Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The evil of ordinary people


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.

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.
The treatment of German civilians on the Eastern Front is one of the little told stories in the West....and for the worst reasons.

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.

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.
Older women. How old? 40, 35, 30, 25, 20; 16?

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.

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."
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.
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.

63 comments:

LT B said...

That is horribly sad.  And yet, there are those that SO want to be LIKE the Soviet Union.  Disgusting.

ewok40k said...

Russians weren't much better to supposedly allied countries they liberated, mind you...

UltimaRatioRegis said...

I had a teacher in High School, whom was still a very pretty lady in her 50s.  She once showed me a picture of her when she was 17.  She was stunning.

She was in Hungary when the Germans came.  She was in Hungary when the Russians came.  She said the Russians were infinitely worse.  Predatory animals was the term I remember her using.  Even in High School I understood what that meant for a girl of 17 who looked as she did. So much for our "gallant Soviet allies".

Why is it that the Eastern European nations are much more wary of the Russians than those in the West?

ewok40k said...

France last suffered Russian troops in 1814, I think...

DeltaBravo said...

I remember as a child reading the TimeLife book on WWII and the account by some woman who hid in the basement while the Red Army came through her town.  It was only vaguely hinted at... that they were feared more than the Germans. 

I'm proud that our military does not have the same reputation..  when we "liberate" a country, the inhabitants don't have to hide their women and their children like that. 

Don't get me started on why women would be complicit in the degradation of young girls.   I can't begin to understand the mindset.

Very interesting reading...  not pleasant, but interesting. 

DeltaBravo said...

Well, scratch that...  been doing more research... it's a little appalling how some of our own troops behaved in post-war Germany.  Many sources seem to believe the Red Army behavior was a conscious strategy to completely annihilate the "master race" in Germany.  And there was active complicity by some of our highest commanders.  True?  Not true? 

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Well, yeah! Those that want to be like the USSR envision themselves as being in charge, with a license to do what they want to punish those who are unenlightened.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Well said, Pawel.

Kristen said...

The poor woman.  I can't even imagine having a loving relationship with a man after being continuously raped for two weeks by a succession of men.  One of the blessings of being born in America is never having to fear an event like that.

I'm not sure about Birgit Beck-Hempner's theory that it was a deliberate policy to demoralize the local population, though.  When there are enemy soldiers rolling through your countryside, it seems pretty evident that your government is no longer in control and your armed forces can no longer protect you.  And it would mean that officers and NCOs instructed the troops to rape.  That's a little hard to believe.

GBS said...

DB,  I don't know what you specifically refer to, but every army has those who behave poorly.  The critical difference between the US and the Soviets is that the US Army worked to prosecute those individuals that committed crimes.  Did some escaped notice?  Undoubtedly.  

A primary driver was the Soviet training and indoctrination.  It drilled the concept of how evil ALL Germans were into every Red Army soldier...that the Germans deserved everything that happened.  The leadership eventually realized that they had gone too far, but by that point, the damage had been done.

Anonymous said...

Horrifying.

But what a portrait of courage and perseverance!  What strength she has--so obviously scarred but so impressive.

FbL said...

Oops!  That was me above.

ShawnP said...

The Eastern Front was where World War II was won and lost in my honest opinion. The ability of the Russian to absorb tremoundous amounts of deaths and bleed the Germans dry won World War II for the Allies. The things that happened there were horrific and both sides were just brutally nasty to the other side.

ewok40k said...

To be sure, Russians at least didn't intend to exterminate Germans into oblivion, as Slavs were to be in the plans of Hitler just after he would finish Jews... Germans managed to turn Russians from happy-to-surrender Stalin's slaves of 1941 into determined fighters of the Rodina. Still it is one of the saddest tales of WW2. And western allies weren't quite the knights in shining armor with carpet bombing etc. Finall thought, WW2 was a mess, but in the end it was started by Germans. He who sows wind, reaps the whirlwind...

DeltaBravo said...

