April 22, 2015
All wars are bad. All wars are evil. All wars are inherently bad and evil. And World War Two was the most inherently bad and evil of all wars. No matter what some desk-bound Jewish propagandist might scribble, and no matter what some Christian nightly news reader might mumble, there is no such thing as a “Good War” and there was no such thing as a “Greatest Generation.” War unleashes pent hate. War lends a degree of legitimacy to the basest instincts in man. War is organized savagery. And never was this on uglier display than in World War Two. And never has the term “hell on earth” come closer to an actual manifestation than on the Eastern Front.
As momentum swung to the Soviet Union late in the war, the Red Army turned viciously on the crippled German Wehrmacht. First through Russia, then through Poland, the Soviets ruthlessly pursued the German army until by January, 1945, the communists were on the very borders of the Reich itself. When the final push for Berlin began, and when Soviet forces finally rolled across Germany, it caused widespread panic among German civilians.
The following is from my books, Rape Hate—Sex & Violence in War & Peace, and Hellstorm–The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947. It is not a pretty picture to paint. For over 70 years the world has been told only one side of that terrible war–the side that won. To this very day, unfortunately, these books and a handful of others remain the only books which actually attempt to describe what the war looked like to those who lost it. My hope when I began writing these books–my hope then, my hope now–was to tell the story as accurately and honestly as possible; to let the world know what actually occurred during that so-called “Good War,” not simply what we were told occurred. My hope then, my hope now, is that if enough people of good will read the books, understand the books, then act upon the books, then the day will soon come when the world will rise up and with a united voice declare that nothing like this will ever happen again, not in their names, not in their times, not to them . . . not to anyone.
Unfortunately, and as horrible as the ensuing pages are, the reader should keep in mind that the following deals with only one nightmarish component of a war filled with Allied war crimes–terror bombing, torture, starvation, massacre, enslavement—crimes that are even now, after over 70 years, still largely unknown. Taken together, the ugly things that were done to the defeated Germans by the victorious Allies remain to this day the darkest and best-kept secret in human history.
While those who remained endured unspeakable fates, Germans who fled with treks also suffered. “What surprised us most was the way they traveled,” recalled a British POW, who, along with thousands of other Allied prisoners, was being marched west away from the advancing Soviets.
There was not a car, lorry or even a bicycle to be seen—only a seemingly endless line of covered wagons and carts drawn by horses or mules. . . . They were a pitiful sight, frozen, hungry, shoes and clothes falling apart, dragging themselves along to an unknown destination, hoping only that it might be beyond the reach of the Russian army. It was so cold that even in the day-time any drink mixed with cold water froze solid before it was possible to carry it to one’s mouth. At night men and women could keep alive only by huddling together in a wagon. . . . Those who fell asleep in the snow were dead within a few minutes. . . . Within an hour of taking the road prisoners and refugees had become indistinguishable. We were bound together by one common thought—to keep together so as to keep alive. . . . The refugees gladly let us climb on to their wagons and, as they had nothing with which to barter, we gave them what food we could spare.
Given the chaotic conditions, and with freezing refugees clogging the way, many treks were quickly overhauled by the Russians. Some Soviet tanks refused to leave the roads and crashed straight through the columns, squashing all in their path. After heavy traffic, the victims—men, women, children, animals, all—were eventually as flat as cardboard.
Young Josefine Schleiter records the horror when her group was overtaken:
The [tanks] rushed through the rows of carts. Carts were hurled into the ditches where there were entrails of horses, and men, women and children were fighting with death. Wounded people were screaming for help. Next to me was a woman bandaging her husband who was losing blood from a big wound. Behind me a young girl said to her father: “Father shoot me.” “Yes father,” said her brother who was about sixteen years old. “I have no more chance.” The father looked at his children, the tears streaming down his cheeks and he said in a quiet tone: “Wait still a little while children.” Then came an officer on horseback. Some German soldiers were brought to him. He took his revolver; I shut my eyes, shots fell, and the poor fellows lay in front of us shot in the head, an expression of horror on their faces.
Those terrified survivors who scattered to the icy countryside fell easy prey. “The Russians found us and pulled us out of the barn,” said fourteen-year-old Horst Wegner. “They were Mongolians. They had huge scars and pockmarks on their faces. And they were draped in jewelry—they wore watches up to the elbows. They came in and pulled out everyone wearing anything military—a military coat, for example. They were taken behind the barn, shoved against a wall, and shot. They weren’t even all Germans; some of them were foreigners. They even shot the private who had bandaged my father’s leg.”
