The Rape of Berlin: Red Army atrocities in 1945

"Red Army soldiers don't believe in 'individual liaisons' with German women," wrote the playwright Zakhar Agranenko in his diary whilst serving as an officer of marine infantry in East Prussia. "Nine, ten, twelve men at a time - they rape them on a collective basis."


On the outskirts of Berlin in Treptower Park stands a dramatic 12 metre high statue. It depicts a Soviet soldier brandishing a sword in one hand and clutching a young German girl in the other, as he stands victoriously on a broken swastika.

The statue stands over a mass grave, the final resting place for 5,000 of the Soviet troops who fell in the Battle of Berlin between 16th April 16th and May 2nd 1945.

It is known locally as The Tomb of the Unknown Rapist.

The number of rapes perpetrated by Soviet soldiers is uncertain as many went unreported: some due to fear of the stigma attached to being a victim, many because the victims lay dead.

The most often quoted figures are for 100,000 women in Berlin and two million on German territory as a whole; statistics that have been extrapolated from the scant surviving medical records housed in the State Archive.

The extent of the atrocities was such that Article 218 of Germany's penal code, which banned abortion, was de facto ignored for the victims of the mass rapes of 1945. Nevertheless, one former Red Army tank commander was to boast, many years later, "two million of our children were born" in Germany.

"Until that time I had lived so happily with my husband and the children. I had four children; the youngest I had to bury on May 18th; it was four months old. Now I am in a desperate condition, I do not want to have this child under any circumstances," one woman told the Health Office of Berlin's south-eastern suburb of Neukölln on December 16th 1945 as she requested an abortion on grounds of rape by a Soviet soldier.

Between June 7th 1945 and June 17th 1946, 996 such requests were approved in Neukölln alone.

Female deaths in connection with the rapes in Germany, overall, are estimated at 240,000. Bestselling British author and historian Antony Beevor, whose books have been banned in Russian schools and universities since 2015, describes it as the "greatest phenomenon of mass rape in history".

Beria and Stalin, back in Moscow, knew perfectly well what was going on from a number of detailed reports. One stated that 'many Germans declare that all German women in East Prussia who stayed behind were raped by Red Army soldiers'. Numerous examples of gang rape were given - 'girls under 18 and old women included'.

Antony Beevor, Berlin: The Downfall 1945 (Viking Penguin, 2012)

In his book, Beevor points out that the atrocities of the Red Army soldiers were not restricted to German women alone: "General Tsygankov, the head of the political department of Marshal Konev’s First Ukrainian Front, reported to Moscow on the mass rapes by Red Army officers and soldiers committed against young Soviet women who had been deported for forced labour in Germany. Tsygankov urged that the female victims should not be allowed to spread negative stories about the Red Army when they were repatriated".

For Russian historians today, in the context of Vladimir Putin's rewriting of Soviet history and his constant propagandising, it is becoming increasingly difficult to examine the events of 1945.

Vera Dubina, a young historian at the University of Humanities in Moscow, wrote a paper on the subject but struggled to get it published.

"The Russian media reacted very aggressively," she said at the time, "People only want to hear about our glorious victory in the Great Patriotic War and now it is getting harder to do proper research."

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At state level strenuous efforts are made to hide the truth. In 2014 the Russian parliament passed an amendment to the Penal Code which says that anyone who denigrates the USSR's record in World War Two faces fines up to five years in prison.

Particularly sensitive is Soviet Russia's pre-war pact with Nazi Germany - the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939.

In July 2016 Vladimir Luzgin, a 38-year old auto mechanic, was fined 200,000 rubles (€2,800) for reposting online a statement that “the Communists…actively collaborated with Germany in dividing Europe according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,” and “Communists and Germany jointly attacked Poland and started the Second World War on 1 September 1939!”

Russia's Supreme Court held that by restating the historical fact that the USSR and Germany both attacked Poland in September 1939 Luzgin had actively assisted in the “rehabilitation of Nazism” and formation of belief in the “negative activity of the USSR in the Second World War".

If people don't want to know the truth, they're just deluding themselves The entire world understands it, Russia understands it and the people behind those new laws about defaming the past, even they understand it. We can't move forward until we look back.

Vitaly Gelfand, son of Red Army diarist Vladimir Gelfand

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

In October 2021 POLITICO described Gary as "the busiest man in Brussels!"

He is a of member the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK, and the oldest in the world having been founded in October 1884

Gary's most recent book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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