GBS, it's hard to figure out what the truth is.  I haven't really studied post-war Germany specifically.  But a survey of the internet on the subject... well.. apparently it doesn't take much scratching of the surface before you descend into a cesspool of White Supremicist and other dubious websites all making very confusing allegations of what appears to be deliberate punitive post-war starvation, torture and abuse of German civilians, women, children, etc.  Which is either completely false or we did a confusing turnabout with the Berlin airlift a few years later.  CW Porter (a dubious source himself) has written extensively about it and even cites the situation as the cause of trouble between Patton and Eisenhower, enough to get Patton removed from command.

If the allegations of cruelty, rape, etc. of the German women are true, it's amazing the entire country hasn't been quite mad for the last 60 years.  And it makes me wonder if people remember how Versailles turned out.

Yes, Ewok, Germany sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind.  But I now wonder if historians someday in the future will write that our "Greatest Generation" had a dark side.   I'd like to think OUR hands were clean.

DeltaBravo said...

http://www.cwporter.com/gerund1.htm

Here's an example of his writing...  for what it's worth and what it isn't worth... 

MR T's Haircut said...

This is what happens when you lose wars.. this is the primoral basic reason to have a standing and capable army.. it has been this way since war was invented...

seattlefire said...

Actually one could argue that WWII was started by the Japanese in China/Manchuria well before 1939.

Anonymous said...

DB, the immediate post-war history is indeed a revanchist battlefield. According to (1) what is generally accepted written history in Germany today and (2) the anecdotal history I got told from the war generation the following holds true:

(a) the rape stories are true, they do especially apply to the immediate aftermath of the fall of Berlin

(b) Starvation in the general populace occurred allthough not on a genocidal scale. As for the western allies, apart from perhaps a short time after the capitulaion, short-cutting supplies was not a deliberate strategy. The demand just overstrained supply. The "Hungerwinter" of 1945/46 however derserved its name. Berlin had the forest of suicides ("Wald der Selbstmörder"), where people who could not stand the hunger anymore hung themselves from the trees, almost in droves.

(c) Starvation occurred in the "Rheinwiesencamps". The proportion is somewhat unclear. It is usually ascribed in mainstream history to neglicence due to disgust of freshly discovered Germany atrocities or just to logistical problems, allthough from one anecdotal source I have it was partly intentional: the hunger would make the captives stick together by their units, so the Waffen-SS  soldiers could be more easily identified.

This post is not meant to prove or disprove anything. It was just that you seemed interested in the topic and were wondering what sources were trustworthy. Apart from (a) it is not an issue in Germany, which means as well, it is not relevant for attitudes of Germans to the former Western allies.

hajo-hi said...

is the missing name in post above.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

DB,

The Germans and Japanese both know, though saying it is strictly taboo, that we could have done to them what they had done to every other of their conquered peoples. 

Saturation bombing does not equate to killing women and children at the end of a bayonet, no matter how many moral relativists say so.

DeltaBravo said...

Thank you for your thoughtful reply.  When I was studying it in college a "mere 40 years" after the war ended, I guess it wasn't a subject talked about much.  Only one of my Russian professors really discussed it in terms of Soviet history.  War wounds take a long time to heal and for discussion to really become objective and honest.  I came from a state where one town did not celebrate July 4 until 1945 because of what had happened 80 years before.  Maybe when the generation immediately affected and that participated is going, going, gone, then the real discussion begins?  It's a little less painful and blame is more removed, the effects of wartime propaganda are long gone, and it's time to encourage honest historical exploration?  Dunno....  I guess that's a question for historians. 

DeltaBravo said...

Agreed, URR.  I'm a little startled by the comments about FDR in the source above though. 

DeltaBravo said...

And I do know the Japanese have yet to begin to own up their wartime "activities."  Which I don't think is fair because Germany was never allowed to forget theirs.   Not that anyone should, but 2010 Germany is a different place.  And the world has been amazingly uninterested in the legacy of crimes committed by the USSR/Russia in the last 100 years.  Why the different historical standards?

ActusRhesus said...

