeared to be substantiated by what was obvious to everyone: The initial swift German advances and the horrible destruction of Soviet cities and countryside after the Germans were forced out again.

It is up to us to lift this curtain of silence and concealment and to replace the myth of Soviet unpreparedness with the horrible truth of Soviet scorched earth.


Soviet Casualties During the Second World War

The USSR has never published any data on Soviet war casualties. But the censuses taken in the post-war period can help give a good idea of the probable size of the Soviet losses. A distinction between military and non-military losses, however, still is not possible with any great degree of accuracy. The census of 17 January 1939 found a population of 170.56 million, of which 81.70 million (47.9%) were male. The first post-war census conducted in December 1959 counted 208.83 million inhabitants; males accounted for 94.05 million (45%) of them. A direct comparison between these two counts is not possible, though, because the Soviet Union annexed huge territories in eastern Europe in the period from September 1939 to the summer of 1940 and then again in 1945: the Baltic countries, eastern Poland, northern Bukovina, Bessarabia, and the Carpathian Ukraine. In the course of its territorial expansion in the years 1939 and 1940 the Soviet Union absorbed at least 24 million Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Jews, White Russians, Ukrainians, Poles and Rumanians, to name just the most important nationalities. Also, between January 1939 and June 1941 the natural excess of births over deaths added another 7-8 million people. Thus, at the beginning of the war with Germany in June 1941 there were about 202 million people under Soviet rule.

The sex structure of the Soviet population of 202 million (June 1941) was not affected byxthe incorporation of 24 million people between 1939 and 1940, because most of the absorbed territories had belonged to the Tsarist empire until 1917 and thus the enormous male casualties suffered during the First World War were reflected in the demographic structure of those areas as well. But the excess births over deaths between 1939 and 1941 did result in a very slight improvement of the male share to 48 percent. To summarize: Of the 202 million people in the Soviet Union at the beginning of the war in June 1941, 97 million were male (48%) and 105 million female (52%). A comparison of these figures with the census of 1959 is encumbered by the fact that after the war further territorial changes and forcible population exchanges with neighboring satellite countries took place. For example, the area around Bialystok, which was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939, was returned to Communist post-war Poland. At the same time, the Soviets annexed the Carpathian Ukraine. Then, too, many Poles residing in eastern Poland were removed after the war to areas previously populated by Germans, while many Ukrainians living west of the line of the Bug and San rivers were transferred to Ukraine. Whether all of these changes provided the Soviet Union with a net population gain or loss cannot be determined today with certainty. In addition, there is the well-known fact that.many former Soviet citizens fled to the West when the German armies withdrew from Russia. Many of them were able to find their way to western countries despite Allied efforts to force them to return to the Soviet Union after 1945. But these lucky ones are more than matched by the millions deported by the Soviets from central and eastern Europe after the war. It is just about impossible to obtain even approximate figures for these population changes, but it can be argued (and this analysis starts from the basis) that these changes did not produce major additions or subtractions.

