In a book titled The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia, the author Tim Tzouliadis asserted in Chapter 23 ("Citizen of the United States of America", Allied Officer Dale) that there was a number of American POWs in Soviet captivity after being "liberated" from German camp on the Eastern Front. For example, Tzouliadis mentioned "Witness A" or Benjamin Dodon who "had seen a group of American prisoners arrive at the Magadan transfer point in the Bay of Nagaev". He continues,

Fourteen men were disembarked in the usual helpless condition of Dalstroi transportees: exhausted by the long sea crossing, hungry, cold, and disoriented (p.286)

The said chapter also mentioned of several U.S Army interviews with German POWs returning from the USSR who believed they have seen a number of Americans in Soviet camps.

Tzouliadis was not alone in making this assertion. A quick Google search provided articles such as:

This allegation surprised me for some reasons. Few attentions are given to it. And these Americans were not Korean or Vietnam but WW2 GIs. They were not Axis soldiers.

Having said, can anyone confirm the validity of this assertion? And if it's true, what were the motives behind this?

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    Hard to tell. Materials of "Volkogonov's Commission" (charged with investigation of the matter) can be found in the US Library of Congress, as a part of "Volkogonov's Papers", here. The precise location of the materials of Volkogonov's Comission is given on page 18 here. If you are really motivated, you can get copies of the relevant files from the Library of Congress. Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 18:06
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    Equally unclear is how many American citizens fought for German (most likely Americans of German descent or recent immigrants). But if they joined the German Army, it seems unlikely there would have been any effort to find them afterwards.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 23:04
  • 1
    See Americans in the Gulag
    – Roger V.
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 16:25

4 Answers 4


The best I can tell at this point is that "we do not know." I looked at Tzouliadis's book: It is well-researched and I would not dismiss it out of hand. But he is not a professional historian and did not work with primary sources.

A better place to look are the materials of the

U.S.–Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs

(I will refer to it simply as the "Commission" below) available here. I could not figure out how to search their database but maybe somebody else can.

Another place to check are "Volkogonov's Papers": Volkogonov was a Soviet general and historian and served as the head of the Russian side of the Commission from 1992-1996, and some of the claims made in Tzouliadis's book are attributed directly to him. Volkogonov died in 1996, his archives (known as "Volkogonov's Papers") are kept in the US Library of Congress, here. The precise location of the materials related to Volkogonov's finds regarding US MIAs is given on page 18 here.

From the Tzouliadis's book, it is clear that the Commission found eyewitnesses claiming that they saw US POWs/MIAs (from the 2nd Wold War) in GULAG. The Russian side of the Commission would usually dismiss these as unreliable. Did the commission ever find NKVD/MGB/KGB/FSB archival documents confirming these stories? I do not know but one can find out by searching Volkogonov's papers and archives of the Commission. What if no documents were ever found? Would this be enough to dismiss the stories from Tzouliadis's book? It is up to you to decide, cf. however with Wallenberg's case that I discuss below.

Lastly: There is one famous case, the one of Raoul Wallenberg, where much more effort was made to determine the fate of a Swedish diplomat, with ties to the OSS (the war-time predecessor of the CIA) who was arrested by Soviet security forces in January of 1945 (when US and USSR were still military allies). As far as I can tell, his MGB file was never found despite of all the efforts. Even his year of death is only conjectural (1947). So, no documents were ever uncovered but nobody (as far as I know) doubts that Wallenberg died in Soviet captivity.

All the arguments that are made to argue that it is "highly unlikely" that any US servicemen were held in USSR during and immediately after WWII, should be tested against Wallenberg's case. This case also suggests one possible reason for Soviet Union to hold US servicemen: "A suspicion of espionage." (It appears this is why Wallenberg was arrested in 1945, see the Wikipedia link above.) Countless Soviet citizens were sent to GULAG on these grounds. So, if a zealous Soviet security officer suspected that, say, a US Airforce pilot who crash-landed in Siberia during WWII, was in fact a spy, that would/could suffice to arrest this pilot and possibly send him to GULAG. (And the US government would not be notified, of course, all that they would know is that a plane had disappeared.) Another possible explanation I can make is that Soviet intelligence tried to recruit a US pilot, and after failing to do so, was too embarrassed to release him to the US (say, because he was badly beaten while in captivity) and he was sent to GULAG and died there in a few years. But, in absence of access to primary materials, all these are just idle speculations and I record these only to illustrate that the "pure reason" (not based on primary documents) is not enough to make any conclusions here.

