The new German film: Anonyma: a Woman in Berlin
One has to ask why a film about the rape of numerous German women by Russian troops at the end of the Second World War has been made now, 65 years after that war finished. Anonyma: a Woman in Berlin was published thirty years ago by Marta Hillers, a journalist and an avowed supporter of the Nazis; it had been virtually forgotten after a short-lived furore.
During the whole post-war period West Germany produced a miniscule number of films about the Nazi period (unlike its counterpart, the GDR). The few it did produce were often hardly disguised apologies, like Das Boot about the ‘heroic’ U-boat crews during the war. The only real anti-Nazi and anti-war film made by the Federal Republic was Die Brücke (The Bridge), made by Bernhard Wicki.
Since German unification, the new German establishment has been avidly pursuing a policy of demonising the former German Democratic Republic and deliberately conflating Nazism with Communism – the ‘two totalitarian dictatorships’ in 20th century German history. Unlike the post-war West German government’s attitude to the Nazi period – implicitly pretending it hadn’t taken place, old Nazis slotted back into their old jobs, no discussions about that period, history curricula in schools usually terminated pre-war. ‘This time around’, they declare sanctimoniously, ‘we want to ensure that the Communist dictatorship is dealt with properly so that everyone knows how iniquitous it was’.
Is this new film, which portrays Russian soldiers, who liberated Europe from the Nazi yoke, as rapists and plunderers simply a co-incidence or is it part of the wider attempt to denigrate all things to do with socialism?
All wars brutalise human beings and rape and pillage has been the characteristic of all armed conflicts. The Soviet army probably behaved much like any other, but with undoubtedly more provocation. Eastern Europe had been devastated by the Nazi armies, its riches plundered, its populations massacred, put in concentration and labour camps and treated worse than animals. Soviet soldiers had been fighting for months and years against an unrecalcitrant German enemy; they had experienced the atrocities and viciousness of Nazism. Is it to be wondered at that they were stoked full of hatred and strong feelings of revenge? This is not in any way an attempt to justify inhumanity or indeed rape, but it does help put it in a context. There were many recorded individual cases of rape and plunder that were dealt with strictly by Soviet army officers and the perpetrators punished; even if many cases weren’t pursued.
What about rape and pillaging by the other allies: the French, the US and Britain? They don’t get a mention. They were probably not as widespread for several reasons, one of which was that the soldiers in the western forces, and the better-off US in particular, could afford to ‘pay for their sex’ with cigarettes and nylons etc. It was also a fact that the Nazis capitulated more readily to the Western allies but fought a protracted and bitter war, house by house and street by street, against the Soviet army even to the very centre of Berlin – not something to endear the Germans to the liberators.
Kate Connolly in the Guardian (27 November 2009) writes unreflectively that ‘an estimated 2 million women fell victim to the [Russian] troops, 100,000 of them in Berlin…In 1946 almost 4% of Berlin-born children were estimated to have Russian fathers’.
The Russians occupied only the eastern third of Germany. Connolly says, an estimated 2 million women were raped. Of course statistics are fickle and in the last year of the war populations and gender distribution would be very distorted. However if we, simply as a matter of conjecture, base the make-up of the East German population roughly on British gender and age statistics (for 2001), then of an estimated population of 17 million, there would have been around 3.4 million children (aged up to 18) and 7.5 million males, leaving around 6.8 million women. Such rape figures can, surely, only be fantasy figures concocted to justify the Nazi’s assertions about ‘the barbaric Russians’ and to exonerate the Nazis’ own atrocities. The Russians also occupied Vienna and parts of Austria. Why have we not heard of mass rape there too?
Simply as anecdotal evidence, I never came across any East Germans who had Russian fathers or had been brought up as orphans. I heard of only one woman who had been raped. I also know from my wife’s own family - German refugees from Czechoslovakia who settled in the Erzgebirge region of Eastern Germany – of a very different narrative. Her’s was a household of women (three generations), and they only had good stories to tell of the Russian troops who occupied the village – how kind they were with the children and treated the women with courtesy. Perhaps an exception? I can’t say, but significant nonetheless.