The total number and the sex composition of the Soviet population at the end of the war in 1945 can be estimated if we draw on the post-war censuses of December 1959, January 1970 and January 1979. The age groups of 0 to 15 years (1945-1959) accounted for 60.2 million people according to the census of December 1959. Available statistics indicate that the mortality rate averaged 0.72% between 1945 and 1959; on the basis of an average population of 190 million the total number of deaths during this period may be estimated at 20.5 million. Thus, the net population growth until 1959 was almost 40 million. Subtracting this figure from the 1959 population of about 209 million we arrive at a 1945-population of only 169 million! Finally, if we compare the 1941 figure (202 million) with the one for 1945, it is obvious that the Soviet Union’s total war casualties amounted to 33 million! The distribution of this immense loss of life among both sexes can also be estimated by using the post-war censuses. Between 1959 and 1970 the net population gain was 32.89 million, and between 1970 and 1979 it was 20.68 million. Males accounted for 52.74 percent of this total increase of 53.57 million. Applying this percentage to the increase of barely 40 million between 1945 and 1959, it is obvious that males increased by almost 21 million. The Soviet censuses of 1939, 1959, 1970 and 1979, as well as the estimates for the years 1941 and 1945, are listed above Despite the above-mentioned uncertainties pertaining to the various population movements, it is nevertheless possible to state with a great degree of probability that Soviet war losses during the Second World War exceeded 30 million and that only 73 million of the previous 97 million men survived the war. In short, more than 25 percent of the males had to sacrifice their lives for the Soviet cause! The female Soviet population suffered 6 million dead, or almost 9 percent. Citing official sources, the Swiss newspaper Die Tat (January 1955) reported 13.6 million Red Army deaths during the Second World War. The same figure was published by the Ploetz Publishing House in Wuerzburg/Germany, and other sources-for example, the West German Historical Military Research Institute-mentioned similar figures. If this huge military loss is accurate, Soviet civilian losses must have been 19.3 million, of which, in turn, 9 million were female and 10.3 million male. The terrible conditions behind Soviet lines, which included hunger, exhaustion, deaths from exposure to cold, epidemics, lack of medications and medical care, catastrophic living conditions (tents, earth huts), and the terror of an inhumane regime fighting for its survival, caused most of these deaths, as the 9 million female casualties indicate.