Edit 1. I got hold of some of the documents issued by the Commission, the most relevant one is code-named TFR 18-5. Here are some parts of the document which clarify the matter. To summarize: According to the documents, with one or two exceptions, all of the US POWs captured by Germans and liberated by the USSR were repatriated to the US in 1945-46. However, the situation with US Air Force crewmen who crash-landed or disappeared over the territory of the USSR during WWII is unclear (to me).

Verification of documents and oral evidence concerning US citizens missing during the Second World War is basically complete. Specifically, it has been established that, of 22,558 US citizens liberated by soldiers of the Red Army from Nazi captivity, 22,554 men were repatriated in 1945-46. Only two who died by accident (buried in Odessa), one killed on the trip to Odessa (burial location unknown), and possibly one who escaped from a camp in May 1945 - Dzhekson Fred [Fred Jackson] remained in the territory of the USSR. Presently, information is being verified on the fates of 81 US citizens who were undergoing hospital treatment at the time of repatriation.

Special attention is due the fate of 730 American aviators. In this, all the complexities and contradictions of the relationship between the USSR and US in World War II are reflected. For a variety of reasons they were forced to land on the territory of the USSR, where they were interned. Most of them were later repatriated to their homeland through camps in Odessa and a special camp for interned American aviators in the village of Lunacharskiy near Tashkent. Several of them died and were buried on the territory of the USSR. Today it is known that on Kamchatka alone, 9 American aviators are buried. This includes the six-man crew of an aircraft shot down by mistake by Soviet anti-aircraft gunners. As we still have not found the documents from the Lunacharskij camp, the possibility that there are still graves of American aviators on the territory of the former USSR cannot be excluded.

Just for the sake of completeness:

According to available information, 119 US citizens who fought on the German side found themselves on the territory of the USSR as POWs after Germany's capitulation. All these American citizens, mainly of German nationality, received long periods of imprisonment. Subsequently 17 of them died in prison. (At present, we have succeeded in establishing the exact burial location of only eight.) The remainder was sent to their homeland.

I will add more details later on.

Edit 2. Digging through the available data, here is a couple of specific names (plus rank).

  1. Major Wirt Thompson. He is mentioned in the book but the most complete information is from

POW/MIA Issues. Volume 2, World War II and the Early Cold War, a Rand Report by Paul M. Cole, see here:

Major Wirt Elizabeth Thompson, Army Serial 0425939AC is known as Worth or Wiliam. Born Italy, Texas, August 8, 1920. Attended High School San Antonio, Texas. Missing in action December 4, 1944. Pilot of aircraft No. 34743-15821. Departed from Myitkyina, Burma December 4, 1944 going on Mission to Kunming, China. Reported shot down in enemy territory. Reported seen in Budenskaya prison near Moscow from 1944 to 1948; later transferred to Tayshet camp (compound 026). Informed POW he formerly lived in San Antonio.

  1. From the same Rand report:

Demmler, Charles August, Private. Variously reported without first name Demmler, Dimmler, or Duemler. Person reported by above last names may be Private Charles August Demmler, missing in action in Germany in 1944. [This case is much less clear to me.]

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    To simplify things, I would like to hear story like this :" Private John Doe is MIA. We believe that Germans captured him, and at the end of the war Soviets got him and held him, possibly killed him. " So far there is no such or similar story.
    – rs.29
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 9:47
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    @LаngLаngС And yet, these archives are the best sources available. To imitate Ramsfeld, "You do research with the materials you have, not with ones you wish to have." Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 14:18
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    William George Baumeister, 1LT USAAF, was a P-39 pilot lost over Burma on an escort mission 19 Nov 1944. Originally declared MIA, his remains were eventually recovered & he is buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Were I cynical, I might wonder if someone, pre-internet days, got their hands on a CBI theater AAF missing roster & plucked out names figuring no one would ever check. I found a Rand report on this subject from 1994. Listed 5 specific individuals & their birth years. Searching, none of whom show up in US Army enlistment records, 1930 Census, or 1940 census . . go figure.
    – R Leonard
    Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 0:04
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    @rs.29 re Wirt crew. From USAAF MACR #10394 - C-47A #43-15821. 2d Air Commando, 317 Troop Carrier Squadron. Lost on 5 December 1944. Pilot - MAJ Wirt E Thompson, Copilot - 2LT Dorsey W R Beauchamp, Engineer - T/Sgt William Weil, Crew – S/Sgt William S Weaver. Mission was Myitkyina to Kunming, “East over Hump”, failed to arrive. None of their bodies were recovered; still listed as unrecovered in the dpaa.mil site. FWIW, the "Hump," that is, over the Himalayas, is/was no where near Manchuria, completely on the other side of China and was notorious for transports littering the landscape.
    – R Leonard
    Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 0:35
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    @Evargalo: I have no idea. Perhaps, it is an interesting new question, which also applies to other German POWs who survived the Russian imprisonment after WWWII. Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 14:34

