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Rape during the occupation of Germany


Rape during the occupation of Germany

Territorial changes and occupational zones of Nazi Germany after its defeat. Includes the front-line along the Elbe from which U.S. troops withdrew in July 1945

As Allied troops entered and occupied German territory during the later stages of World War II mass rapes took place both in connection with combat operations and during the subsequent occupation. Most Western scholars agree that the majority of the rapes were committed by Soviet servicemen, but estimates vary widely. Russian historians have criticized the estimates and argue that these crimes were not widespread.

In postwar Germany, especially in West Germany, the war time rape stories were used in an attempt to situate the German population on the whole as victims.[1] This became discredited by the late 1960s and the 1970s as German leftists conducted politics focused on critical investigation of the Nazi past but older generations were often unwilling to face that past, and tended to portray themselves as victims rather than as perpetrators, particularly of the Holocaust.[2] Therefore, the frequently reiterated claim that the war time rapes had been surrounded by decades of silence[3][4] is probably not correct.[2]


  • Soviet Military 1
    • Controversy in Russia 1.1
    • Analysis 1.2
    • Criticism of statistics 1.3
    • Social effects 1.4
    • Soviet literature 1.5
    • In popular culture 1.6
  • US Military 2
  • British troops 3
  • French Military 4
  • Discourse 5
  • See also 6
  • Further reading 7
  • References 8

Soviet Military

A wave of rapes and sexual violence occurred in Central Europe in 1944–45, as the Western Allies and the Red Army fought their way into the Third Reich.[5] On the territory of the Nazi Germany, it began on 21 October 1944 when troops of the Red Army crossed the bridge over the Angerapp creek (marking the border) and committed the Nemmersdorf massacre before they were beaten back a few hours later.

The majority of the assaults were committed in the Soviet occupation zone; estimates of the numbers of German women raped by Soviet soldiers ranged up to 2 million.[1][6][7][8][9] In many cases women were the victims of repeated rapes, some as many as 60 to 70 times.[10] At least 100,000 women are believed to have been raped in Berlin, based on surging abortion rates in the following months and contemporary hospital reports,[7] with an estimated 10,000 women dying in the aftermath.[11] Female deaths in connection with the rapes in Germany, overall, are estimated at 240,000.[3][12] Antony Beevor describes it as the "greatest phenomenon of mass rape in history", and has concluded that at least 1.4 million women were raped in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia alone.[13]

Natalya Gesse states that Russian soldiers raped German females from eight to eighty years old. Russian women were not spared either.[14][15][16] In contrast, a Russian war veteran Vsevolod Olimpiev recalled, "The Soviet soldiers' relations with the German population where it had stayed may be called indifferent and neutral. Nobody, at least from our Regiment, harassed or touched them. Moreover, when we came across an obviously starving German family with kids we would share our food with them with no unnecessary words."[17]

When Yugoslav politician Milovan Djilas complained about rapes in Yugoslavia, Stalin reportedly stated that he should "understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle."[18] On another occasion, when told that Red Army soldiers sexually maltreated German refugees, he reportedly said: "We lecture our soldiers too much; let them have their initiative."[19]

However, an order issued on January 19, 1945 and signed by Stalin said,

Officers and men of the Red Army! We are entering the country of the enemy... the remaining population in the liberated areas, regardless of whether they're German, Czech, or Polish, should not be subjected to violence. The perpetrators will be punished according to the laws of war. In the liberated territories, sexual relations with females are not allowed. Perpetrators of violence and rape will be shot.[20]

Historian Norman Naimark writes that after the summer of 1945, Soviet soldiers caught raping civilians were usually punished to some degree, ranging from arrest to execution.[21] However, the rapes continued until the winter of 1947–48, when Soviet occupation authorities finally confined Soviet troops to strictly guarded posts and camps,[22] separating them from the residential population in the Soviet zone of Germany.

Controversy in Russia

Picture taken by the Sicherheitspolizei, the original caption states that the two women show signs of rape

There is dispute in Russia concerning these claims.[23] They have encountered vast criticism from historians in Russia and the Russian government.[24] Critics argue that the numbers given are based on faulty methodology and questionable sources. They argue that although there were cases of excesses and heavy-handed command, the Red Army as a whole treated the population of the former Reich with respect.

