Soviet soldiers openly sexually harass German woman in Leipzig after WWII victory, 1945
The wartime rapes, especially during World War II, had been surrounded by decades of silence.
shown in this controversial photo during that time, Soviet soldiers
sexually harass a passing German woman in public, near the West Hall
section of the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof central railway terminus, Germany,
August 1945. As Allied troops entered and occupied German territory,
mass rapes were happening both in connection with combat operations and
during the subsequent occupation.
Russian historians maintain that rape crimes during this time were not
widespread. But most Western scholars agree that the majority of the
rapes were committed by Soviet servicemen, even openly sexually
harassing German women.
majority of the sexual assaults were committed in the Soviet occupation
zone. It was estimated that up to 2 million German women were raped by
Soviet soldiers. Historian William Hitchcock said that in many cases
women were victims of repeated rapes, as many as 60 to 70 times. In
Berlin, at least 100,000 women are believed to have been raped.
Abortion rates were surging in the following months based on hospital
reports, with around 10,000 women dying in the aftermath. Female deaths
in connection with the rapes in Germany are estimated at around 240,000.
Russian media dismiss the report of the rapes as a Western myth. But
one of many sources that tells the story of what really happened is a
diary written by a young Soviet officer named Vladimir Gelfand.
Gelfand was a young Jewish lieutenant from central Ukraine. He wrote in
his diary with extraordinary frankness despite the Soviet
military’s ban on keeping diaries, which were seen at that time
as a security risk.
Vladimir Gelfand was secretly writing in his diary, in which he
described the horror on the faces of German women trying to flee from
their homes after the first night of the Red Army’s arrival. In
one entry, he wrote about one beautiful German girl who was raped by no
less than 20 men.
historian Antony Beevor describes it as the “greatest phenomenon
of mass rape in history”. He wrote that at least 1.4 million
women were raped in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia. His books were
banned in 2015 from some Russian schools and colleges.
German prisoners of war in Berlin in early 1945
Timofey Melnik/German-Russian Museum
According to Natalya Gesse, Soviet soldiers raped German women from 8 to 80 years old.
Milovan Djilas, a Yugoslav politician, complained to Stalin about the
rapes in Yugoslavia. Stalin reportedly said that Djilas should
“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.” When Stalin was told that Red Army soldiers
sexually maltreated German refugees, he reportedly said: “We
lecture our soldiers too much; let them have their initiative.”
Norman Naimark wrote that Soviet soldiers caught raping civilians were
usually punished to some degree, ranging from arrest to execution. But
still the rapes continued until the winter of 1947 to 1948. The Soviet
authorities later confined the Soviet troops to strictly guarded posts
and camps, separating them from the residential population in the
Soviet zone of Germany.