A million women were raped by Allied soldiers in Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II, a new books claims.
‘When The Soldiers Came,’ by historian Miriam Gebhardt, is hailed as the definitive account of the treatment meted out to the defeated women of Nazi Germany which they remained silent about for decades out of shame and humiliaton.
‘At the very least 860,000 women and girls – and also men and young boys – were raped by the occupying Allied soldiers and their helpers. It happened everywhere,’ begins the book.
Until now it was widely thought that only the Red Army, which advanced on Germany with rape as a weapon sanctioned by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, committed the mass rapes upon tens of thousands of women, many of whom committed suicide.
‘Soldiers of the western Allies were also guilty,’ said Mrs. Gebhardt, a renowned historian in Germany who tracked down some victims to interview them about their ordeal at the hands of British and American soldiers.
‘I researched the book for over a year and-a-half,’ she said. ‘I wanted to tell the story of what ‘happened from the perspective of the victims. I wanted to reconstruct the crimes as gently as I could.’
She said the ‘terrible crimes’ did not only take place in the Soviet zones of occupation – long chronicled and well-known about – but also in French, British and American sectors.
A familiar slogan of the times was: ‘It took six years for the Americans to struggle against the German armies but it only took a day and a slab of chocolate for them to conquer German women.’
But not all collaboration in the bedroom was voluntary, writes Gebhardt.
She said the false impression grew up after the war that German women gave themselves to western soldiers because they brought with them things they desperately needed – nylons, food, cigarettes, coffee.
‘The impression grew that there was no rape in the west but rather a kind of prostitution grew up,’ said the author.
But in fact countless women were raped, she said, with soldiers believing they could treat them as they wanted after bearing coveted gifts.
‘Post-war society was hardly ready to differentiate between voluntary and forced sexual contact.
‘Between women who prostituted themselves out of emergency needs and those who had become victims of rape.’
Added to the trauma of the western victims was the shame suffered by the children they bore from their attackers.
‘Their fathers were, mostly, unknown, and the women received no financial help at all,’ said Gebhardt.
She said in parts of southern Germany, occupied by American troops, there were often ‘free nights’ where soldiers were encouraged to abuse women at will for up to 48 hours at a time.
The alleged victims are ‘relieved’ their hardship is coming to light, she added.
Source Credits: Allan Hall in the Daily Mail from Berlin. The picture above shows a German girl walking past Soviet troops in a scene from ‘A Woman In Berlin’.