In an interview with BBC News Online, Oleg Rzheshevsky, a professor and President of the Russian Association of World War II Historians, argued that in Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Beevor's use of phrases such as "Berliners remember" and "the experiences of the raped German women" is better suited "for pulp fiction, than scientific research." He admitted that he had only read excerpts and had not seen the book's source notes yet. Rzheshevsky further stated that the Germans could have expected an "avalanche of revenge," but that did not happen.[23] In his later review of the book, he charges that Beevor is merely resurrecting the discredited and racist views of Neo-Nazi historians, who depicted Soviet troops as subhuman "Asiatic hordes." According to Rzheshevsky, 4,148 Red Army officers and many soldiers were convicted of atrocities. He explains that acts such as robbery and sexual assault are inevitable parts of war, and men of Soviet and other Allied armies committed them. However, in general, Soviet servicemen treated peaceful Germans with humanity.[25]

Hero of the Soviet Union Army General Ivan Tretiak had said that there was not a single case of violence committed by men in his regiment. Although Tretiak wanted revenge, Stalin's orders on the humane treatment of the population were implemented, and discipline in the army was strengthened. With such a huge army group in Germany, there was bound to be cases of sexual misconduct, as men had not seen women in years. However, he explains that sexual relations were not always violent, but often involved mutual consent. The work of Beevor and others alleging mass rape is characterized by Tretiak as "filthy cynicism, because the vast majority of those who have been slandered cannot reply to these liars."[25]

Makhmut Gareev, President of the Academy of Military Sciences, who participated in the East Prussian campaign, states that he had not even heard about sexual violence. He explains that after what the Nazis did in the USSR, excesses were likely to take place, but such cases were strongly suppressed and punished, and were not widespread. He also notes that the Soviet military leadership signed an executive order on 19 January 1945 that demanded to prevent cruel treatment of the local population. According to Gareev, Beevor simply copied Goebbels' propaganda about the "aggressive sexuality of our soldiers."[25]

Russian historian[26][27] Aleksandr Dyukov wrote, "the Germans did not experience a fraction of the horror that their soldiers staged in the East. Despite some excesses, which were firmly suppressed by the Command, the Red Army as a whole behaved toward the people of the Reich with humanity". The Russian soldiers are credited with feeding the German population, rescuing children, and helping to restore normal life in the country.[28]

According to Doctor of Historical Sciences Yelena Senyavskaya: "One of the most widespread anti-Russian myths in the West today is the subject of mass rapes allegedly committed by the Red Army in 1945 in Europe. Its beginning goes back to the end of the war – from Goebbels' propaganda, and then from publications of the former allies in the anti-Hitler coalition, who soon turned into opponents of the USSR in the Cold War."[29]


In his analysis of the motives behind the extensive Soviet rapes, Norman Naimark singles out "hate propaganda, personal experiences of suffering at home, and a fully demeaning picture of German women in the press, not to mention among the soldiers themselves" as a part reason for the widespread rapes.[30] Naimark also noted the effect that the Russian tendency to binge-drink alcohol (of which much was available in Germany) had on the propensity of Russian soldiers to commit rape, especially rape-murder.[31] Naimark also notes the patriarchal nature of Russian culture, and of the Asian societies comprising the Soviet Union, where dishonor was in the past repaid by raping the women of the enemy.[32] The fact that the Germans had a much higher standard of living (with things such as indoor toilets), visible even when in ruins "may well have contributed to a national inferiority complex among Russians". Combining Russian feelings of inferiority and the resulting need to restore his honor and their desire for revenge may be the reason many women were raped in public as well as in front of husbands before both were killed.[32]

According to Antony Beevor revenge played very little role in the frequent rapes; according to him the main reason for the rapes was the Soviet troops' feeling of entitlement to all types of booty, including women. Beevor exemplifies this with his discovery that Soviet troops also raped Russian and Polish girls and women that were liberated from Nazi concentration camps.[33]