As always, for females the living death soon began. Renate Hoffmann:
Suddenly three Russian soldiers came around the corner. They pointed their guns at us and forced us into the house. . . . [W]e knew what they had in store for us. We were separated. They put their guns to our heads. Any attempt to defend ourselves meant certain death. The only thing you could do was to pretend you were a rock or dead. . . . When the three men left the house, I opened the door of the room I was in. Another door opened down the hall and the nurse came out. We just looked at one another. . . . We were nauseated and felt miserable. Thank God there was still running water in the house.
As he struggled by car over the crowded roads, Major Rudolf Janecke of the Medical Corp gained a glimpse of what seemed to him an “endless agony.”
Near a small village . . . I saw for the first time a trek that had been destroyed from the air. Many wagons had caught fire in spite of the wet—perhaps phosphor bombs—and were entirely burned out. The dead lay around in strange positions, among them children pressed against their mothers’ breasts. . . .
Soon afterward we were stopped by a man waving desperately. . . . He had seen the red cross on our car. His excitement nearly choked him. He was pale as death, and raised his right hand in an imploring gesture. He kept pointing to a wagon that stood out in the open field. His left arm, probably broken, hung limply from his shoulder. His wife would bleed to death, he managed to groan, if I did not help immediately. A Russian tank crew had caught them, two days ago, while they were resting in a village. Later they had got away. But now she was dripping blood. She hardly breathed any more—no one could help her.
I have performed some difficult operations in the field, under impossible conditions. But this was the first time I tried a tamponade of the uterus, on a snow-covered field over which an icy wind was blowing, with the patient lying on a filthy wagon in her blood-drenched clothes. . . . Some other women stood around. By the patient’s head cowered a befuddled boy of about fourteen, all the while close to tears. “He had to watch it,” the man said while I was giving the woman two injections I happened to have with me. “When the fifteenth man was on her they knocked me down because I dropped the light. He had to hold the light till they all were through.” The other women nodded, with not a word of their own misery.
As a rule, those who fled by train fared best. Speed did not always guarantee escape, however. Russian aircraft routinely strafed and bombed the cars from above and tanks cut the rails from below. When the Soviets suddenly captured the town of Allenstein, they forced the station master to signal the “all clear” to refugee trains still arriving from the east. As one unsuspecting train after another steamed into Allenstein, the Russians first slaughtered any men found on board, then passed their time raping carload after carload of females.
Meanwhile, the red tide moved closer. In countless German cities and towns the pattern repeated itself, as the diary of a Catholic priest from Klosterbrueck reveals:
Strange to say, the population intends to remain here, and is not afraid of the Russians. The reports that in one village they raped all the women and abducted all the men and took them away to work somewhere must surely have been exaggerated. How dreadful it would be if Goebbels was telling the truth after all. . . .
The machine-guns sound very near and some shells must have hit some of the buildings close by, because the house keeps trembling. The occupants of the cellar keep asking me what the Russians will be like. I keep asking myself the same thing. . . .[Later]—We have had our first encounter with them, and are somewhat relieved. They are not as bad as we had expected. When we heard the Russians moving about in the church up above, we went up to them. Two Russian soldiers looked in at the cellar-door and asked if there were any German soldiers there. There was a strange look of tenseness and fear on their faces. A Russian kept watch at the entrance to the cellar the whole night.
After the fighting troops had moved on, a fresh lot of Russians arrived. Two of them entered the cellar, fired several shots into the ceiling, and asked us to give them our watches. They went off with fourteen wrist-watches. Then three more Russians arrived . . . . [They] swallowed the food like wild animals, and they drank the wine as if it were water. “The war is good here,” they kept saying. . . .
All night long Russians entered the chapel and searched and questioned us. They ordered the woman to go outside with her small child. . . . [They] raped the woman and sent her back to us. She came back to the chapel, her small child in her arms, the tears streaming down her face. . . . During the morning three women from the village came to the chapel. The vicar hardly recognized them, for their faces were distorted with fear and terror. They told us that whole families had been shot by the Russians. Girls who had refused to allow themselves to be raped, and parents who had sought to protect their children, had been shot on the spot. . . .
Last night was very troubled again. Fresh lots of soldiers kept on arriving and searching the house. . . . Every time the door is opened we start with fear. . . .
We priests were allowed out of the chapel for half an hour today in order to bury Margarethe in the yard. Poor girl, it is a good thing you were dead and so did not know what the Russians did to your body!
The night was very troubled again. . . . Many of the nuns are getting very distressed and nervous. They sleep even less than we do. I often hear them say, “If only we had fled before the Russians arrived!”
