|A Soviet labour camp, one of thousands that constituted the Gulag|
Whatever Stalin’s lack of sensitivity to Red Army soldiers sexually assaulting foreign and Soviet women, he was deeply troubled by the thousands upon thousands of soldiers, who, through no fault of their own, had made contact with the West. Those who had encountered Western soldiers, especially American, were treated as though they had been infected with a contagious disease and the only way to lance the virus was to quarantine them in the camps or liquidate through summary execution. As barbarous as the Wehrmacht conducted itself, and as horrific as the conditions of war, where millions of soldiers and civilians alike expired from disease, starvation and cold, they in no way can account for all the deaths on the Soviet side.
In human lives alone, the war had been extremely costly for the Soviet people. Current estimates indicate that overall Soviet deaths exceeded twenty five million; between eight and eleven million were military casualties and the rest were civilian. Another way of putting it is that 84 percent of the 34.5 million men and women mobilized were killed, wounded or captured. Instead of rewarding its citizens, the Stalinist system demanded more blood. As the war ended, Soviet citizens released from German concentration and death camps, such as Auschwitz, were returned as contaminated prisoners of war to their homeland. Over five million Soviet citizens, among them the forced labourers in Germany, were stranded in occupied Europe. Against their will, at the request of the Soviet Government, the British forcibly repatriated thousands. They even returned émigrés, 20,000 Cossacks with their families, some former White officers, now citizens of other countries, who had fled the Soviet Union twenty-five years earlier. They and their families faced immediate death or a slower one in the camps, and for many, suicide was their only alternative. From the total number stranded, about one half, who voluntarily returned or were repatriated, were either shot or shipped to the Gulag as traitors. How many of them might have thought, like one of the characters in Darkness at Noon who could not believe that he was sent home, that he must have been put on the wrong train? The intellectuals and Jews that returned were greeted with a lingering suspicion and became a new target for the regime’s insatiable need for enemies.