Thursday, May 31, 2018

PART 5 : HELLSTORM, THE DEATH OF NAZI GERMANY 1944-47....THE DEVIL'S LAUGHTER

Hellstorm The Death of 
Nazi Germany 1944–1947 
By Thomas Goodrich

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The Devil ’ s Laughter 
Although Soviet forces had reached the Oder River by the end of January 1945, thereby threatening Berlin and much of Germany, several enclaves behind the front remained firmly in Wehrmacht hands. Within these encircled islands of the Reich, soldiers and militiamen dug in and refused to surrender. 

“Our conduct of war must become fanatical . . . ,” declared Adolf Hitler. “Every bunker, every block in a German city, and every German village must be turned into a fortress against which the enemy will either bleed to death or its garrison be buried in man-to-man combat.”1 

No individual was more determined to faithfully follow every word of his Fuhrer’s directive than the district leader of Silesia, Karl Hanke. Even before his capital, Breslau, was surrounded by the Soviets, Hanke readied for siege. Stirred by the fact that the city had heroically resisted another Mongol invasion almost exactly seven hundred years before, the grim Nazi leader was determined to “do or die.” 

“Breslau has become a fortress and will be defended to the last house,” Hanke vowed.2 

Unfortunately for the one million residents and refugees crammed into the city, Hanke ordered all but able-bodied men to leave. Not only would thousands of women and children place an unbearable strain on medical facilities, but food stocks could never last a protracted siege. Hence, wrote one Wehrmacht officer who witnessed the expulsion,

On all roads leading to the railway stations masses of people were in flight, panting and sweating under the loads of their emergency packs. Train after overcrowded train moved off. . . . But there were still hundreds of thousands of people in the town when the ground began to tremble with the distant drum fire of the enemy guns. Then . . . to the horror of the entire population, the street loudspeakers blared out: “All women and children are to leave the city on foot. . . .” 

The Oder was completely frozen, the temperature was now down to 20 degrees below zero, and yet thousands of young and old women with prams, sledges and little carts were moving along the snow-covered streets into a freezing winter’s night. The human cost of this unprepared exodus has never been counted. For town dwellers the ordeal was especially severe, and in particular it was women and children who died. The ditches on both sides of the roads were choked with corpses, mainly of children who had frozen to death and been abandoned there by their mothers.3 

Though the draconian act enabled the garrison at Breslau to face the foe unencumbered, the measure was a virtual death sentence to thousands of women and children. North of Silesia, the plight of trekkers in East Prussia was even worse. As isolated Wehrmacht units desperately defended their shrinking Baltic beach-heads, millions of refugees poured into the coastal pockets. Unlike the situation at Breslau, military authorities to the north could not simply order superfluous civilians from their lines; with their backs literally to the sea, only the slow and treacherous evacuation by boat was an option. Consequently, at Memel, Konigsberg, Kolberg, Danzig, and other besieged “cauldrons,” the situation was appalling. 

Juergen Thorwald describes the chaotic conditions at Pillau, where thousands of refugees sought shelter. 

Every alley, every street was packed with their vehicles. People were waiting in every harbor shed, in every wind-sheltered corner. Among them stood their beasts, bleating, snorting, lowing. . . . The pregnant women giving birth somewhere in a corner, on the ground, in a barracks. Some of them had been raped on their flight . . . [and] now they were trembling for fear they would give birth to a monster. The strangely pale faces of girls going up and down the streets asking for a doctor. The wounded and the sick, in constant fear they would be left behind, concealing weapons under their blankets to force someone to take them along, or to end their own lives if the Russians came. The orphans who had been saved from their asylum somewhere at the last moment and tossed onto carts with nothing around them but a blanket, and who were now lying on the floors with frozen limbs. The Russian prisoners of war, brought west under orders from above, walking on wooden soles, their tattered overcoats held together with paper strings. The old people who had lain down in some doorway at night, and had not awakened. The hungry for life who found each other to mate among the ruins in broad daylight. And the wild-eyed insane ones who rushed from house to house, from wagon to wagon, crying for their mothers or their children. . . . Over it all the gray sky, snow, frost, and thaw, and thaw and frost and snow, and the chill, killing wet.

Impossible to adequately feed such a host from existing stocks, starvation swiftly made its appearance. “The food ration was so meager,” said soldier Guy Sajer, 

that the occasional distributions which were supposed to feed five people for a day would not . . . be considered enough for a school child’s lunch. . . . A crowd stretched as far as the eye could see, in front of a large building crammed with people. From the building a faint smell of the gruel cooking in large caldrons washed over the tightly compressed mass of people, who stood stamping their feet to keep from freezing. The thudding of their feet against the pavement sounded like a dull roll of muffled drums. . . . People with the faces of madmen were wolfing down the flour which was the only food distributed to them. ...Soldiers also had to stand in interminable lines, to receive, finally, two handfuls of flour apiece, and a cup of hot water.

Because of chronic overcrowding and freezing temperatures, roofs were at a premium. Wrote young Hans Gliewe when his family reached a coastal village: 

We opened the door of one of the wooden barracks. A cloud of stench came to meet us. Hundreds of people sat in there, crowded together on filthy straw piles. The wash hung from strings across the room. Women were changing their children. Others were rubbing their bare legs with some smelly frost ointment. Brother pulled Mother’s coat and said:“Please, Mummy, let’s go away from here.” But we were grateful to find room on a pile of straw next to an old, one-armed East Prussian.... 

Near me lay a very young woman whose head was shorn almost to the skin and whose face was all covered with ugly sores. She looked terrible. Once when she got up I saw that she walked with a cane. The East Prussian told us that she had been a woman auxiliary; the Russians had caught her in Romania in the autumn of 1944 and had taken her to a labor camp. She had escaped somehow and made it up here. He said she was only eighteen or nineteen. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help looking at her. 

A few hours later we couldn’t stand the barracks any more and ran away. We preferred the cold.6 

Like this family, many others joined the teeming thousands who were encamped near the docks in hopes of securing passage on anything that would float. Sub-zero weather was not the only deadly foe faced by the campers. In the skies above, Soviet planes returned again and again to strafe and bomb huge holes in the waiting crowds below. After the aircraft briefly disappeared, thousands dashed forward over the mangled corpses in hopes of boarding the next ship.7 

When a long-sought vessel finally tied up and lowered the walkways, pandemonium erupted on the docks. Because of an order granting priority to men or women with little children, the latter became more valuable than gold. According to an army chaplain

Women who had got aboard with their babies threw them to relatives still on the pier to get them, too, aboard. Often the children dropped into the water between the ship and the pier, or they fell into the frantic crowd and were trampled underfoot. Or they were caught by strangers who used them to swindle their way aboard. Children were stolen from their sleeping mothers.... Among the marauding stragglers . . . were soldiers—and some of them stole children. With these, or even with empty bundles in their arms, they pushed aboard, claiming that they had to save their families. Soldiers appeared in women’s clothing that they had stolen or been given by their mistresses.
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Denazification 
Among the mob, wounded soldiers awaited their turn to board.“The groaning crowd of men, clinging to a last hope of evacuation, was divided into two categories,”remembered Guy Sajer.“The most severely wounded—those whose chances of survival were doubtful, who would at best be hideously mutilated—were not embarked. For them, everything was over. The rest, who might still have some hope of a decent life, were eligible for the boats.”9 

One soldier lucky enough to be carried aboard was Jan Montyn.“An endless stream of refugees poured into the holds. Women, children, old men. Bundles on their backs, leaning on sticks, pushing ramshackle prams. . . . Farewells were said to those who stayed behind; there were shouts to be quick. Anyone who did not hurry would be too late.”10 

