World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I

The Russians


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

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Vasily Bezugly
A Russian Liberator of Stalag Luft I


Vasily Bezugly of Ryazan, Russia was one of the Russian liberators of Stalag Luft I. With the help from a visitor to our site, we found a message he had left on a Russian military site message board on the Internet.   We emailed him, after reading that he was looking for others that had been at Stalag Luft I in May 1945.  He responded immediately and we put him in email contact with some of the grateful American POWs that he helped liberate over 60 years ago.  Here he provides us with some photos and his memories of that time.

When he arrived at Stalag Luft I  in Barth, Germany on May 2, 1945 he was just a young man of 19.  As a member of the Red Army, he was assigned to a mortar company. He says even today if you wake him up in the middle of the night he will be able to collect and analyze the mortar.  Vasily's unit, the 144 Guardian Red Flag Shooting Division was commanded by Major Svintsov.


Vasily Bezugly - Russian liberator of Stalag Luft I

Vasily recently wrote to me,  "Yes, I'm a live witness of the events of those days. As I remember today, it was May of 1945 on the coast of the Baltic Sea in Barth. We had a great fraternization with the English and American POWs there. At first time in my life I saw a chocolate bar. It was a big box of chocolate with the sign of the Red Cross and Half-moon.  I think that was English or American POWs (I don't no actually but it was nearly 9000 of POWs in Stalag Luft 1). We exchanged our addresses. One of the POWs (his name was Tobby or Bobby but I don't remember now) gave me his one, but I lost it - I was very young (at least 19 years old boy).   After that all of us - Soviet, American and English - three great nations - sang famous Russian song "Katyusha". At the end I remember big airliner which took all POWs on it's board." 

Vasily and comrades at Stalag Luft I

7 persons of guard by Captain Ivanov

Vasily and his friends at Stalag Luft I
With my war friends, with whom I went through all the hell of war

These are photos of Vasily (arrow pointing to him and his descriptions of photos beneath) and other mortar company Red Army soldiers taken while they were at Stalag Luft I in May, 1945. He tells me these are some of the first military photos of himself.


Vasily presently lives in Ryazan (this is approximately 200 km or 2 hours drive from Moscow). After the war he married Ekaterina Michailovna Bezuglaya. They have been married for  48 years and  have two daughters - Olga and Tatyana.   They also have two grandchildren - Andrew and Ksenya.   After the war he served in the commando  troops - and says he has a great number of jumps with a parachute. Recently (before pension) he worked  in the Ryazan military car school (presently institute) as a civil specialist on repair of ventilators. 

Vasily and his grandson, Andrew

Below is a personal note we received from Vasily:

 " I want to say to you "Ogromnoe spasibo" for your great work with all  alive POWs.   Website on Internet - this is a really a little world which can combine great number of people - alive witnesses of those blood events and simply interested people - people which remember their history and honour memories of their fathers and grandfathers - great liberators of all mankind."

Vasily Bezugly and his grandson Andrew attended our Stalag Luft I Conference/Reunion at Barth, Germany  in September 2001.

Click here to read the speech he gave at the conference.

Click here to see the photos of Vasily with the former Stalag Luft I POWs

Click here to read the article in Stars and Stripes about the Conference.

Click here to read our report on the Conference.

The Liberation of the POWs

In late April, 1945 as the war in Europe was nearing its end,  the Russians were approaching from the east and the British and Americans from the West in a race to get to Hitler's headquarters in Berlin.  Stalag Luft I was north of Berlin, so it was unsure at first which of the Allied fronts would reach them first.  As the reports came in and the fighting got closer and closer to Barth, they soon realized that the Russians would be the ones liberating them.  They soon began to hear the heavy cannon fire sounds of the Russian artillery getting closer and closer to them.  

At night the POWs would lay in their darkened barracks and there would be  shouts of "Come On Joe" (for Joseph Stalin - the Russian leader) coming from all over the camp.   At this time it became apparent to the German Commandant and the guards at Stalag Luft I that  the Russians were at their doorstep and they must make a move. So they approached the Senior Allied POW Officer of the camp,  Col. Hub Zemke, and told him to prepare his fellow prisoners to march in an effort to escape the approaching Russians.  Col. Zemke refused to do so.  

He informed the Commandant that even though there were over 200 of them with guns, that there were 9,000 POWs and they were prepared to fight rather than march.  He told the commandant that he realized this may cause high losses among the POWs but ultimately they would overcome the Germans and with the Russian allies so close he knew this was an acceptable risk.  

The German command evidently realized that the end of Germany was near and so he accepted this decision by Col. Zemke.  The German command then informed Col. Zemke that he and the guards would be leaving the camp at midnight that night (April 30, 1945).  Col. Zemke had made plans in case such a scenario arose to take over the camp,  as it was evident to him that as Senior Allied Officer he would be responsible for of the safe return of the POWs to Allied control.  He had already organized a group of hand selected men which he called the "Field Force" to help him keep the camp in order until they were all safely back in Allied hands.  

