Monday, October 1, 2018

101 Uzbek POWs who ‘Remained Human in Inhuman Conditions’ Recalled

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 30 – It is sometimes said that it is far easier to show courage when one has an audience than when one is alone, and it is certainly the case that some of the greatest heroism is displayed in wars not by those who are fighting on the front but by those who are behind it or still worse prisoners of the enemy.

            But that heroism is far less often recalled, let alone celebrated, in Russia or anywhere else; and that makes a blog post about the fate of 101 Uzbeks who found themselves prisoners of war in the Netherlands during World War II all the more unusual and precious because their achievement was to “remain human in inhuman conditions.”

            That is the judgment of Russian blogger Valery Grachikov first reported on Living Journal and then republished by Novyye izvestiya ( and

            He recounts the history of a group of Uzbek soldiers who were taken prisoner in the first months of the war as were so many others. They were sent to a German POW camp in the Netherlands, and a Dutch prisoner in the same camp recalled that “they were completely unlike Russians,” short, with round faces and different eyes.

            Unlike the other prisoners, their German captors viewed the Uzbeks as true “untermenschen” and did not put them in a baracks but simply in an open field surrounded by barbed wire, few them almost nothing, forced them to do the worst kind of work, and then beat them.

            German propagandists, the Dutch fellow prisoner says, thought they could make use of the Uzbeks because the latter provided “an ideal contrast” with German soldiers. And so they sent a film crew to photograph them. The plan was to throw a loaf of bread into the enclosure and film the starving Uzbeks fighting like animals over it.

            The plan backfired, however, and no film was ever made. Yes, a German officer did throw a loaf of bread into the enclosure. But instead of fighting over it, one Uzbek picked it up, the other Uzbeks sad down, said their prayers, and shared it equally among all 101, slowly chewing the tiny amount of bread each received.

              In this way and “even in the most hopeless situation,” the Russian blogger continues, the Uzbek soldiers “remained human.” 

            But in doing so, they suffered even more. Many were beaten right after their action, and a few months later, those who were still alive were short in a nearby forest, their graves identified by a Dutch search team. 

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