As far as the Our Missing POW's of WWII website's claims, besides general incoherency and and inability to make the case is concerned, may I refer you to an earlier Does the ≈400,000 figure for US soldiers killed in WW2 include the ≈80,000 MIA? where the issue of accounting for the missing and missing in action is addressed. Ultimately there were just 6,058 US Army, including the Army Air Force, missing in action, worldwide, who were unaccounted for in some other category and were thus declared under the requirements of Public Law 490 77th Congress.

Some interesting reading here http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/mr/mr0157.pdf on the subject. While some strenuous complaints about on the scene repatriation obstruction are made, it appears that the majority eventually made it to Odessa where after some Soviet hospitality they were eventually returned to US control. If you open this, scroll to the bottom and read the documents going up, they are in reverse date order, newest on top.

Did the Soviets keep any WW2 US POW's? One might suppose they could, but to what point? And being liberated from a POW camp meant that someone, another prisoner, would know that someone was missing and would say so. Not to mention military folks are notorious records keepers and list makers; the senior POWs in the various liberated camps, not to mention the Germans, knew exactly who was in each camp and their status.

One might note that of the crews of eight USN PV-1 type patrol bombers that fetched on Kamchatka during operations against the Japanese, seven crews were repatriated and one entire crew lost in a crash (wreckage discovered in 1962 and examined by US personnel in 2000 see https://pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/pv-1/34641.html). Also repatriated were three B-29 crews and one B-25 crew who landed at Vladivostok. While the USN PV pilots and the B-25 pilots probably weren't all that overwhelmingly interesting from an intelligence point of view, it would seem that there should have been at least a modicum of interest, intelligence attraction, for the pilots of the most advanced heavy bomber in the world, or perhaps some USN or USAAF airborne radar operator types, but, no, such interest and they all came home . . . meanwhile the Soviets were busily reverse-engineering the B-29.

The US Army final accounting of casualties notes Captured & interned total = 124,079 Captured & interned, returned to military control = 111,426 Captured & interned, killed in action = 3,102 Captured & interned, died of wounds and injuries = 453 Captured & interned, died of other causes = 9,098

From “U.S. Prisoners of War and Civilian American Citizens Captured and Interned by Japan in World War II” found here https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/u/us-prisoners-war-civilian-american-citizens-captured.html#count

“ . . . Charles A. Stenger, formerly with the Veterans Administration (VA), developed a set of figures revised annually since 1976 for POWs and an estimate for current numbers of surviving POWs for the Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Former Prisoners of War. According to Dr. Stenger, these figures were compiled in cooperation with the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Archives. They are recognized and used by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other government agencies. Dr. Stenger lists 27,465 POWs in the Pacific, of whom 11,107 died while in detention. “

11,107 deaths of US military and naval prisoners dying while POWs of the Japanese. The US Army reports, above, 9,098 of its personnel captured or interned as dying while in detention.

The survival rate of prisoners held by the Germans (from which, obviously, those liberated by the Soviets would be drawn) can also be found at the above site: “. . . Dr. Stenger's figures list 93,941 U.S. military personnel captured and interned by Germany, of whom 1,121 died . . .” Since only about 15 POWs held by Germany were US Navy personnel, were we to conclude that the 1,121 deaths were US Army, we can subtract that number from the US Army reported deaths of 9,098 and arrive at 7,977. Compare that to the 11,107 total US military and naval POWs deaths while under Japanese control.

