Germans form the Smolensk Committee to enlist Soviet soldiers

On this day, the German military begins enlisting Soviet POWs in the battle against Russia. General Andrei Vlasov, a captured Soviet war hero turned anticommunist, was made commander of the renegade Soviet troops.

Vlasov had been a military man since 1919, when, at age 19, he was drafted into the new “Red” Army to fight in the Russian Civil War. After joining the Communist Party in 1930, he became a Soviet military adviser to China’s Chiang Kai-shek. Returning to Russia in 1939, Vlasov was given the 4th Armored Corps to command. He distinguished himself in the defense of Kiev and Moscow against the German invaders, even winning the Order of Lenin in 1941, and later the Order of the Red Banner as commanding general of the 20th Army.

Then came the defense of Leningrad in 1942. The Germans were overwhelming the Soviet forces at the front, and Stalin would not allow Vlasov to retreat to a more favorable position. His army was battered, and he was taken prisoner by the Germans along with many of his men. Back in Germany, Vlasov became disgusted with Stalin and communist ideology, which he had come to believe was a more sinister threat to the world than Nazism. He began broadcasting anti-Soviet propaganda and formed—with Nazi permission, of course—the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia. Its goal: to overthrow Joseph Stalin and defeat communism.

The German “Smolensk Committee” began persuading more and more captured Russians, Ukrainians, Cossacks, and other Soviet anti-Stalinists to join the German war effort. These now-pro-German Soviets were finally formed into a 50,000-man army, the Russian Liberation division, and fought toward the end of the war, with Vlasov at their command. Tens of thousands ending up turning back against the Germans, then finally surrendering to the Americans—rather than the advancing Soviets—when the German cause was lost. The Americans, under secret terms of the Yalta Agreement signed in February, repatriated all captured Soviet soldiers-even against their will. Vlasov was among those returned to Stalin. He was hanged, along with his comrades in arms.

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