Women are known to make sacrifices. That’s what we do. Some women spend their lives doing for others and neglecting themselves, whether by choice or not. Sad, but true. In war, everyone suffers: men, children, women, goldfish, you get the idea. Men and women, however, suffer differently and sometimes for different reasons. Men don’t have to worry about rape. They are seldom victims of domestic violence. They are less likely to be incest victims. Social suffering, personal suffering, religious suffering are shared by women and men, but during WWII, women experienced a suffering known only to themselves. They didn’t merely make sacrifices during those tragic years; they became sacrifices, the spoils of war. Their stories haven’t been told often; it’s a truth European and North Americans would rather not acknowledge. Many documents about forced prostitution have disappeared, making thorough research impossible. Records that remain in the most important archive in Warsaw are held from researchers and scholars, likely because the women forced into prostitution had no support in their own society.
The majority of men left to join the forced on the war front, in the air, and overseas, but there were thousands of soldiers left in villages and towns to protect the homefront, maintain captivity, seek out Jews, and visibly patrol the streets in SS or other military uniforms. German women were suspicious around these men, even though they were of their own ilk. This was war and no man could be trusted. In fact, women were fair game, sex objects to relieve soldiers’ sexual needs. During this time, women and girls were raped by SS troops, German soldiers, Polish and other soldiers. It was a fact conveniently overlooked by men higher up on the military ladder. If “sex” kept them happy, so be it. Rape was a small price to pay to keep soldiers in line and willing to serve the Mother Country.
One could almost expect German women to be raped by the enemy when there were no men around to protect them. War and rape have always been synonymous. Sick, but true. However when the enemy is also the “protector”, “order” and “control” is nothing more than illusion. German women were raped by members of the Russian, Polish, French and American forces during and at the end of World War II. During their flight to the West and the period of expulsions, German girls and women were also raped by Czechs, Serbians and Slovenians. Before that German soldiers and members of the SS troops were the rapists. Many women were literally raped to death, attacked by dozens of men until internal damage destroyed their bodies. In war, this is how it has always been: part of the “spoils” of war are the women and girls; human chattel, divided among troops along with valuables and food. A writer for the New York World Telegram on January 21, 1945 stated “Americans look on the German women as loot, just like cameras and Lugers.”
Abortion and Rape
At the end of World War II, Red Army soldiers are estimated to have raped around 2,000,000 German women and girls.Many of these victims were raped repeatedly. Antony Beevor estimates that up to half the victims were victims of gang rapes. Naimark states that not only did each victim have to carry the trauma with her for the rest of her days, it inflicted a massive collective trauma on the East German nation. “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.” German women who became pregnant after being raped by Soviet soldiers in World War II were denied abortion to further humiliate them as to carry an unwanted child. One can only guess at the exact number of rape victims across Europe and the Soviet, but it was a high proportion of at least 15 million women, who either lived in the Soviet Union zone or were expelled from the eastern provinces. The scale of rape is suggested by the fact that about two million women had illegal abortions every year between 1945 and 1948. It was not until the winter of 1946-47 that the Soviet authorities, concerned by the spread of disease, imposed serious penalties on their forces in East Germany for fraternising with the enemy.
90% of raped Berlin women in 1945 had venereal diseases as a result of these rapes and 3.7% of all children born in Germany from 1945 to 1946 had Soviet fathers. This history behind rape of the German women by the Soviet troops was considered taboo until 1992. The victors of the East and West are both guilty of these crimes. Millions of German women and girls were ravished by this barbaric behaviour. Ilya Ehrenburg, a journalist and Minister of Propaganda for the Soviets, distributed flyers among the Soviet soldiers weeks ahead before the Red Army entered East Germany, calling for rape in public and killing of at least one German each day. Soldiers and officers alike took part in it to follow Ehrenburg`s appeal. Very few officers resisted this lack of discipline and very few intervened. His article “Kill“ published in 1942, became a widely publicized example of the campaign of hatred waged against the Germans. In “Kill“, Ehrenburg wrote: “We shall kill. If you have not killed at least one German a day, you have wasted that day… Do not count days; do not count miles. Count only the number of Germans you have killed.”