<span>"One of the blessings of being born in America is never having to fear an event like that."</span>

Kristin, you are being a little naive.  While we've been fortunate in that we've never had to defend a war on our soil, if you think there isn't systemic sexual assault of children in this country, I'd like to introduce you to some of of the good people at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

ActusRhesus said...

Normally any post about russia would prompt me to make a "in soviet russia..." joke.  But it just doesn't seem appropriate here.

DeltaBravo said...

Yes, we did have to defend wars on our soil... ;)   Just not in recent memory....

How much was rape involved in Sherman's march to the sea?  In that era, would it even have been talked about? 

The Enemy Within the Gates is a whole 'nuther kettle o' fish....

Casey Tompkins said...

While the regulars here are no doubt familar with Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day, and A Bridge Too Far, I wonder if anyone else has found a copy of The Last Battle, Ryan's account of the Battle for Berlin.  Anyone who has read that would not be surprised by the linked stories.

Since Ryan based much of his work on personal interviews with those who actually experienced the events in question, the chapter about the rapes in Berlin was painfully vivid.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

AR,

Said systematic abuse in the US is a criminal matter that leads to prosecution and convictions.  There are many lands where such abuse is a staple of national or political policy.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

<span>DB,  
 
<span>Why the different historical standards?  Excellent question.  
</span>    </span>
<span>Crimes committed by the Left have been excused as sometimes lamentable but necessary "excesses".   US communists and fellow travelers, particularly those in colleges and universities, were quick to excuse those excesses, such as Lenin's "War Communism", as a means to a better end.    The number of people in America who believed the repression in Italy and Germany was a similar means was very small indeed.  </span>

Besides, the winners write the history.
<span> 
We are not all that different today.  It is educational to read commentary from American academics and activists in the late 60s and early 70s regarding Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.  He and his movement were the darlings of the American Left.  
 
Howard Dean's brother was "killed in Vietnam", but died a number of years after the war ended.  He was over in SE Asia (Laos) playing with the KR when he disappeared.  Howard, of course, played him off as a MIA serviceman.....</span>

C-dore 14 said...

Still have the copy of <span>The Last Battle</span> that I first read back during my midshipman days.  Ryan went into a great deal of detail about the rapes and was one of the first popular historians to do so.  He implies that the assault units were more disciplined and less inclined to be involved.  Later historians, such as Antony Beevor (<span>The Fall of Berlin</span>) and Catherine Merridale (<span>Ivan's War)</span> tend to be less charitable.  Beevor implies that a breakdown in discipline due to the availability of alcohol led to widespread rapes while Merridale is pretty clear in stating that revenge, in all its forms, was essentially the policy of the Red Army and reenforced by political lectures.  Both write that the Red Army leadership started cracking down on the troops after word came down from Moscow to be nicer to the Germans.

C-dore 14 said...

I studied Nuclear Strategy and Deterrence Theory in graduate school.  The Soviet experience in WW II was discussed frequently when considering the amount of punishment they would be willing to absorb in a nuclear exchange.

GBS said...

DB, you are correct about the "cesspool of White Supremicist" stuff that exists on all things related to the Third Reich.  I recommend "Armageddon - The Battle for Germany".  Written by Max Hastings, it covers the final months on both the Eastern and Western Fronts.

GBS said...

ewok,

Sorry the PGMs didn't come along until a few years later.  I think you should carefully separate what was done to diminish the Third Reich's ability to wage war, and what was done to civilians, particularly young girls, by soldiers at the point of a bayonet.

surefoot said...

<span>

Study about what happen to the women and children during and after the U.S. Civil War. It was as bad as the Russian troops did to the Polish and Germans.
</span>

surefoot said...

Would you do this if you were on the winning side or stand by and let it happen? I think not, each war is different.

surefoot said...

<span>

Study about what happen to the women and children during and after the U.S. Civil War. It was as bad as the Russian troops were to the Polish and Germans women and childern.
</span>

Anthony Mirvish said...