  1. Helmdach, Erich. Taueschungen und Versaeumnisse, Berg am See: 1979, p. 155.
  2. Brennecke, Gerhard. Die Nuernberger Geschichtsentstellung, Tueb ingen: 1970, p. 303.
  3. Fischer, Ludwig, and Friedrich Gollert. Warschau unter deutscher Herrschaft, Cracow: 1942, p. 186.
  4. Brennecke, Die Nuernberger Geschichtsentstellung, pp. 303 and 322. 5a. Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg (Militaergeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Ed.), Stuttgart: 1983, Volume 4, p. 785.
  5. ibid., p. 782.
  6. Scott, John. Jenseits des Ural, Stockholm: 1944, p. 304. [English edi tion: Behind the Urals, Boston: 1942.)
  7. Helmdach, Erich. Ueberfall? Der sowjetisch-deutsche Aufmarsch 1941, Neckargemuend/Germany: 1978, 4th Chapter.
  8. Scott, Jenseits des Ural, p. 310.
  9. ibid., pp. 303 and 310.
  10. Telpuchowski, Boris Semionowitsch. Die Geschichte des Grossen Vaterlaendischen Krieges 1941-1945, (Andreas Hillgruber and HansAdolf Jacobsen, eds.), Frankfurt/Main: 1961, pp. 81-83, 86.
  11. Wirtschaftsstab 0st. Vierzehntagesbericht Wi Stab 0st (3.8.-16.8. 1941), 30 August 1941, Military Archives Freiburg/Germany, Bes tand RW 31/11.
  12. Telpuchowski, Die Geschichte des Grossen Vaterlaendischen Krieges, p. 81 and 82.
  13. Aschenauer, Rudolf. Krieg ohne Grenzen, Leoni, 1982, p. 115.
  14. Sanning, Walter N. The Dissolution of Eastern European Jewry, Torrance, Calif.: 1983, 3rd Chapter.
  15. Reichswirtschaftsministerium. Die UdSSR Anfang 1941, (Date unknown), Federal Archives Koblenz/Germany, Bestand R 24/817.
  16. Telpuchowski, Die Geschichte des Grossen Vaterlaendischen Krieges, p. 84.
  17. Sanning, The Dissolution, pp. 86-101.
  18. 18. Wirtschaftsstab 0st, Chefgruppe W. Wirtschaftsgroessenordnungen fuer die besetzten Ostgebiete, 3 March 1943, Military Archives Freiburg/Germany, Bestand RW 31/260.
  19. 19. Reichsministerium fuer die besetzten Ostgebiete. Bericht ueber die Taetigkeit der Chefgruppe Wirtschaft im Reichsministerium fuer die besetzten Ostgebiete, 20 November 1944. Military Archives Freiburg/Germany, Bestand RW 31/260.
  20. 20. Telpuchowski, Die Geschichte des Grossen Vaterlaendischen Krieges, p. 85.
  21. 21. Bericht ueber die Taetigkeil der Chefgruppe Wirtschaft im Reichsministerium fuer die besetzten Ostgebiete, 20 November 1944, p. 4.
  22. 22. Telpuchowski, Die Ceschichte des Grossen Vaterlaen(lischf n Krieges, p. 78.
  23. 23.Wirtschaftsstab 0st. Halbmonatsbericht Wi Stab 0st (1.-15.10.41), 2 November 1941, Military Archives Freiburg/Germany, Bestand RW 31/310.
  24. 24.Memorandum dated 3 October 1941, titled Die Versorgung der Staedte Russlands im noch unbesetzten Gebiet, Military Archives Freiburg/Germany, Bestand RW 31/11.
  25. 25.Dallin, Alexander. German Rule in Russia 1941-1945, London: 1957, p. 367.
  26. 26.ibid.
  27. 27.ibid., p. 368.
  28. 28.Perspektiven zur Verpflegungsversorgung der U.d.S.S.R. im Winterfeldzug 1942/43, (Date unknown), Chef d.Vers.d.200.Schtz. Div. der 5. Armee, Military Archives Freiburg/Germany, Bestand RW 31/23Z.
  29. 29.Dallin, German Rule in Russia, p. 375.
  30. 30. Letter from the Reichsminister fuer die besetzten Ostgebiete dated 5 August 1942 to Ministerialdirektor Riecke concerning the food sup ply of the civilian population in the Occupied Eastern Territories (Versorgung der Zivilbevoelkerung in den besetzten Ostgebieten), Military Archives Freiburg/Germany, Bestand RW 31/310: Contains excerpts from the secret monthly and special reports made by the Economic Staff East, the German military and the German civilian administration of the RK Ostland and the RK Ukraine.
  31. Wirtschaftsstab 0st, Halbmonatsbericht Wi Stab 0st (16.-31.10.41), 27 November 1941, Military Archives Freiburg/Germany, Bestand RW 31/68.
  32. Wirtschaftsstab 0st, Halbmonatsbericht Wi Stab 0st (1.-15.11.41), 8 December 1941, Military Archives Freiburg/Germany, Bestand RW 31/68., k
  33. Letter from the Reichsminister fuer die besetzten Ostgebiete dated 5 August 1942 to Ministerialdirektor Riecke.
  34. Bericht ueber die Taetigkeit der Chefgruppe Wirtschaft im Reichs ministerium fuer die besetzten Ostgebiete, p. 5.
  35. ibid.
  36. Statistisches Jahrbuch fuer die Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1952 (Statistical Yearbook of the Federal Republic of Germany), Statistical Office, Wiesbaden, lists the value of production of industrial coun tries before the Second World War. Net production reached the following shares of gross production in the years indicated: U.S.A. (1939) 43%; United Kingdonl (1935) 42%; Canada (1937) 42%; Nor way (1937) 36%; Denmark (1939) 47%; Finland (1937) 42%; South Africa (1937) 45%.
  37. ibid.
  38. Klein, Burton H. Germany’s Economic Preparations for War, Cam bridge/Mass.: 1959, p. 256. The gross national product of the Ger man Reich for 1942 and 1943 was given as RM 143 and RM 160 billion, respectively. Relative to the entire reconstruction assistance of about RM 3 billion (incl. agricultural aid of RM 445 million) pro vided to the Occupied Eastern Territories this amounts to 1%. Soviet Scorched-Earth Warfare
  39. ibid.
  40. Dallin, German Rule in Russia 1941-1945, p. 375.
  41. ibid.
  42. Sanning, The Dissolution, p. 52.
  43. German-Soviet demarcation, as set by the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 23 August 1939.

Bibliographic information
Author: Sanning, Walter
Title: Soviet scorched-earth warfare: Facts and consequences
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: Spring 1986
Issue: Volume 6 number 1
Location: Page 91
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.