When Germany surrendered to the Allies in May 1945 more than six million Red Army soldiers had been taken prisoner by the Germans. Millions more civilians had been captured and put to work as slave laborers in the Reich. Many were now in territory controlled by the British and Americans, and Stalin demanded they be returned to the Soviet Union.
The Western Allies saw no reason to refuse what seemed to be a reasonable request, and from the chaos of post-war Europe some four million people were repatriated. In Stalin’s paranoid mind, however, to be captured by the enemy was in and of itself an act of treachery and betrayal. This applied even to his own family. Stalin’s son had been captured by the Germans in 1941, but the Soviet dictator refused to do a deal to secure his release.
Soldiers and civilians returning to the Soviet Union found themselves fed into camps for interrogation by the NKVD. The lucky ones were eventually freed to return home, but the merest suspicion of having collaborated with the Germans meant execution or a visit to the labor camps of Siberia.