Richard Overy, a historian from King's College London, has criticized the viewpoint held by the Russians, asserting that they refuse to acknowledge Soviet war crimes committed during the war, "Partly this is because they felt that much of it was justified vengeance against an enemy who committed much worse, and partly it was because they were writing the victors' history."[23]

According to Alexander Statiev, while Soviet soldiers respected their own citizens and those of friendly countries, they perceived themselves to be conquerors rather than liberators in hostile regions. They viewed violence against civilians as a privilege of victors. Statiev cites the attitude of a Soviet soldier as exemplifying this phenomenon: "Avenge! You are a soldier-avenger! ... Kill the German, and then jump the German woman! This is how a soldier celebrates victory!"[34]

With respect to the number of abortions reported in Berlin and the estimates of the number of rapes based on the abortions statistics, there are some alternative contentions which don't necessarily involve rapes by Soviet soldiers. Atina Grossmann explains that until early 1945 abortions in Germany were illegal (except for medical and eugenic reasons), and so when doctors opened up and started performing abortions to rape victims (for which only an affidavit was requested from a woman), many women would claim that they were raped, but their accounts were surprisingly uniform (describing rapists as having "mongoloid or Asiatic" features). It was also typical that women specified their reasons for abortions as being mostly socio-economic (inability to raise another child) rather than moral or ethical.[35]

Criticism of statistics

Yelena Senyavskaya criticizes Beevor for using and popularizing the statistic that 2 million German women were raped by the Soviet Army. The calculation used to derive the statistic is based on the number of newborns in 1945 and 1946 whose fathers are listed as Russian in one Berlin clinic, the assumption that all of these births were the result of rape, and then the multiplication of this effect across the entire female population (ages 8 to 80) of the eastern part of Germany. According to Senyavskaya, this method of calculation cannot be considered valid.[29]

Senyavskaya further argues that the fact that Beevor uses Soviet archival documents does not prove his analysis. There are large concentrations of reports and tribunal materials about crimes committed by army personnel, but that is because such documents were stored together thematically. She contends that occurrences of crimes by Soviet servicemen were considered extraordinary rather than the norm. Senyavskaya concludes that "those guilty of these crimes account for no more than two percent of the total number of servicemen," however, "authors like Beevor spread their accusations against the entire Soviet Army."[29]

Nicky Bird also criticizes Beevor's statistics, stating that: "Statistics proliferate, and are unverifiable. Beevor tends to accept estimates from a single doctor — how can we possibly know that 90 percent of Berlin women were infected by VD, that 90 percent of rape victims had abortions, that 8.7 percent of children born in 1946 had Russian fathers?"[36]

Social effects

A number of "Russian babies" were born during the occupation, many of them as the result of rape.[37]

According to Norman Naimark we may never know how many German women and girls were raped by Soviet troops during the war and occupation, their numbers are likely in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly as many as 2 million.[38] As to the social effects of this sexual violence Naimark notes:

West Berliners and women of the wartime generation refer to the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, Berlin, as the "tomb of the unknown rapist" in response to the mass rapes by Red Army soldiers in the years following 1945.[39][40][41][42][43][44]

Soviet literature

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn took part in the invasion of Germany, and wrote a poem about it: Prussian Nights; Svetlana Alexievich published a book, War's Unwomanly Face that includes memories by Soviet veterans about their experience in Germany. According to a former army officer,

A woman telephone operator from the Soviet Army recalled that

In popular culture

As most women recoiled from their experiences and had no desire to recount them, most biographies and depictions of the period, like the German film Downfall, alluded to mass rape by the Red Army but stopped shy of mentioning it explicitly. As time has progressed more works have been produced that have directly addressed the issue, such as the books The 158-Pound Marriage and My Story (1961) by Gemma LaGuardia Gluck [reissued as Fiorello's Sister: Gemma La Guardia Gluck's Story (Religion, Theology, and the Holocaust) (2007, Expanded Edition)],[48][49] or the 2006 films Joy Division and The Good German.