In addition to <span>The Last Battle</span>, Richard Overy's <span>Russia's War</span> and <span>The Dictators</span> provide some good information on these events and the motivations behind them.  I think C-14 is very right that revenge was Soviet policy; the war in the East was savage and turnabout was considered fair play.  The inherently brutal nature of both the communist and fascist regimes and their own indifference to the lives of their own individual citizens were no doubt a factor in all of this too.

To DB's question about Sherman, I've always understood the policy was to destroy property to reduce the South's civilian population to subsistence levels, leaving them unable to support the Confederate war effort, not to systematically kill or rape the population.    Although there was probably some violence against civilians, it was not part of a policy and I don't believe widespread; times were somewhat different. 

ewok40k said...

First PGMs debuted in WW2 actually - see HS-293, Fritz-X and Azon/Razon. And even conventional ordnance could be delivered in very precise way with right tactics as Mosquito crews showed in operation Jericho... Anyway I do not condemn the 1000 bomber raids, desperate times needed desperate measures...

ewok40k said...

Well, at a point US supported KR in a small revenge against Vietnam, one of little dirty secrets of the Cold War...

ewok40k said...

Went out to read it as soon as it was released here after 1989 :)
Would be good to make that into movie the way the first two were done...

ewok40k said...

As for the Japanese , why someone didn't mention Nanking Rape yet? And yes, Japanese were much more unwilling to admit their crimes of the past.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

ewok,

I bought and read mine as soon as it was released, but had to run to the bookshelf to look at the copyright date.  Sure enough, it was twenty years ago!

UltimaRatioRegis said...

I have yet to read about Union airplanes intentionally strafing and bombing columns of refugees in the snow, or of Federal leaders instilling a doctrine of revenge to be taken out on the Southern population. 

You might want to refrain from the "we do it too" when it comes to the Eurasian way of war.  What happened in Germany in 1945 was partially fuelled by Nazi crimes in the Soviet Union, but also was a continuation of how wars have been fought in that region of the world since before Tamerlane.  The stories of the Red troops in the 1919-21 Civil War are just as sickening.

Byron said...

Excellent riposte, Comrade!

/snark off

CDR Salamander said...

SF,
Don't be such a clueless, uneducated a55.  I come from the Mississippi plantation class (and as family historian for two lines have family Bibles dating back to the 1930s) who lost most of their man, and almost all their wealth during the US Civil War - and the one thing we do not hold against the Union Army is their behavior towards women and children.  Sure, they burned down the towns, barns, businesses, took all your cattle and horses and anything of value - but one thing they did not do was violate the physical safety and honor of women and children.

Get your moral relativist self back to the classroom.  This is the one area, of few, where I will defend the actions of the Union Army towards civilians. 

-2.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Aphroditie, and the Bats launched by my beloved PB4Y-2s were guided.   Joe Kennedy Jr. was the guidance system on one Aphroditie.

GBS said...

Ewok, your earlier post gives one the impression that you do have a problem.  Further, your lecture on German science projects is picking at nits.  Only in the last 10 years has PGM technology matured to the point where it is now contained in the majority of US air launced munitions.  Regardless, the mass raids were intended to destroy cities and the infrastructure they contained.

ewok40k said...

Well, I might make you confused. I feel the mass air raids on Axis cities were unavoidable, and considerably useful to overall war effort, but that doesnt diminish their inhumanity and cruelty. 

Andrewdb said...

MTH - I agree with you.  This is what happens when a mideaval army takes a city - the Red Army wasn't that much different, just a few hundred years off.

MR T's Haircut said...

<span>Andrew ..t happened in Bosnia in the late 1990's.  It is happening in Darfur now... it is the ultimate result of losing a war against a savage.  Has nothing to do with a mideaval army.. 
 
Surefoot, I didnt say I condone it.. where did I infer that?  My point is maintain a military capable of preventing it even now in our "civilized" advance society... it could all be over in a blink and our women and children will pay the price if we fail.  That is reality.  I would call you SUREFOOT IN MOUTH....</span>

ewok40k said...

Well, it was common deal in medieval times that city that surrendered quickly was spared any looting. So it was a good/bad cop strategy at it's basic. Regarding Russia - it has barely moved out of feudalism anyway back then (Tsars granted personal freedom to peasants in 1860s, and were absolute in their power until the very revolution of 1917).

hajo-hi said...