Even without children, wounds or passes, some still managed to get aboard. Admits sixteen-year-old Hans Gliewe

We walked along with them as if we belonged. Then we hid in the cold, drafty hold of the ship. We huddled close together, but still we were terribly cold. But we did not dare to move, let alone go up, for fear they would recognize us as stowaways. The night went by. The rumble of artillery . . . grew very loud. A man who had been up on deck said the sky was all red with the fires. We were so happy and grateful that we could lie in the drafty hold of the ship. But we were shaking with fear that we would be found out and put ashore. Then the ship pulled out, and we breathed again.11 

For the fortunate few who sailed from the besieged ports, their prayers appeared answered; for those left standing on the docks, their doom seemed sealed. Many men, “in a surge of madness,” shot themselves. Crazed mothers, with starvation gnawing and the red horror looming, found cyanide and poisoned their children, then themselves. Old people merely crawled into snow banks, fell asleep, and never awoke. 
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Among the great majority of those who scrambled onto ships, boats, tugs, barges, and naval craft sailing west, their flight was safe and successful. Not only was the warmth and food aboard ship a God-send, but the realization that they were at last escaping the dreaded Bolsheviks proved the first peace of mind many had know in weeks. As the wretched survivors of the Wilhelm Gustloff could aver, however, there often was no escaping the nightmare . . . even at sea. 

While most of the passengers and crew slept, the old luxury liner General Stueben plowed through the icy, black Baltic in the early morning minutes of February 10. Heavily weighed down with refugees and wounded soldiers, the ship was in the middle of its second such evacuation in less than a fortnight. Just before one a.m., two torpedoes slammed into the Stueben’s side. 

“The whole ship shivered and vibrated. People were screaming and shouting,” said soldier, Franz Huber. “The ship rocked violently and those wounded men still capable of getting up were thrown against the sides. The rest just slid about while we somersaulted, fell on each other, and made our wounds even worse. But somehow I managed to put on my life jacket.”12 

Unlike Huber, who made his way above, few wounded soldiers, including those strapped to stretchers, were capable of moving as the ship rapidly sank. “I sat there in the dark alone and heard screams from all over,” Huber continues. “I heard them praying the Lord’s Prayer in such a voice as I will never hear again. Somewhere the ship was burning and people everywhere were jumping into the water.”13 

As the Stueben’s stern rose high out of the water, hundreds leaped overboard, including some who were torn to pieces by the still-turning propellers. Within seven minutes, the ship plunged beneath the waves, swiftly silencing a final mass scream that seemed to arise from a single voice. Of the 3,500 passengers aboard, only Franz Huber and a few hundred more survived.14 

“Once you have heard an underwater explosion you never forget it . . . ,” revealed another wounded soldier, Jan Montyn, whose hospital ship was torpedoed on the Baltic. 

Everything hits the ceiling and bounces back again. For a moment the portholes are darkened as the water crashes down. Stretchers are upturned, everyone screams and shouts at once. The engine dies. . . . And then arose a sound which none of the survivors would ever forget. A sound so dreadful and terrifying that no words can describe it: the cries of thousands of people, their screams reverberating round the ship’s hold. Already we were listing badly. Everything— people, stretchers—slid to one side. I tried to raise myself, but sank back in pain. Then, through a red haze, I saw a shadow coming towards me. Two arms picked me up like a child. I catch a glimpse of a face, a familiar face, grimacing with the exertion—then I lose consciousness. Thereafter everything seems to be happening very far away. Sometimes I am there, then I am not. Light comes and goes, noise alternates with utter silence. 

A heavy panting close to my ear. A tottering. We are falling. But we don’t fall. A steel door slams shut. Sunlight. My head knocks against the side of a gangway. And at once everything goes dark. 

We are floating on a life raft, rising and falling with the waves. White foam, spray sparkling in the sunlight.... 

I catch a glimpse of the ship behind me. It is listing heavily and, like a lumbering, bloated carcass, it is slowly sinking beneath a churning crest of foam. The wild screeching of seagulls. And darkness. Then light again, as if a veil has been rent apart. We bump against the gray-painted side of a ship. The Navy, that’s what gray means. Again I am being lifted, by many people this time, and passed from hand to hand. 

I am lying on the packed forward deck of a small coast guard vessel, shivering inside a blanket that freezes solid in seconds. The man bending over me is called Schneider. But he looks away to gaze back, like everyone else on deck, at a certain point in the water. It must be a place where the surface of the sea is still whirling madly and the water surges up metres high from the pressure far below. I am lying on my back. I cannot see that place. And yet I can see it. I see it reflected in the horror in everyone’s eyes.15 
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Tragically, for thousands who successfully traversed the treacherous Baltic, American and British bombers were often the first to greet them when their ships docked. At the port of Swinemunde in northern Germany, the arrival of a navy destroyer loaded with evacuees coincided almost exactly with an Allied air raid. As the horrified captain recalled: 

There was a deathly hush on the bridge of the craft, and we could already hear the dull drone of a large number of heavy bombers reverberating from above the low-hanging clouds. Vessels of all kinds were fleeing in panic from the harbor. They rushed past us at full speed in an attempt to reach the safety of the sea before the raid began.... 

We steamed out again at fifteen knots. We had just passed the lighthouse when we heard the roar of a carpet of bombs landing on the town and harbor of Swinemunde. A high white wall signified where a line of bombs descended on the exact place where we had turned. The paralyzing tension gradually relaxed, and while we were repassing the moles on the way out two refugee children appeared on deck. They were holding hands and laughing with joy. That made us happier than anything for a long time.16 

Few such raids ended so innocently. At the same port, the freighter Andross tied up just as another attack occurred. 

“I had gone on deck to find a restroom and a bomb hit very close to me . . . ,” related ten-year-old Manfred Neumann, who, like everyone else on board, had but moments before felt himself finally safe. “I managed to get my mother and brothers up on deck. The Andross was sinking very quickly. We were led across planks from our ship to another ship. People were trying to jump to the other ship, and got squashed between them. I shall never forget the screaming of all those people trapped in the hold of the freighter as it sank. . . . The Andross took at least 2,000 people—refugees—to the bottom of the sea.”17   
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While the slow, dangerous evacuation of women, children and wounded comrades continued, the German Landser remained in the ever-shrinking pockets, ferociously fighting on so that others might live. That most in the enclaves were already doomed, all fighting men understood.“For every thousand persons embarked, some three thousand more arrived from the east,” calculated Guy Sajer. The soldier continues: 

This population, to which we could give only the most rudimentary help, paralyzed our movements and our already precarious system of defense. Within the half circle we were defending, ringing with the thunder of explosions which covered every sort of shriek and scream, former elite troops, units of the Volkssturm, amputees . . . women, children, infants, and invalids were crucified on the frozen earth. . . . 

At Memel, no one could stay out of the fighting; children and young girls dried their tears and helped the wounded, distributing food, resisting their desire to devour it, and suppressing horror and fear which were so fully justified. They performed tasks which their overburdened elders gave them, without argument or complaint. One either died or lived. . . . In the disorder of our advanced positions, civilians sometimes became directly involved in the fighting beside the soldiers; these civilians were often women.”18 

Failed Soviet assaults on the enclaves by armor or human waves was often followed by days of calm as the Russians probed other sectors of the defense. Such stalemates created scenes reminiscent of World War I. From the Courland pocket, Jan Montyn wrote: 

We saw a kilometer-wide strip of earth, churned up to the last blade of grass, riddled with craters, and covered with barbed wire entanglements. . . . Nothing moved. Everything that happened there, on either side of the dividing line . . . went on underground. It was hard to believe that under this ploughed-up strip of mud, curving away into the distant hills, there lived thousands of people. You could not see them, but you could smell them. There hung in the air a sickly, penetrating smell that became nauseatingly strong with the slightest breeze. It was the smell of the battlefield, the smell of corpses, or diarrhea.... 