The topic is the subject of much feminist discourse.[50] The first autobiographical work depicting the events was the groundbreaking 1954 book A Woman in Berlin, which was made into a 2008 feature film. It was widely rejected in Germany after its initial publication but has seen a new acceptance and many women have found inspiration to come forward with their own stories.[51][52][53]

US Military

In Taken by Force, J. Robert Lilly estimates the number of rapes committed by U.S. servicemen in Germany to be 11,040.[54] As in the case of the American occupation of France after the D-Day invasion, many of the American rapes in Germany in 1945 were gang rapes committed by armed soldiers at gunpoint.[55]

Although non-fraternization policies were instituted for the Americans in Germany, the phrase "copulation without conversation is not fraternization" was used as a motto by United States Army troops.[56] The journalist Osmar White, a war correspondent from Australia who served with the American troops during the war, wrote that

A typical victimization with sexual assault by drunken American personnel marching through occupied territory involved threatening a German family with weapons, forcing one or more women to engage in sex, and putting the entire family out on the street afterward.[56]

As in the eastern sector of the occupation, the number of rapes peaked in 1945, but a high rate of violence against the German and Austrian populations by the Americans lasted at least into the first half of 1946, with five cases of dead German women found in American barracks in May and June 1946 alone.[55]

Carol Huntington writes that the American soldiers who raped German women and then left gifts of food for them may have permitted themselves to view the act as a prostitution rather than rape. Citing the work of a Japanese historian alongside this suggestion, Huntington writes that Japanese women who begged for food "were raped and soldiers sometimes left food for those they raped."[55]

The black soldiers of America's segregated occupation force were both more likely to be charged with rape and severely punished.[55] Heide Fehrenbach writes that, while the American black soldiers were in fact by no means free from indiscipline,

British troops

Many rapes were committed under the effects of alcohol or post-traumatic stress, but some cases of premeditated attacks, like the attempted rape of two local girls at gunpoint by two soldiers in the village of Oyle, near Nienburg, which ended in the death of one of the women when, whether intentionally or not, one of the soldiers discharged his gun, hitting her in the neck, as well as the reported assault on three German women in the town of Neustadt am Rübenberge.[59] On a single day in mid-April 1945, three women in Neustadt were raped by British soldiers. A senior British Army chaplain following the troops reported that there was a 'good deal of rape going on'. He then added that "those who suffer [rape] have probably deserved it.'[60]

French Military

French troops took part in the invasion of Germany, and France was assigned an occupation zone in Germany. According to Perry Biddiscombe the French for instance committed "385 rapes in the Leonberg.[62]

According to Norman Naimark, French Moroccan troops matched the behavior of Soviet troops when it came to rape, in particular in the early occupation of Baden and Württemberg.[63]


In postwar Germany, especially in West Germany, the war time rape stories became an essential part of political discourse.[1] The rape of German women (along with the expulsion of Germans from the East and Allied occupation) had been universalized in an attempt to situate the German population on the whole as victims.[1] This discourse became wholly discredited by the late 1960s; since the 1970s on German leftists conducted politics focused on critical investigation of the Nazi past, the older generations' unwillingness to face that past, and their tendency to portray themselves as victims rather than as perpetrators, particularly of the Holocaust.[2] Therefore, the frequently reiterated claim that the war time rapes had been surrounded by decades of silence[3][4] is probably not correct.[2]

The way the rapes have been discussed by Sander and Johr in their "BeFreier und Befreite"[3] has been criticized by several scholars. According to Grossmann, the problem is that this is not a "universal" story of women being raped by men, but of German women being abused and violated by an army that fought Nazi Germany and liberated death camps.[11] Such attempts to de-emphasize the historical context of the rape of German women is a serious omission, according to Stuart Liebman and Annette Michelson,[64] and, according to Pascale Bos, is an example of ahistorical, feminist and sexist approach to the wartime rape issue.[2]

According to Pascale Bos, the feminist attempt to universalize the story of the rapes of German women came into a contradiction with Sander's and Johr's own description of the rapes as a form of genocidal rape: the rape of "racially superior" German women by "racially inferior" Soviet soldiers, implying that such a rape was especially harmful for the victims.[2] In contrast, the issue of the rapes of Soviet women by Wehrmacht soldiers, that, according to some estimation amounted hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions[65][66] is not treated by the authors as something deserving serious mention.[2]

See also

Further reading

  • Naimark, Norman M. (1995). The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945–1949. Cambridge: Belknap Press.  
  •  ) Note: citations in text are given in reference to the Russian edition.


