Raped by Red Army soldiers,
they talk for the first time
The women were
in their 20s when they were raped by Red Army soldiers invading Germany at the end
of World War II. Sixty years later, close to two million women are talking about
their ordeal for the very first time.
"The Americans retreated from the East German town
of Halle and the Russians marched in. When that happened my female friends all fled,
but I couldn’t run because my leg was injured. So the Russians attacked me. And
they raped me."
It was the end of July 1945, when 19-year-old Ruth
Schumacher was raped by four Russian soldiers.
This was a fate shared by an estimated two million women in Germany who, at the
end of the Second World War, suddenly found themselves confronted with the Soviet
army. For decades many of these women didn’t talk about what happened – in the post-war
years, faced with the crimes of the Nazis, nobody dared focus on German suffering.
"In West Germany the topic was taboo because the Germans were seen as guilty for
the war," says Sibylle Dreher, a member of the Association of German Expellees.
"And in Soviet-occupied East Germany, people weren’t allowed to talk about the abuse
committed by the Soviet soldiers."
Over the years, women have gradually started talking about their trauma. But it’s
only now that the first scientific study is being carried out, here at the university
of Greifswald, in North East Germany. Psychiatrist Phillip Kuwert is gathering first-hand
accounts from women who were raped by Soviet soldiers.
"What happened then is now being brought to light. I think it is only now, 60 years
after the end of World War II, that it is possible to deal with this topic in a
more nuanced way. We are really seeing a development of the German collective memory,"
he says. "One aim is to develop a new sort of therapy, suitable for elderly women
who were raped in 1945. The events may have happened a long time ago: but the trauma
can still be very much felt today."
The traumatic memories of recently-widowed Ruth Schumacher, who was not able to
have children because of the rapes, are typical. "The fear always remains in your
body, and you never get rid of it. The pain lessens over time, but the fear is always
To enable women to talk about their suffering is a big step forward. Especially
since rape is still used as a weapon of war today. Last June, the UN officially
categorized sexual violence as a crime against humanity.
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