Two hours on, four hours off. Day and night. Round the clock. Mud. Darkness. Mist. The smell of putrefaction and death. Sniping. Machine-gunning. Barrage. Two hours on, four hours off. Waiting. It grows dark. It grows light. And otherwise, nothing. 

I found that there was not just one enemy lurking out there, but a whole host. The soul-destroying monotony of guard duty was one of them. For you had to remain on the alert all the time. If you failed to keep under cover for just one instant, it could be fatal. Snipers were watching for their chance. Hunger and lack of sleep were enemies. The cold. The fits of insanity from which no one was immune: trench madness. Sometimes you would see someone’s gaze stiffening. Shell shock. Quickly give him a shaking. Slap his face with the flat of your hand, as hard as you can. He will become a danger to himself and others. He may start to scream and provoke fire. He may start firing haphazardly at everything that moves, including you. He may crawl out of the trench, cut and run, towards certain death.... 

But Hugo, the Belgian in our outfit, had his own unique method of working off his tensions. He did it by seeking out danger. He would take on the most amazing wagers. For a few cigarettes he was prepared to show himself briefly and wave to the other side. And he did it, too. He said he would place a hand grenade on top of his helmet and remove the firing pin. That was possible, he claimed. . . . A helmet is round and can have the same effect as an umbrella. The fragments would fly in all directions, but not downwards. A helmet is round. 

When the sound of the explosion had died away and we came out of hiding he was still standing there, clinging to the wall of the trench. Without his face.19 

When the sun suddenly appeared one day and the temperature rose to zero, Montyn and his wretched comrades considered it a “miracle.” 
American torture pen                                   American torture pen
It was as if we suddenly saw each other for the first time: filthy, our eyes ringed with black; emaciated, mostly bearded figures wrapped in a peculiar hotchpotch of rags and bits of uniform. For one day we were able to bask in the sun—a sunshine that was not confined to our side of the front line: not one shot was fired that day.... 

Coats were taken off, and the felt boots and the foot wraps, stiff with dirt, pus and congealed blood. Bare, swollen feet emerged, gray with putrefaction. Lie back! Put them up! Let the sun get at them! At last we could let everything dry out, even if just for a short time.20 

Hideous as trench warfare was, once defenders were pressed back into the towns, life became immeasurably worse. Recalls Guy Sajer of the struggle for Gotenhafen: 

There were ruins everywhere, and a strong smell of gas and burning filled the air. The wide street which led down to the docks no longer had any definition. The wreckage of the buildings which had once lined it was crumbled right across the roadbed, obstructing all passage. Along with thousands of others, we were put to work clearing away the rubble, so that trucks filled with civilians could get down to the harbor. Every five or ten minutes, planes came over, and we had to freeze where we were. The street was strafed and burned twenty or thirty times a day. . . . We were no longer counting our dead and wounded: almost no one was entirely unhurt. . . . Heavily laden horses . . . pulled a continuous train of sledges loaded with bodies wrapped in sacking or even paper.... 

House-to-house fighting had already begun in the outlying sections of the town, while thousands of civilians still waited down by the docks. From time to time, Russian shells reached as far as the embarkation area, and exploded there. 

We were trying to snatch a short rest in a cellar, where a doctor was delivering a child. The cellar was vaulted and lit by a few hastily rigged lanterns. If the birth of a child is usually a joyful event, this particular birth only seemed to add to the general tragedy. The mother’s screams no longer had any meaning in a world made of screams. . . . Once again, there was streaming blood, like the blood in the streets. . . . A short while later, after a last look at the newborn child, whose tiny cries sounded like a tinkle of delicate glass through the roar of war, we returned to the flaming street. For the child’s sake, we hoped he would die.21 
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After years of fighting and dying in a losing war, enduring battles more bloody and savage than anything known to the modern world, the doomed German units in the Baltic pockets should have simply disintegrated. And yet, they did not. Surrender, of course, was not an option. “Russia inspired such terror and had demonstrated such cruelty that no one even considered the idea,” admitted Guy Sajer. “We had to hold, no matter what it cost. . . . We had to hold, or die.”22 

To the bitter end, that iron backbone of the German Army, discipline, remained unbroken. Once again, Landser, Guy Sajer: 

The captain spoke to us, and through his firm, official voice we caught the intense emotion of the crushing load which weighed on all of us. . . . This man still wore the vestiges of a military uniform, and was still trying to impose some semblance of order in a situation of cataclysm which had swept an entire nation into a devastating retreat. This man, who knew that everything was lost, was still trying to save the moment....This discipline, which had so often annoyed us in the past, touched us now like a soothing balm.23 

And so, against fate, the handful of men fought on, contesting every inch of every block of every flaming “cauldron.” Following an unprecedented air and artillery barrage on the thin German line at Heiligenbeil, the Soviets swept in to crush what little remained. Wrote a witness to a scene that became common: 

The Russian armored wedges drove forward, with the troops coming up behind roaring their Uras! But not all life was extinct. Covered with earth, the hardened Landser emerged from their holes. They threw their machine guns over the parapets of the trenches, shot into the gray-brown masses with their assault rifles and machine pistols, and dashed forward with their Panzerfausts against the enemy tanks.24

No amount of courage or discipline could compensate for numbers or equipment, however. Gradually, the coastal pockets were pressed back until German territory was measured in a few kilometers, or in some cases, to several hundred yards of sandy seashore. A tank sergeant remembers the last stand at Hoff: 

I was standing on the coastal cliffs with General Hans von Tettau, whose vehicle had been abandoned. The Russian infantry came storming towards us with wild cries of Ura! but von Tettau called out with quiet confidence to one of his staff officers: “Now then, gentlemen, let’s give them something to remember!” We all proceeded to shoot at the attacking troops as calmly as if we had been on a rifle range. I picked up a rifle from one of the casualties and joined in.... 

The Russians then opened fire with mortars, but the bombs passed over us and landed on the beach. I looked in that direction and my stomach churned. Behind and beneath us, in the lee of the cliffs, the refugees were fleeing to the west, and the Russian shells were bursting among them.25 

Frantic to escape such carnage, desperate civilians fled across the ice of the Frisches Haff, a bay several miles wide separating the mainland from a barrier island, or Nehrung. Along this slender strip of sand that led west towards Danzig, all were hoping to reach safety. Unfortunately, the bitter cold changed to rain just when many treks set out. Recounted one survivor of the perilous journey: 

The ice was breaking and at some places we had to drag ourselves with pains through water nearly a foot deep. We continually tried the surface with sticks. Bomb-craters compelled us to make detours. We often slipped and thought we were already lost. With our clothes wet through and through movement was difficult. But deadly fear drove us on in spite of our shivering bodies. I saw women do superhuman things. As leaders of treks they instinctively found the safest way for their carts. House utensils were lying scattered all over the ice, wounded people crept up to us with imploring gestures, dragged themselves along on sticks and were pushed forward by friends on little sledges.26 

“Private cars and other vehicles of every kind frequently disappeared into crevices covered over by thin films of ice,” reported one horrified witness.27 

Juergen Thorwald describes the long, nightmarish experience of another refugee: 

The journey over the ice began. She watched the lead wagon ahead, and the thaw-water splashing around its wheels. The ice groaned and creaked. To the right and the left lay the victims of other days: sunken wagons with all their load, the frozen carcasses of horses—and some men and women, dead, grotesquely twisted. The girl tried to look straight ahead. But she saw it all. 

