Stalin sought to ease the fears of the Western Allies concerning Soviet atrocities against the German people by issuing the following order to his troops:
“Occasionally there is talk that the goal of the Red Army is to annihilate the German people….It would be foolish to equate the German people and the German State with the Hitler clique. The lessons of history tell us that Hitlers come and go, but the German people, the German State, they shall remain.”[i]
Stalin’s reasonable words were not followed by his troops. In reality, rape of German women was implicitly condoned by Stalin. Stalin asked Yugoslav communist leader Milovan Djilas,
“Can’t he understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometers through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle?”
The Red Army, most of whose soldiers were sex-starved after four years of fighting, raped wherever it went.[ii]
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, then a young captain in the Red Army, describes the entry of his regiment into East Prussia in January 1945:
“For three weeks the war had been going on inside Germany and all of us knew very well that if the girls were German they could be raped and then shot. This was almost a combat distinction.”[iii]
Solzhenitsyn was a committed opponent of such atrocities and vocally opposed the rape of German women. As a consequence, he was arrested and banished to a gulag.
Some of the other Soviet front line troops shared Solzhenitsyn’s attitude toward the proper treatment of German women. Many of these Soviet first echelon troops were more concerned with fighting and survival than with rape and revenge. However, most of the second echelon of Soviet troops were from Asiatic Russia and brought with them attitudes toward conquered people inherited from Genghis Kahn. Other second echelon troops were members of penal battalions or were ex-prisoners from the German concentration camps who had been freed by the Red Army and sent to the front. These soldiers who formed the second wave of troops were regarded even by their comrades as completely merciless.[iv]
The savagery of Soviet soldiers was acknowledged by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in his Memoirs. Montgomery states:
“From their behaviour it soon became clear that the Russians, though a fine fighting race, were in fact barbarous Asiatics who had never enjoyed a civilization comparable to that of the rest of Europe. Their approach to every problem was utterly different from ours and their behaviour, especially in their treatment of women, was abhorrent to us.”[v]
Russian soldiers continually raped German women as the Red Army advanced through Silesia and Pomerania towards Berlin. The German women were frequently ganged raped, often again and again on successive nights. A woman interviewed in Schwerin reported that she had “already been raped by ten men today.” A German officer in East Prussia claims to have saved a few dozen women from a villa where “on average they had been raped 60 to 70 times a day.” Another woman in Berlin stated:
“Twenty-three soldiers one after the other. I had to be stitched up in a hospital. I never want to have anything to do with any man again.”[vi]
Churches were frequently used by Russian soldiers to rape German women. A priest from Neisse reports:
The girls, women and nuns were raped incessantly for hours on end, the soldiers standing in queues, the officers at the head of the queues, in front of their victims. During the first night many of the nuns and women were raped as many as fifty times. Some of the nuns who resisted with all their strength were shot, others were ill-treated in a dreadful manner until they were too exhausted to offer any resistance. The Russians knocked them down, kicked them, beat them on the head and in the face with the butt-end of their revolvers and rifles, until they finally collapsed and in this unconscious condition became the helpless victims of brutish passion, which was so inhuman as to be inconceivable. The same dreadful scenes were enacted in the hospitals, homes for the aged, and other such institutions. Even nuns who were seventy and eighty years old and were ill and bedridden were raped and ill-treated by these barbarians.[vii]
When Russian soldiers “liberated” Danzig they promptly liberated all the women of their virtue and chastity. A Russian soldier told the Danzig women to seek shelter in the Catholic cathedral to protect them from the rapes. After hundreds of women and girls were securely inside, the Russian soldiers entered and “playing the organ and ringing the bells, kept up a foul orgy through the night, raping all the women, some more than 30 times.” A Catholic pastor in Danzig states, “They even violated eight-year-old girls and shot boys who tried to shield their mothers.”[viii]
The following is part of an eyewitness account written by a veteran American newspaperman. He had been taken prisoner by the Germans in Paris and later freed by the Russians with whom he traveled as they swept over eastern Germany to Berlin and beyond:
In the district around our internment camp—the territory comprising the towns of Schlawe, Lauenburg, and Buckow and hundreds of larger villages—Red soldiers during the first weeks of their occupation raped every woman and girl between the ages of 12 and 60. That sounds exaggerated but it is the simple truth.