  1. ^ a b c d Heineman, Elizabeth (1996). "The Hour of the Woman: Memories of Germany's "Crisis Years" and West German National Identity".  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Pascale R . Bos, Feminists Interpreting the Politics of Wartime Rape: Berlin, 1945; Yugoslavia, 1992–1993 Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2006, vol. 31, no. 4, p.996-1025
  3. ^ a b c d Helke Sander/Barbara Johr: BeFreier und Befreite, Fischer, Frankfurt 2005
  4. ^ a b [1][2]See also
  5. ^ Biddiscombe, Perry (2001). "Dangerous Liaisons: The Anti-Fraternization Movement in the U.S. Occupation Zones of Germany and Austria, 1945–1948".  
  6. ^ Kuwert, P.; Freyberger, H. (2007). "The unspoken secret: Sexual violence in World War II".  
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ Hanna Schissler The Miracle Years: A Cultural History of West Germany, 1949–1968 [3]
  9. ^
  10. ^ The Struggle for Europe The Turbulent History of a Divided Continent 1945 to the PresentWilliam I. Hitchcock ISBN 978-0-385-49799-2
  11. ^ a b Atina Grossmann. A Question of Silence: The Rape of German Women by Occupation Soldiers October, Vol. 72, Berlin 1945: War and Rape "Liberators Take Liberties" (Spring, 1995), pp. 42–63 MIT Press. Stable URL:
  12. ^ Seidler/Zayas: Kriegsverbrechen in Europa und im Nahen Osten im 20. Jahrhundert, Mittler, Hamburg Berlin Bonn 2002
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Beevor, Antony (1 May 2002). "They raped every German female from eight to 80".  
  15. ^ Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945.
  16. ^ Richard Bessel, Germany 1945.
  17. ^ On the Bloody Road to Berlin: Frontline Accounts from North-West Europe & the Eastern Front, 1944-45 By Duncan Rogers and Sarah Williams
  18. ^
  19. ^ Roberts, Andrew (24 October 2008). "Stalin's army of rapists: The brutal war crime that Russia and Germany tried to ignore". Daily Mail (London). 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Naimark, p. 92.
  22. ^ Naimark, p. 79.
  23. ^ a b c Summers, Chris (29 April 2002). "Red Army rapists exposed".  
  24. ^ Johnson, Daniel (25 January 2002). "Russians angry at war rape claims".  
  25. ^ a b c Gareev, Makhmut; Tretiak, Ivan; Rzheshevsky, Oleg (21 July 2005). ]Abuse of FactsНасилие над фактами [.  
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ a b c Senyavskaya, Yelena, "Красная Армия в Европе в 1945 году в контексте информационной войны" [The Red Army in Europe in 1945 in the Context of Information War], (Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation), retrieved 1 June 2014 
  30. ^ Naimark, pp. 108–109
  31. ^ Naimark, p. 112
  32. ^ a b Naimark, pp. 114–115
  33. ^ [4] Red Army troops raped even Russian women as they freed them from camps, 24 Jan 2002, The Telegraph
  34. ^ Statiev, Alexander (2010). The Soviet Counterinsurgency in the Western Borderlands.  
  35. ^ Grossmann, Atina (Spring 1995). "A Question of Silence: The Rape of German Women by Occupation Soldiers". October (The MIT Press) 72: 42–63.  
  36. ^ Bird, Nicky (October 2002). "Berlin: The Downfall 1945 by Antony Beevor". International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs) 78 (4): 914–916. 
  37. ^,1518,500251,00.html
  38. ^ a b Naimark, pp. 132–133
  39. ^ Johnson, Daniel (25 January 2002). "Red Army troops raped even Russian women as they freed them from camps". London:  
  40. ^ Antony Beevor, Berlin – The Downfall 1945
  41. ^ Ksenija Bilbija, Jo Ellen Fair, Cynthia E., The art of truth-telling about authoritarian rule, Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2005, p70
  42. ^ Allan Cochrane, Making Up Meanings in a Capital City: Power, Memory and Monuments in Berlin, European Urban and Regional Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, 5–24 (2006)
