Old Photos: American POW’s in Odessa, Ukraine

While browsing through some old photos, this image caught my attention:

© Time Inc.

The caption reads:

Repatriation of Allied war prisoners. Allied war prisoners, freed by the Soviet troops head for the port of Odessa where a ship is ready to take them to their home countries. Photo by M.Ozersky. SIB photo

I was born and raised in Odessa but I’ve never heard any mention of a transit POW camp for American and other nationals. I knew that the German POW’s were used to rebuild the city after the war well into the 50’s, but the Allied soldiers were sent home relatively shortly after the Victory Day.

Interestingly enough, Odessa is mentioned in the correspondence between Stalin and Roosevelt in relation to the POW issue.

There is also an order from NKVD concerning the prisoners. (*source, translation mine).

Partial Extract
Copy №1
Order of the NKVD №0015
January 8, 1946, Moscow.

On the partial release of the POW’s from camps and special hospitals.

In furtherance of the directive (telegram) from NKVD № 2943 from December 16,1945 I order:

1.All POW Czechs, Yugoslavs, Italians, Dutch, Belgians, Danes, Swiss, Luxembourgers, Bulgarians, Turks, Norwegians, Swedes, Greeks, Frenchmen, Americans and Britons, who are currently located in separate camps in accordance with the directive of NKVD № 3943, to be moved to Lustdorf (near Odessa) to the repatriation camp № 186. …

3.This order does not apply to persons who served in the Waffen SS, SA, SD, Gestapo officers and members of other secret police.
Signed: The People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs S. Kruglov.

There are few other mentions of Odessa Repatriation Camps: a short list of 7 POW’s dispatched home in May of 1945; Stalag prisoners were repatriated through Odessa.

This site contains a few bits about Odessa:

During 1945, the Soviet Army overran, in two sequences, German camps that held US POWs. The experiences of the prisoners released by the Soviets was considerably different depending on whether they were liberated during late-January to early-February in Poland and East Prussia, or during April and May in central and northern Germany.
Most of the US prisoners in the early sequence came from Oflag 64 at Schubin, Poland, Stalag III-C near Kustrin, Poland, with a few from Stalag II-B, Hammerstein, Germany.
The Soviets evacuated these men to the east and most of them eventually came out through Odessa. They comprise a relatively small portion, about ten percent, of all American prisoners that were in Soviet hands; contemporary accounts have 2,858 evacuated by way of Odessa. But because of the smaller numbers, the more direct involvement of the US Military Mission to Moscow, and the somewhat more routine evacuation procedures, the Odessa evacuation is better documented and more frequently written about than the liberation of POWs which took place later in central Germany.

American POWs freed by the Red Army were in the main treated very shabbily and came to hate the Russians. Many of them were robbed of watches, rings, and other personal possessions which they had managed to retain even after extended periods of captivity under the Germans. Their food at Odessa was very poor, consisting mainly of soup with cucumbers in it and sour black bread. The Russians generally tended to throw obstacles in the war of repatriation, frequently calling off shipments at the last minute and insisting always upon clearance from Moscow for every prisoner released. American POWs at Odessa were guarded by Russian soldiers carrying loaded rifles with fixed bayonets, and Russian security was more stringent there than German security had been in the various Stalags and Oflags.

This is all the information I was able to find about the role of Odessa in the lives of many American Prisoners of War, but it was interesting to discover a bit of American history involving my own hometown.