On a War Prisoner

My feeble mind isn’t expansive enough to feel the impact of the Holocaust. That 6,000,000 people at least died in the various camps operated by the Nazi Party during the Hitler Regime is beyond me. The addendum to this unspeakable tragedy is that hundreds of thousands of German POWs from several nations also died in camps from disease, malnutrition, abuse, and outright murder.

Take Yakov Dzhugashvili for example. He was one of the countless Soviet war prisoners taken by the German Army as they invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Yakov had been a bright but shy, sensitive boy with some mental health issues; he attempted suicide several times before reaching adulthood, and his overbearing father tried to direct the young man’s life. While Yakov wished to pursue a career in engineering, the father forced him into the military, making him attend artillery officers school. He graduated as a Lieutenant only weeks before the Nazi invasion of his country.

Sent immediately to the front lines, Yakov fought in the Battle of Smolensk. He was captured by the Germans in mid-July after refusing an order to retreat; he ordered his battery to keep firing long after the other units left in an attempt to cover his comrades’ retreat. Sadly, rumors reached his family that he had surrendered freely and as a coward to the Nazis rather than the heroic circumstances that would later be revealed by his fellow soldiers and captives.

Yakov was sent to Sachsenhausen POW Camp, which is a misnomer because it was one of the notorious concentration camps. As one of the earliest officers captured during the invasion of Russia, the Nazis wished to use Yakov as a propaganda tool and possibly force him to make Russian-language radio broadcasts to his fellow soldiers on the front lines. That never materialized, but Yakov probably wouldn’t’ve cooperated in the first place.

The young man’s old depression returned shortly after he was interned in Sachsenhausen. There were reports of self-harm. He would often engage in sometimes violent and almost always non-sensical arguments with fellow prisoners and sometimes even with himself out loud as he walked around the camp grounds. Finally, in early 1943, Yakov died by seemingly purposefully running into the electrified fencing at the camp and then being shot by the guards for attempting to escape.

The Soviet leader, Stalin, once said that one death is a tragedy while a million deaths is only a statistic. Yakov was an example of both of those, being a tragedy and a statistic. In fact, over 3,000,00 Soviet soldiers died in German custody. Stalin also noted that many sons of Russia died in the Great Patriotic War. Yakov was also one of those. And Stalin would know.

You see, Yakov was the son of Stalin himself.


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