Soft parts of the ice had been covered with planks. But that meant little. The girl passed wagons that had broken through not more than an hour ago. There were many stops—more vehicles broke through the ice, they were being unloaded and, if possible, pulled out again. The wagon ahead of her broke through after half an hour. One of the women who had walked alongside had fallen into a hole—now they were fishing for her with poles. The coachman had cut the harness of the horses, and the dripping animals were trying to work out of the water in deadly fright. But the wagon was lost. She and those who followed drove around it. 

At seven o’clock Russian planes swooped down on them. They attacked farther ahead. She saw them dive, and heard the clatter of the machine guns and the dull explosions of their small bombs. There was panic, horses tore loose, distance was not kept, and a whole row of wagons broke through the overburdened ice. Some horses drowned. The shrill voices of women called for help. Some women, silent with a despair beyond all words, circled around holes in the ice that had swallowed a child, a mother, a husband. Or they ran to the next wagon and, on their knees, begged:“Please don’t leave us,” they whimpered,“oh, please! Please help—please don’t leave us. . . .” 

Toward eight o’clock the shore line of the Nehrung appeared under a gray haze. But the way was still far, and the wrecks of the past days showed what toll the last stretch would take. At one point there lay so many dead people and animals that it seemed as though the sight of land had made them lose their caution and had killed them. 

The girl shut her eyes and dragged the horses around a crack in the ice and across a dead man’s body. The horses shied. . . . It had been an old man. He had walked on two canes. She ran over him and closed her eyes again and leaned on the back of the horse. 

Still no respite. The north wind sprang up. The sky grew darker, its yellow tinge threatening more snow. Just as she began to distinguish the low growth of trees on the Nehrung, the snow began to fall. It fell, and quickly hid the lead wagon from her view. She heard the crack of breaking ice. But she moved on. She drove the horses forward. Once she got on a shaky floe of ice. The rear wheels broke through, but the horses pulled them out.... 

To the right through the drifting snow, she saw the shaft of a wagon sticking upright out of the ice. The girl veered to the left, and suddenly the horses pulled ahead. Their front hooves broke through—but they touched bottom. They had reached the bank of the Nehrung.28 

Understandably hesitant to risk such a crossing, thousands of refugees tried running the gauntlet along the coastal highways. If anything, the carnage along the crowded roads was worse than that on the ice. Wrote Robert Poensgen, a military dispatch rider: 

For kilometers on end the road was totally jammed with vehicles drawn up three and four abreast—petrol tankers, ammunition trucks, teams of horses, ambulances. It was impossible to move forwards or back. Russian combat aircraft now arrived in wave after wave, and threw bombs into that unprotected, inextricable mass. This is what hell must be like. Ammunition exploded, and burning petrol sprayed over dead, wounded and living, over men and horses. . . . It was the worst thing I have ever seen in all my years of active service—and I tell you I had already seen a lot.29 

“Twice we were attacked by Soviet planes, swooping low and scattering missiles . . . ,” remembered Guy Sajer from another road. “Each impact tore long, bloody furrows in the dense mass, and for a moment the wind was tinged with the warm smell of disemboweled bodies.”30 

“Never had I seen so many bodies . . . ,” a witness added as he moved west along the coast. “Between the corpses were strewn dead horses, the overturned carts of the refugees, bogged-down military transport, burnt-out cars, weapons and equipment. . . . It was depressing enough to see the soldiers, who had nothing to eat for days and were totally exhausted, but the faces of the women were indescribable.”31 

“Demented mothers threw their children into the sea,” said another horror-struck trekker. “People hanged themselves. . . . Everyone thought only of himself; no one was able to help the sick and the weak.”32 

While the butchery on land was in progress, the slaughter at sea continued. On the morning of April 13, Soviet aircraft pounced upon the refugee-laden Karlsruhe when the little freighter fell behind its convoy. Struck by a bomb and air torpedoes, the ship broke apart and sank in a matter of minutes. Of the one thousand people aboard, fewer than two hundred were rescued.33 

Three days later, near midnight, torpedoes fired by a Soviet submarine exploded against the side of the Goya, a large transport carrying 7,000 people. Like the Karlsruhe, the Goya quickly broke in two and plunged to the bottom in four minutes. Added to the horror of those struggling in the black sea was a huge, fiery bubble bursting to the surface as the boilers exploded. When rescue ships finally reached the scene, only 183 survivors were plucked from the icy waters.34 
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Meanwhile, as the Soviets closed for the kill, Konigsberg, Memel, Gotenhafen, Pillau, and other besieged ports began their death dance. “Around me all hell broke loose,” said Landser, Robert Poensgen, on the last moments of Danzig. “This whole area of the town was being thrashed by round after round of heavy and superheavy caliber. Houses broke apart like bundles of kindling, roof timbers were hurled high into the air and masonry crashed into the street. In an instant everything was shrouded in a red-brick dust. Yellow and red flames flashed and flared repeatedly through the veil.”35 

Added a comrade from Konigsberg: 

The city fell into ruins and burned. The German positions were smashed, the trenches ploughed up, embrasures leveled with the ground, companies buried, the signals system torn apart, and ammunition stores destroyed. Clouds of smoke lay over the remnants of the houses of the inner city. On the streets were strewn fragments of masonry, shot-up vehicles and the bodies of horses and human beings.36 

In a world where smoke and fire and bombs and bullets had become the only reality, it was often the surreal that struck most Landsers during the final hours. Recalled Guy Sajer of Hela: 

The last victim I was to see was a dirty white horse. A Russian plane had been hit, and was disintegrating above us. We all watched as the forward part of the plane, whose racing engine gave off a long howl, plunged toward the ground. The noise terrified the animal, which slipped its collar and galloped, whinnying, toward the spot where the roaring mass of metal would land. It must have taken about three steps before it was hit. Its flesh was scattered for over fifteen yards in all directions.37 

And within the greater overall tragedy was occurring a myriad of smaller ones. As the remnant of Danzig’s defenders began withdrawing through the streets during a lull in the bombardment, dispatch riders on motorcycles led the way. 

Girls from Zoppot and Danzig were sitting in some of the sidecars. They had been with the troops for some days now, and nobody objected to that. We noted the dearly beloved of the dispatch rider from the Pioneers—she was a pretty railway conductress, and he was determined to marry her at the first opportunity. 

There was something sinister about the way the narrow gables of the old houses soared into the sky. They were thin, and they seemed to sway in the wind. The thought was still in my mind when someone yelled a warning from in front: “Watch out! The wall’s coming down!” I saw the motorcycles buzz into confused movement in a fraction of a second, and then the wall broke into several pieces in the air and crashed on the crowd. There was a roar, a crack, a violent gust of air—and then an impenetrable cloud of dust. I stood as if paralyzed on the running board. 