By the end of January, the routed German army was finally able to wheel and face its pursuer. Because the Red advance had been so swift, Soviet supply lines were unable to keep pace. Additionally, a sudden thaw melted icy rivers and turned roads into quagmires, making rapid pursuit impossible. While isolated enclaves continued to hold back the Russians, particularly along the Baltic coast, the bulk of the German Army took up defensive positions behind the Oder River, the last natural barrier before Berlin. Although the miraculous respite was spent regrouping and placing arms in the hands of the People’s Army, or Volkssturm, the morale of the Wehrmacht had received a severe blow. The incredible force and fury of the Russian onslaught now convinced most military men that defeat was unavoidable. And for the huddled and stunned civilian masses, the sickening depth of Soviet savagery also clearly foretold that the end would be vastly more nightmarish than even the most lurid imagination had dreamed. At first, only breathless rumors relayed by panic-stricken refugees revealed the nature of the approaching horror. Later, however, the extent of Russian atrocities was confirmed when stranded army units broke through to German lines or when the Wehrmacht launched small counterattacks and reclaimed bits of lost ground.
The “Good War”
“In every village and town they entered,” wrote one who spoke with soldiers, “the German troops came upon scenes of horror: slain boys, People’s Army men drenched with gasoline and burned—and sometimes survivors to tell the tale of the outrages. In some villages, they surprised Russians warm in the beds of women they had taken, and found the bodies of the many French war prisoners who had died defending German women and children.”
Staggered by what he had seen and heard, a German officer tried desperately to make sense of the disaster; to understand the minds of men “who find . . . pleasure in raping the same woman over and over, dozens of times, even while other women are standing near.”
There is a perverse hatred behind this which cannot be explained with phrases about Bolshevism, or the so-called Asiatic mentality, or by the assertion that the Russian soldiers have always considered the women of the conquered as their booty. . . . I was in Poland in 1939 when the Russians moved in, and I did not see a single woman being molested.
“This,” concluded the young officer grimly, “shows the frightful power of propaganda.”
Millions massacred, millions raped, millions enslaved—but this was nothing. Worse was to come.
“The Germans have been punished, but not enough,” gloated Ilya Ehrenburg from his warm office in Moscow. “The Fritzes are still running, but not lying dead. Who can stop us now? …The Oder? The Volkssturm? No, it’s too late Germany, you can whirl around in circles, and burn, and howl in your deathly agony; the hour of revenge has struck!”
Like everyone else, Anna Schwartz was huddled in her basement when Danzig finally fell.
In the following calm we heard the Russian panzer rolling in, and the first cheers of the Russian soldiers. Shortly afterwards Russian soldiers were heard coming down the steps of the cellar. The first Russian soldiers stood in front of us, and the first word we heard from them was: “Urr!”“Urr!” There was a stink of alcohol, sweat and dirty uniforms. After they had robbed us of our watches, with machine-pistols in their hands, they hastily disappeared into the next cellar, and did the same there. After five minutes the next two came, and so it continued, until we had no more jewelry, and the contents of our trunks had been turned upside down. In the meantime we heard the shrieks of women, who were being raped by Mongols. Suddenly a Russian officer appeared and called upon us in broken German, to leave the cellar at once. As quickly as we could, we took hold of our trunks and rucksacks, which had been searched over and over again, and rushed into the yard, which was full of guns and soldiers. All around the houses were burning, shells were exploding, and . . . wounded people and horses were screaming.
After the fall of Konigsberg, Hans Graf von Lehndorff courageously held to his post as hospital surgeon. When Red soldiers burst into the building, bedlam erupted as the frenzy for watches and jewelry began.
The arrival of the first officers destroyed my last hopes of coming to tolerable terms. Any attempt to talk to them failed. Even for them I am only a coat rack with pockets; they see me only from the shoulders downward. A few nurses who got in their way were seized and dragged off and then released again thoroughly disheveled before they realized what was happening. The older nurses were the first victims. They wandered aimlessly along the corridors, but there was no place to hide, and new tormentors kept pouncing upon them.
