Russian Pows’ Sexual Relationships in Germany and Austria-Hungary Camps in World War I

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Tetiana Minaieva


Introduction and purpose. The goal of this article is to provide an overview of Russian POWs’ sexual relationships in Germany and Austria-Hungary camps in World War I throughout 1914-1918.

Results. An increasing number of studies have found that sexual relationships (from heterosexual to homosexual) used to be an integral part of the prisoners’ daily camp life throughout their captivity. Noteworthy, a growing body of literature has turned their focus to the effects of the First World War on sexual behavior and perceptions of sexual norms and identities. As far as the effects of long-term captivity upon masculine identity were a central theme of public discourse regarding prisoners during WWI, it was discovered that some camps did see masturbation developing as well as homosexual bonds were widespread, however, subsequently the seeking for sexual pleasure decreased as a result of the captives’ physical exhaustion. There were also heterosexual bounds; however, they were infrequent in the camps, since women were forbidden to work in hospitals, kitchens and other camp structures. Prison officers, having money, had more opportunity and access to prostitutes. At the same time, private captives, who began to be massively involved in various activities outside the camps since spring-summer 1915, had more opportunities to satisfy their sexual desires with local women, despite the condemnation of local authorities, flirted with soldiers.

Conclusion. It was highlighted that the durable imprisonment developed the crisis of masculinity, targeted POWs’ intimated feelings of vulnerability and they became increasingly emotional. Images of cross-dressing men became widely visible in prisoner camps theatre. POWs were depicted as men acting as surrogate women in a variety of ways, including building a domestic sphere for psychological and emotional relief. The single most striking observation to emerge from the study is the conclusion that the war created a ‘new class of men’ whose psychological scars altered their relationships with the opposite sex, the prewar gender and sexual order had been substantially changed by the WWI experience.

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