We all hastened to the scene of the catastrophe, where the debris lay nearly one metre deep over the motor cycles. All the soldiers were safe—for years now their reactions had been honed to lightning speed, and they had been able to leap to one side. But the girls had not moved from the sidecars and they were all buried. Cold sweat ran down our backs as we began to dig like madmen. The little Pioneer dispatch rider seemed to be out of his mind. We helped him to lift his dead bride from the sidecar. With extreme care he proceeded to wash her face, which was covered with a thick layer of dust.38 

As the end neared, small, scattered units attempted to break out. Remembered one officer: 

Every company was furnished with guides who knew the ground. It later transpired that they were useless, for local knowledge ceased to be of any help in the inferno which had once been the inner city.... Ghostly lunar landscapes came into being in place of the great avenues which used to lead through the city. Paths could be reconnoitered, and just an hour later they were impassable. There was a continual crashing from the impact of bombs, shells, and heavy Katusha rockets, while the remaining facades of the buildings collapsed into the streets and the ground was torn up by mighty bomb craters.39 

While some soldiers and civilians were rescued by small craft still daring the coastline, others quickly fashioned rafts of tires, boards and anything that would float. Many more, however, died fighting among the ruins or were slaughtered on the beaches. As the cities burned and as Russian troops moved in, Soviet loudspeakers—between soothing blasts of waltz music—called on Germans to surrender quietly, promising food, freedom and safety.40 At the same time, millions of leaflets signed by Ilya Ehrenburg, fluttered down on the Russians:“soldiers of the red army! kill the germans! kill all germans! kill! kill! kill!”41 
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Like everyone else, Anna Schwartz was huddled in her basement when Danzig finally fell. 

In the following calm we heard the Russian panzer rolling in, and the first cheers of the Russian soldiers. Shortly afterwards Russian soldiers were heard coming down the steps of the cellar. The first Russian soldiers stood in front of us, and the first word we heard from them was:“Urr!”“Urr!” There was a stink of alcohol, sweat and dirty uniforms. After they had robbed us of our watches, with machine-pistols in their hands, they hastily disappeared into the next cellar, and did the same there. After five minutes the next two came, and so it continued, until we had no more jewelry, and the contents of our trunks had been turned upside down. 

In the meantime we heard the shrieks of women, who were being raped by Mongols. Suddenly a Russian officer appeared and called upon us in broken German, to leave the cellar at once. As quickly as we could, we took hold of our trunks and rucksacks, which had been searched over and over again, and rushed into the yard, which was full of guns and soldiers. All around the houses were burning, shells were exploding, and ...wounded people and horses were screaming.42 

After the fall of Konigsberg, Hans Graf von Lehndorff courageously held to his post as hospital surgeon. When Red soldiers burst into the building, bedlam erupted as the frenzy for watches and jewelry began. 

The arrival of the first officers destroyed my last hopes of coming to tolerable terms. Any attempt to talk to them failed. Even for them I am only a coat rack with pockets; they see me only from the shoulders downward. A few nurses who got in their way were seized and dragged off and then released again thoroughly disheveled before they realized what was happening. The older nurses were the first victims. They wandered aimlessly along the corridors, but there was no place to hide, and new tormentors kept pouncing upon them.43 

As terrible as the situation seemed, it was trivial compared to what occurred when the Russians discovered a distillery near the hospital. Dr. von Lehndorff: 

They burst in here from the factory in crowds—officers, soldiers, riflewomen, all drunk. And not a chance of hiding anybody from them, because the whole neighborhood was lit up as bright as day by the burning buildings. . . . Now something like a tide of rats flowed over us, worse than all the plagues of Egypt together. Not a moment went by but the barrel of an automatic was rammed against my back or my belly, and a grimacing mask yelled at me for sulfa. Apparently most of these devils have got venereal disease. . . . On all sides we heard the desperate screams of women: “Shoot me then! Shoot me!” But the tormentors preferred a wrestling match to any actual use of their guns. 

Soon none of the women had any strength left to resist. In a few hours a change came over them: their spirit died, you heard hysterical laughter which made the Russians even more excited.... A major who seemed to be still relatively reasonable, sent for me. . . . Thirty to forty Russians were rampaging among the patients. I was to tell him who these people were. Sick people, of course, what else? But what sort of sick people, he wanted to know. Well, all sorts; scarlet fever, typhus, diphtheria. . . . He gave a yell and hurled himself like a tank among his men. But he was too late; when the tumult had subsided, four women were already dead.44 

When the hospital caught fire, von Lehndorff and his staff began evacuation. 

Soon the whole hillside was occupied by patients, and the Russians were rushing wildly among them like a horde of baboons, carrying off indiscriminately nurses or patients, harassing them and demanding watches for the hundredth time. . . . I shouldered again a rather heavy man, and had just crossed the footbridge when I was stopped by a Russian. . . . I had to drop the man. The Russian ransacked him, then shot him in the belly as if by mistake, and went on. The man sat there, looking at me, an inquiry in his eyes. If only I could have given him the finishing shot! I gave him a dose of morphine and left him lying by the side of the road.45 

At night, the horror increased tenfold as the drunken mob went on a rampage of murder and rape. 

“Grandma is too old,” Klara Seidler pleaded when a young soldier forced her into a telephone booth. 

“Grandmother must!” said the rapist over and over. 

Near the booth, a young mother was grabbed as she tried to slip her three children into a cellar. When the children began screaming, a huge soldier hurled them headfirst into a wall, one after the other. Despite her own torture, Klara Seidler would never forget the sound of little skulls being crushed. 

When the rapists left, Klara and other women tried in vain to shield the hysterical mother as another gang appeared. The shrieking woman was thrown down and one after another the soldiers continued the attack.46 

Soon after the fall of Danzig, hundreds of women and girls pleaded with an officer for protection. The Russian pointed to a Catholic cathedral. After the females were safely inside, the officer yelled to his men, motioned to the church, and with bells ringing and organ pipes roaring the horror continued all night. Some women inside were raped more than thirty times. 

“They even violated eight-year-old girls and shot boys who tried to shield their mothers,” groaned a priest.47
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The bloody nightmare which enveloped the Baltic coast was neither more nor less than that which transpired wherever the Soviets occupied German soil. In many places—Silesia, Prussia, Pomerania, the German communities of Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia— the horror had been in progress for weeks. There, the ghastly atrocities had abated little, if any, with the passage of time and to some it seemed as though Red soldiers were in a race with one another to see who could destroy, murder and, above all, rape the most. Some women and children were assaulted ten, twenty, even thirty times a night and for a female to be ravished one hundred times a week was not uncommon. 

“One could hardly any longer call it raping . . . ,” a victim moaned. “The women were passive instruments.”48 

Thousands, of course, died from hemorrhaging and many who survived looked, acted and felt “like zombies.” There was no reprieve for anyone, living or dead.“Russian soldiers even went so far as to violate some of the female corpses that lay in the mortuary at the cemetery prior to burial,” revealed one clergyman from Rosenberg.49 

Desperate to save her little child from further assault, one frantic mother begged a commanding officer for mercy. “He asked to see the girl,” wrote a witness, “and when she appeared, he, too, raped her, and then sent her home.”50 

“Our fellows were so sex-starved,” a Russian major laughed, “that they often raped old women of sixty, or seventy or even eighty—much to these grandmothers’ surprise, if not downright delight. But I admit it was a nasty business, and the record of the Kazakhs and other Asiatic troops was particularly bad.”51 

Of all things German, nothing—not even the Nazi Party—aroused greater hatred among hard-core communists than the Christian religion, particularly the Catholic Church. Relates a priest from Grottkau: 

He was utterly godless and the sight of my priest’s robe apparently infuriated him. He kept insisting that I deny the existence of God and, seizing hold of my breviary, threw it onto the floor. Finally, he dragged me out into the street and pushed me against a wall in order to shoot me. . . . He had just placed me against the wall when all the men, women and children, who had been sheltering in the house . . . appeared on the scene. They stood around us, pale and terrified. Thereupon he began to scatter the crowd by shooting at random in every direction. When he and I were finally alone once more he pointed his revolver at me, but it was empty. He started reloading it, but whilst he was doing so, two other officers, who had apparently heard the shots, came into sight. They rushed up to him and snatched the revolver from his grasp.... then dragged him away.52 

“He stood at the altar like a lord and eyed us triumphantly,” a priest from another church remembered. 