As terrible as the situation seemed, it was trivial compared to what occurred when the Russians discovered a distillery near the hospital. Dr. von Lehndorff:
They burst in here from the factory in crowds—officers, soldiers, riflewomen, all drunk. And not a chance of hiding anybody from them, because the whole neighborhood was lit up as bright as day by the burning buildings. . . . Now something like a tide of rats flowed over us, worse than all the plagues of Egypt together. Not a moment went by but the barrel of an automatic was rammed against my back or my belly, and a grimacing mask yelled at me for sulfa. Apparently most of these devils have got venereal disease. . . . On all sides we heard the desperate screams of women: “Shoot me then! Shoot me!” But the tormentors preferred a wrestling match to any actual use of their guns. Soon none of the women had any strength left to resist. In a few hours a change came over them: their spirit died, you heard hysterical laughter which made the Russians even more excited. . . .[A] major who seemed to be still relatively reasonable, sent for me. . . . Thirty to forty Russians were rampaging among the patients. I was to tell him who these people were. Sick people, of course, what else? But what sort of sick people, he wanted to know. Well, all sorts; scarlet fever, typhus, diphtheria. . . . He gave a yell and hurled himself like a tank among his men. But he was too late; when the tumult had subsided, four women were already dead.
When the hospital caught fire, von Lehndorff and his staff began evacuation.
Soon the whole hillside was occupied by patients, and the Russians were rushing wildly among them like a horde of baboons, carrying off indiscriminately nurses or patients, harassing them and demanding watches for the hundredth time. . . . I shouldered again a rather heavy man, and had just crossed the footbridge when I was stopped by a Russian. . . . I had to drop the man. The Russian ransacked him, then shot him in the belly as if by mistake, and went on. The man sat there, looking at me, an inquiry in his eyes. If only I could have given him the finishing shot! I gave him a dose of morphine and left him lying by the side of the road.
At night, the horror increased tenfold as the drunken mob went on a rampage of murder and rape.
“Grandma is too old,” Klara Seidler pleaded when a young soldier forced her into a telephone booth.
“Grandmother must!” said the rapist over and over.
Near the booth, a young mother was grabbed as she tried to slip her three children into a cellar. When the children began screaming, a huge soldier hurled them headfirst into a wall, one after the other. Despite her own torture, Klara Seidler would never forget the sound of little skulls being crushed. When the rapists left, Klara and other women tried in vain to shield the hysterical mother as another gang appeared. The shrieking woman was thrown down and one after another the soldiers continued the attack.
Soon after the fall of Danzig, hundreds of women and girls pleaded with an officer for protection. The Soviet pointed to a Catholic cathedral. After the females were safely inside, the officer yelled to his men, motioned to the church, and with bells ringing and organ pipes roaring the horror continued all night. Some women inside were raped more than thirty times.
“They even violated eight-year-old girls and shot boys who tried to shield their mothers,” groaned a priest.
The bloody nightmare which enveloped the Baltic coast was neither more nor less than that which transpired wherever the communists occupied German soil. In many places—Silesia, Prussia, Pomerania, the German communities of Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Yugoslavia—the horror had been in progress for weeks. There, the ghastly atrocities had abated little, if any, with the passage of time and to some it seemed as though Red soldiers were in a race with one another to see who could destroy, murder and, above all, rape the most. Some women and children were assaulted ten, twenty, even thirty times a night and for a female to be ravished hundreds of times a week was not uncommon.
“One could hardly any longer call it raping . . ,” a victim moaned. “[T]he women were passive instruments.” Thousands, of course, died from hemorrhaging and many who survived looked, acted and felt “like zombies.” There was no reprieve for anyone, living or dead.
“Russian soldiers even went so far as to violate some of the female corpses that lay in the mortuary at the cemetery prior to burial,” revealed one clergyman from Rosenberg. Desperate to save her little child from further assault, one frantic mother begged a commanding officer for mercy. “He asked to see the girl,” wrote a witness, “and when she appeared, he, too, raped her, and then sent her home.”
“Our fellows were so sex-starved,” a Soviet major laughed, “that they often raped old women of sixty, or seventy or even eighty—much to these grandmothers’ surprise, if not downright delight. But I admit it was a nasty business, and the record of the Kazakhs and other Asiatic troops was particularly bad.”
Of all things German, nothing—not even the Nazi Party—aroused greater hatred among Jewish communists than the Christian religion, particularly the Catholic Church. Relates a priest from Grottkau:
He was utterly godless and the sight of my priest’s robe apparently infuriated him. He kept insisting that I deny the existence of God and, seizing hold of my breviary, threw it onto the floor. Finally, he dragged me out into the street and pushed me against a wall in order to shoot me. . . . He had just placed me against the wall when all the men, women and children, who had been sheltering in the house . . . appeared on the scene. They stood around us, pale and terrified. Thereupon he began to scatter the crowd by shooting at random in every direction. When he and I were finally alone once more he pointed his revolver at me, but it was empty. He started reloading it, but whilst he was doing so, two other officers, who had apparently heard the shots, came into sight. They rushed up to him and snatched the revolver from his grasp. . . . [then] dragged him away.