The only exceptions were girls who managed to remain in hiding in the woods or who had the presence of mind to feign illness—typhoid, dyptheria or some other infectious disease. Flushed with victory—and often with wine found in the cellars of rich Pomeranian land owners—the Reds searched every house for women, cowing them with pistols or tommy guns, and carried them into their tanks or trucks.
Husbands and fathers who attempted to protect their women folk were shot down and girls offering extreme resistance were murdered.
Some weeks after the invasion, Red “political commissions” began a tour of the countryside ostensibly in search of members of the Nazi party. In every village the women were told to report for examination of papers to these commissions, which looked them over and detained those with sex appeal. The youngest and prettiest were taken by the officers and the rest left to the mercy of the privates.
This reign of terror lasted as long as I was with the Reds in Pomerania. Several girls whom I had known during my captivity committed suicide. Others died after having been raped by ten soldiers in succession….
Whenever possible, girls attach themselves to liberated Anglo-American or French prisoners of war for protection against the Russians. Curiously, the Reds seemed to have a special code of honor in this respect—they will take an Allied prisoner’s watch but won’t touch his girl.[ix]
When a German counterattack temporarily recaptured the town of Neustettin, a German soldier describes what he saw in houses where Russian soldiers had raped German women:
Naked, dead women lay in many of the rooms. Swastikas had been cut into their abdomens…[too graphic] , faces beaten to a pulp and swollen puffy. Others had been tied to the furniture by their hands and feet, and massacred…
The mothers had had to witness how their 10 and 12-year-old daughters were raped by some 20 men; the daughters in turn saw their mothers being raped, even their grandmothers. Women who tried to resist were brutally tortured to death. There was no mercy….
The women we liberated were in a state almost impossible to describe…. Their faces had a confused, vacant look. Some were beyond speaking to, ran up and down and moaned the same sentences over and over again. Having seen the consequences of these bestial atrocities, we were terribly agitated and determined to fight. We knew the war was past winning; but it was our obligation and sacred duty to fight to the last bullet.[x]
The Russian rapes caused many German women to commit suicide. The preferred form of suicide was poison, and most Berlin women seem to have been provided with poison before the Red Army arrived. Even when Berlin women were not driven so far as to take their own lives, the rapes inevitably caused disease and unwanted babies. A high percentage of women became infected with venereal disease. Since antibiotics were often unaffordable, eventually the Russians decided to treat the local population themselves. Abortion was a common occurrence, and many abortions were performed without anesthetic. Despite the high incidence of abortion, it is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 “Russian babies” were born to German women.[xi]
[i] De Zayas, Alfred-Maurice, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 2nd edition, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 41.
[ii] MacDonogh, Giles, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, New York: Basic Books, 2007, pp. 25-26.
[iii] Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I., The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Vol. 1), New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1974, p. 21.
[iv] Botting, Douglas, From the Ruins of the Reich—Germany, 1945-1949, New York: Crown Publishers, 1985, p. 68.
[v] De Zayas, Alfred-Maurice, Nemesis at Potsdam: The Anglo-Americans and the Expulsion of the Germans, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977, pp. 71-72.
[vi] Lowe, Keith, Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012, p. 54.
[vii] Goodrich, Thomas, Hellstorm: The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947, Sheridan, CO: Aberdeen Books, 2010, p. 84.
[ix] Keeling, Ralph Franklin, Gruesome Harvest: The Allies’ Postwar War against the German People, Torrance, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1992, pp. 59-60.
[x] Goodrich, Thomas, Hellstorm: The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947, Sheridan, CO: Aberdeen Books, 2010, p. 159.
[xi] Ibid., pp. 99, 102.