(The following is from my book, Rape Hate—Sex & Violence in War & Peace)
Traumatic as first encounters were, when the Soviet shock troops moved off many Germans would concur that the experience had not been as bad as feared. While rapes had occurred and while many German men of military age had been marched east or shot on the spot, the front line soldier was far more concerned with fighting and survival than with loot, rape and revenge. Not so with those who followed. In numerous instances, before Red combat officers and men pushed on they turned to the helpless civilians with stone-like faces:
“The Mongols are coming. . . . Very bad men. You go quick. Go quick.”
Composed largely of Mongols, Kazakhs, Kalmuks, and other Asians, as well as convicts and Jewish commissars, these men who formed the second wave of troops were regarded, even by their own comrades, as utterly merciless. Terrified by the news, many Germans did attempt to flee and move in the wake of the first Soviet wave. Most, however, found themselves trapped and could do little more than hide young girls and once again pray that their worst fears were unfounded. After a wait of sometimes days, but normally only hours, the dreaded second wave arrived. There were no preliminaries. Unlike storm troops, who cautiously entered towns and villages and slipped nervously from door to door, the rear echelons burst noisily into communities atop trucks, tanks or peasant carts crammed high with loot. Often wildly drunk, many wore a bizarre array of stolen clothes and gaudy jewelry. Adding to the chaos were herds of bellowing cattle and sheep.
“It was almost like a scene from the Middle Ages—a migration, no less,” said one stunned observer.
Soon after the “carnival columns” halted in a German town, hell on earth was unleashed. “It seemed as though the devil himself had come. . . ,” a witness from Silesia wrote. “The ‘Mongol barbarism of the Asiatic plains’ had come not in a propaganda phrase but in the flesh.”
While flames shot up from different corners of the towns and gunfire erupted as citizens were murdered in the streets, the invaders soon began kicking in doors to homes, shops and churches. “[A] whole horde of Asiatic-looking fellows appeared and started searching the cellar… ,” recalled one priest. “The place was a dreadful sight by the time they had finished. The room was already full of smoke and I begged one of the Russians to let us out. . . . Were they going to let us be burnt to death? After a while, however, a more civilized-looking Russian appeared and I repeated my request. He led us out to . . . the courtyard of the convent. The noise was deafening—the raucous shouts of the Russians, the crackling of the flames, the crashing of beams and brickwork.”
Many horrified Germans tried to greet with a smile their strange visitors. Revealed one woman from a boarding house in Berbitz:
As a precaution, the landlord, Mr. Grebmann, had lined the vestibule with liquor bottles in the naive hope that his house might thereby be spared from ransacking. To the succeeding troop of slant-eyed Mongolians, the tenants brought their jewelry and watches. Hysterical, Mrs. Friedel embraced one of the greasy Kirgis and drank with him from the same bottle, and the elderly Mr. Grebmann patted them familiarly on the back. . . . One of the Mongolians held up my Tom’s tall leather boots triumphantly, the other one put my rings into his pants pocket. . . .
Scarcely had this second detachment left the house and we were beginning to breathe freely, when fists once more thundered at the door: thus it kept up the whole day. The house doors were not permitted to be locked any more. Each took what he wanted either in a more or less harmless or in a malicious way. Soon we and the Russians were wading knee-deep in thrown-around clothing, laundry and bits of smashed dishes . . .
As soon as a new detachment of Russians entered the house noisily, we squatted trembling about the round table in Grebmann’s living room. One of the soldiers sat at the table with us with pistol disengaged and demanded schnapps or vodka, while the others rummaged around the house. . . . [N]o one dared to speak. We women sat with downcast eyes and lowered head. Someone had told us never to look a Russian in the eye, otherwise we would be lost . . .
Before long the inside of the house looked as if a band of robbers had lived there. . . . The fellows had cut the beds up into little pieces, slit open the upholstered chairs, thrown furniture around; had slashed pictures, despoiled books, cracked eggs against the wall; had poured liqueur over the rugs, torn curtains down, and scattered the entire contents of all the closets and drawers all over. One of the most painful shocks for me was to see how two of the ruffians with their heavy boots kicked the chest in which I had my beautiful porcelain wrapped in tissue paper and cotton wadding. They were all treasured pieces. . . . My most beautiful piece . . . was used by one of them as a toilet.
