Grieving Mother Searches for Son Among Returning Austrian POWs

Photo Credit: Ernst Haas / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Ernst Haas / Getty Images

Following World War II, each nation began the intensive process of returning each other’s prisoners of war (POWs) home to their worried and grieving mothers, fathers and family members. The result was often that these individuals weren’t returned home for many years, biding their time until they could see their loved ones again.

Among the Allied nations, the Soviets took millions of POWs between 1939-45, the majority of which were German. There were also over 150,000 Austrian prisoners.

Overall, the USSR was notorious for its mistreatment and poor care of POWs. Simply put, the country wasn’t equipped to care for the amount of people when it was already struggling to manage its own population. By 1943, the Red Army had captured a large number of enemy soldiers, causing the death rate among prisoners to sky rocket.

Things improved somewhat toward the end of the war. As the Soviets began using their POWs for forced labor, they had to make sure they were well enough to perform the work.

When the fighting came to a close, the USSR was in no rush to get prisoners back to their home countries. However, they were more inclined to release the Austrians in their care, rather than the Germans. The first group, a mere 600, were sent home on September 12, 1947.

The above image captures this moment, which, while joyous for some, wasn’t so for everyone waiting at Vienna’s Southern Railway Station. Renowned photographer Ernst Haas captured a series of photos that day, one of which shows an unknown man being overjoyed to be home.

More from us: Why Was ‘Casablanca’ Banned In Germany?

On the flip side, there’s also a grieving mother who holds up a picture of her son, who was held as a POW by the Soviets during the war. She’s hoping to see if any of the returning soldiers had seen him or knew of his whereabouts.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.