“He stood at the altar like a lord and eyed us triumphantly,” a priest from another church remembered.
Then he ordered our old vicar to go outside with him. After a quarter of an hour they returned. The expression on the vicar’s face was dreadful. He collapsed in front of the altar, muttering, “Shoot me, but shoot me here, at the altar. I refuse to leave the altar!”—The nuns screamed, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” The Russian grinned, triumphant in his power and strength. With a lordly gesture he walked away from the vicar.
Lucky in these cases, most clergymen were not so fortunate. Many died in the prescribed Marxist manner: Bullet to the neck and skull bashed to bits.
For some Soviets, nuns were an especial target of debasement. Reveals a priest from Klosterbrueck:
They had been tortured and raped by officers for several hours. Finally they returned, their faces swollen and beaten black and blue. . . . [At] the neighboring village . . . the Russians made all the nuns assemble in one room. Some of the younger nuns had managed to hide in the nick of time, in the water-cistern up in the attic. The rest of them were treated in a dreadful manner. They tried to defend themselves, but it was of no avail. They were brutally raped by the Russians—even the oldest nuns, who were eighty. For four hours the Russians ransacked the house, behaving like wild animals. In the morning they then boasted in the village that there were no longer any virgins at the convent.
“The nuns were completely exhausted when they came back. . . . We all sat there huddled together in one small room and prayed. . . ,” wrote a witness from another parish. “Again and again we heard heavy footsteps approaching, and Russians came and went. At about midnight a new lot of fiends entered the room. They kicked those who had lain down on the floor in order to get a little rest; they fired shots at the ceiling, and tore the nuns’ hoods off their heads. I shall never forget the terrible screams of the women and children.”
Like their lay sisters, nuns were raped with such sadistic regularity that some simply stopped praying. But most did not.
Suddenly he dealt the priest a savage blow on the head, making it bleed. Thereupon the Russian became even more enraged; he rushed up to some of the nuns, ripped their garments, and began beating them with his sword. Finally he dragged one of the young nuns into a corner in order to rape her. There was nothing we could do, but pray to the Lord that she would be spared. Suddenly the door near the altar opened and a tall, young officer appeared. He immediately realized what was happening, ran towards the back of the chapel, seized hold of the other officer, threw him to the floor like a sack of flour, put his foot on his chest, and tore the sword out of his clutches. Then he called to two soldiers, and they picked up the old officer and threw him out of the chapel as if he were a log of wood. He turned to us and told us that we need no longer fear lest the man returned, and said that he would post guards in front of the chapel.
As the case above makes clear, it was the confusing contradictions displayed by the Russian Army that proved most horrifying to Germans. Like some large, wild animal, victims could never be certain of its reaction in any given situation. Indeed, even in their most dire distress many Germans took note of these perplexing paradoxes. Within the span of a day, an hour, or just a few minutes, a German family might encounter the extremes of the Russian Army—from the correct, considerate captain who never drank and played perfect Chopin on the parlor piano to the bellowing, drunken major who entered a short time later and destroyed not only the piano but the parlor as well. And even among individual soldiers themselves was a seeming jumble of contradictions. Described by their countrymen, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, as “grown-up children . . . totally unreliable in their thinking and acting,” the incredible mood swings of the average Russian soldier was indeed terrifying to behold.
“They are all like that,” a farmer’s wife insisted, shaking her head in disbelief. “They change from friend to foe from one second to another and become different people.”
Indeed, the same soldier who could brutally beat, bite, and rape a pleading mother could the next moment gently stroke and cuddle her infant. While many rapists were not discomfited in the least by a crying, screaming child, most were.
“They were shoving Fraulein Behn before them into the bedroom,” one woman wrote, “when suddenly, catching sight of the baby and the four-year-old . . . asleep together in the cot, they stopped short. ‘Leetle child?’ said one of them in German, clearly taken by surprise. For fully a minute the two soldiers stared at the cot, then slowly, on tip-toe, withdrew from the apartment.”
It was also noted by many that a sick child was often all that stood between a mother and rape. Most Russians displayed genuine affection for German children, feeding them, playing with them and granting concessions that would have meant certain death for adults. When little boys in a village were threatened by Soviet officials with summary execution if caught pilfering any more coal from railway cars, the orders apparently never reached the guards.
“[W]hen they saw the boys arrive with their wagons,” said a viewer, “they turned their backs on them and kicked the coal down with their feet for the boys to pick up.”