As a rule, the Soviets generally sought out gold and jewelry first, with an especial eye for “uri,” or wristwatches. It was not unusual to see Red troops laden with necklaces and gold chains or sporting as many as a dozen watches on each arm. When the people had been plucked clean of valuables, interest usually turned to liquor. In their mad quest for “wodka,” soldiers greedily imbibed everything from fine wines and champagne to rubbing alcohol and perfume. Red troops, observed one woman, were “crazy for anything even smelling of alcohol.”
And then. . . .
“Rape was a word that [had] occurred again and again in [our] conversation,” admitted Lali Horstmann. “It was an expression which caused no pang of fear in our times for its meaning was purely figurative—‘to be ravished’ belonged to the realm of lyrical poetry. Now its original sense was terrifyingly restored and brought us face to face with a new peril.”
“Suddenly the door of the room we were in was opened and some soldiers entered,” a frightened boy recalled as he sat with a group of women huddled in a dark room. “One or two matches were struck and I saw that there were about eight Russians in the room who were obviously looking for women.”
The child continues:
As I crouched there in my corner I saw one of the Russians coming towards me. The match he held in his hand went out. I felt, rather than saw, a hand reach out towards me. I had a fur cap on my head, and suddenly I felt fingers tracing curl-like movements on my temple. For a brief moment I did not know what to make of this, but the next instant, when a loud “No” resounded through the room, I thanked God with all my heart that I was not a woman or a girl.
Meanwhile the beasts had spotted their victims and shared them out. Then they suddenly started shooting at random. But it was dark in the room and no one could see where the shots were being fired or who was hit. I heard wails and groans and voices calling out to me to help, but there was nothing I could do. Right next to me poor defenseless women were being ravished in the presence of their children.
Merely because a female had been raped once was no guarantee she would not be assaulted again and again. “Many of the girls were raped as often as ten times a night, and even more,” said a witness from Neustadt.
“There was never a moment’s peace either by day or at night,” added another victim:
The Russians were coming and going the whole time and they kept eyeing us greedily. The nights were dreadful because we were never safe for a moment. The women were raped, not once or twice but ten, twenty, thirty and a hundred times, and it was all the same to the Russians whether they raped mere children or old women. The youngest victim in the row houses where we lived was ten years of age and the oldest one was over seventy. . . . I am sure that wild and hungry animals would not have behaved any differently.
Wrote a girl from Posen who desperately clung to a cousin for safety:
When we were lying in bed at night we kept hearing steps coming up the stairs. . . . They beat on the door with their rifle-butts, until it was opened. Without any consideration for my mother and aunt, who had to get out of bed, we were raped by the Russians, who always held a machine pistol in one hand. They lay in bed with their dirty boots on, until the next lot came. As there was no light, everything was done by pocket torches, and we did not even know what the beasts looked like.
Like hunted prey leading predators from their young, some mothers instinctively sacrificed themselves. Recorded one little girl, ten-year-old Mignon Fries:
[S]he told us in a stern voice to go outside to play and under no circumstances to come back in. No matter what we heard, until she herself would come for us, no matter how long it took. Fearfully we looked at her even though we didn’t know exactly what we were afraid of. . . . We went outside and stood around for awhile not knowing what to do, just listening to the noise in the apartment. My mother had just closed all the windows but we could still hear the soldiers talking, laughing and shouting. Then the music started and before long the soldiers were singing. . . .
The day gave way to evening, it got rather chilly and still we were outside and the “party” got noisier. Every once in a while a soldier would open a window and throw an empty vodka bottle outside. Sometimes the music would stop for a while, but the singing and shouting continued. As it got later and later we became very hungry and cold, but having been raised in an atmosphere of strict obedience we didn’t dare go back in the house against our mother’s orders and just huddled against the wall of the shed in the garden trying to keep each other warm. . . .