  43. ^ J.M. Dennis, Rise and Fall of the German Democratic Republic 1945–1990, p.9, Longman, ISBN 0-582-24562-1
  44. ^ Jerry Kelly (2006). In the Grip of the Iron Curtain. p. 118. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  45. ^ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Prussian Nights: A Poem [Prusskie nochi], Robert Conquest, trans. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977).
  46. ^ Alexievich, p. 33
  47. ^ Alexievich, p. 386
  48. ^ . 
  49. ^ Gemma La Guardia Gluck (Author), Rochelle G. Saidel (Editor) (2007, originally published as My Story in 1961). Fiorello's Sister: Gemma LaGuardia Gluck's Story (Religion, Theology, and the Holocaust). Syracuse University Press. 
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^ "German women break their silence on the rape of Berlin". The Age (Melbourne). 25 October 2008. 
  53. ^ Hegi, Ursula (4 September 2005). "After the Fall". The Washington Post. 
  54. ^ Taken by Force: Rape and American GIs in Europe during World War II. J Robert Lilly. ISBN 978-0-230-50647-3 p.12
  55. ^ a b c d Harrington, Carol (2010). Politicization of Sexual Violence: From Abolitionism to Peacekeeping. London: Ashgate. pp. 80–81. ISBN 0-7546-7458-4.
  56. ^ a b Schrijvers, Peter (1998). The Crash of Ruin: American Combat Soldiers in Europe During World War II. New York: New York University Press. p. 183. ISBN 0-8147-8089-X.
  57. ^ White, Osmar (1996). Conquerors' Road: An Eyewitness Report of Germany 1945. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 97–98. ISBN 0-521-83051-6.
  58. ^ Fehrenbach, Heide (2005). Race After Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-691-11906-9.
  59. ^  
  60. ^ Emsley, Clive (2013) Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief: Crime and the British Armed Services since 1914. Oxford University Press, USA, p. 128-129; ISBN 0199653712
  61. ^ Biddiscombe, Perry (2001). "Dangerous Liaisons: The Anti-Fraternization Movement in the U.S. Occupation Zones of Germany and Austria, 1945–1948".  
  62. ^ Stephenson, Jill (2006). Hitler's Home Front: Württemberg under the Nazis London: Continuum. p. 289. ISBN 1-85285-442-1.
  63. ^ Naimark, pp. 106–107
  64. ^ Stuart Liebman and Annette Michelson. After the Fall: Women in the House of the Hangmen, October, Vol. 72, (Spring, 1995) pp. 4–14
  65. ^ Gertjejanssen, Wendy Jo. 2004. "Victims, Heroes, Survivors: Sexual Violence on the Eastern Front during World War II." PhD diss., University of Minnesota.
  66. ^ A 1942 Wehrmacht document suggested that the Nazi leadership considered implementing a special policy for the eastern front through which the estimated 750,000 babies born through sexual contact between the German soldiers and Russian women (an estimate deemed very conservative) could be identified and reclaimed as racially German. (The suggestion was made to add the middle names Friedrich and Luise to the birth certificates for boy and girl babies, respectively.) Although the plan was not implemented, such documents suggest that the births that resulted from rapes and other forms of sexual contact were deemed as beneficial, as increasing the "Aryan" race rather than as adding to the inferior Slavic race. The underlying ideology suggests that German rape and other forms of sexual contact may need to be seen as conforming to a larger military strategy of racial and territorial dominance. (Pascale R. Bos, Feminists Interpreting the Politics of Wartime Rape: Berlin, 1945; Yugoslavia, 1992–1993 Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2006, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 996–1025)
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