So when the POWs at Stalag Luft I awoke on May 1, 1945 they looked around and noticed that all the Germans were gone and now there were POWs with armbands that said "FF" manning the guard towers.  Col. Zemke explained that the POWs could not just start leaving the camp on their own, as there was a war going on all around them and they could be shot.  He felt it best to keep the camp secure in an effort to protect the POWs.  (You can imagine not many of the POWs liked this idea, they were tired of being imprisoned behind barbed wire!)  

Col. Zemke sent a scouting party out to meet the approaching Russians to inform them that there was a POW camp of Allies located in the area, so the Russians would not be shelling them!  Later in the day the Russian commander entered Stalag Luft I and meet with Col. Zemke and the British Senior Officer.  The Russian commander did not like the idea of the Allied POWs still being behind barbed wire, so he ordered that Col. Zemke have the fences torn down.  Zemke refused at first, but was later convinced (some say by force, with a gun) to tear down the fences.  The POWs enthusiastically tore them down.   Many POWs then left camp and went into Barth and the surrounding areas.  Some of them (approximately 700) took off on their own to make their way to the approaching British lines (my Dad being one of those!).  In the ensuing confusion of a war still in progress all around them some of the POWs were accidentally killed.

It was the 2nd White Russian Front of the Red Army that entered Barth on May 1, 1945 and liberated the prisoners of war at Stalag Luft I.   After the fences were down the Russians then learning of the meager food supply the POWs  had been existing on soon rounded up several hundred cows and herded them into the camp for the hungry POWs to slaughter and eat.  This they did immediately.   At night they entertained the POWs with their "USO" type variety show that traveled with them.   There was much joy and celebration among the newly freed POWs and the Russian soldiers.

The Russian Army stayed in Barth for only a couple of weeks.  After the POWs were evacuated from Barth, the Soviet Military Administration (SMAD) took over the empty barracks at Stalag Luft I and used them for a repatriation camp for their countrymen that had been used as slave labor by the Germans.  Those slave workers that were in the territory occupied by the Western Allies were transferred to the territory occupied by the Soviets.  They came into repatriation camps where they were interrogated by the Soviet Secret Service (GPU) and this organization decided whether the former slave workers were sent home to their families or into stalinistic camps (Gulags) to do slave work in coal mines in Siberia or somewhere else.  Even some of the newly freed concentration camp survivors which were Soviet citizens were transferred into Gulags because they had been forced to work in the German warfare industry, like in Barth where they were forced to work in the Heinkel plane factory and were imprisoned in the small concentration camp at the territory of the Barth airfield. 


General Borisov and Vasily Bezugly

This is a photo of General Borisov (the Hero of the Soviet Union) and Vasily.  General Borisov commanded the dispatch of the POWs  from Stalag Luft I.  This photo was taken many years later, after the war, when Vasily was his personal chauffeur for a period of 3 years.

Gen. Borisov - Hero of the Soviet Union

Major Svintsov of the Soviet Army

General Borisov - Hero of the Soviet Union

 Major Svintsov (face circled) taken in 1979 at a veteran meeting in Baranovichi of the 144 Guardian Red Flag Shooting Division.  Major Svintsov was the commander of Vasily's unit, when they arrived in Barth in May 1945. 

     Photo's from the book Zemke's Stalag:
Offician Russian Inspection of Stalag Luft I on May 4, 1945.

Colonel Zhovanik, Hub Zemke, General Borisov, and Group Captain Cecil Weir, Chief of Staff Provisional Wing X.

Visit of more Soviet commanders,  8 May 1945.  Our interpreter, Flight Lietuenant Delarge, RAF, on left: General Marozil, Red Army; Hub Zemke; Marozil's aide; Einar Malstrom who, like Zemke, wears a black mourning band for President Roosevelt.
Honor guard of British and American MP's for the departure of General Marozil in a lend-lease Jeep.  Notice the general enjoys an American cigarette given to him and that his bodyguard totes a tommy gun.
     Russian "wheels".  Major Pritchard in background.
     A Russian giving a speech.  Major Pritchard behind Russians.
With the Soviet commanders in the former Luftwaffe headquarters at Stalag Luft I, 4 May 1945.  Flight Lieutenant Delarge, our interpreter, shares a joke with a senior Russian officer.  Next to him are Major Borisov, Hub Zemke and 2nd Lt. J.S. Durakov, our other interpreter.  Standing behind are Ginger Weir and Colonel Zhovanik.
A shot taken outside the Russian headquarters in Barth.  L to R Colonel Zhovanik, Major T.A.G. Pritchard, Major General Borisov, Lt. Colonel Mark Hubbard (then Wing X liaison officer with the Soviets), and Flt. Lt. Delarge, the Polish RAF interpreter.
Sharing guard duty with the Russians after liberation Guard duty with the Russians after liberation
American and Russians at Stalag Luft I American and Russians after liberation at Stalag Luft I
The Russian Dance Troupe that entertained the POWs - Photo by Roy Kilminster - RAF POW at Stalag Luft I
Dancers and POWs at Stalag Luft I liberation - Photo by Roy Kilminster - RAF POW at Stalag Luft I
Russian writing in George Gill's wartime log  From George Gill's Wartime Log - Written by Russians.  Can you tell me what it says?  Click here to email.