Then he ordered our old vicar to go outside with him. After a quarter of an hour they returned. The expression on the vicar’s face was dreadful. He collapsed in front of the altar, muttering, “Shoot me, but shoot me here, at the altar. I refuse to leave the altar!”—The nuns screamed, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” The Russian grinned, triumphant in his power and strength. With a lordly gesture he walked away from the vicar.53 

Lucky in these cases, most clergymen were not so fortunate. Many died in the prescribed Marxist manner: Bullet to the neck and skull bashed to bits.54 For some Soviets, nuns were an especial target of debasement. Reveals a priest from Klosterbrueck: 

They had been tortured and raped by officers for several hours. Finally they returned, their faces swollen and beaten black and blue. . . . At the neighboring village.... the Russians made all the nuns assemble in one room. Some of the younger nuns had managed to hide in the nick of time, in the water-cistern up in the attic. The rest of them were treated in a dreadful manner. They tried to defend themselves, but it was of no avail. They were brutally raped by the Russians,—even the oldest nuns, who were eighty. For four hours the Russians ransacked the house, behaving like wild animals. In the morning they then boasted in the village that there were no longer any virgins at the convent.55 

“The nuns were completely exhausted when they came back.... We all sat there huddled together in one small room and prayed . . . ,” wrote a witness from another parish.“Again and again we heard heavy footsteps approaching, and Russians came and went. At about midnight a new lot of fiends entered the room. They kicked those who had lain down on the floor in order to get a little rest; they fired shots at the ceiling, and tore the nuns’ hoods off their heads. I shall never forget the terrible screams of the women and children.”56 

Like their lay sisters, nuns were raped with such sadistic regularity that some simply stopped praying. But most did not. 

Suddenly he dealt the priest a savage blow on the head, making it bleed. Thereupon the Russian became even more enraged; he rushed up to some of the nuns, ripped their garments, and began beating them with his sword. Finally he dragged one of the young nuns into a corner in order to rape her. There was nothing we could do, but pray to the Lord that she would be spared. Suddenly the door near the altar opened and a tall, young officer appeared. He immediately realized what was happening, ran towards the back of the chapel, seized hold of the other officer, threw him to the floor like a sack of flour, put his foot on his chest, and tore the sword out of his clutches. Then he called to two soldiers, and they picked up the old officer and threw him out of the chapel as if he were a log of wood. He turned to us and told us that we need no longer fear lest the man returned, and said that he would post guards in front of the chapel.57 
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As the case above makes clear, it was the confusing contradictions displayed by the Russian Army that proved most horrifying to Germans. Like some large, wild animal, victims could never be certain of its reaction in any given situation. Indeed, even in their most dire distress many Germans took note of these perplexing paradoxes. Within the span of a day, an hour, or just a few minutes, a German family might encounter the extremes of the Russian Army—from the correct, considerate captain who never drank and played perfect Chopin on the parlor piano to the bellowing, drunken major who entered a short time later and destroyed not only the piano but the parlor as well. And even among individual soldiers themselves was a seeming jumble of contradictions. Described by their countrymen, Tolstoy and Dostojevsky, as “grown-up children . . . totally unreliable in their thinking and acting,” the incredible mood swings of the average Russian soldier was indeed terrifying to behold.58 

“They are all like that,” a farmer’s wife insisted, shaking her head in disbelief. “They change from friend to foe from one second to another and become different people.”59 

Indeed, the same soldier who could brutally beat, bite, and rape a pleading mother could the next moment gently stroke and cuddle her infant. While many rapists were not discomfited in the least by a crying, screaming child, most were. 

“They were shoving Fraulein Behn before them into the bedroom,” one woman wrote,“when suddenly, catching sight of the baby and the four-year-old . . . asleep together in the cot, they stopped short. ‘Leetle child?’ said one of them in German, clearly taken by surprise. For fully a minute the two soldiers stared at the cot, then slowly, on tiptoe, withdrew from the apartment.”60 

It was also noted by many that a sick child was often all that stood between a mother and rape. Most Russians displayed genuine affection for German children, feeding them, playing with them and granting concessions that would have meant certain death for adults. When little boys in a village were threatened by Soviet officials with summary execution if caught pilfering any more coal from railway cars, the orders apparently never reached the guards. 

“When they saw the boys arrive with their wagons,” said a viewer, “they turned their backs on them and kicked the coal down with their feet for the boys to pick up.”61 

“She has discovered that her little blond cherub-daughter never fails to delight the soldiers,” recorded Regina Shelton of a friend. “While keeping her close, she permits the child to be talked to and cuddled by the strange men. Whether a national trait, as some claim, or simply the longing of lonely men for their families, no Russian we meet or hear about hurts this or any other child.”62 

Sadly, this was not entirely true. As countless tiny corpses attested, innocence was no assurance of safety. “Mrs. K. has lost her little girl, Gretel, who was nine,” a Silesian priest reported. “She was shot by the Russians because she tried to protect her mother from being raped.”63 

Next to their mania for wristwatches, the novelty most sought by Soviets was the bicycle. Despite the chaos and horror all around, some Germans stared in disbelief as Russians “discovered”this strange new device. 

“They seized every bicycle in the village,” said a spectator,“but didn’t know how to ride, fell off, and tried again until one corporal in a fit of rage smashed his machine to junk. Suddenly the rest followed him in an orgy of wheel smashing, and they left a mountain of wrecked bicycles on the street.”64 

“It was quite amusing,” another observer added, “to watch them get on a bicycle, fall off, pick themselves up off the ground, and then seize hold of the bicycle, throw it down in a rage, and kick it.”65 

Though frustrated and angry, simple soldiers returned again and again in their efforts to master the machine. Noted one viewer: “To ride them was as blissful for these men as a new mechanical toy is to a child. They shouted with delight when all went well, and yelled in distress when they fell off or rode at full speed into a wall. No bicycle was safe from their clutches, and as there were not enough to go around, they fought over them amongst themselves.”66 
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From their first step into the Reich, Russians were awed by the abundance. As often noted, many German women initially escaped rape by hiding in attics. Knowing only the mud and stick huts of their primitive homeland, some Soviets were frightened by stairs. Prowling below, however, Red troops entered a world they had hardly conceived of.  

“Why you war?” an incredulous Russian asked of a German.“In Germany is everything. Here more to be taken out of one house than in our country out of whole village!”67 

“Every drawer was full of things!” added a stunned comrade.68

The great number of automobiles, tractors, motorcycles, washing machines, stoves, mixers, radios, and other common articles of the modern world were beyond the comprehension of many Soviets. Even electricity and plumbing were a source of wonder. Some soldiers pried spigots from German kitchens, innocently assuming that they simply had to pound them into walls at home to receive running water. Others delicately packed light bulbs, eager to carry the magic back to their villages. Many Russians refused to believe that a toilet bowl was used for anything other than washing potatoes. 

“All of us, officers and men, saw the riches and prosperity of a capitalist country and couldn’t believe our eyes. We had never believed there could be such an abundance of goods,” admitted one soldier.69 

Aware that such wealth would have a profound impact on their men—and stir suspicions—commissars explained that all the property had been stolen from other people in other lands.70 Only the simplest Red soldier accepted such words. Remembered Lali Horstmann:“‘In Russia only men at the top have everything, we nothing,’ he said, violently striking the table. ‘Many others think as I do; if you repeat this, I will be shot,’ he continued in a lower voice, looking around. Though he knew no other system than Communism, he was a human being.”71 

It was this cold, cruel reality, perhaps—more than motives of revenge or propaganda—which explained the plague-like destruction that swept eastern Germany. Not enough to murder, rape and plunder, the angry Red Army seemed bent on effacing everything it touched in recompense for the treatment it had received at the hands of its own government.72 Homes lucky enough to escape the torch were commonly destroyed or defiled in a most revolting manner. When Erika Hansen’s mother and sisters returned to their house in Schoeneiche, they were greeted by “a devastating stench that took their breath away.” 