“She has discovered that her little blond cherub-daughter never fails to delight the soldiers,” recorded Regina Shelton of a friend. “While keeping her close, she permits the child to be talked to and cuddled by the strange men. Whether a national trait, as some claim, or simply the longing of lonely men for their families, no Russian we meet or hear about hurts this or any other child.”
Sadly, this was not entirely true. As countless tiny corpses attested, innocence was no assurance of safety.
“Mrs. K. has lost her little girl, Gretel, who was nine,” a Silesian priest reported. “She was shot by the Russians because she tried to protect her mother from being raped.”
Next to their mania for wristwatches, the novelty most sought by Soviets was the bicycle. Despite the chaos and horror all around, some Germans stared in disbelief as Russians “discovered” this strange new device.
“[T]hey seized every bicycle in the village,” said a spectator, “but didn’t know how to ride, fell off, and tried again until one corporal in a fit of rage smashed his machine to junk. Suddenly the rest followed him in an orgy of wheel smashing, and they left a mountain of wrecked bicycles on the street.”
“It was quite amusing,” another observer added, “to watch them get on a bicycle, fall off, pick themselves up off the ground, and then seize hold of the bicycle, throw it down in a rage, and kick it.”
Though frustrated and angry, simple soldiers returned again and again in their efforts to master the machine. Noted one viewer: “To ride them was as blissful for these men as a new mechanical toy is to a child. They shouted with delight when all went well, and yelled in distress when they fell off or rode at full speed into a wall. No bicycle was safe from their clutches, and as there were not enough to go around, they fought over them amongst themselves.”
From their first step into the Reich, Russians were awed by the abundance. As often noted, many German women initially escaped rape by hiding in attics. Knowing only the mud and stick huts of their primitive homeland, some Soviets were frightened by stairs. Prowling below, however, Red troops entered a world they had hardly conceived of.
“Why you war?” an incredulous Russian asked of a German. “In Germany is everything. Here more to be taken out of one house than in our country out of whole village!”
“Every drawer was full of things!” added a stunned comrade.
The great number of automobiles, tractors, motorcycles, washing machines, stoves, mixers, radios, and other common articles of the modern world were beyond the comprehension of many Soviets. Even electricity and plumbing were a source of wonder. Some soldiers pried spigots from German kitchens, innocently assuming that they simply had to pound them into walls at home to receive running water. Others delicately packed light bulbs, eager to carry the magic back to their villages. Many Russians refused to believe that a toilet bowl was used for anything other than washing potatoes.
“[A]ll of us, officers and men, saw the riches and prosperity of a capitalist country and couldn’t believe our eyes. We had never believed there could be such an abundance of goods,” admitted one soldier.
Aware that such wealth would have a profound impact on their men—and stir suspicions—commissars explained that all the property had been stolen from other people in other lands.
Only the simplest Red soldier accepted such words. Remembered Lali Horstmann:
“‘In Russia only men at the top have everything, we nothing,’ he said, violently striking the table. ‘Many others think as I do; if you repeat this, I will be shot,’ he continued in a lower voice, looking around. Though he knew no other system than Communism, he was a human being.”
It was this cold, cruel reality, perhaps—more than motives of revenge or propaganda—which explained the plague-like destruction that swept eastern Germany. Not enough to murder, rape and plunder, the angry Red Army seemed bent on effacing everything it touched in recompense for the treatment it had received at the hands of its own government. Homes lucky enough to escape the torch were commonly destroyed or defiled in a most revolting manner. When Erika Hansen’s mother and sisters returned to their house in Schoeneiche, they were greeted by “a devastating stench that took their breath away.”
“Human excrement had been smeared all over the walls. . . ,” Erika noted in disgust. “Furniture had been smashed and parts had been dumped out of the windows. . . . Trash and dirt covered every room as if a tornado had roared through.”
When one Silesian pastor decided to assess the damage done to a local convent and church, he discovered “complete havoc.”
I walked through the empty rooms; all the bedding had been slit to pieces and feathers lay strewn all over the floor. Books, damaged beyond use, had been scattered about the rooms, and the Russians had poured syrup and preserves over them and, as if to add the crowning touch to the civilization they had brought us, had even covered them with human excrements. Incidentally, this description could be applied to every house in the town.
The devastation on the countryside was fully as great as that in the towns. Indeed, the wave that rolled over the landscape was a blight of Biblical proportions. Barns were burned, grain destroyed, even orchards and nurseries were chopped down or deliberately flattened by armored vehicles. Relates a Russian soldier: “A lieutenant unsheathed a knife, walked up to a cow, and struck her a death-blow at the base of the skull. The cow’s legs folded under, and she fell, while the rest of the herd, bellowing madly, stampeded and ran away. The officer wiped the sharp edge on his boots and said: ‘My father wrote to me that the Germans had taken a cow from us. Now we are even.’”
