On the evening of Jan. 25, 1945, Köpp was packing her things, preparing to flee. Her mother told her to hurry, because the Russians were approaching the town, and she said that she would join her later. Köpp wanted to talk to her mother on that evening, but she was silent and barely spoke with her daughter, not even to warn her about the many things that could happen while she was fleeing. "In a sense, she allowed me to run headlong onto a knife," Köpp writes today, as an old woman.The treatment of German civilians on the Eastern Front is one of the little told stories in the West....and for the worst reasons.
On Jan. 26, 1945, Köpp and her older sister left the house. She would later learn that Soviet soldiers liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp the following day, Jan. 27. The ordeal that was about to begin for Gabriele Köpp had its roots in the crimes committed by her fellow Germans.
She hardly remembers saying goodbye to her mother. In fact, she writes, she has only recently allowed herself to think that there may have been no goodbyes at all.
She boarded a freight train with heavy sliding doors. The city had already come under artillery fire. At the time, she says, she never dreamed that it would be decades before she could return home. Peering through the small windows in the freight car, she realized that the train was traveling south, and not leaving the city in a northerly direction, as she had believed.
She knew that Russian tanks had encircled the south. After a short time, she heard the sound of artillery fire, and the train came to a stop. The locomotive had apparently been hit. The sliding doors were locked, and the only way to get out of the car was to crawl through one of the high windows. She was an athletic girl and managed to pull herself up to the window, and a soldier pushed her through the small opening. Her sister remained behind in the train. She would never see her again.
She fell into the snow, lying flat on the ground at first to protect herself from the gunfire. Other refugees had also managed to escape from the train, and they began running toward a farm and then a nearby village. Köpp followed them. A baker let her into his bakery.
I have never been a fan of "collective guilt." I fully understand the death of civilians in war though - it is war. In WWII, the allies killed millions as a byproduct of total war.
That is one thing. This is another.
In the village, Soviet soldiers carrying large flashlights searched for girls in the dim light. One of them grabbed Köpp. The next day, she was chased to another house, where she was raped by a soldier, and then by another soldier soon afterwards. The next morning, she was pushed into a barn and raped by two men.Older women. How old? 40, 35, 30, 25, 20; 16?
That afternoon, she hid under a table in a room filled with refugees. When the soldiers came to the building, asking for girls, the older women called out: "Where's little Gabi?" and pulled her out from underneath the table. "I feel hatred rising up inside of me," she writes. She was dragged off to a ransacked house. "I have no tears," she writes. The next morning, it was the women, once again, who "pushed" her into the arms of a "greedy officer." "I despise these women," she writes.
It went on this way, "relentlessly," for two weeks. After that, she was taken in at a farm, where she managed to hide from the soldiers.
Another thing that is normal, in extraordinary circumstances, ordinary people are capable of the most evil things in order to save themselves.
No one knows exactly how many women became victims of sexual violence during the war. A figure of 2 million has been mentioned in various studies, but is considered unreliable because of the lack of concrete evidence. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that it was a crime committed against large numbers of women.It is a story long - but most think of The Congo when it comes to organized rape. No, the Soviets could more than hold their own - and it wasn't the isolated criminal like all armies have. No, this was wholesale license to rape and kill.
The average age of the women in Kuwert's study at the time of their rapes was 16.7, and each of the women was raped an average of 12 times. About half of the women continue to suffer from post-traumatic symptoms, including nightmares, suicidal thoughts and what is known as avoidance behavior, with 81 percent stating that the experiences had a massive impact on their sexuality. An "emotional anesthesia," or the avoidance of strong emotions, was typical for these traumatized women, says Kuwert.
Her menstrual cycle was interrupted for seven years, a widespread phenomenon some gynecologists called the "Russians' disease."
When soldiers commit rape during war, it is not just "to humiliate a particular individual," says historian Birgit Beck-Heppner, who specializes in the subject of sexual violence and war. It also represents a "signal to the enemy population that its political leadership and its own army can no longer guarantee its safety." This is why these rapes are often committed in public.These acts aren't statistics. These are people who carry this for the only life they have.
She remains in contact with her former analyst, who urged her to write the book. "The fact that it was even possible for me to feel anything for another person -- that was the turning point," she recalls. Since then, there have at least been moments, she says, in which she feels liberated.
Has she had any other experiences of love and sexuality? No, she says, nothing at all. "For me, it was just violence."
Gabriele Köpp jumps up from her armchair, as easily as a young girl. She is 1.55 meters (5 feet) tall. She walks into the hallway, where her own paintings are hung on the wall. She has been painting a lot lately.
One of the paintings depicts the stations of her life. There are crosses and skulls at the center of the image. A date is written across the top: Jan. 26, 1945. Other paintings show hearts and strong colors.
They are the kinds of pictures that girls paint -- 15-year-old girls.