“Human excrement had been smeared all over the walls . . . ,” Erika noted in disgust. “Furniture had been smashed and parts had been dumped out of the windows. . . . Trash and dirt covered every room as if a tornado had roared through.”73 

When one Silesian pastor decided to assess the damage done to a local convent and church, he discovered “complete havoc.” 

I walked through the empty rooms; all the bedding had been slit to pieces and feathers lay strewn all over the floor. Books, damaged beyond use, had been scattered about the rooms, and the Russians had poured syrup and preserves over them and, as if to add the crowning touch to the civilization they had brought us, had even covered them with human excrements. Incidentally, this description could be applied to every house in the town.74 

The devastation on the countryside was fully as great as that in the towns. Indeed, the wave that rolled over the landscape was a blight of Biblical proportions. Barns were burned, grain destroyed, even orchards and nurseries were chopped down or deliberately flattened by armored vehicles. Relates a Russian soldier:“A lieutenant unsheathed a knife, walked up to a cow, and struck her a death-blow at the base of the skull. The cow’s legs folded under, and she fell, while the rest of the herd, bellowing madly, stampeded and ran away. The officer wiped the sharp edge on his boots and said: ‘My father wrote to me that the Germans had taken a cow from us. Now we are even.’”75 


Like a machine out of control, the Red Army transferred its rage and hatred to everything it touched. “I recognized a great number of East Prussian horses harnessed to wagons and with riders on their backs,”recalled a German prisoner.“The horses had become quite spiritless, used to the abominable paces forced upon them—a high-stepping trot changing into a furious gallop. It was torture to hear them tearing past on the paved road, heads jerked backwards, mouths torn and bleeding.”76 

Nothing escaped the fury. Continues the same witness: “A stork, probably just coming back from the south, was fired at with automatics by the Russians leading our group. Astonished, the bird rose into the air and winged its way towards Gross Germau which lay before us on a small hill. Over the village a volley of a hundred shots brought it down like a stone.”77 

Even carp ponds were dynamited and the fish left to rot. “Nothing is guiltless,” proclaimed Comrade Ehrenburg in leaflets showering down on the front. “Kill, Kill, Kill!” 
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Of all the methods used to express its anger, the Red Army said it best with rape. From eight to eighty, healthy or ill, indoors or out, in fields, on sidewalks, against walls, the spiritual massacre of German women continued unabated. When even violated corpses could no longer be of use, sticks, iron bars and telephone receivers were commonly rammed up their vaginas.78 

“This sort of thing,”wrote a witness,“soon occurred to such an extent that it made many of the Soviet officers shudder.”79 

“Shudder” though many Red officers undoubtedly did, most lacked either the moral, physical or political authority to stop it. With no rules or regulations, no laws or discipline, the most depraved of the depraved had a field day, transforming their sadistic fantasies into fact. When Soviet soldiers captured the city of Neustettin in February 1945, they discovered several large camps of the Women’s Reich Labor Service, an organization composed mostly of girls who worked on various projects from nursing to street repair. A young citizen of Brazil, nineteen year-old Leonora Cavoa, was a member of one group. Because her country was on good terms with the Allies, Leonora was accorded special treatment by the commissar in charge. When her camp of five hundred girls was transferred to an old iron foundry, Leonora led the way. 

The Commissar was very polite to us and assigned us to the foreign workers’ barracks of the factory. But the allocated space was too small for all of us, and so I went to speak to the Commissar about it. He said that it was, after all, only a temporary arrangement, and offered that I could come into the typists’ office if it was too crowded for me—which I gladly accepted. He immediately warned me to avoid any further contact with the others, as these were members of an illegal army. My protests that this was not true were cut off with the remark that if I ever said anything like that ever again, I would be shot. 

Suddenly I heard loud screams, and immediately two Red Army soldiers brought in five girls. The Commissar ordered them to undress. When they refused out of modesty, he ordered me to do it to them, and for all of us to follow him. We crossed the yard to the former works kitchen, which had been completely cleared out except for a few tables on the window side. It was terribly cold, and the poor girls shivered. In the large, tiled room some Russians were waiting for us, making remarks that must have been very obscene, judging from how everything they said drew gales of laughter. The Commissar told me to watch and learn how to turn the Master Race into whimpering bits of misery. 

Now two Poles came in, dressed only in trousers, and the girls cried out at their sight. They quickly grabbed the first of the girls, and bent her backwards over the edge of the table until her joints cracked. I was close to passing out as one of them took his knife and, before the very eyes of the other girls, cut off her right breast. He paused for a moment, then cut off the other side. I have never heard anyone scream as desperately as that girl. After this operation he drove his knife into her abdomen several times, which again was accompanied by the cheers of the Russians. 

The next girl cried for mercy, but in vain—it even seemed that the gruesome deed was done particularly slowly because she was especially pretty. The other three had collapsed, they cried for their mothers and begged for a quick death, but the same fate awaited them as well. The last of them was still almost a child, with barely developed breasts. They literally tore the flesh off her ribs until the white bones showed. 

Another five girls were brought in. They had been carefully chosen this time, all of them were well-developed and pretty. When they saw the bodies of their predecessors they began to cry and scream. Weakly, they tried desperately to defend themselves, but it did them no good as the Poles grew ever more cruel. They sliced the body of one of them open lengthwise and poured in a can of machine oil, which they tried to light. A Russian shot one of the other girls in the genitals before they cut off her breasts. 

Loud howls of approval began when someone brought a saw from a tool chest. This was used to tear up the breasts of the other girls, which soon caused the floor to be awash in blood. The Russians were in a blood frenzy. More girls were being brought in continually. 

I saw these grisly proceedings as through a red haze. Over and over again I heard the terrible screams when the breasts were tortured, and the loud groans at the mutilation of the genitals.... It was always the same, the begging for mercy, the high-pitched scream when the breasts were cut and the groans when the genitals were mutilated. The slaughter was interrupted several times to sweep the blood out of the room and clear away the bodies. . . . When my knees buckled I was forced onto a chair. The Commissar always made sure that I was watching, and when I had to throw up they even paused in their tortures. One girl had not undressed completely, she may also have been a little older than the others, who were around seventeen years of age. They soaked her bra with oil and set in on fire, and while she screamed, a thin iron rod was shoved into her vagina until it came out her navel. 

In the yard entire groups of girls were clubbed to death after the prettiest of them had been selected for this torture. The air was filled with the death cries of many hundred girls.80 

In addition to the five hundred victims at the iron works, an estimated 2,000 other girls in the camps of Neustettin suffered a similar fate.81 

And yet, as beastly and depraved as many crimes were, the average Soviet soldier remained an enigma. For every act of savagery, the Russian seemed capable of bestowing a kindness. “It is necessary, in order to understand all this,” explained one man, “to have experienced, how a Russian soldier shared his last bread with German children, or how a Russian driver loaded an old woman, without being requested to do so, on his truck, and brought her home with her half broken up hand-cart. But it is also necessary to have experienced, how the same man lay in ambush in a cemetery, in order to attack women and girls, and to plunder and rape them. Such things happened daily.”82 

“Always the extremes,”added another victim.“Either ‘Woman, come!’ and excrement in the living room, or refined manners and bowings.”83 

The fate of a priest at Ritterswalde was the fate experienced by thousands of Germans: 

They treated us quite kindly. Two Russian soldiers then came back again to the chapel, offered us cigarettes, and sat down near to the altar. I remained standing in front of the altar, and we tried to converse with each other in a mixture of Polish, Russian, and German. Suddenly, however, a third Russian appeared in the doorway, caught sight of me, and aimed his revolver at me. One bullet hit me in the lung and the other caught me in the thigh. I collapsed in front of the altar.84 

Understandably, many Germans, like the man above, found “life” in such an unpredictable world unbearable. As a consequence, many exercised the only option left. 

