Savage Victors: The Greatest Mass Rape Of A Defeated & Occupied Nation In History

…approximately 2 million German women were raped at the end of World War II and in the post-war period by Allied soldiers and members of the occupying forces. These estimates represent more rapes against a defeated enemy than any other war in history… Red Army soldiers, American GIs, British, French, Belgians, Poles, Czechs and Serbs all took advantage of the conquest of Germany to plunder and then to rape German women…

“Wie oft?” (“How often?”) was a phrase understood by everyone in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of the second world war. “How often have you been raped by Russian soldiers?” was what was really meant. (The Guardian)

The Rape of German Women during and after World War II

      War-related rape is a global problem that has existed throughout human history. Probably the worst example of war-related rape occurred against German women during and after World War II. At least 860,000 German women and young girls were raped at the end of World War II and in the post-war period by Allied soldiers and members of the occupying forces. Red Army soldiers, American GIs, British, French, Belgians, Poles, Czechs and Serbs all took advantage of the conquest of Germany to plunder and then to rape German women.[1]

      This article documents some of the horrific rapes committed against German women by Allied soldiers during and after World War II.  

A German mother with her son and daughter commit suicide before the infamous Red Army reach their eastern town.
Eastern Front/ Advance of the Red Army in East Prussia, up to the street of Nemmersdorf. October 1944: Atrocities against German refugees by units of the 11th Guards Army.

Soviet Rapes of German Women

      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.”[2]

      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.[3]

      Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, then a young captain in the Red Army, described 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.”[4] Solzhenitsyn was a committed opponent of such atrocities and vocally opposed the rape of German women. This is one of the reasons 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 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.[5]

      The savagery of Soviet soldiers was acknowledged by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in his Memoirs. Montgomery wrote:

“From their behavior 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 behavior, especially in their treatment of women, was abhorrent to us.”[6]         

      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 10 men today.” A German officer in East Prussia claimed 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.”[7]

      Churches were frequently used by Russian soldiers to rape German women. A priest from Neisse reported:

      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 50 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 70 and 80 years old and were ill and bedridden were raped and ill-treated by these barbarians.[8] 

      A letter written by a priest smuggled out of Breslau, Germany on September 3, 1945 stated:

      In unending succession were girls, women and nuns violated…Not merely in secret, in hidden corners, but in the sight of everybody, even in churches, in the streets and in public places were nuns, women and even eight-year-old girls attacked again and again. Mothers were violated before the eyes of their children; girls in the presence of their brothers; nuns, in the sight of pupils, were outraged again and again to their very death and even as corpses.[9]

A very young German woman after the Red Army arrived.

     When Russian soldiers “liberated” Danzig, they promptly liberated the Danzig 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 of Danzig stated, “They even violated eight-year-old girls and shot boys who tried to shield their mothers.”[10]

      A pastor from Milzig said of the Soviet soldiers:

“There were no limits to the bestiality and licentiousness of these troops…Girls and women were routed out of their hiding-places, out of the ditches and thickets where they had sought shelter from the Russian soldiers, and were beaten and raped. Older women who refused to tell the Russians where the younger ones had hidden were likewise beaten and raped.”[11]

      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 10 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.[12]

      When a German counterattack temporarily recaptured the town of Neustettin, a German soldier described 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, in some the intestines bulged out, breasts were cut up, faces beaten to a pulp and swollen puffy. Others had been tied to the furniture by their hands and feet, and massacred. A broomstick protruded from the vagina of one, a besom from that of another….

      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.[13]

      One mother of two small children in the Upper Silesian town of Steinau described her ordeal at the hands of the Red Army: “A young Russian with a pistol in his hand came to fetch me. I have to admit that I was so frightened (and not just of the pistol) that I could not hold my bladder. This didn’t disturb him in the least. You got used to it soon enough and realized there was no point putting up a fight.” The woman later went with her heavily pregnant sister to see a Russian doctor, believing that the doctor would be a civilized man. The two women were raped by the doctor and a lieutenant. The fact that the woman was menstruating was no disincentive to her rape.[14]

      German women frequently took steps to make their appearance unattractive to Soviet soldiers. The German women sometimes covered themselves with ashes to make themselves look old, painted on red spots to feign disease, or hobbled around on crutches to appear disabled. One woman in East Pomerania took the precaution of removing her false front tooth to make herself look older. Such precautions rarely worked, and the rape victims ranged in age from tiny children to great-grandmothers. Some German women kept their small children by them at all times, and sometimes these children provided a disincentive against the Russian attacks.[15]

Berlin, a man weeps beside a German woman and girl modestly covered.

