POWs and the Great War: Captivity on the Eastern Front

POWs and the Great War: Captivity on the Eastern Front

POWs and the Great War: Captivity on the Eastern Front

POWs and the Great War: Captivity on the Eastern Front


Joint Winner of Fraenkel Prize for Contemporary History 2001, London. Winner of Talmon Prize, Israel, awarded by the Israeli Academy of Sciences.

Although it was one of the most common experiences of combatants in World War I, captivity has received only a marginal place in the collective memory of the Great War and has seemed unimportant compared with the experiences of soldiers on the Western Front. Yet this book, focusing on POWs on the Eastern Front, reveals a different picture of the War and the human misery it produced. During four years of fighting, approximately 8.5 million soldiers were taken captive, of whom nearly 2.8 million were Austro-Hungarians. This book is the first to consider in-depth the experiences of these prisoners during their period of incarceration.

How were POWs treated in Russia? What was the relationship between prisoners and their home state? How were concepts of patriotism and loyalty employed and understood? Drawing extensively on original letters and diaries, Rachamimov answers these and other searching questions. In the process, major omissions in previous historiography are addressed. Anyone wishing to have a rounded history of the Great War will find this book fills a major gap.


'War literature is gradually becoming enormous', wrote Professor Hans Weiland, the honorary chairman of the Austrian Federal Association of Former POWs (die Bundesvereinigung der ehemaligen österreichischen Kriegsgefangenen or B.e.ö.K.) in 1931.

There are diaries by field marshals and leading diplomats, artillery men and
munitions' workers . . . We listen to generals and soldiers, poets and humble
storytellers describing what they thought, felt, did, and believed . . . But
there is a World War appendage, which had been pushed back, already
during the war but also after it, which remained almost unnoticed: war
cap_ivity, the fate of the neutralized fighters, the living dead. It is as though
Clio herself is afraid to write down such a painful part of human history,
afraid to lift the veil that covers people and fates about whom no one
speaks gladly.

The conviction that throughout Europe POWs have been ignored, pushed aside and denied a proper place among veterans led to the publication in 1931, in Vienna, of In Feindeshand, the most extensive compilation of personal recollections about World War I captivity ever to be brought together. Containing 477 separate contributions, a statistical appendix and hundreds of photographs, maps and illustrations, In Feindeshand aimed 'to present for the first time to the public' the story of 'around ten million Europeans who became captive during the World War, among them 1,300,000 Germans.' According to the co-editor of the book, Dr Leopold Kern, the publication of In Feindeshand was crucial not only because of the torrent of memoirs about other war experiences, but also because 'with each passing year, the prisoners, those living sources for the study of captivity, become fewer and fewer; because relevant sources are lost through absent-mindedness and destruction, and because memory fades and interest disappears.'

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