The music and the singing broke off as suddenly as it had started. . . . Within minutes it was all over and all the soldiers left the house. . . . But it was a long time before our mother finally came out to get us. She was very pale and hugged both of us very tightly for a long time and we could feel her body shaking.
(The following is from my book, Hellstorm–The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947)
On the afternoon of April 24, 1945, Helmuth Weidling, along with an aide, Major Siegfried Knappe, entered Berlin, his automobile escorted by a pair of roaring motorcycles. Due to the chaotic conditions caused by the Russian advance, Weidling’s corp had lost touch with other units and the general hoped to regain contact via the communications center below the Reich Chancellery. What the two officers saw on their short drive through the capital was sobering. Wrote Maj. Knappe:
The city was under fire from heavy artillery, which was probably mounted on a railroad car somewhere thirty or more kilometers away, and there was also some bombing by Russian aircraft. Fortunately, the artillery was not con- centrated; it was scattered all over the city, with a heavy artillery shell landing somewhere in the city every few minutes.
Smoke and dust covered the city. Streetcars were standing disabled in the streets, their electric wires dangling. In the eastern suburbs, many buildings were burning and the civilian population was queuing up in bread lines and in line to get water from any source that was still working. Civilians were everywhere, scurrying from cover to cover because of the artillery shells and bombs. To avoid creating a possible panic, Goebbels had refused to issue orders for civilians to leave the city, even women and children, and now thousands more were fleeing into Berlin from the east. Defending Berlin was obviously going to be a very ugly business, and many civilians were going to die in the fighting.
Arriving at the Reich Chancellery at about 6:00 p.m., we left our car and driver to proceed on foot, taking the motorcycle runners with us. The area around the Reich Chancellery was pitted with deep craters. Fallen trees were scattered about like matchsticks, and the sidewalks were blocked by piles of rubble. The Reich Chancellery was badly damaged, with only shells of walls remaining in some places. The entrance hall ... had been completely destroyed. The only part of the Reich Chancellery that was still usable was the underground bunker system. In the underground garage, we saw several Mercedes-Benzes we had seen Hitler use in parades and political rallies. There was an entrance to the passage to Fuhrer Headquarters in the underground bunker from the garage. SS guards at the entrance saluted Weidling, with his Knight’s Cross and Swords. These first guards were SS unteroffiziers, but the deeper we went toward the bunker, the higher the rank of the guards became. . . .
Fuhrer Headquarters was about three levels down from the garage. We were stopped at many guard posts, even though Weidling was a general with many impressive military decorations, and we were searched by the guards before being admitted to the actual Fuhrer bunker. The SS guards were respectful, but here we were carefully investigated as to who we were, where we came from, and what our business was. We had to show proper identification and surrender our pistols.
Then we finally entered the antechamber to the offices of … General [Hans] Krebs, and … General [Wilhelm] Burgdorf. We were announced, and Burgdorf ’s adjutant . . . came to welcome us. He led us to the next room, where both Krebs and Burgdorf awaited us. . . . They had talked to us only briefly when Krebs said he would announce Weidling’s presence to Hitler and see if Hitler wanted to talk to him. That was surprising, since Weidling had not come to see Hitler and knew of no reason Hitler would want to talk to him.
When Krebs and Burgdorf were out of the room, Weidling said quietly, “Something is wrong. They are behaving strangely.” After about ten minutes, Burgdorf returned and told Weidling that Hitler wanted to see him. I stayed behind, of course….
After about twenty more minutes, Weidling returned and told me that Hitler had ordered us to come into Berlin and take over the eastern and southern fronts of the city.
This news, startling in itself, was soon transcended by what Weidling saw and heard in the bunker. Gone were the days of cool efficiency, the days when the German High Command was a well-oiled machine hitting on all cylinders. As Weidling discovered, shouting, arguments, and finger-pointing was now the order of the day.
“What a difference between the haphazard way things were being done now and the professional way things had been done in 1940 and 1941!” reflected Maj. Knappe.
Weidling, Knappe and other visitors from “above” were also struck by the ghastly atmosphere of the bunker. Sunless, cheerless, cool, and damp, the compound’s pale and lethargic inhabitants haunted the hallways like beings from another world, or, as one inmate admitted, “like zombies.”
