Lately I’ve been reading A Woman in Berlin (Anonymous). This is a diary of a woman living in Berlin at the end of World War II- her experiences and those of her neighbors, mostly women, children, and infants. Among all the horrors she goes through: air raids, the fear of carpet bombing, little clean water, a severe lack of food (in one scene people queue and fight for rancid butter, rancid butter; before the enemy even arrives the city runs out of milk, leaving babies without much to live on since most mothers can’t produce milk due to malnourishment), the enforced labor, the experience that hit me with the most force was the multiple rapes Anonymous and her neighbors endure. During one rape she laments that her rapist has just torn her last untorn underwear. Young, old, pre-pubescent women were targetted by the soldiers, regardless. The best estimate is that 2 million women were raped in Germany, many of them more than once, in Berlin about 100,000 women were raped. About half of all these rapes were gang-rapes.
I don’t know why I was so surprised by this first-person account of all the rapes by the Soviet Army on the women of Berlin. I know from current events that rape is often part of war. But somehow her spare, calm, frank account of rape brought this act of violence home to me more than any statistics or numbers ever could.
Learning about all this, started me wondering, Did American troops rape German women too? Was it a part of our war strategy? Is it too much to hope that American soldiers did not participate in this kind of warfare? Is it xenophobia on my part to think that only Russian soldiers committed rape against German women?
Given the following opinions,
“…in all wars since the beginning to time, rape and violence against women have been a fundamental feature.” (UN Speech on Comfort Women).
“acclaimed military historian Antony Beevor…suggests that after brutalisation in extreme war situations almost all men are tempted to become rapists.” (BBC news)
“…there are no innocent civilians in war,…” (Dr. Harold Agnew, one of the men involved in dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, in an interview with BBC)
can we expect US soldiers on the ground to have higher standards of behavior, to treat the women of the vanquished enemy as they would want their own sisters, wives, daughters to be treated if the situation were reversed?
Moreover, in this particular case, it seems that the rape were not only a tactic of war but that the German women were seen as the “spoils of war” – their bodies were what the soldiers were due. There’s even the notion that the rapes were payback for what Russians endured during Operation Barbarossa. The higher-ups of the Soviet Army were no better than the common soldier- they told the women they had nothing to complain about, their men were “healthy.” As if that has anything to do with anything.
Anyway, I have more questions than answers. But I highly recommend this book, it made me think and taught me a lot even as it horrified and saddened me.