This site http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/tfr/ has a plethora of documents, mostly relating post WW2 which address sighting of American service personnel from the Korean War Era and Cold War incidents. There are also long lists of civilians being held, pretty much starting with the post WW2 era. A search of the sub-site U.S.-Russia Joint Commission Documents Database (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/tfrquery.html) using the search phrase “US” yields, for example 26 documents. Admittedly only breezing through the list (which, again, is primarily post WW2 oriented), one of them however, TRF39, is a long listing of downed USAAF aircraft and the disposition of their crew members. Although there are apparently numerous translation errors, a repetitive phrasing of note in the document TFR39 (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/tfrussia/tfrhtml/tfr039.html) is “. . . for transfer to the America Military Mission.” For example, there is “By the order of the Commander of the Third Ukrainian Front, Marshall of the Soviet Union Comrade TOLVUKHINA, I am sending you 76 American and English airmen, who were shot down in the rear of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, FOR TRANSFER TO THE AMERICAN MILITARY MISSION.” A list follows which if you bother to sort through it – spread sheets are handy for that - you will find 75 USAAF B-24 pilots and crew of 8 B-24s and one USAAF P-38 pilot (there are no RAF/Commonwealth types on the list, looks like the Soviets were confused as to the origins of the various missions).

In this same document one finds included those killed or hospitalized as a result of aircraft losses. There was apparently an organized effort to return personnel to US control/authority. This is not really my field, (WW2 US Naval Aviation) so I don’t spend a lot of time on it. Attention is invited.

The difficulty, then, is coming up with a verifiable number, much less the names, of liberated US POWs or recovered US personnel retained by the Soviets at the end of the war. A quick and dirty rule of thumb is that the absence of evidence of XYZ is not evidence of XYZ. So, could the Soviets have retained American service personnel liberated from German POW camps? Maybe, perhaps, but it would be nice to see real evidence rather than that Prisoner A heard from Prisoner B that there were Americans in the Tayshet Gulag.

Certainly to go to the trouble to retain former POWs and deny, deny ad nauseum, said POW ought to have some value besides knowing how to drive a jeep.

Is it true the Soviets deliberately withheld liberated US POWs WW2? Probably not, perhaps more of a boogieman tale from the Cold War.

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    Again: theorizing. Like "but to what point?", a nice rhetorical device, but pale in comparison to assertions like this were the answer is simple 'hostages as bargaining chips' from the one side, and inconvenience from the US side… An answer should list srcs & refs above & better than the ones listed in Q. Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 2:31
  • And yet the OP sources are all over the map. One claims 20,000 (frankly did not see anything to back that up, but I have problems reading white & red print on black); another claims (with no sourcing) 500 and the other paraphrases a official Soviet source with "Soviet authorities detained 119 American servicemen 'with Russian, Ukrainian or Jewish names' from the more than 22,000 GIs they liberated from German POW camps at the end of World War II. Although most were later released after U.S. protests, 18 died in Soviet custody, while “some ended up staying in camps for a long time.”
    – R Leonard
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 2:46
  • Neither my nor OP's srcs need to be 'good' (in fact, I doubt those I listed are 'very good' material, some just respected 'public broadcast' material… no A from mere on that ("mana from Lenin")…), but any answer's srcs need to be good. I agree that it might 'be unlikely' (or numbers real/rel. small), but I doubt that the number was 0, and I require either a very good argument/theory or direct proof/evidence, HiQ refs, to be convinced of anything. Mil and govs tend to be lying a lot (perpetually), so SU/US srcs comparison or actual historian analysis is the ideal? Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 3:12
  • @LаngLаngС Actually, your source is very bad. It cites Stephen Morris 1972 about his Vietnam POW find. April 25, 1993: A RESEARCHER'S DREAM FIND ON U.S. POWS TURNS INTO A NIGHTMARE - The Washington Post, then cites the case of John Noble, who was not a soldier but a dual US Citizen who lived in Germany during the war. This is the base of their 'documentary'. Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 6:21
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    Not to mention that Noble's mysterious Maj Frank Roberts was a B-29 pilot shot down by a Japanese fighter on a mission to Nagoya. His plane crashed in the ocean and the entire crew perished. findagrave.com/memorial/56120617/frank-a-roberts
    – R Leonard
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 15:06

Highly unlikely

First of all, we must ask ourselves who would those American POWs be ? If they were members of US armed forces (no matter the branch), US authorities would certainly notice that they are missing. Consequently, they would be given some legal status (AWOL, MIA, POW ... ) . Usually, if an American soldier was captured by German armed forces, on their arrival to Stalag Red Cross would be notified about his status. Of course, so would other prisoners being in a camp before him. Therefore, technically speaking he could not "disappear" without someone noticing what would happen to him. Japan had different system which was much harsher for US POWs, therefore the line between KIA, MIA and POW was blurred.