“Since 16 January, when Hitler had installed himself in his concrete shelter, we had to spend our time inside the bunker,” revealed one of the chancellor’s personal secretaries, Traudl Junge. “[I]t was our ninety-sixth day spent fifty feet underground, beneath sixteen-feet thick slabs of cement resting on walls some six feet wide at their base.”
More recently, Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, had moved in along with Joseph Goebbels and his large family. Adding to the cramped conditions, the Fuhrer’s top adviser, Martin Bormann, was also ensconced below.
Perhaps most shocking of all to Weidling and other newcomers to the bunker was the appearance of Adolf Hitler himself. As one officer recalled:
[T]hose of us who had known him in the earlier years before the war, when he was a human dynamo often bursting with restless energy, now noted, from about nineteen forty-two on, that he seemed to be aging at least five full years for every calendar year. Near the very end, on the day he celebrated his last birthday, he seemed closer to seventy than to fifty-six. He looked what I would call physically senile.
During that birthday gathering on April 20, scores of officials and Party members from across Germany had arrived “to greet the Fuhrer, to shake his hand and swear their loyalty.” According to Traudl Junge, many of the visitors urged their leader to leave Berlin:
“Mein Fuhrer, the city will soon be surrounded and you will be cut off from the south. There is still time to withdraw to Berchtesgaden from where you can command the southern armies.”
Hitler shook his head, bluntly turning down their suggestions….
“No, I can’t,” he answered. “If I did, I would feel like a lama turning an empty prayer wheel. I must bring about the resolution here in Berlin—or else go under.”
Emboldened by their leader’s decision to go down fighting, others swore allegiance. “We shall never leave him in the lurch, whatever the danger ... ,” Dr. Goebbels vowed. “If history tells of this country that its people never abandoned their leader and that their leader never abandoned his people, that will be victory.”
And now, with his elevation to commander of the capital defenses, Gen. Weidling was being called upon to do the impossible—to keep not only Adolf Hitler and Berlin from “going under,” but to prevent Germany from going down as well. With roughly 15,000 mostly ragged and battle-drained troops to work with, and with perhaps twice that number of poorly armed, poorly trained Volkssturm and Hitler Youth, Weidling was being asked to not only hold off half a million Soviet soldiers, and an equal number of reserves, but defeat and destroy them. Although Hitler had ordered the armies of Generals Walter Wenck and Theodor Busse to break the ring and relieve Berlin, Weidling well knew that this was a phantasm. Far from rescuing the capital, these units would be hard-pressed to prevent their own encirclement and destruction.
As the general and Major Knappe drove through the capital that night to their new headquarters at Templehof Airport, both understood well the hopeless nature of their task. While the inevitable defeat might be postponed for a few days, or weeks at most, nothing could save Berlin from becoming “one huge urban killing ground.”
“[I]t was on this night that the apocalyptic battle for the city of Berlin began in earnest,” Maj. Knappe wrote. “The next day, Russian assault troops fought their way into the suburbs of the city.”
“Berliners!” cried Joseph Goebbels over the radio, “I call on you to fight for your city. Fight with everything you have got, for the sake of your wives and your children, your mothers and parents…. The battle for Berlin must become the signal for the whole nation to rise up in battle.”
Stirred by the summons of Joesph Goebbels, aware that Hitler himself was sharing their fate, thousands of men, women and children responded to the clarion, some riding street cars to the front lines in the suburbs. The speed of the Soviet onslaught and the haphazard nature of the defense created a logistical nightmare. Explained one Volkssturm commander:
I had four hundred men in my battalion, and we were ordered to go into the line in our civilian clothes. I told the local Party leader that I could not accept the responsibility of leading men into battle without uniforms. Just before commit- ment we were given 180 Danish rifles, but no ammunition. We also had four machine-guns and a hundred Panzerfausts. None of the men had received any training in firing a machine-gun, and they were all afraid of handling the anti-tank weapons. Although my men were quite ready to help their country, they refused to go into battle without uniforms and without training. What can a Volkssturm man do with a rifle without ammunition? The men went home; that was the only thing we could do.