Like a machine out of control, the Red Army transferred its rage and hatred to everything it touched. “I recognized a great number of East Prussian horses harnessed to wagons and with riders on their backs,” recalled a German prisoner. “The horses had become quite spiritless, used to the abominable paces forced upon them—a high-stepping trot changing into a furious gallop. It was torture to hear them tearing past on the paved road, heads jerked backwards, mouths torn and bleeding.”
Nothing escaped the fury. Continues the same witness: “A stork, probably just coming back from the south, was fired at with automatics by the Russians leading our group. Astonished, the bird rose into the air and winged its way towards Gross Germau which lay before us on a small hill. Over the village a volley of a hundred shots brought it down like a stone.”
Even carp ponds were dynamited and the fish left to rot.
“Nothing is guiltless,” proclaimed Comrade Ehrenburg in leaflets showering down on the front. “Kill, Kill, Kill!”
Of all the methods used to express its anger, the Red Army said it best with rape. From eight to eighty, healthy or ill, indoors or out, in fields, on sidewalks, against walls, the spiritual massacre of German women continued unabated. When even violated corpses could no longer be of use, sticks, iron bars and telephone receivers were commonly rammed up their vaginas.
“This sort of thing,” wrote a witness, “soon occurred to such an extent that it made many of the Soviet officers shudder.”
“Shudder” though many Red officers undoubtedly did, most lacked either the moral, physical or political authority to stop it. With no rules or regulations, no laws, no discipline, the most depraved of the depraved had a field day, transforming their sadistic fantasies into fact.
When Soviet soldiers captured the city of Neustettin in February, 1945, they discovered several large camps of the Women’s Reich Labor Service, an organization composed mostly of girls who worked on various projects from nursing to street repair. A young citizen of Brazil, nineteen-year-old Leonora Cavoa, was a member of one group. Because her country was on good terms with the Allies, Leonora was accorded special treatment by the commissar in charge. When her camp of five hundred girls was transferred to an old iron foundry, Leonora led the way.
The Commissar was very polite to us and assigned us to the foreign workers’ barracks of the factory. But the allocated space was too small for all of us, and so I went to speak to the Commissar about it. He said that it was, after all, only a temporary arrangement, and offered that I could come into the typists’ office if it was too crowded for me—which I gladly accepted. He immediately warned me to avoid any further contact with the others, as these were members of an illegal army. My protests that this was not true were cut off with the remark that if I ever said anything like that ever again, I would be shot.
Suddenly I heard loud screams, and immediately two Red Army soldiers brought in five girls. The Commissar ordered them to undress. When they refused out of modesty, he ordered me to do it to them, and for all of us to follow him. We crossed the yard to the former works kitchen, which had been completely cleared out except for a few tables on the window side. It was terribly cold, and the poor girls shivered. In the large, tiled room some Russians were waiting for us, making remarks that must have been very obscene, judging from how everything they said drew gales of laughter. The Commissar told me to watch and learn how to turn the Master Race into whimpering bits of misery.
Now two Poles came in, dressed only in trousers, and the girls cried out at their sight. They quickly grabbed the first of the girls, and bent her backwards over the edge of the table until her joints cracked. I was close to passing out as one of them took his knife and, before the very eyes of the other girls, cut off her right breast. He paused for a moment, then cut off the other side. I have never heard anyone scream as desperately as that girl. After this operation he drove his knife into her abdomen several times, which again was accompanied by the cheers of the Russians. The next girl cried for mercy, but in vain—it even seemed that the gruesome deed was done particularly slowly because she was especially pretty. The other three had collapsed, they cried for their mothers and begged for a quick death, but the same fate awaited them as well. The last of them was still almost a child, with barely developed breasts. They literally tore the flesh off her ribs until the white bones showed.
Another five girls were brought in. They had been carefully chosen this time, all of them were well-developed and pretty. When they saw the bodies of their predecessors they began to cry and scream. Weakly, they tried desperately to defend themselves, but it did them no good as the Poles grew ever more cruel. They sliced the body of one of them open lengthwise and poured in a can of machine oil, which they tried to light. A Russian shot one of the other girls in the genitals before they cut off her breasts. Loud howls of approval began when someone brought a saw from a tool chest. This was used to tear up the breasts of the other girls, which soon caused the floor to be awash in blood. The Russians were in a blood frenzy. More girls were being brought in continually.
