These iconic photographs were taken in 1947 at Vienna’s Southern Railway Station, where photographer Ernst Haas witnessed the moving scenes of the return of the first 600 Austrian war Prisoners from Eastern Europe.
Haas’s images show the anticipation and grief of people searching for their lost relatives among the survivors. The magazine Heute, published in Munich by the Americans, first published the feature in August 1949. Only one week later, it was reprinted in the leading illustrated magazine of the time, the American Life, leading to Haas’ breakthrough as a photojournalist.
Approximately three million German prisoners of war were captured by the Soviet Union during World War II, most of them during the great advances of the Red Army in the last year of the war. The POWs were employed as forced labor in the Soviet wartime economy and post war reconstruction.
By 1950 almost all had been released. In 1956 the last surviving German POW returned home from the USSR. According to Soviet records 381,067 German Wehrmacht POWs died in NKVD camps (356,700 German nationals and 24,367 from other nations). German historian Rüdiger Overmans maintains that it seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that one million died in Soviet custody. He also believes that there were men who actually died as POWs amongst those as listed as missing-in-action.
(Photos: Ernst Haas/Getty Images)