      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.[16]

      The arrival of the Red Army in Austria was also accompanied by sexual violence on a large scale. Stalin informed his troops that Austrians had been the first victims of German aggression, and he stipulated that Soviet troops were to behave correctly toward Austrians. However, the Soviet NKVD in Austria admitted that “there have been cases of excesses by individual members of units of the Red Army against the local population.” In the Steiermark, for example, thousands of women sought medical help after being raped by Soviet soldiers. In the city of Graz more than 600 cases of rape were reported to police—a number which is probably only a fraction of the total sexual assaults that occurred in the city.[17] In Vienna, 87,000 women were reported by doctors and clinics to have been raped.[18]        

Additional Allied Rapes of German Women

      The Soviet soldiers were not the only ones who raped German women. The French Senegalese and Moroccan troops were notorious for committing rape. Police records of Stuttgart show that 1,198 German women were raped by French troops during the French occupation. Dr. Karl Hartenstein, prelate of the Evangelical church in the city, estimated a higher number of 5,000 rape victims in Stuttgart. In the town of Vaihingen, with a population of 12,000, 500 cases of rape were reported. So it went in other German cities and towns occupied by French troops.[19]

      Charles Lindbergh was told by an Army officer that there were over 6,000 cases of rape reported in Stuttgart, and that the Germans were crying for the Americans to come in and replace the French. Lindbergh wrote:

“I had been told that in French-occupied territory it was required that a list of the occupants of every building, together with their ages, be posted outside, on the door, and that both the Senegalese and the French soldiers, drunk at night, would go from door to door until they found girls’ names listed of any age they wished to rape. As we drove through Stuttgart we saw that each main door of the habitable buildings contained such a list—white sheets of paper tacked onto the panel—a column of names, a column of birth dates. And most of the women of Stuttgart show in their faces that they have gone through hell.”[20]

      Historian Miriam Gebhardt writes that it is impossible to obtain even a rough estimate of the number of German rape victims from the available source material and research. She states that none of the occupying powers to date has investigated the matter systematically. Despite these limitations, Gebhardt estimates that at least 860,000 German women (and also men and boys) were raped after the war. At least 190,000 of the rape victims, perhaps even more, were assaulted by U.S., British, Belgian and French soldiers.[21] Other sources estimate that, in Germany as a whole, approximately 2 million German women were raped in the aftermath of World War II. These estimates represent more rapes against a defeated enemy than any other war in history.[22]     

      While a large percentage of American troops deported themselves properly, the record of American troops as a whole in regard to raping women is hardly exemplary. In October 1944, 152 American soldiers were convicted of rape in France.[23] Rape charges in the U.S. Army rose to 402 in March and 501 in April 1945, as a result of slackening German military resistance.[24] Altogether 487 American soldiers in Germany were tried for rapes allegedly committed against German women in March and April 1945.[25]

      The actual number of rapes of German women by American troops far exceeds what was reported by the U.S. Army. Miriam Gebhardt writes:

      The legal situation in post-war Germany made it almost impossible for the German police to investigate rape and prosecute the perpetrators. In the first years of the occupation, a German policeman would not have been able to report anything even if he had burst in on an American gang rape. He could not have intervened, let alone arrested the soldiers, because the military police were responsible for crimes against the German population. Nor, incidentally, would German civilians have been entitled to come to the aid of the victims, as the Germans were forbidden from attacking members of the occupying forces or proceeding against them in any other form. The occupying power had sole responsibility for charges and investigations involving its soldiers, with the result that in most cases no charges were ever brought in the first place. The perpetrators could also not be arraigned before a German court. Here, too, the military courts had jurisdiction.[26]

A magazine, published specifically for U.S. soldiers, sexualizes the German “bitches” under their control.

      The inability of the German police to investigate rape and prosecute the alleged perpetrators enabled Allied soldiers to rape German women after the war was over. Cases of sexual aggression towards German women, for example, are documented in the files of the Bavarian police collected by the Ministry of the Interior. These reports of rape, performed mostly by Americans, are not dissimilar to the reports of rape by the Red Army in the East and in Berlin. The main difference is that the German population was surprised and unprepared for this sexual aggression on the part of American soldiers.[27]            

      While fewer German women were raped by American soldiers compared to Soviet soldiers, one reason for this is that desperately hungry German women would have consensual sex with Americans in exchange for food or cigarettes. Despite Eisenhower’s edict against fraternization with Germans, no orders from above could slow the American soldier’s desire to have sex with German women. American newswoman Freda Utley stated,

“Neither army regulations nor the propaganda of hatred in the American press could prevent American soldiers from liking and associating with German women, who although they were driven by hunger to become prostitutes, preserved a certain innate decency.”[28]                      

      Allied soldiers would offer a basket of food or other presents in order to have sex with the unconditionally surrendered women of Germany. The Christian Century reported on December 5, 1945:

“The American provost marshal, Lt. Col. Gerald F. Beane, said that rape represents no problem to the military police because ‘a bit of food, a bar of chocolate, or a bar of soap seems to make rape unnecessary.’ Think that over if you want to understand what the situation is in Germany.”[29]

      After a visit to the American Zone, Dr. George N. Schuster, President of Hunter College, stated:

“You have said it all when you say that Europe is now a place where woman has lost her perennial fight for decency because the indecent alone live. Except for those who can establish contacts with members of the armed forces, Germans can get nothing from soap to shoes.”[30]

      L.F. Filewood wrote in the October 5, 1945 issue of the Weekly Review in London:

“Young girls, unattached, wander about and freely offer themselves, for food or bed…Very simply they have one thing left to sell, and they sell it…As a way of dying it may be worse than starvation, but it will put off dying for months—or even years.”[31]

Above: The reality for German women kept in the “cages” Eisenhower’s Rhine meadow death fields for German POW’s after WWII. Below: Disarmed prisoners including women under the control of American forces.