Although many defenders were lost for similar reasons, others were determined to help in any way they could. Some women and children built barricades in the streets or dug anti-tank ditches. Old men and boys acted as couriers. Clerks, school teachers, government employees, even artists and musicians, hovered near the front in hopes of picking up weapons and uniforms from the battlefield. While Soviet forces converged upon the city, some of the first hammer-blows were delivered in the southern suburbs along the Teltow Canal. Remembered Russian general, Ivan Konev:
I reached Teltow when the artillery preparation was almost over. Our troops had taken up assault positions and were poised to enter the city; there were tanks, motorized infantry and the artillery that was finishing its work…. The advance detachments began to cross the canal before the end of the artillery preparation. Everything was shaking. The entire locality was wrapped in smoke. Heavy artillery was demolishing the houses on the other side of the canal. Stones, slabs of concrete, fragments of wood and dust were flying into the air. We had over 600 guns per kilometer on a narrow frontage, and they were all pounding the northern bank. . . . The bombers—one flight after another—were also delivering their blows….
I remember how vast the city appeared to me. I noted the massive old buildings, in which the district that lay before us abounded, and the density of these buildings; I took note of everything that might complicate our task of capturing Berlin. I also noticed the canals, rivers and streams that crossed Berlin in differ- ent directions…. Such a multiplicity of water obstacles promised additional difficulties. Before us lay a front-line city, besieged and prepared for defense. . . . As I gazed upon Berlin I reflected that its end would spell the end of the war and that the sooner we took the city the sooner the war would be over.
Once in the suburbs, it was not long before Konev and other Russians realized that the war was far from over. Near Oranienburg, a member of the Hitler Youth wrote:
Our leader and the police fetched us from our homes and we had to assemble in the SS barracks…. Then [we] were divided up by our companies and attached to the SS and Volkssturm. We first saw action to the northeast of the town. Most of us were killed by infantry fire, because we had to attack across open fields. Then the fighting in the town; two days of it. In two days and two nights Oranienburg changed hands four times. That finished another part of us. Then the Russians started bombarding the town with Stalin-Organs [i.e., multi-tubed rocket launchers], and when we wanted to finish and go home, we were stopped and made to join the escape across the canal. My platoon leader, who refused, was strung up on the nearest tree ... but then he was already fifteen years old.
Although resistance on the approaches to Berlin was generally light, the further the Soviets advanced, the stiffer the defense became. Increasingly, the Russians resorted to formula tactics. Said one German defender:
[A]ircraft flew over the buildings where resistance was suspected and where they had spotted snipers posted on the roofs, dropping small-caliber bombs, or possibly clusters of hand grenades. Simultaneously the tanks advanced, slowly opening a passage with their fire. Behind the tanks came the infantry, usually about thirty to forty men armed with submachine-guns. Behind the assault troops came other shock troops, who searched the houses to left and right. As soon as a cellar or building had been visited, the assault troops passed on, leaving one or two sentries…. The Russians did their mopping up very cautiously and burnt with petrol all the houses from which they had been fired upon.
As the Soviets pressed forward, they captured several prison camps.
While POWs of other nationalities were set free, Russian inmates were merely handed a rifle and pointed to the front.
On a street in the suburbs, Werner Adamczyk and other nervous artillerymen waited while spotters located targets. As the young German gunner recalled:
I could see a long line of women in front of a grocery store, waiting to be served out of the meager supply of food. Suddenly, we got a firing command. We were to fire three salvos directed less than a kilometer ahead. As our guns went off, the women in line ducked down to the floor…. After the salvos went off, we loaded the last shell and waited….
Then the moment of final destiny arrived. A Russian tank swerved around the corner of one of the streets ahead of us. Its turret was swinging from one side to the other, firing its shells at random. My breathing stopped when I saw one of its shells detonating in the middle of the row of women waiting in line at the grocery store. Several of them fell to the ground; screams of horrible panic and pain filled the air. . . . Some unknown men, maybe from the rest of our infantry, emerged in front of us and fired a “Panzerschreck” at that tank. It was a direct hit. The tank blew up in an inferno of fire. But fragments of it killed some more of the nearby women.
