The Rape of Berlin

THE RAPE OF BERLIN

We all know about the horrors of World War II and what Hitler and the Nazis did all over Europe in the name of Aryan supremacy. But what a lot of people don’t know is what actually happened in Germany in the final days of the Nazi regime.

During the months of April and May, 1945, as Soviet Red Army troops approached and eventually invaded Berlin, almost two million German women were raped on a level of violence never seen before or since. Figures provided by historians such as Antony Beevor (2002) suggest that of the two million victims, almost 100,000 eventually committed suicide, and in 1946 10% of all babies born in Germany had Soviet fathers.

While these figures are astonishing, what is maybe even more remarkable is the fact that for over 50 years there was a concerted effort to keep the facts of these events quiet. For fear of re-energizing German nationalism through a sense of national victimhood and sympathy, first German politicians and authorities protected this cover-up, followed by pro-Soviet, anti-German historians in the last 20 years.

An example of this silence is in the form of one of the only primary sources to reflect these terrible days. “A Woman in Berlin” was written anonymously by a German journalist and is a diary of the final weeks of the Nazi regime. It relives in harrowing detail, the mass rapes and violence suffered by the women of Berlin. There seemed to be no escape, with young girls, old women and ladies of all classes being ‘hunted’ and picked to satisfy the racially charged sexual violence of the Soviet soldiers.

This book was originally published in the late 1950s, but immediately taken off the market in Germany, and the publishers could find only Switzerland as a market for the tome. Despite even this, the book was pulled; and it was not until 2001 that the book was seen again in Germany and found a new audience. This was due to the fears of how the facts and recounting of what occurred could lead to a resurgence in nationalist ideals.

awib

A Woman in Berlin (2001) – Encouraging the Nazis of tomorrow?

While this fear may seem ludicrous to most, it is still apparent in many historians’ views of this episode. Female historians such as Annita Grossmann believe that the rapes were rather a result of being accessories to the Nazi war machine, and not the simple matter of innocent victimhood. While this view may astound many of you, unfortunately she is not the only historian who feels that the German females received their ‘just desserts’.

The question of whether these German women were somehow complicit in these attacks, because they provided support for their husbands, brothers and sons ignores the astounding violence and horrors they suffered. Accounts from other women from this period include Gabi Kopp’s “Why Did I Have To Be A Girl?” which recounts how as a 14 year old the author was regularly ‘passed’ around, even by her fellow victims because of her young age. While the Nazi propaganda machine warned the females of the Asiatic hordes from the East, they still were not prepared for the incessant, nightly attacks and the blatant disregard these soldiers had for women.

While historians attempt to understand the strategic reasoning for the rape, the core theory behind the viciousness of it points to the racial undertones that the war in the East endured. The near annihilation of the Soviet Union and the constant pronouncements of Aryan supremacy, instigated an almost genocidal touch to the rapes. The spreading of Bolshevik seed, especially amongst the German maidens after defeating so comprehensively their men appears to be the primary index to this horrible event.

naziprop

German propaganda constantly warned of the animal like Bolsheviks from the East.

While Soviet authorities and histories are quiet on the subject, there are contradictory tales told of Stalin’s reaction to the news of the rapes. From laughing them off as ‘trifles’ to denying that Soviet soldiers were in Germany for anything other than war. The sealing of Russian/Soviet archives, initially by the KGB and more recently by the Putin Government hinders any attempts to see official views of the tragedy.

Despite this, some Soviet war correspondents embedded with Red Army divisions reported ‘terrible things happening to German women’ (Vassily Grossman), and Natalya Gesse famously reported that it was ‘an army of rapists’.

The Rape of Berlin is an episode of history that should never be silenced, or ever be forgotten. It is a dark part of history that should be recognized for its magnitude and the lack of sympathy and recognition for the victims. One thing that should be recognized is that it is history, and that should never be denied.

REFERENCES:

Anonymous. 2006. A Woman in Berlin (Eine Frau in Berlin). Translated by P. Boehm. London: Virago.

Beevor, A. 2002. Berlin: The Downfall, 1945. London: Viking, UK.

Grossmann, Attina. 1995. “A Question of Silence: The Rape of German Women by Occupation Soldiers.” October- Berlin 1945: War and Rape: Liberators Take Liberties 72: 42-63.

Kopp, Gabriele. 2010. Warum war ich bloss ein Madchen

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5 comments on “The Rape of Berlin

  1. lucyrich752 says:

    What a heavy topic! But what an eye-opener and thought-provoker. You started your blog with the tragedies and magnitude of violence which occurred against German women at the end of the Nazi regime but then wrote about ‘just desserts’. This is a horrible idea but one which, perhaps, many people were thinking during the time. The idea that Nazi women were just as much at fault as Nazi men is a delicate and controversial topic, but a relevant one nonetheless. Why should Nazi women be held less accountable than their male counterparts? Don’t get me wrong, there is no excuse for mass-rape of Nazi women (or men for that matter). But this blog has made me think of the ramifications of the actions of Nazi women.

    Your idea about ‘spreading the Soviet seed’ is also an interesting one and I like how you mentioned it has genocidal connotations as well. The keeping of the journal during the 1950s hush-hush is expected but also sparks interest into what the actual reaction would have been to it and how it might have even changed the twentieth century. Despite an abrupt title (!) I really enjoyed your reasoning and insight into this delicate topic.

  2. I think I may have heard of this event in passing but I had no idea of the seriousness or extent of it until read this post, and I think that is part of the point you are trying to make. In my mind, the study of history is only effective if we acknowledge all of it. We cannot pick and choose what we want to remember, otherwise we may as well just write history as fiction depending on how we feel. The fact that there are sealed records on the events shows that nations are happy to accept only the “good” parts of history and sweep the “bad” parts under the rug. It begs the questions of “Should nations be held accountable for their actions?” I think most historians would agree the answer is yes, however I think the atrocity of the Nazi crimes have undermined this atrocity by the Russians. As you mention, it has been suggested that the Nazi women received their “just desserts.” But then again, is it the historians job to judge and comment, or merely to present the facts? There are lots of great discussion points that have been brought up here on the subject of “What is history?” and I think this would have been a great essay to read. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. You were right, the view of Grossmann did astound me and the concept of rape as ‘just desserts’ made me cringe! This was a great post, a very interesting read. It’s scary to think how this event was just swept under the rug, given the mass scale of the attacks and I agree with Dylan’s point that we cannot pick and choose when it comes to history; this is why historiography is important because we should not just be scrutinizing past events but also how the past has been written about – or in the case of the rape of Berlin how it has not been written about.

  4. An excellent topic, one that has been silenced and definitely because of the ‘just desserts’ concept. Ridiculous and horrendous to us, but we have to also look at why historians of that time would choose to (for lack of a better phrase) not care about the issue as it was bad happening to bad.
    What I would love to know is what happened in 2001 to make it okay for “A Woman in Berlin” to come back on the shelves?

    • dowie101 says:

      Thanks for the comment. Trying to answer your question- I know that in 2001 the author of the book died so they posthumously released it. I also think the time was right with Germany having been unified and truly independent for about 10 years, and also the Balkan Wars that had taken place in the 90s brought the issue of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and mass rapes to the fore in European minds. So I think it all just came together.

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