I saw these grisly proceedings as through a red haze. Over and over again I heard the terrible screams when the breasts were tortured, and the loud groans at the mutilation of the genitals. . . . [I]t was always the same, the begging for mercy, the high-pitched scream when the breasts were cut and the groans when the genitals were mutilated.
The slaughter was interrupted several times to sweep the blood out of the room and clear away the bodies. . . . When my knees buckled I was forced onto a chair. The Commissar always made sure that I was watching, and when I had to throw up they even paused in their tortures. One girl had not undressed completely; she may also have been a little older than the others, who were around seventeen years of age. They soaked her bra with oil and set in on fire, and while she screamed, a thin iron rod was shoved into her vagina until it came out her navel. In the yard entire groups of girls were clubbed to death after the prettiest of them had been selected for this torture. The air was filled with the death cries of many hundred girls.
In addition to the five hundred victims at the iron works, an estimated 2000 other girls in the camps of Neustettin suffered a similar fate.
And yet, as beastly and depraved as many crimes were, the average Soviet soldier remained an enigma. For every act of savagery, the Russian seemed capable of bestowing a kindness. “It is necessary, in order to understand all this,” explained one man, “to have experienced, how a Russian soldier shared his last bread with German children, or how a Russian driver loaded an old woman, without being requested to do so, on his truck, and brought her home with her half broken-up hand-cart. But it is also necessary to have experienced, how the same man lay in ambush in a cemetery, in order to attack women and girls, and to plunder and rape them. Such things happened daily.”
“Always the extremes,” added another victim. “Either ‘Woman, come!’ and excrement in the living room, or refined manners and bowings.”
The fate of a priest at Ritterswalde was the fate experienced by thousands of Germans:
[T]hey treated us quite kindly. Two Russian soldiers then came back again to the chapel, offered us cigarettes, and sat down near to the altar. I remained standing in front of the altar, and we tried to converse with each other in a mixture of Polish, Russian, and German. Suddenly, however, a third Russian appeared in the doorway, caught sight of me, and aimed his revolver at me. One bullet hit me in the lung and the other caught me in the thigh. I collapsed in front of the altar.
Understandably, many Germans, like the man above, found “life” in such an unpredictable world unbearable. As a consequence, many exercised the only option left. “Father, I can’t go on living!” one woman muttered to her priest. “Thirty of them raped me last night.”
Many times, clergymen like the above could thwart suicides, which in some towns carried off a quarter of the population. In most cases, however, they could not.
“We screamed, we begged them to leave us in peace,” said a rape victim in Striegau, “but they showed us no mercy. We resolved to end our lives.”
Everyone had a knife and a piece of rope. Frau P. was first. Young Frau K. hanged her daughter and then herself. Her dear mother did the same with her sister. Now only two of us remained. I asked her to fix my rope for I was too upset to do it. Then we embraced one more time and kicked the luggage away on which we had stood. I, however, could touch the floor with my toes . . . the rope was too long. I tried over and over—I wanted to die. I looked to the right and to the left, we hung in a row. They were well off, they were dead. As for me, I had no choice but to free myself from the rope.
Though not by their own hand, other determined women surrendered to suicide just as surely.[A] big Russian came in. He did not utter a single word, but looked around the room and then went to the back where all the young girls and women were sitting. He beckoned once with his finger to my sister. As she did not stand up at once, he went close up to her and held his machine pistol against her chin. Everyone screamed aloud, but my sister sat mutely there and was incapable of moving. Then a shot resounded. Her head fell to the side and the blood streamed out. She was dead instantly, without uttering a single sound. The bullet had gone from her chin to her brain and her skull was completely shattered. The Russian looked at us all, and went away again.
Meanwhile, in what remained of the Reich, most Germans still knew surprisingly little of the savage fate befalling their countrymen. Doubters yet attributed the hair-raising reports of genocide to Dr. Goebbels’s propaganda machine. By bits and pieces, however, the truth did emerge. When a small German counterattack temporarily recaptured Neustettin, young soldiers, unaware of the Russian rampage occurring behind the lines, began herding up their prisoners.
“Then something unexpected happened,” remembered an astonished soldier.
Several German women ran towards the Russians and stabbed at them with cutlery forks and knives. . . . [I]t was not until I fired a submachine gun into the air that the women drew back, and cursed us for presuming to protect these animals. They urged us to go into the houses and take a look at what they had done there. We did so, a few of us at a time, and we were totally devastated. We had never seen anything like it—utterly, unbelievably monstrous! 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 ten and twelve-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. . . . [T]heir 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.