Today across the former Soviet Union a Victory day over Nazi Germany is celebrated. In Moscow there are large military parade and celebrations. In Riga people gather around the “Monument of Liberation” to celebrate victory with music, dance and alcohol. An important part in this war are all veterans- old men in uniforms covered with medals and badges. For years Soviet and Russian governments have made the cult of victory in “Great patriotic war”. The May 9 is more important to some Russians than Christmas and Easter. Little do they know or care about the dark side surrounding the victory over Germany. This article will discuss the bloody atrocities made by Soviet soldiers on their way to Berlin in 1944-1945.
The East Prussia, Danzig, Silesia and Pomerania were German possessions with the German ethnic majority. These were the first German lands that were reached by Soviet offensive. When the Soviet army reached them the local German civilians fell victim to bloody outrage. The rapes of all age women, the killings of children and full-scale looting. Soviet tanks attacked fleeing German refugees. Those who survived were later deported. Many were killed just for being Germans. British General Montgomery recalls the soviet soldiers as “uncivilized Asiatics”, other American General Keating calls soviet actions as much as bad as hordes of Genghis Khan. Famous American diplomat George F, Kennan remembers that “the local population was razed to the ground with means that had no analogy with times of Asian hordes.”
It’s not known how many German POWS were killed in Eastern German provinces alone. Numbers of killed civilians also varies in different forms. German Federal Archive counts killed 120000 men, women, children and old people . 100000-200000 died in concentration camps and prison. 250000 died in Soviet organized deportations. Large numbers made suicide. It’s not only the Germans who suffered this atrocity it was also the Poles, Yugoslavians, Czechs and Slovakians. However in Czechoslovakia Germans become victims of Czech made atrocities.
Soviet leadership- Stalin, the Politburo and commanders of Soviet fronts knew about this and did nothing to stop it. In fact they encouraged soldiers to do this and took part in the crimes themselves. General Zhukov was known for collecting large amounts of looted German goods and brought them to Soviet unions using seven cargo trains. Zhukov was responsible for issuing orders of deportations and repressions in German east. As for discipline of Soviet soldiers; it was in disarray since 1944. Rapes, murder, looting began already in Ukraine, Belarus and Baltic states. Soviet army was divided in three vanguards- the front men took part most battles and suffered heavy losses. They were more busy with fighting than raping and looting. After them came the NKVD forces that cleared the captured lands. The last of them were soldiers in last lines that saw no serious combat, but took the actions of looting, killing and raping.
The atrocities of these men were horrendous. Memoirs of their victims describe bloody outrage filled with bestial sexual desire. Also memoirs of soviet soldiers themselves. Women were raped then killed and mutilated. There are stories of killed raped woman brought as feed for the hungry pigs. A woman breastfeeding his baby was shot with a bullet that went trough her and her child.
What were the motives for these atrocities? Records show that motivation came from Soviet government and its propaganda. The most famous was soviet propagandist Ilya Erenburg who called to kill every German they meet and destroy Germany and the Germans. His numerous publications in soviet newspapers calling to destroy Germans were no better than Nazi calls to kill Jews and other nations. Soviet propaganda was systematic and minds of Soviet soldiers were full of hate and bloody lust. Also the orders issued by Soviet war command like “take no prisoners, it’s not tolerated, kill them all” were no better. By these the captured German lands were razed to the ground, civilians either killed or evicted.
When Soviets reached Berlin it also faced destruction. A large numbers of women were raped in Berlin alone. Looting was at high scale. Soviet soldiers took everything. The soldier who raised the flag over the Reichstag had so many stolen watches on his arm, that the famous photo had to be edited to hide them. After the war most of German territories that fell victim to Soviet atrocity was annexed by Poland and Soviet Union. East Prussia became part of the USSR. Its capital Koenigsberg, which was destroyed by the Soviets was renamed Kaliningrad. Today the city vaguely resembles the lost German legacy. Pomerania, Danzig, Silesia became part of Poland. The absolute majority of German civilians living there were deported from there and sent to East Germany. Poles and Russians living there may not know what was the bloody cost of acquiring these lands as their own.
History is written by victorious side. So it’s rare that these things are discussed in Russia. Attempts to bring up this question have been met with anger. The usual excuse for the crimes, or revenge for German atrocities in Russian soil. And the fact that “Germans started the war so they must be punished”. However its a question where the German woman and children responsible for politics of Nazi Germany and crimes done by their soldiers. And can the soviet side that’s supposed to be good side be just as outrageous as their enemy. Or even more outrageous.
In 1914 when the Russian imperial army invaded Eastern Prussia, Russian soldiers along with Latvian soldiers entered the church. They sat and begun to eat, then the Latvian soldier told them that is the church, and it must be respected even it’s not the orthodox church. Russian soldiers gave amen and left the church on sight. In 1944 in other Eastern Prussian church Soviet soldiers made a large orgy of raping of tens of woman. It must be a gigantic cultural shift made by Communist ideology that changed the behavior of Russian people. Communism has the tendency of ruining morale and cultural borders in every part of the world. Even bloodier and bestial atrocities happened in communist China that supposed to be the center of the culture in Asia. But until this day the communism and its leaders are praised in vast processions in Russia, Riga and even in the west. The higher justice has been done on Nazi ideology, the Communism still awaits its trial.
Hoffmann, Joachim. (2001) Stalin’s War of Extermination 1941-1945: Planning, Realization and Documentation. Theses & Dissertations Press, Capshaw, AL
Ryan, Cornelius (1966) The Last Battle. – New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.
Antony Beevor, (2002) Berlin: The Downfall 1945 London: Viking.
Norman M. Naimark, (1995) The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945–1949. Harvard University Press.