Below is a document found in our National Archives, describing the events in Barth on May 9, 1945, when the Russian Red Army commander addressed the townspeople of Barth and spoke of what their future would hold.

(It is important to note that Barth was part of the former GDR or East Germany until unification.)

27 July 1945

Attached is a copy of an account of the celebration and meeting of the townspeople in Barth, Germany, which was conducted by the Russian Army following the capture of that town.  The account was furnished by 2nd Lt. Earl Dean McKenna,  ASN 0-571383, 1035 South 17th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska, who had been held as a Prisoner of War at Barth, Germany

The account is submitted for the purpose of indicating the manner in which the Russians treat Germans in the cities they have captured.

May 9, 1945

            The City of Barth turned out today to celebrate Peace.  A crowd of several thousand filled the square to hear addresses by the new Burgemeister of Barth, by the Russian Commander, and by several of the town’s leading citizens.  On the platform sat former Luftwaffe Major Von Muller, one-time German Intelligence Officer at Stalag Luft I.

            The greatest part of the crowd consisted of German refugees from Pomerania, who had fled before the advancing Russian Armies.  They felt relief at the news that the order to cease firing had finally been issued.

            The new Burgemeister, Herr Lemke, delivered an appeal to the people to co-operate with the new administration, to return to their old jobs, to resume their orderly civilian existence once again.  He said that the disgrace of Nazism must be removed from the German people, and that a new free nation will arise if everyone one does his duty.  He concluded with the promise that all German workers who had been herded into Labor detachments in various parts of Europe would be returned to their homes and families.

            The speech of the Russian Commander was translated into German by a Herr Dahlfeld.  He said that the Russians were not prepared for War in 1941, but the fascists were ready.  They violated the principle enunciated by Bismarck, that Germany should never attack Russia.  In June of 1941, the German Army attacked Russia, hoping to destroy the Red Army in two months.  The entire population of Russia arose to defend the homeland, and finally stopped the Germans at Stalingrad.  He said, “We know that German propaganda reported that the Russian Army was destroyed.  It was never destroyed.  During the past two years, the Russians created new weapons, and new forces, for the final battle against Fascism.

            “German Propaganda said that the Russians want to destroy the German people.   This is not true.  Stalin has promised that only the militarists who brought on this war will be dealt with.

“The German people, as a people, and as a Nation shall live on, but Nazism shall die.” (Cheers) “Each people has its right to live on the face of the Earth.”

“Today we are celebrating the establishment of Peace with the German Government.  The war is now over. There shall be no more destruction of Human life.

“Germany may now in its own land enforce order as its own people wish.  The may have the political parties that they wish.”  “Germany will arise again as a free country, as a free people working towards its future development.   Today is our holiday, on which occasion I take the opportunity to wish you the best of luck for the future.”

A blind old man mounted the platform next, a refugee from Eastern Pomerania.  He expressed thanks to the city administration for the fine work that they were doing.  He called upon the people to concluded, the German people will be allowed to live as people, and as human beings.”

A Barth “Carpenter-meister” read the new order of the Russian Garrison.  No weapons or cold weapons will be allowed to the people. No one shall be allowed out of doors between the hours of 2300 and 0800 hours.  No Russian, American or English solider or Officer shall be billeted in any German home without an Official order to the local Russian Commander.

He stated that it was the duty of each one of them to see that the young women were kept in doors during the evening hours.  He went on to point out that German girls had been calling to soldiers from second story windows, asking for cigarettes and chocolate, inviting them into their homes, and then complaining of the consequences.  Speaking of the disgrace which has come upon their city with the discovery of the Concentration Camp in their vicinity, and the expose of the frightful conditions there, he said, that they now know the names of all of the officials responsible for the camp, that they would be hunted down, and they will be forced to clean up the filth that they had created and to labor for the rehabilitation of the lives that they had shattered.

Referring to the destruction visited upon Germany by the Nazi regime, he pointed out that when Major Von Muller rushed out with a white flag to surrender to City of Barth, several young SS men, in disobedience of the order of their superior officer, attempted to arouse the people of the town to offer resistance to the Russians.  “You know what that would have meant.  Hitler and Goebbels would have been the death of all of us had they continued in power a little longer.”

He spoke of the death of the “Great American President Roosevelt”, whose obituary was treated so shamefully by the German press and radio.”  “That is another disgrace that the Nazis have brought upon us.”

His final words were that now the country was at peace, there will be no more bombing, no more Air Alarms.  He, too, exhorted the people to return to their civilian occupations, to speed the rebuilding of their country, and to work, each one of them, not for War and destruction, but for the production of the essentials necessary for Human existence.           

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