One young officer coming upon a unit that had overtaken a column of German refugees fleeing westward later recalled: ‘Women, mothers and their children lie to the right and left along the route, and in front of each of them stands a raucous armada of men with their trousers down. The women who are bleeding or losing consciousness get shoved to one side, and our men shoot the ones who try to save their children.’ A group of ‘grinning’ officers was standing near by, making sure ‘that every soldier without exception would take part’.
Women and girls were subjected to serial rape wherever they were encountered. Rape was often accompanied by torture and mutilation and frequently ended in the victim being shot or bludgeoned to death.
he raging violence was undiscriminating. Often, especially in Berlin, women were deliberately raped in the presence of their menfolk, to underline the humiliation. The men were usually killed if they tried to intervene. In East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia it is thought that around 1.400.000 women were raped, a good number of them several times. Gang-rapes were the norm rather than the exception. The two largest Berlin hospitals estimated that at least 100.000 women had been raped in the German capital. Many caught a sexually transmitted disease, and not a few fell pregnant; the vast majority of the latter obtained an abortion, or, if they did give birth, abandoned their baby in hospital. The sexual violence went on for many weeks, even after the war formally came to an end. German women learned to hide, especially after dark; or, if they were young, to take a Soviet soldier, preferably an officer, as a lover and protector. On 4 May 1945 an anonymous Berlin woman wrote in her diary: ‘Slowly but surely we’re starting to view all the raping with a sense of humour -gallows humour.’
She noted with a certain satisfaction that the Russian soldiers tended to prefer plump and well-fed women as their victims after the initial fury was over, and that these, unsurprisingly, were usually the wives of Nazi Party functionaries.