In Berlin alone, tens of thousands of women had to endure this brutal, humiliating behaviour by the Red Armey. The call “women come” became a feared command. In many towns and villages every female, aged from 10 to 80, was raped. Just recently are extensively written monographs made public. Doctors were besieged by patients seeking information on the quickest way to commit suicide, and poison was in great demand. Berlin women, it seems, were short of food, but well provided with poison. There were instances of female mass-suicide by poison. The actor Paul Bildt and some twenty others dispatched themselves thus, only he woke again and lived for another dozen years. His daughter was among the dead. Attesting once more to the incidence of suicide among the nobles, especially those who lived on isolated estates in the Mark Brandenburg, the writer cites a number of cases showing how far the old families would go to protect the dignity of their daughters: death was preferable to dishonour.
Illegitimate German Children
In the district of Tübingen hundreds of women where raped by French troops that came marching into the district. In Stuttgart, French white officers took pleasure for weeks on end using force on German women until the American leadership put a stop to it. The U.S. troops, especially when they subjected women to interrogation, practiced rapes besides their normal bodily torture. American units had already made themselves a bad name when landing on French soil. So cruel were they toward the women that the ‘French people wished the Germans were back. Even less moral scruples were shown by the Americans when they entered Germany. Johann Heilmeyer gave an affidavit to an interrogation hearing, that the U.S. members in his presence, raped a woman bound by her hands to a chair, torn off the bits of clothes off her body and tortured her. According to an AP dispatch of September 12, 1945, entitled “German-American Marriages Forbidden“, the Franklin Roosevelt government instructed its soldiers that marriage with the inferior Germans was absolutely forbidden, however, having illegitimate children by German women, whose husbands and boyfriends were conveniently dead or held as prisoners or slave laborers, could count on allowance money. And, according to TIME magazine of September 17, 1945, the government provided soldiers with 50 million condoms per month. For all purposes, our soldiers were being told: “Teach these Germans a lesson — and have a wonderful time!”
On March 24, 1945, the Red Army entered Danzig. A 50-year-old Danzig teacher reported that her niece, 15, was raped seven times, and her other niece, 22, was raped fifteen times. A Soviet officer told a group of women to seek safety in the Cathedral. Once they were securely locked inside, the beasts of Bolshevism entered, and ringing the bells and playing the organ, “celebrated” a foul orgy through the night, raping all the women, some more than thirty times. A Catholic pastor in Danzig declared, “They violated even eight-year-old girls and shot boys who tried to shield their mothers.” Soviet soldiers saw rape, often carried out in front of a woman’s husband and family, as an appropriate way of humiliating the Germans, who had treated Slavs as an inferior race with whom sexual relations were discouraged.Against this horrific background, Stalin and his commanders condoned or even justified rape, not only against Germans but also their allies in Hungary, Romania and Croatia. When the Yugoslav Communist Milovan Djilas protested to Stalin, the dictator exploded: “Can’t he understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle?” And when German Communists warned him that the rapes were turning the population against them, Stalin fumed: “I will not allow anyone to drag the reputation of the Red Army in the mud.”
Although Nazis degraded Jews as “vermin“, thousands of Jewish women were raped and impregnated by German soldiers. They were raped inside of concentration and death camps, they were raped in ghettos and in the streets. That Soviet troops raped Jewish victims liberated from concentration camps, suggests that the sexual violence was indiscriminate, although far fewer Russian or Polish women were raped when their areas were liberated, compared to the conquered Germans. The victims themselves were permanently traumatised: women of the wartime generation still refer to the Red Army war memorial in Berlin as “the Tomb of the Unknown Rapist”.
Prostitution and Starvation
There were women and girls, however, who were forced to prostitute themselves to access food or shelter. The Weekly Review of London, for October 25, 1945, described it: “Young girls, unattached, wander about and freely offer themselves for food or bed. …very simply, they have one thing left to sell, and they sell it… …as a way of dying it may be worse than starvation, but it will put off dying for months — or even years.” The Christian Century for December 5, 1945 reported “the American provost marshal, Lieutenant Colonel Gerald F. Beane, said rape presents no problem because a bit of food, a bar of chocolate, or a bar of soap make rape unnecessary.” American officials brought the Germans down to a total daily food intake less than that of an American breakfast, a level which led to slow, but sure death unless relieved. The International News Service in London reported, on January 31, 1946, when American soldier’s wives were brought to Germany, they were given special authorization to wear military uniforms because “the GIs did not want their wives mistaken for Fraeuleins by other occupation troops.”