“Father, I can’t go on living!” one woman muttered to her priest. “Thirty of them raped me last night.”85 

Many times, clergymen like the above could thwart suicides, which in some towns carried off a quarter of the population. In most cases, however, they could not. 

“We screamed, we begged them to leave us in peace,” said a rape victim in Striegau, “but they showed us no mercy. We resolved to end our lives.” 

Everyone had a knife and a piece of rope. Frau P. was first. Young Frau K. hanged her daughter and then herself. Her dear mother did the same with her sister. Now only two of us remained. I asked her to fix my rope for I was too upset to do it. Then we embraced one more time and kicked the luggage away on which we had stood. I, however, could touch the floor with my toes . . . the rope was too long. I tried over and over—I wanted to die. I looked to the right and to the left, we hung in a row. They were well off, they were dead. As for me, I had no choice but to free myself from the rope.86 

Though not by their own hand, other determined women surrendered to suicide just as surely. 

A big Russian came in. He did not utter a single word, but looked around the room and then went to the back where all the young girls and women were sitting. He beckoned once with his finger to my sister. As she did not stand up at once, he went close up to her and held his machine pistol against her chin. Everyone screamed aloud, but my sister sat mutely there and was incapable of moving. Then a shot resounded. Her head fell to the side and the blood streamed out. She was dead instantly, without uttering a single sound. The bullet had gone from her chin to her brain and her skull was completely shattered. The Russian looked at us all, and went away again.87 

Meanwhile, in what remained of the Reich, most Germans still knew surprisingly little of the savage fate befalling their countrymen. Doubters yet attributed the hair-raising reports of genocide to Dr. Goebbels’s propaganda machine. By bits and pieces, however, the truth did emerge. When a small German counterattack temporarily recaptured Neustettin, young soldiers, unaware of the Russian rampage occurring behind the lines, began herding up their prisoners. “Then something unexpected happened,”remembered an astonished Landser. 

Several German women ran towards the Russians and stabbed at them with cutlery forks and knives.... It was not until I fired a submachine gun into the air that the women drew back, and cursed us for presuming to protect these animals. They urged us to go into the houses and take a look at what they had done there. We did so, a few of us at a time, and we were totally devastated. We had never seen anything like it—utterly, unbelievably monstrous! 

Naked, dead women lay in many of the rooms. Swastikas had been cut into their abdomens, in some the intestines bulge out, breasts were cut up, faces beaten to a pulp and swollen puffy. Others had been tied to the furniture by their hands and feet, and massacred. A broomstick protruded from the vagina of one, a besom from that of another.... 

The mothers had  to witness how their ten and twelve-year-old daughters were raped by some 20 men; the daughters in turn saw their mothers being raped, even their grandmothers. Women who tried to resist were brutally tortured to death. There was no mercy.... 

The women we liberated were in a state almost impossible to describe.... Their faces had a confused, vacant look. Some were beyond speaking to, ran up and down and moaned the same sentences over and over again. Having seen the consequences of these bestial atrocities, we were terribly agitated and determined to fight. We knew the war was past winning; but it was our obligation and sacred duty to fight to the last bullet.88 

next
The Last Bullet

notes
1. Steinert, Hitler’s War, 279. 
2. McKee, Dresden 1945, 32. 
3. Ibid.
4. Thorwald, Flight in the Winter, 127–128. 
5. Sajer, Forgotten Soldier, 416,438, 441.
6. Thorwald, Flight, 174. 
7. Sajer, Forgotten Soldier, 416, 448. 
8. Thorwald, 126. 
9. Sajer, 438
10. Montyn, Lamb to Slaughter, 113. 
11. Thorwald, Flight, 175.
12. Dobson, Cruelest Night, 155. 
13. Ibid. 
14. Ibid., 154;Thorwald,
15. Montyn, Lamb, 113–114.
16. Duffy, Red Storm on the Reich, 234, 235. 
17. Letter of Manfred Neumann (Appin, Ont., Canada) to the author, Jan. 14, 1998. 
18. Sajer, Forgotten Soldier, 416, 417. 
19. Montyn, Lamb, 90, 96. 
20. Ibid., 101–102
21. Sajer, Forgotten, 448–449. 
22. Ibid., 416. 
23. Ibid., 440. 
24. Duffy, Red Storm, 205.
25. Ibid., 197–198. 
26. Schieder, Expulsion of the German Population, 134–135. 
27. Sajer, 439. 
28. Thorwald, Flight, 88–89. 
29. Duffy, Red Storm, 229. 
30. Sajer, Forgotten, 441. 
31. Duffy, 198. 
32. Schieder, Expulsion, 135
33. Ibid., 145. 
34. Dobson, Cruelest Night, 166–168; Toland, Last 100 Days, 405. 
35. Duffy, Red Storm, 228–229. 
36. Ibid., 212. 
37. Sajer, 452–453, 
38. Duffy, 229–230.
39. Ibid., 213–214. 
40. Schieder, Expulsion, 178. 
41. Duffy, 274.
42. Schieder, 178. 
43. Von Lehndorff, Token of a Covenant, 71. 
44. Ibid., 78–79
45. Ibid., 83, 85. 
46. Toland, 302. 
47. Keeling, Gruesome Harvest,58. 
48. Schieder, Expulsion, 257. 
49. Kaps, Silesia, 173. 
50. Ibid., 184. 
51. DeZayas, Nemesis at Potsdam, 69.
52. Kaps, 211–212. 
53. Ibid., 182. 
54. Ibid., 528. 
55. Ibid., 184–185
56. Ibid., 439. 
57. Ibid., 183.
58. Schieder, Expulsion, 228. 
59. Horstmann, We Chose to Stay, 139. 
60. Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin, 170. 
61. Chadwick, The War According to Anna, 124.
62. Shelton, To Lose a War, 110. 
63. Kaps, Silesia, 247. 
64. March, Darkness Over Europe, 242. 
65. Kaps, 283. 
66. Horstmann, We Chose to Stay, 104
67. Kaps, Silesia, 148. 
68. Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin, 237. 
69. Elliott, Pawns of Yalta, 165. 
70. Schieder, Expulsion, 229. 
71. Horstmann, 138. 
72. Howard Johnstone manuscript (Maple Hill, Kansas). 
73. Hansen, “A Woman’s Odyssey,” 162. 
74. Kaps, 424. 

75. Duffy, Red Storm, 274. 
76. Von Lehndorff, Token of a Covenant, 108. 
77. Ibid., 96. 
78. Lutz, “Rape of Christian Europe,” 15; McKee, Dresden 1945, 281. 

79. Thorwald, Flight in the Winter, 55
80. Testimony of Leonora Cavoa Geier, Deutschland-Journal, April 23, 1965, issue 17, p. 7 (copy in possession of the author). 
81. Ibid. 
82. Schieder, Expulsion, 228. 
83. Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin, 237. 
84. Kaps, Silesia, 258. 
85. Ibid., 438. 
86. Sorge, Other Price, 129
87. Schieder, Expulsion, 145–146. 
88. Testimony of “H. K.”, Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany (copy in possession of the author)