- The Red Army's orgy of rape in the dying days of Nazi
Germany was conducted on a much greater scale than previously suspected,
according to a new book by the military historian Anthony Beevor.
- Beevor, the author of the best-selling Stalingrad, says
advancing Soviet troops raped large numbers of Russian and Polish women
held in concentration camps, as well as millions of Germans.
- The extent of the Red Army's indiscipline and depravity
emerged as the author studied Soviet archives for his forthcoming book
Berlin, to be published in April by Viking.
- Beevor - who was educated at Sandhurst and served in
the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert's Own), an elite cavalry regiment - says
details of the Soviet soldiers' behaviour have forced him to revise his
view of human nature.
- "Having always in the past slightly pooh-poohed
the idea that most men are potential rapists, I had to come to the
that if there is a lack of army discipline, most men with a weapon,
by living through two or three years of war, do become potential
he told The Bookseller.
- He appears to echo the American feminist Marilyn French's
notorious claim that "in their relations with women, all men are
and that's all they are".
- Any such resemblance is, however, superficial. Beevor
is careful to qualify any suggestion that what happened from 1944 onwards
is in any way typical of male behaviour in peacetime. But he admits that
he was "shaken to the core" to discover that Russian and Polish
women and girls liberated from concentration camps were also
- "That completely undermined the notion that the
soldiers were using rape as a form of revenge against the Germans,"
- "By the time the Russians reached Berlin, soldiers
were regarding women almost as carnal booty; they felt because they were
liberating Europe they could behave as they pleased. That is very
because one starts to realise that civilisation is terribly superficial
and the facade can be stripped away in a very short time."
- Beevor's high reputation as a historian ensures that
his claims will be taken seriously. Stalingrad was widely praised and
the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize, the Wolfson Prize for History and
the Hawthornden Prize.
- His account of the siege of Berlin, however, promises
to be more controversial. "In many ways the fate of the women and
the girls in Berlin is far worse than that of the soldiers starving and
suffering in Stalingrad."
- To understand why the rape of Germany was so uniquely
terrible, the context is essential. Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion
of Russia in 1941, began the most genocidal conflict in history. Perhaps
30 million inhabitants of the Soviet Union are now thought to have died
during the war, including more than three million who were deliberately
starved in German PoW camps.
- The Germans, having shown no quarter, could expect none
in return. Their casualties were also on a vast scale. In the Battle of
Berlin alone more than a million German soldiers were killed or died later
in captivity, plus at least 100,000 civilians. The Soviet Union lost more
than 300,000 men.
- Against this horrific background, Stalin and his
condoned or even justified rape, not only against Germans but also their
allies in Hungary, Romania and Croatia. When the Yugoslav Communist Milovan
Djilas protested to Stalin, the dictator exploded: "Can't he
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?"
- And when German Communists warned him that the rapes
were turning the population against them, Stalin fumed: "I will not
allow anyone to drag the reputation of the Red Army in the
- The rapes had begun as soon as the Red Army entered East
Prussia and Silesia in 1944. In many towns and villages every female, aged
from 10 to 80, was raped. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel laureate who
was then a young officer, described the horror in his narrative poem
Nights: "The little daughter's on the mattress,/Dead. How many have
been on it/A platoon, a company perhaps?"
- But Solzhenitsyn was rare: most of his comrades regarded
rape as legitimate. As the offensive struck deep into Germany, the orders
of Marshal Zhukov, their commander, stated: "Woe to the land of the
murderers. We will get a terrible revenge for everything."
- By the time the Red Army reached Berlin its reputation,
reinforced by Nazi propaganda, had already terrified the population, many
of whom fled. Though the hopeless struggle came to an end in May 1945,
the ordeal of German women did not.
- How many German women were raped? One can only guess,
but a high proportion of at least 15 million women who either lived in
the Soviet Union zone or were expelled from the eastern provinces. The
scale of rape is suggested by the fact that about two million women had
illegal abortions every year between 1945 and 1948.
- It was not until the winter of 1946-47 that the Soviet
authorities, concerned by the spread of disease, imposed serious penalties
on their forces in East Germany for fraternising with the enemy.
- Soviet soldiers saw rape, often carried out in front
of a woman's husband and family, as an appropriate way of humiliating the
Germans, who had treated Slavs as an inferior race with whom sexual
were discouraged. Russia's patriarchal society and the habit of
were also factors, but more important was resentment at the discovery of
Germany's comparative wealth.
- The fact, highlighted by Beevor, that Soviet troops raped
not only Germans but also their victims, recently liberated from
camps, suggests that the sexual violence was often indiscriminate, although
far fewer Russian or Polish women were raped when their areas were
compared to the conquered Germans.
- Jews, however, were not necessarily regarded by Soviet
troops as fellow victims of the Nazis. The Soviet commissars had
German concentration camps in order to incarcerate their own political
prisoners, who included "class enemies" as well as Nazi
and their attitude towards the previous inmates was, to say the least,
- As for the millions of Russian prisoners or slave workers
who survived the Nazis: those who were not executed as traitors or sent
to the Gulag could count themselves lucky. The women among them were
treated no better than the Germans, perhaps worse.
- The rape of Germany left a bitter legacy. It contributed
to the unpopularity of the East German communist regime and its consequent
reliance on the Stasi secret police. The victims themselves were
traumatised: women of the wartime generation still refer to the Red Army
war memorial in Berlin as "the Tomb of the Unknown Rapist".