Moments later, our gun barrels down for direct shooting, another tank appeared. Every gun fired its last round. At least two of our shells hit the tank and blew it to pieces.
Young Siegfried Losch found himself sniping from windows with a group of paratroopers convalescing from the Italian front. After escaping the Oder, the seventeen-year-old had briefly considered shed- ding his uniform and blending with civilians. Loyalty to the Fatherland caused him to pause, however, and the ubiquitous Field Police gave him even more reasons to reconsider. Soon, Losch and his comrades found cover near the Olympic Stadium.
There was no real organization. Every little group fought as good as it could. Confusion existed. For instance, there were members of the Volkssturm dressed in brown overcoats and Czechoslovakian helmets. I almost shot one man. He was rather old. I told him to change his uniform, if he wanted to survive. Then there were members of the Adolf Hitler school, a Nazi elite high school. These boys were armed like cowboys. Each one had several pistols. They picked the weapons up from dead soldiers. They were highly motivated. I remember, there was a T-34 tank about 60 yards from our position, firing ever so often along the houses. Suddenly I heard a big bang from the T-34. One of those students had knocked out the tank. He had crawled on the balcony across from us and hiding behind some petunias he shot a bazooka [i.e., Panzerfaust] at the tank….He was maybe 14.
As the incidents above illustrate, and as the Soviets soon discovered, Berlin was a graveyard for tanks. The Panzerfaust, and its more lethal cousin, the Panzershreck, was a simple, yet extremely effective tank-killing device that could be fired with little or no training. Wagons, carts and wheel-barrows loaded with the weapons were constantly resupplying the fronts and doled out like loaves of bread. Additionally, the narrow streets of Berlin, lined with multi-storied stone and brick ruins made perfect canyons for ambush.
General Wilhelm Mohnke describes a tank attack upon one of his positions:
They came on at dawn with tanks and infantry. Their tanks were highly unmaneuverable, blocked by rubble, and were sitting ducks in this classic street-fighting situation. Even young boys and old men, or women, for that matter, armed with bazookas and heroic despair, could get at them from point-blank range, usually under fifty yards, often from a cellar. . . . The Russians had brilliant tank commanders who had learned their business against us out on the steppes and in the open country. Even in city fighting, for example, in Stalingrad or Warsaw, they had never come up against hostile, armed civilians. They realized their mistake only belatedly, after they had lost hundreds of tanks….
After that first frontal assault, they got smarter. They simply pulled back and plastered us with artillery, of which they had a plenitude. They never tried to storm our positions again.
In other sectors as well, Soviet commanders screened their tanks with sheets of iron or bags of cement and held them back until strong points had been obliterated by artillery. A French POW watched a typical operation outside the Schultheiss Brewery:
The roadblock’s defenders were bombarded by heavy mortars set up in some ruined houses nearby. Then the Russians set up a 75 or 105mm gun several hundred metres from the barricade. The Russian gunners were completely exposed and, at the cost of several casualties, succeeded in getting some shots on the target, destroying the barricade and killing a number of Germans.
Then the Soviet infantry, about a hundred strong, charged in screaming, quickly swamped the remaining defenders, opened the barrier and regrouped on the street corner opposite the brewery. German losses were increased by the bitterness of the Soviet soldiers, who seemed to be drugged, and rarely took prisoners. We found numerous German corpses, civilians and soldiers, when we were able to get out of the brewery.
With Berlin surrounded, the Soviets sought to sever the city’s last link with the world by overrunning Templehof Airport. One of those defending the far approaches to the airfield scribbled in his diary:
Russian artillery is firing without let-up…. We need infantry reinforcements, and we get motley emergency units. Behind the lines, civilians are still trying to get away right under the Russian artillery fire, dragging along some miser- able bundle holding all they have left in the world. On and off, some of the wounded try to move to the rear. Most of them stay, though, because they are afraid of being picked up and hanged by flying courts-martial. The Russians burn their way into the houses with flame throwers. The screams of the women and children are terrible….