      German women, many with children to feed, were often forced to become slaves to Allied soldiers in order to survive. A British soldier acknowledged:

“I felt a bit sick at times about the power I had over the girl. If I gave her a three-penny bar of chocolate she nearly went crazy. She was just like my slave. She darned my socks and mended things for me. There was no question of marriage. She knew that was not possible.”[32]

The conduct of American soldiers in Japan after WWII is rarely discussed.

Behavior of the German Army

      By contrast, the German army behaved very correctly toward the people of occupied territories whose governments were signatories of The Hague and Geneva Conventions. Rape by German soldiers in these territories was strictly forbidden. This has been confirmed by numerous sources. For example, after an inspection tour in which he visited areas where the Germans had been in occupation for four years, Frederick C. Crawford stated in his “Report from the War Front”:

“The Germans tried to be careful in their dealings with the people…We were told that if a citizen attended strictly to business and took no political or underground action against the occupying army, he was treated with correctness.”[33]

Endnotes


[1] Gebhardt, Miriam, Crimes Unspoken: The Rape of German Women at the End of the Second World War, Malden, Mass: Polity Press, 2017, p. 9.

[2] De Zayas, Alfred-Maurice,  A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 2nd edition, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 41.

[3] MacDonogh, Giles, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, New York: Basic Books, 2007, pp. 25-26.

[4] Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I., The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Vol. 1), New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1974, p. 21.

[5] Botting, Douglas, From the Ruins of the Reich—Germany, 1945-1949, New York: Crown Publishers, 1985, p. 68.

[6] De Zayas, Alfred-Maurice, Nemesis at Potsdam: The Anglo-Americans and the Expulsion of the Germans, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977, pp. 71-72.

[7] Lowe, Keith, Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012, p. 54.

[8] Goodrich, Thomas, Hellstorm: The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947, Sheridan, Colo.: Aberdeen Books, 2010, p. 84.

[9] Keeling, Ralph Franklin, Gruesome Harvest: The Allies’ Postwar War Against the German People, Torrance, Cal.: Institute for Historical Review, 1992, p. 58.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Goodrich, Thomas, Hellstorm: The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947, Sheridan, Colo.: Aberdeen Books, 2010, p. 237.

[12] Keeling, Ralph Franklin, Gruesome Harvest: The Allies’ Postwar War against the German People, Torrance, Cal.: Institute for Historical Review, 1992, pp. 59-60.

[13] Goodrich, Thomas, Hellstorm: The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947, Sheridan, Colo.: Aberdeen Books, 2010, p. 159.

[14] MacDonogh, Giles, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, New York: Basic Books, 2007, p. 57.

[15] Ibid., p. 52.

[16] Ibid., pp. 99, 102.

[17] Bessel, Richard, Germany 1945: From War to Peace, London: Harper Perennial, 2010, pp. 154-155.

[18] Lowe, Keith, Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012, p. 55.

[19] Keeling, Ralph Franklin, Gruesome Harvest: The Allies’ Postwar War against the German People, Torrance, Cal.: Institute for Historical Review, 1992, pp. 57, 61.

[20] Lindbergh, Charles, The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1970, pp. 945, 967-968.

[21] Gebhardt, Miriam, Crimes Unspoken: The Rape of German Women at the End of the Second World War, Malden, Mass: Polity Press, 2017, pp. 2, 17.

[22] Lowe, Keith, Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012, pp. 51, 55.

[23] Gebhardt, Miriam, Crimes Unspoken: The Rape of German Women at the End of the Second World War, Malden, Mass: Polity Press, 2017, p. 106.

[24] MacDonogh, Giles, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, New York: Basic Books, 2007, p. 240.

[25] Bessel, Richard, Germany 1945: From War to Peace, London: Harper Perennial, 2010, p. 161.

[26] Gebhardt, Miriam, Crimes Unspoken: The Rape of German Women at the End of the Second World War, Malden, Mass: Polity Press, 2017, p. 15.

[27] Ibid., p. 92.

[28] Utley, Freda, The High Cost of Vengeance, Chicago: Regenery, 1949, p. 17.

[29] Keeling, Ralph Franklin, Gruesome Harvest: The Allies’ Postwar War against the German People, Torrance, Cal.: Institute for Historical Review, 1992, p. 64.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Botting, Douglas, From the Ruins of the Reich—Germany, 1945-1949, New York: Crown Publishers, 1985, p. 294.

[33] Keeling, Ralph Franklin, Gruesome Harvest: The Allies’ Postwar War against the German People, Torrance, Cal.: Institute for Historical Review, 1992, pp. 64-65.

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