Background: The German defeat at Stalingrad was a challenge for
Nazi propaganda. For weeks before the final collapse, Nazi media said
almost nothing about Stalingrad. The announcement of the defeat was presented
as a triumph of German heroism. But what to do about those who surrendered
to the Russians? The Russians were not forthcoming with prisoner lists,
and large numbers of Germans were unsure of the fate of their loved ones.
The author was a leading Nazi propagandist, and the report
of the Sicherheitsdienst found that this article had a
The source: Hans Schwarz van Berk, “Die offenen
Verlustlisten,” Das Reich, 14 February 1943, p. 3.
The Uncertain Casualty
Questions and Concerns after
by Hans Schwarz van Berk
During the three days that followed the announcement of the
fall of Stalingrad [there was a three
day period of national mourning] we thought not only
of the soldiers of the 6th Army, but also of their families.
The announcement provided insufficient information to relieve
the uncertainty, the hope, the tortuous uncertainty in many homes.
That was not possible, given that the fate of an entire army
was involved. Even our highly developed modern methods of communication
fail when faced with a situation of superhuman enormity. The
fate of the individual seems to vanish in the face of such enormous
Ships have vanished on the high seas with no word of their
crews, scouts have failed to come back, airplanes have not returned
to their bases. In each case they were reported “missing,”
but in such cases one can know what happened with a high degree
of certainty. That is not the case with the soldiers of the 6th
Army, particularly given the nature of our enemy. Many people
in our homeland who worry about their soldier relatives now stare
into the cold, unreadable face of Bolshevism. Civilized peoples
faced with the finality of death refrain from hatred, trickery,
and propaganda, but Bolshevism is pitiless and refuses even to
give an honest death list.
Is there in fact any news about German soldiers in the Soviet
Union, and if so how reliable is it? There are several facts.
The Soviet Union signed the Geneva Conventions of 27 July 1929
“for the improvement of the condition of the wounded and
sick in armies in the field,” but not the convention of
the same day on the treatment of prisoners of war. Article Four
of the first convention obliges the signatory powers to exchange
the names of the wounded, ill and fallen as quickly as possible.
The official Soviet offices have never done this. Why? Because
the Soviets are not concerned about the fate of their people;
the individual counts for nothing in a collective state. For
25 years, the Soviet Union has been the land of the missing.
No independent agency has been given access to what happens in
the hospitals and POW camps behind Soviet lines. This is unique
and unprecedented in modern history.
Our soldiers in the East have had long experience with the
Red Army’s methods. The Soviets have long used the methods they
are now using to confuse and demoralize the German homeland on
our soldiers at the front. The first battles were scarcely over
when leaflets rained down on the German lines. They included
the names photographs and unit numbers of allegedly fallen comrades.
Sometimes there were facsimile signatures and details of birthplaces
or home towns. Later there were postcards from comrades in POW
camps. But who could know how long they remained alive after
sending the postcards? Radio, too, served propaganda. The texts
however were so absurd that anyone could see who wrote them.
Our military leadership conscientiously checked to see if the
lists of prisoners were accurate. Numerous cases have been discussed
in the OKW’s Mitteilungen für die Truppe. Here
is but one case: On 31 March 1942, the soldier Martin Amberger
of IR 141 and 143 was given as the writer of an essay in a Bolshevist
newspaper for the front. Actually, he had died on a scouting
mission on 31 December 1941. When his body was found that same
day, his pay book and weapon were missing. The Soviets have regularly
taken the papers and letters of fallen German soldiers. When
they attacked a German baggage train, letters, lists, and IDs
were their target. Names are what they wanted for propaganda,
Immediately after the last report from the 6th Army, the responsible
offices worked to establish a casualty list. All those who were stationed
in Stalingrad are currently being questioned. The 47,000 wounded and the
sick in hospitals are being asked about losses up to the time they were
evacuated. We are gathering all possible information about our soldiers
at Stalingrad. In some cases, there will soon be certain information about
the death of an army member. Others will face the uncertainty of news
that their family member is missing. One hesitates to say more than that,
but the families of the missing want to know more. The state cares for
the families of the missing; after a waiting period they receive financial
support. Instead of family support, the unmarried receive survivor’s benefits
after one month, the married after three months, for a period of nine
months. Support for families with many children is sometimes higher than
under normal family support so that the best possible education is provided
for the children.
As we write this, we sense the inadequacy of words. We sense the worst
imaginings that will face many families for a long time. No mother or
wife will give up hope that her son or husband may return one day. They
remember that in the past the missing have sometimes returned unexpectedly.
Think of how many prayers go up to the stars each night, the same stars
on which the missing soldiers gaze. The thoughts of the sleepless meet
above the roof tops, and a rainbow of immortal love stretches over our
homeland. In such times a person should know that sorrow does not make
him poorer, that longing is his deepest ability and that loyalty in memory
is his noblest deed. No soldier who did his duty at Stalingrad, should
he remain alive, will walk alone along the roads of the East. The unending
inexhaustible strength of his love, of his comrades, of his people will
walk with him, telling him that no German in our day is alone, whatever
he may suffer for the Reich.
After we had buried out dead, we sat together and spoke of
the family members they left behind. We thought that they had
been spared a worse fate. If we had the time to write them, we
would have said how fast and easy death comes for most in the
field. We know how much mothers and wives worry about the final
hour. As we think of the missing of Stalingrad, we know that
if they too must die, none will lack the strength of a proud
silence that the enemy’s mockery cannot break. Our soldiers have
developed a humanity that is the best and noblest of the German
spirit. What can break the soldiers who withstood the hell of
Stalingrad for so many weeks? They have been changed, as we who
were or are in the field can sense. They no longer share our
understanding of life. They have gone through the bitterest trial,
and are far beyond our daily troubles. They may not be able to
speak to us, yet they are with us in every thought and with all
their heart, wishing and thinking but one thing: that our people
may be spared their fate. We have found in them the silent witnesses
of our history, who may yet someday speak. They testify as to
how much nobler, humane and beautiful life in our country is,
where the individual lives in brotherhood and is honored, never
lost and never forgotten. Among those who raise the Red flag,
the fate of the individual is written in the sands of the steppes.
Now all we can do is to bow our heads to the family members
of the heroes of Stalingrad, and to the heroes themselves. They
must carry on the battle in their souls, and no one can take
that burden from them. Only time will soften and heal their pain.
Only the knowledge of a deed well done can console them, only
our sympathy can help them, only our loyalty to them can strengthen
their loyalty to those missing in the great battle. No one missing
in the distant East is lost to our immortal history as long as
our own devotion follows his example.
[Page copyright © 2000 by Randall Bytwerk.
No unauthorized reproduction. My e-mail address is available on the
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