In European theater, Soviet and US troops were undoubtedly allies. Despite all the differences, US supplied tons of material to USSR, US ships sailed into Soviet harbors (and vice versa) and occasionally even US planes operated from Soviet airfields. For the Soviet troops capturing certain Stalag while advancing into German-held territory, it would be extremely complicated and unproductive to abduct any US POWs held there . First of all, there would be a question of motivation. Why capturing and holding random G.I. if you have available thousands of Germans and their allies for the workforce ? And even if that person was some kind of valuable specialist (highly unlikely) what to do with rest of POWs who may notice his disappearance ? Same problem would be faced if POW in question is a person with Soviet (Russian, Ukrainian) ancestry . US authorities would certainly find out that such and such person with name and rank was held by USSR. Consequently, they would demand his release trough diplomatic channels, and we would know who he was today.

With the Japan, situation was little bit murkier. Japan didn't care much about Geneva conventions regarding POWs. As a result, US prisoners of war in Japanese hands often had similar fate as Soviet POWs in German hands - no registration, hard work, beatings, starvation and often death. In an area captured by Soviet troops at end of the war (primarily Manchuria) there were few smaller POW camps like for example Hoten Camp. Again, there were no reports of Soviets abducting anyone, in fact they helped with evacuation of US POWs. Again, even if they had some designs, it would be difficult to capture someone and letting others go.

What realistically could have happened ? It is somewhat possible that captured Americans were not POWs at all. Instead, they could have been dropped behind enemy lines, intermingled with local guerillas, possibly be members of OSS. As such, in waning months of the war or even after it, they could start preparations for the new conflict - Cold War. They could have collaborated with local anti-Soviet guerillas like UPA in Ukraine, or Forest Brothers in Lithuania. In any case, if captured, US would not publicly announce their disappearance in order to keep plausible deniability. Negotiations about their possible release would go trough totally different channels, reserved for exchange of spies and other intelligence personnel.

  • One possible motivation would be the same as with Wallenberg. But without accessing primary documents one simply cannot tell. Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 23:02
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    Pure speculation? There are stories about thousands of POWs, plus 'special' stories like en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_H._Noble (which himself is arguably grey-area for this Q, but a vocal witness) Please upgrade the level of evidence presented here. Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 23:36
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    This LA Times article gives Boris Yeltsin as a source that some US POWs were detained by the Soviets, and that some were killed or forced to renounce citizenship
    – user15620
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 3:46
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    My second quote was from an ny times article but the LA times explicitly says 'Soviet authorities detained 119 American servicemen “with Russian, Ukrainian or Jewish names"...' I can't say as to the veracity of the claims, but major newspaper reportage and the claim coming from a Russian Prime Minister means the claim must be taken seriously...
    – user15620
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 3:59
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    I'm not saying it's concrete evidence. I'm saying it's enough evidence to regard it as more likely than "highly unlikely", at least with out some explanation of why Yeltsin might have lied.
    – user15620
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 4:10

Approximately 20,000 were kept by the Soviets after WWII. Our leaders at the time believed it was in the best interests of the peace efforts to sacrifice these service members rather than heat up the problems between the Allies and Soviets. Churchill started the riff with Soviets about exchanging P.O.W. in late 1944. Stalin kept about the same amount of British and other allies following the war.

I caught onto the fact following a lengthy research project on MIA's of WWII in the Pacific. When comparing the number of MIA's, especially of airmen, I was astonished at the MIA numbers from the ET. Researching into lack of returns of U.S. Servicemembers from Eastern European POW camps started to up the red flags for me. After several years of reading and digging the facts began to accumulate. The U.S Government traded these service men away in the name of peace due to the problems the Soviets were having with the returns of their own POWs under western control. German returnees confirmed sightings and contact with thousands of U.S. and Allied forces prisoners during their stay in the gulags and labor camps of Central Asia and Siberia.

The ridiculous amount of MIA's, which these servicemen were counted as, for the European theater skewed the European theaters casualties over the Pacific's numbers for MIA category. Many were 8th Air Force, that if you look at the atrocious losses for that group would come to the conclusion that there weren't many survivors or even planes remaining after the war. Check in with the casualty reports that are available on the internet and you will see for yourself. Look and see how many crews were "lost" over the Adriatic. One would believe it would be full of U.S. bombers and fighters.

Eisenhower and his generals were not happy about this but had to follow orders from Washington. The diplomatic/political machine that took over the prisoner exchange when the war ended was a total failure.

Best read would be "Soldiers of Misfortunes". Written in the 90's it is full of declassified government documents that have been ignored since the end of the Cold War. Many documents are available with National Archives. It is a horror to concieve that they were "left" with Soviets. There was basicly nothing anyone could do as the Soviets were never going to admit they were not releasing these men.

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