First: Having a detail in common does not mean overall equivalence.

But then, URR, you are in partial self-denial. American fighter bombers did straf civilians in the end of the war. The planes in these examples are P-38 Lightnings, a plane not to be mistaken and definitily American. One case is killing a churchgoer, a thouroughbred catholic, no Nazi party member, who crossed the street on a weekend (do not know anymore if it was for the Saturday afternoon prayer or on a Sunday afternoon after the mess) dressed up in an all civil coat and hat. Another case is shooting inside houses through the windows when there is any movement inside.

I have not got these stories from any websites, but from very close relatives and long-time neighbours who told direct experience. I did not ask for them, I was told these stories very spontaneously and aroused (triggered by a model of a P-38), and thus I believe they are true.

For an independent source, Chuck Yeager mentions respective orders and the doubts of the pilots about them in his autobiography.

My grandparents remebered the wind gusts, blowing the hat of their friend across the T-junction close to their house, a place where I often played as a child.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

hajo,

First, my original point about strafing refugees was that it did not occur on Sherman's march from Atlanta to Savannah.  Not least because airplanes hadn't been invented yet. 

Americans raped German women and girls.  Americans sometimes killed prisoners.  Americans even strafed refugees.  No question. 

But at no time did the Americans systematically rape women and girls by the hundreds of thousands without any semblance of military discipline or control.  Nor did they wantonly murder more hundreds of thousands at close range, like the Soviets in Germany (and the Germans in Russia) and the Japanese in China and the Philippines did. 

At no time, either, did they horde millions of prisoners into extermination camps with the specific goal of eliminating them as racial and political undesirables, where the majority died of starvation, abuse, and murder.

And no, at no time did whole American Ground Attack Regiments of IL-2s descend on columns of hundreds of thousands of women and children escaping East Prussia and mow them down by the thousands. 

hajo-hi said...

URR, as I said in the beginning: I was writing on a certain policy not on somekind of overall moral equivalence. In discussions on deeds at war time the focus it to soon lost on individuals (victims or otherwise) and righteousness of a certain order and to soon shifted to the national level.

In addition, nations and individuals can usually only be compared in metaphors, but both can be right and wrong at the same time. In both ways, generally right and wrong in detail, as generally wrong and right in detail.

BostonMaggie said...

Surefoot - go back and read MTH's comment again.  You need to be more careful before you respond.  He is not saying that anyone deserves this treatment.  He is not saying it is justified.  He is making the point that this is why you maintain "A standing and capable Army"....so that it can never happen to you.

Every war is the same in that you don't want to lose.  Period.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

hajo,

I agree with your last assertion.  But injected into any empirical arguments of right and wrong must be the understanding that 1945 in Germany is how the Russians make war.  It has been so, as I mention above, since before Tamerlane and before the Tatar horsemen. 

I sat in a war game recently where the premise was that a Russian ally had massacred 17,000 ethnic minorities, and the Russians believed the act both a terrible crime and a public image disaster.  I immediately asked "Why?", and pointed out that such had never been before, even on scales tenfold or more.  Eventually, the only answer was because that was the way the scenario was written.  Our State Dept rep agreed wholeheartedly that we had projected US values onto the Russians for the purpose of the exercise.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Pawel,

I did allude to Nanking and Manila above.  And you are quite correct about Japanese willingess to own up to what their armies did.

Anonymous said...

Deciding upon Among Garment Or Household leather Upholstery To your Home Cinema
Seating Fixtures

Look at my site; video to mp3 download

Anonymous said...

Samsung Ln32c530 32-inch 1080p sixty Hz Lcd High definition tv Review

Also visit my blog; atavism

Anonymous said...

Choosing the right Layout meant for Conference Getting together with
Rooms

My web site :: payday

Anonymous said...

The modern Magnavox Television

Also visit my web site - payday

Anonymous said...

Minuscule Hdmi Cable For the Smart Cell phone

Here is my homepage: payday loans