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

As Allied troops entered and occupied German territory during the later stages of World War II, mass rapes took place, both in connection to combat operations and during the subsequent occupation that was to last many years. Most published and most numerous are the rapes committed by Soviet servicemen, for which estimates of rapes committed by them range from tens of thousands to 2 million.

Historical background:rape in World War 2 Europe

As German aggression against Poland started World War 2, first rapes during that conflict happened with Wehrmacht forces committing rapes on Jewish women and girls in September 1939;[1] Polish women and girls were also raped during mass executions carried out primarily by the German minority's paramilitary force called Selbstschutz[2] Later rapes were also committed by German forces on Eastern Front; although their overall number is difficult to establish due to lack persecution of the crime by German courts in the Eastern Europe,[3] the recent estimates suggest the number of rapes amounted hundreds of thousands, if not millions cases.[4][5]

Extensive rapes by Nazi German troops (besides other numerous atrocities) and revenge for them are given as one of possible explanations for actions during occupation of the former Nazi state.[6] Even Christian Democrat German politicians had to concede that in light of the atrocities committed by the German military in the Eastern Europe the degree of discipline demonstrated by the Soviet soldiers was amazing.[3]

Soviet Union

File:US Army Germany occupation zones 1945.jpg

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.

A wave of rapes and sexual violence occurred in Central Europe in 1944–45, as the Western Allies and the Red Army battered their way into the Third Reich.[7] The majority of the assaults were committed in the Soviet occupation zone; estimates of the numbers of German women raped by Soviet soldiers range from tens of thousands to 2 million.[8][9][10][11][12] In many cases women were the victims or repeated rapes, some as many as 60 to 70 times.[13] Around 100,000 women are believed to have been raped in Berlin, based on surging abortion rates in the following months and contemporary hospital reports,[10] with an estimated 10,000 women dying in the aftermath.[14] Female deaths in connection with the rapes in Germany, overall, are estimated at 240,000.[15][16] 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.[17] According to Natalya Gesse, "the Russian soldiers were raping every German female from eight to eighty."[18] Soviet [19] and Jewish [20] women were raped also.

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


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 are based on faulty methodology and questionable sources. It is argued 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 his review of Berlin: The Downfall 1945, O.A. Rzheshevsky, a professor and President of the Russian Association of World War II Historians, has charged that Beevor is merely resurrecting the discredited and racist views of Neo-Nazi historians, who depicted Soviet troops as subhuman "Asiatic hordes." [25] In an interview with BBC News Online, Rzheshevsky admitted that he had only read excerpts and had not seen the book's source notes. He claimed that Beevor's use of phrases such as "Berliners remember" and "the experiences of the raped German women" were better suited "for pulp fiction, than scientific research." Rzheshevsky also defended Soviet reprisals against Germans, stating that the Germans could have expected an "avalanche of revenge".[23]

"For the Americans and British, open rape was not as common as among the Soviet troops. The Soviets simply raped any female from eight years up and if a German man or woman killed a Russian soldier for anything, including rape, 50 Germans were killed for each incident, "[26][verification needed]

"Many a sane American family would recoil in horror if they knew how 'Our Boys' conduct themselves, with such complete callousness in human relationships over here." An army sergeant wrote "Our own Army and the British Army ... have done their share of looting and raping ... This offensive attitude among our troops is not at all general, but the percentage is large enough to have given our Army a pretty black name, and we too are considered an army of rapists."[27][verification needed]

Richard Overy, a historian from King's College London, has criticized the viewpoint held by some 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]


In Taken by Force J Robert Lilly estimates the number of rapes committed by U.S. servicemen in Germany to be 11,040.[28]


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 Constance area; 600 in Bruchsal; and 500 in Freudenstadt."[29]

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.[30]


The half of Germany under Soviet Union occupation was split roughly in half and one part was allocated for temporary Polish administration, and initially no definitive borders were agreed upon between the victor states. Concerned with carrying out the expulsion of Germans from Silesia the communist Polish administrators as a consequence did little to protect the German population from Polish and Russian rapists.[31] A single Soviet report stated that "Polish soldiers ... 'relate to German women as to free booty'."[31]

Polish women in Silesia were also subject to sporadic rape by Soviet soldiers, who did not always bother to differentiate along ethnic lines, or between victims and occupiers.[30]


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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] The fact that the Germans had a much higher standard of living (with things such as indoors 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 also in front of husbands before both were killed.[34]

According to Anthony 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 raped also Russian and Polish girls and women that were liberated from Nazi concentration camps.[35]

War crime

At the Nuremberg trials, where only Axis defendants could be tried, no defendant was tried for rape as a "war crime under customary international law". Rape was however prosecuted as a war-crime in the trials against Japanese in Tokio, and General Yamashita was found guilty of permitting rape. In 1946 rape was made a "crime against humanity".


