Contrary to popular belief, the Soviet Union did not renounce all of its military personnel who were in German captivity. If a check revealed that the former prisoner was not guilty of treason and did not voluntarily surrender to the enemy, they could count on having all charges against them dropped and be allowed to return to active service, with their rank and all military decorations restored.
At the same time, not all soldiers and commanders who did not show cowardice and did not cooperate with the enemy managed to convince the NKVD (Soviet secret police) of their innocence. Often, the names of these people were only cleared years after the war was over, when they themselves had long been dead.
Major General Alexander Bondovsky’s love of freedom was so strong that he managed to escape from German captivity twice.
The first time, he was taken prisoner on July 21, 1941, in Byelorussia, when he, together with what remained of the 85th Rifle Division, were trying to break through enemy lines to rejoin the rest of the Soviet troops. The general escaped five days later, when the column of prisoners he was in was being transported to another location.
It took Bondovsky two months to reach Red Army units. He was incredibly lucky: at that critical moment in the Soviet-German confrontation, he was allowed back to the ranks without any unnecessary checks. However, that was when his luck ran out. On October 21, 1941, when crossing the Desna River in Ukraine, the general was captured once again. He managed to escape the same night.
On December 24, 1941, exhausted by the long march, General Bondovsky reached the Soviet troops near the village of Kryukovo outside Moscow. This time round, a special NKVD department subjected him to a thorough three-month check, as a result of which no charges were brought against him. Alexander Vasilyevich was not allowed back to the front, but was permitted to teach at a training school for future commanders.
At the end of 1943, Alexander Bondovsky managed to get permission to go to the front and was appointed commander of the 324th Rifle Division. However, he did not spend long there: In February 1944, the general was seriously wounded and lost a leg. After being discharged from hospital, he went back to teaching and that was where he remained until the end of the war.
In July 1941, Major General Pavel Sysoyev, commander of the 36th Rifle Corps, was captured near Zhitomir. He was badly wounded at the time. Sysoyev told the Germans he was Private Pyotr Skirda and they quickly lost all interest in him.
Sysoyev went through six POW camps before, in August 1943, he, with a group of fellow prisoners, managed to escape from a camp in Hrubieszow. Pavel Vasilyevich crossed the whole of Poland, but, on the territory of Byelorussia, he came across a detachment of the nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA, which is declared an extremist organization and banned in the Russian Federation). Having taken Sysoyev for a Ukrainian peasant, they forcibly mobilized him into their ranks.
Seeing that - same as him - many UPA fighters had been enlisted against their will, “Skirda” managed to persuade them to defect to Soviet partisans. Thus, in October 1943, Sysoyev and 25 former nationalists fled to the Chernigov-Volyn partisan unit of Alexei Fyodorov. There, the general revealed his true identity.
The General Staff demanded that Sysoyev be immediately sent to Moscow, but he appealed to Fyodorov with a personal request: “Give me an opportunity to fight! When the war is over, if I am guilty of anything, I will answer for it.”
After much deliberation, the partisan commander decided to give Pavel Vasilyevich a chance and responded to persistent messages from headquarters to send Sysoyev to Moscow that, at present, that was not possible. Sysoyev was entrusted with training junior commanders and planning the unit’s military operations.
In April 1944, the general finally made his way to the capital, where he was arrested. The ensuing investigation lasted more than 18 months, but, in December 1945, he was fully acquitted. “In Moscow, the documents our headquarters issued to Sysoyev detailing all the circumstances of how he joined the partisans and his excellent references helped the man, who had a very difficult fate, to restore his good name. Pavel Vasilyevich was given back both his party card and a general’s shoulder straps,” Alexei Fyodorov recalled.
However, not all Soviet commanders who escaped from German captivity and managed to rejoin Soviet troops were so lucky. The story of Major General Nikolai Goltsev, chief of the armored forces of the 18th Army, had a tragic ending.
Goltsev was captured by the Germans on August 15, 1941, during fighting in Ukraine. Already on August 30, he, along with another commander, managed to escape when their column of prisoners was being moved and to catch up with retreating Red Army units.
However, Goltsev was not given a chance to return to the front. On October 15, he was arrested by a special NKVD department on charges of having voluntarily surrendered to the enemy and subjected to lengthy interrogations.
According to the case file, Nikolai Dmitrievich confessed to the crime he was accused of and was sentenced to capital punishment. General Goltsev was executed by firing squad on February 23, 1942.
After the war was over, in the course of studying German archives, it was established that the Soviet commander had behaved courageously in captivity and refused to cooperate with the enemy. In 1955, he was posthumously rehabilitated.
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