Afternoon. Our artillery retreats to new positions. They have very little ammunition. The howling and explosions of the Stalin organs, the screaming of the wounded, the roaring of motors, and the rattle of machine guns. Clouds of smoke, and the stench of chlorine and fire. Dead women in the street, killed while trying to get water. But also, here and there, women with bazookas, Silesian girls thirsting for revenge….
8 p.m.: Russian tanks carrying infantry are driving on the airport. Heavy fighting.
April 25: 5:30 a.m. New, massive tank attacks. We are forced to retreat…. Russian drive on the airport becomes irresistible…. Heavy street fighting—many civilian casualties. Dying animals. Women are fleeing from cellar to cellar. We are pushed northwest…. [H]eavy Russian air attacks. Inscriptions on the house walls: “The hour before sunrise is the darkest,” and “We retreat but we are winning.” Deserters, hanged or shot. What we see on this march is unforgettable.
As the ferocious fighting approached the airport’s perimeter, General Weidling realized he could not hold the vital link long. Major Knappe:
During the evening, I entered a room where Weidling was meeting with [two generals]. They were discussing whether to defend Berlin dutifully or whether it would be appropriate to stay here and let the Russians pass by on both sides of us and then break through the Grunewald (woods to the west of the city), escape to the west, and surrender to the Western Allies. If we stayed to defend Berlin it would be necessary to move our headquarters to the center of the city, because within two days at the latest the Russians would be occupying this building. Weidling then made his decision to stay and defend Berlin…. [We] ... decided to move corps headquarters to a big antiaircraft bunker near the Berlin zoo…. The zoo bunker,a heavily fortified place with heavy antiair- craft guns on the roof, would be safe against bombing and artillery…. When we left our headquarters, we had to be careful, because the railroad embankment behind our building was under fire and we had to cross it to get to our kubelwagen [i.e. Jeep] and motorcycle. We crossed it by dashing from cover to cover, finally arriving safely at our vehicles. As we drove through the city, the earth trembled with each exploding artillery shell, and a huge geyser of earth and debris erupted from the ground with each explosion. The noise was deafening, and the heaving of the earth was unsettling. A sliver of shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell finally punctured one of the tires on my kubelwagen.While my driver was changing the tire, a woman watching from a house nearby offered me a cup of tea. She was about forty-five years old and matronly, with worn clothes, bedraggled hair, and a kind face…. Her apartment was in shambles from the artillery blasts. Small knickknacks, little pieces of her life, lay shattered on the floor about her.
“When will the Russians arrive, Herr Major?” she asked.
“In a matter of hours,” I told her honestly. “A day at most. You will be safest if you stay in your basement.”
Like this helpless woman, females could do little else but sit in their cellars and wait. Unlike bombing raids, which had a certain rhyme and rhythm, death from artillery could come at any moment. Hence, life was now passed almost entirely underground talking . . . and thinking.
“The word ‘Russians’ is no longer mentioned. The lips won’t pronounce it,” confided one thirty-year-old female. While rape was on everyone’s mind, she added, “not a single woman talked about ‘it’.”
A nervous gaiety breaks out. All kinds of stories are making the rounds. Frau W. screeches: “Rather a Russki on the belly than an Ami on the head!” (i.e., American bombers)—a joke not quite fitting her mourning crepe. Fraulein Behn shouts through the cellar:
“Now let’s be frank—I’ll bet there’s not a virgin among us!” No one answers. I find myself wondering…. Probably the janitor’s younger daughter, who is only sixteen and who, ever since her sister’s faux-pas, has been strictly watched. And certainly, if I know anything about the faces of young girls, the eighteen-year-old ... who is sleeping peacefully in the corner.
When those in hiding were finally forced by hunger and thirst to surface, the sights they saw were staggering. Continues the woman above:
Walking south one is aware of approaching the front. The city railroad tun- nel is already blocked. People standing in front of it said that at the other end a soldier in underpants is hanging, a sign saying “Traitor” dangling from his neck. They said he is hanging so low that one can twist his legs. This was reported by someone who saw it himself and had chased away some boys who were amusing themselves twisting the dead man’s legs.
