Thursday, 23 October 2008

A Woman in Berlin: the fate of German victims of rape by Red Army soldiers in cinemas

This work was in the public domain in Russia according to Law No. 5351-I of Russia of July 9, 1993 (with revisions) on Copyrights and Neighbouring Rights. But the current status of this work is unknown because of the entering in force of Book IV of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation on January 1, 2008.
by Kathryn Hadley

A Woman in Berlin, a new German film which tells the story of the fate of German women who were raped by Red Army soldiers during the occupation of German towns, was released in cinemas in Germany today, October 23rd. The woman played by Nina Hoss is raped several times by Soviet soldiers before forming a liaison with a Red Army officer in order to protect herself from further attacks.

The film is based on the diary of the German journalist Marta Hillers who was raped several times by Soviet soldiers during the days of the occupation. She began to record her experiences on April 20th 1945, the date of Hitler’s birthday, and his last before he committed suicide ten days later. She wrote her book anonymously and it was first published in the 1950s in Germany, Britain and the United States. It was, however, ignored in Germany. In 2003, it was reissued in Germany and became a bestseller, but was viewed primarily as a novel rather than a historical testimony to the horrors of the fate of some German women. Hillers died in 2001, aged 90.

The Red Army arrived in Berlin in April 1945 and, on hearing rumours of the brutality of the Soviet soldiers, many civilians sought to flee the city. It is estimated that almost two million German girls and women were raped during the closing months of the war, and many repeatedly so. Many gave birth to Russenbabies, many were infected with sexually transmitted diseases, many resorted to illegal abortions and some took their own lives. Between 1945 and 1948 approximately two million German women a year had illegal abortions. The spread of sexually disease was such that, in 1947, the Soviet authorities were forced to impose penalties on their forces in eastern Germany for fraternising with the enemy.

The release of the film coincides with the official launch of a research project headed by Dr Phillipp Kuwert at the University of Greifswald in eastern Germany about the trauma of women who were raped during the period. More than sixty years later, researchers hope to unveil more victims and to consider the extent and impact of their trauma on their lives in the aftermath of the war. Despite the focus of the film on eastern Germany, stories of rape also spread to the West where French and American soldiers in particular were tried for rapes committed in the first months of 1945. Red Army soldiers were also punished and sometimes executed, but on the whole many were able to get away with their crimes.

The film’s aim is allegedly not to depict Germans as mere victims, nevertheless, it will address stories that have remained buried and silenced beneath the humiliation and trauma of its victims. In the post-war period, Soviet propaganda in communist eastern Germany portrayed the Soviet Union as a protector; in western Germany, women were reluctant to speak of their humiliating experiences and the returning men did not want to know about the suffering of their wives, sisters, daughters and mothers. The film will raise issues of conduct and morality in war and is expected to fuel reaction and possible resentment in Russia.
For more information on the Red Army and the Soviet Liberation see the History Today articles: Liberation, Soviet Style, 1944-45 and The Price of Victory, the Cost of Aggression

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