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.
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.
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.
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