Brothels and Forced Prostitution
The most beautiful Jewish and non-Jewish German women were rounded up and forced into brothels near concentration camps to service German soldiers. They were called comfort women, as they provided forced “comfort” to the soldiers. The women were between 20 and 25-years-old. After the occupation of France, multitudes of German soldiers developed veneral disease. As a result, they were removed from the army and treated at hospitals, where they convalesced for 6 months.The high absentee unit from army units hampered Nazi ability to fight. As early as July 31, 1940, special military brothels were ordered and were carefully monitored by doctors. The military also commandeered French brothels and provided a medical service. There was a huge network of French brothels. The brothel madams remained. They tolerated strict regulations. Prostitutes were rounded up and forced into brothels.
WARSCHAU HOTEL RAID
When they first arrived, the women were brought by nuns into a large, concrete cellar and placed in small, filthy rooms. On the floor was bloody panty-liners and sanitary napkins; the women were covered in crab lice. The women weren’t allowed to make noise or they were locked in a detention cell. A Vermacht Brothel existed in occupied Poland. One of its advocates was Heimrich Himmler, commander of the SS, the reason being that on October 7, 1939, the Warschau Hotel became the site of an orgy, that included SS troops and high-ranking officers. One of the sex “games” played by the men involved strapping a nude girl to a large roulette wheel. After the wheel was set in motion, the officer opposite the girl raped her. Upon hearing of a subsequent raid, Himmler ordered an investigation. Not only did the Jewish women present a hygiene problem, the Nurhemberg Race Laws prohibited relations with the women. To prevent sexual relations between SS troops and Jewish women, Himmler supported the establishment of SS and Vermacht Brothels. Polish women were recruited for forced prostitution in the brothels. This too violated race laws. The established solution was that women were to be objects. The number of women forced into prostitution ran into the tens of thousands.
Only young, very pretty girls were used in the brothels. Employment offices also abducted young women for prostitution. Women as young as 17 received a notice that they were to report to an EO. One young girl was informed that she was to be “taken away to a brothel as Hitler’s present to the soldiers.” Although the EO was guarded by the military, she escaped and walked along a street outside the office. Three large trucks filled with teenage girls pulled away from the EO; the girls were never seen again.Women in brothels lived under house arrest and required permission to briefly leave the brothel. They were required to follow strict hygiene rules. After each sex act, the women had to use a boric acid lotion douche. They washed their mouths with soap and water and splashed their lips with eau de cologne. There was a thorough list of behaviours for German soldiers. They had to pay 2 1/2 marcs upon arrival. They were given a condom that was applied by the brothel madam. The sex act was over quickly, and upon leaving the room, a medic was waiting in the doorway to “sanitize” the soldiers. Women were sexually abused between 20 – 46 times a day, depending on their location.
The Nazis also established brothels in the concentration camps (Lagerbordell) to create incentive for prisoners to collaborate, although these institutions were used mostly by Kapos, “prisoner functionaries“, since real inmates, penniless and emaciated, were too debilitated and wary of exposure to SS schemes. When they arrived at the camps they were examined by doctors for veneral disease; if they were found to have it, they were shot. In the end, the camp brothels did not produce any noticeable increase in the prisoners’ work productivity, but created a market for coupons among the camp VIPs.The women forced into these brothels came mainly from the Ravensbrück concentration camp, except for Auschwitz, which employed its own prisoners.A kapo, or prisoner functionary, was a prisoner assigned to force labor or carry out administrative tasks in the camp. Also called “prisoner self-administration”, the prisoner functionary system minimized costs by allowing camps to function with fewer SS personnel. The system was also designed to turn victim against victim, as the prisoner functionaries were pitted against their fellow prisoners in order to maintain the favor of their SS guards.
LOVE IN WAR
In Poland, a woman who was either a prostitute or not a prostitute might occasionally fall in love with a Nazi or a Polish soldier. These attractions were usually mutual, even though, with a woman who was not a prostitute, they seldom resulted in sex. When Polish soldiers noticed these relationships, it was the women whlo were punished by having their heads shaved. The German soldiers suffered no consequences. After the war, women who survived and returned home often hid their unhappy fate from family and friends. As the years went by, flashbacks of their experiences occurred and sometimes the women visited doctors for treatment. One doctor diagnosed his patients as having “mental disorientation“, a syndrome common to concentration camp survivors. I believe another term for mental disorientation is PTSD (Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder). Women’s war during WWII, swept under a rug and stubbornly ignored, is slowly rising to the surface. As long as there are records and war survivors, and the descendents of these survivors, with the courage to tell their stories, the dark truth about women and war won’t be silenced for much longer.