Red Army soldiers in German prisoner-of-war camps were exposed to incredible brutality. Hundreds of thousands of them starved or froze to death, or were shot dead. However, the Wehrmacht also sought to recruit collaborators among captured soldiers as auxiliary troops for the war against the Soviet Union. In the ldel-Ural Legion, established near Radom in Poland in the late fall of 1942, Volga Tatars, Bashkirs, and Mari were to fight for National Socialist Germany.
There were a number of Tatar intellectuals and officers among them. They intended to escape as soon as possible after training, to fight against the German troops. While still under German control, they managed to influence other Tatar recruits through patriotic poetry, songs, and flyers. During the first deployment of an ldel-Ural Legion battalion in February of 1943, 950 soldiers defected to the Soviet partisans in Belorussia.
A few months later, in August of 1943, the Gestapo discovered the group’s activities, which were headed by the important Tatar poet Musa Dzhalil. After months in prison, eleven Tatars were sentenced to death by the Reich Court Martial in Dresden for·“subversion of the war effort, aiding the enemy, and war treason” on February 12, 1944. They were beheaded in Plötzensee prison between 12:06 and 12:36 p.m. on August 25, 1944.
Born in 1906, Musa Dzhalil became chairman of the Tatar writers’ association in 1940 and was regarded as one of the most significant poets in the Tatar language. After Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941, he was called up and served as a political officer and frontline correspondent. He was severely wounded and taken prisoner in June 1942. After some time, he joined the Wehrmachtpropaganda office for the ldel-Ural Legion under the false name of Gumerov. Through his patriotic writing, Musa Dzhalil strengthened his countrymen’s will to resist the National Socialists.