26 June 2012

Rape of Berlin WWII

On Killing by LtCol Dave Grossman, 2009, Excerpts

The German-Russian conflict during World War II is an excellent example of a vicious cycle in which both sides became totally invested in atrocity and rape. The incidence of rape appears to have been in the millions, resulting in one hundred thousand births from rapes in Berlin alone following World War II.

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous, 2000
Foreword by Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Introduction by Antony Beevor

It is no accident that an extraordinary work like A Woman in Berlin has had a history that is no less amazing: first published in 1953, the book disappeared from view, lingering in obscurity for decades before it slowly reemerged, was reissued, and then became an international phenomenon – a full half century after it was written. The events described are extraordinary: the author, a woman living in Berlin, took meticulous notes of everything that happened to her as well as her neighbors and friends for late April to mid-June 1945 – a time when Germany was defeated, Hitler committed suicide, and Berlin was occupied by the Red Army.

This diary, written by a thirty-four-year-old experienced journalist, begins on Friday, April 20, four days after the opening ground bombardment. It was Hitler’s birthday. Soviet tanks had smashed their way through the German defenses and were starting to encircle the city. The first shells from long-range artillery would land in the northern suburbs that evening.

The earliest entries were literally notes from the underground, recorded in a basement where the author sought shelter from air raids, artillery fire, looters – and, ultimately rape by the victorious Russians. With nothing but a pencil stub, writing by candlelight since Berlin had no electricity, she recorded her observations, which were at first severely limited by her confinement in the basement and the dearth of information. In the absence of newspapers, radio, and telephones, rumor was the sole source of news about the outside world.

The diary continues for just over two months, until June 22, a period that covers the bombardment, the brief street fighting in most districts, Hitler’s suicide on April 30, the surrender of the last pockets of resistance on May 2, and then the occupation of the city by the Russian conquerors.

One of the most important aspects of this diary is its careful and honest reflection on rape in war. The rapes committed in 1945 – against old women, young women, even barely pubescent girls – were acts of violence, an expression of revenge and hatred.

First published anonymously 1954 in an incomplete English translation in the United States and then in 1959 Germany. The diary was highly controversial in Germany, where some accused it of “besmirching the honor of German women.”

The late 1940s and the 1950s, after the men returned from prison camps, were a sexually repressing era in which husbands reasserted their authority. Women were forbidden to mention the subject of rape. It remained taboo until the late 1980s, when a younger generation of women started to encourage their mothers and grandmothers to speak about their experiences.

Almost fifty years later, the complete book was reissued, again anonymously.

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