In postwar Germany, especially in West Germany, the war time rape stories became an essential part of political discourse.[8] The rape of German woman (along with 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.[8] This discourse became wholly discredited by the late 1960s; since 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.[4] Therefore, the frequently reiterated claim that the war time rapes had been surrounded by decades of silence[15][36] is simply not correct.[4]

The way the rapes have been discussed by Sander and Johr in their "BeFreier und Befreite"[15] has been criticised 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.[14] Such attempts to deemphasize the historical context of the rape of German women is a serious omission, according to Stuart Liebman and Annette Michelson,[37] and, according to Pascale Bos, is an example of ahistorical, feminist and sexist approach to the wartime rape issue.[4]

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 Russian soldiers, implying that such a rape was especially harmful for the victims.[4] By contrast, the issue of the rapes of Soviet woman by Wehrmacht soldiers, that, according to some estimation amounted hundreds of thousands, if not millions cases [38][39] is not treated by the authors as something deserving serious mention.[4]

Social Effects

A number of "Russian babies" were born during the occupation, many of them as the result of rape.[6]

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.[40] As to the social effects of this sexual violence Naimark notes:

In any case, just as each rape survivor carried the effects of the crime with her till the end of her life, so was the collective anguish nearly unbearable. The social psychology of women and men in the soviet zone of occupation was marked by the crime of rape from the first days of occupation, through the founding of the GDR in the fall of 1949, until—one could argue—the present.[40]


The Soviet Dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn took part in the invasion of Germany, and wrote a poem about it: Prussian Nights; "Twenty-two Hoeringstrasse. It's not been burned, just looted, rifled. A moaning by the walls, half muffled: the mother's wounded, half alive. The little daughter's on the mattress, dead. How many have been on it? A platoon, a company perhaps? A girl's been turned into a woman, a woman turned into a corpse. . . . The mother begs, "Soldier, kill me!"

See also


  1. "55 Dni Wehrmachtu w Polsce" Szymon Datner Warsaw 1967 page 67 "Zanotowano szereg faktów gwałcenia kobiet i dziewcząt żydowskich" (Numerous facts of cases of rapes made upon Jewish women and girls were reported)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Atina Grossmann. Jews, Germans, and Allies: close encounters in occupied Germany. Princeton University Press, 2007, ISBN 069108971X, 9780691089713, p. 290
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 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
  5. Schattendasein der Feindeskinder Die Nachkommen der Wehrmachtssoldaten in den ehemals besetzten LändernNeue Zürcher Zeitung 2004
  6. Norman M. Naimark. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949. Harvard University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-674-78405-7 pp. 108
  7. Perry Biddiscombe. Dangerous Liaisons: The Anti-Fraternization Movement in the U.S. Occupation Zones of Germany and Austria, 1945-1948. Journal of Social History, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Spring, 2001), pp. 611-647. Stable URL:
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Elizabeth Heineman. The Hour of the Woman: Memories of Germany's "Crisis Years" and West German National Identity. The American Historical Review, Vol. 101, No. 2 (Apr., 1996), pp. 354-395. Stable URL:
  9. Kuwert, P., & Freyberger, H. (2007). The unspoken secret: Sexual violence in World War II. International Psychogeriatrics, 19(4), 782-784. doi:10.1017/S1041610207005376.
  10. 10.0 10.1
  11. Hanna Schissler The Miracle Years: A Cultural History of West Germany, 1949-1968 [1]
  13. William I. Hitchcock The Struggle for Europe The Turbulent History of a Divided Continent 1945 to the Present ISBN 978-0-385-49799-2 (0-385-49799-7)
  14. 14.0 14.1 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:
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Helke Sander/Barbara Johr: BeFreier und Befreite, Fischer, Frankfurt 2005
  16. Seidler/Zayas: Kriegsverbrechen in Europa und im Nahen Osten im 20. Jahrhundert, Mittler, Hamburg Berlin Bonn 2002
  17. Sheehan, Paul (17 May 2003), "An orgy of denial in Hitler's bunker", The Sydney Morning Herald,, retrieved 7 December 2010
  18. Beevor, Antony (1 May 2002). "They raped every German female from eight to 80". The Guardian (London).
  19. Red Army troops raped even Russian women...
  20. James W. Messerschmidt The forgotten victims...
  21. Norman M. Naimark. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949. Cambridge: Belknap, 1995 p. 92 ISBN 0-674-78405-7
  22. Naimark. The Russians in Germany, p. 79
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Summers, Chris (29 April 2002). "Red Army rapists exposed". BBC News Online. Retrieved 27 May 2010.
  24. Johnson, Daniel (25 January 2002). "Russians angry at war rape claims". The Telegraph (United Kingdom). Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  25. Review of Berlin: 1945 Template:Ru icon)
  26. Time magazine, June 11, 1945 (link:,9171,775822,00.html, paragraph 9)
  27. Time magazine for November 12, 1945
  28. Taken by Force: Rape and American GIs in Europe during World War II. J Robert Lilly. ISBN 978-0-230-50647-3 p.12
  29. Perry Biddiscombe, Dangerous Liaisons: The Anti-Fraternization Movement in the U.S. Occupation Zones of Germany and Austria, 1945-1948 Journal of Social History, Vol. 34, No. 3, (2001) p.635
  30. 30.0 30.1 Norman M. Naimark. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949. Harvard University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-674-78405-7 pp. 106-7.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Norman M. Naimark. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949. Harvard University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-674-78405-7 pp. 74-75.
  32. Norman M. Naimark. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949. Harvard University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-674-78405-7 pp. 108-109.
  33. Norman M. Naimark. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949. Harvard University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-674-78405-7 pp. 112.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Norman M. Naimark. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949. Harvard University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-674-78405-7 pp. 114-115.
  35. [2] Red Army troops raped even Russian women as they freed them from camps, 24 Jan 2002, The Telegraph
  36. See also [3][4][5]
  37. Stuart Liebman and Annette Michelson. After the Fall: Women in the House of the Hangmen, October, Vol. 72, (Spring, 1995), pp. 4-14
  38. Gertjejanssen, Wendy Jo. 2004. “Victims, Heroes, Survivors: Sexual Violence on the Eastern Front during World War II.” PhD diss., University of Minnesota.
  39. 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, p.996-1025)
  40. 40.0 40.1 N. Naimark "The Russians in Germany" p.132,133

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