The Berliner Strasse looks fantastic, half torn up and blocked by barricades. Queues in front of the shops, flak roaring overhead. Trucks moving citywards. Filthy mud-covered figures with vacant faces covered in blood-smeared band- ages trudging along between them. In the rear hay carts driven by gray-heads. The barricades guarded by Volksturm men in patched uniforms. Soft-faced children under huge steel helmets, horrifying to hear their high voices. So tiny and thin in their far-too-loose uniforms, they can’t be more than fifteen.
“There are no more streets. Just torn-up ditches filled with rubble between rows of ruins…,” said another hungry scavenger, Ruth Andreas-Friedrich. “We climb across mountains of ruins, rummage through rubble and broken glass, crawl through unknown cellars, tear out other people’s boxes and bags. Shellfire above us. We don’t pay attention. We hardly bother to take cover. A fever has gotten hold of us.”
Rita Kuhn was also searching for food. As the little girl approached her neighborhood bakery, she soon became lost.
I thought I was in another city. Everything looked very, very unfamiliar. The trees had lost all their leaves. And buildings on both sides were . . . little holes, big holes, and just the whole area is devastated. . . . I walked on, and I looked at the trees, and I saw pieces of clothing on the trees. Pretty soon, as I got closer to the bakery there were pieces of human flesh. They were all over, everywhere. On the trees, on the balconies, pieces of clothing, pieces of human flesh….I almost fell over a woman, lying there in the street, dead, with her legs blown off….I came to where I thought the bakery was, and there was just a big hole. Sure enough, that’s where it had hit, and people hadn’t had time to take cover.
Like this unfortunate group, once a source of food or water had been found, little or nothing could drive the desperate people away.
“Whole families take turns standing in line, each member doing a shift of several hours…,” wrote a witness. “With a few beefsteaks and loins of pork in sight, even the shakiest old grandma will hold her ground. There they stand like walls, those who not so long ago dashed into bunkers the moment three fighter planes were announced over Central Germany.”
“Just as we were about to drive past such a line,” noted Major Knappe, “an artillery shell exploded beside the line of women. As the smoke began to clear, I could see that many of the women had been hit. Those women who were unhurt carried the dead, the dying, and the wounded into the entrances of nearby buildings and cared for them—and then again formed their queues so they would not lose their places in line!”
When another direct hit on a food line killed and wounded over a dozen, one viewer was stunned to see victims merely wipe the blood from their ration cards and reform the line. As the sounds of street fighting neared, however, few any longer risked the food and water sorties. Confined to their dark cellars, alone with their thoughts, it was now that dreadful anticipation came crushing down.
We sheltered in the air raid cellar of our house when the fighting came very close…. [W]e heard a series of thundering crashes which came nearer and nearer. One young boy in our cellar was brave enough to look out. He told us that two Russian tanks and a lot of soldiers on foot were coming and that the tanks were firing into the houses as they moved up the street. One tank was firing at the houses on the left. The boy suddenly jumped down from the slit through which he had been looking and almost immediately our house was struck by a shell….
The noise moved past us. The sound of the firing grew less and less loud. We all sat quite still…. Each of us had our own thoughts. Mine were of my husband who was a sailor somewhere…. We all sat silent waiting, wondering and fearful. Very soon the Red Army would be here. Suddenly the door was pushed open and in the doorway was the silhouette of a man. Then another and another. Two pocket torches were switched on and their beam passed from one face to another in the cellar. “Alles Kaput,” shouted one of the silhouettes, “Komm,” and we made our painful way up the shelter stairs and into daylight. There they stood, the soldiers who had come into our cellar, laughing and shouting. “Alles Kaput.” They looked about sixteen years old. The Ivans had arrived.
As their frightened countrymen to the east had earlier discovered, Berliners also soon found that tough and hard as Russian shock troops might be, they were a far cry from the blood-thirsty monsters propaganda and imaginations had sketched them as. “The first troops were friendly and gave us food,” said a teenager. “They had officers with them who spoke German very well and told us to be calm, that everything would be all right.” But also like their eastern brethren, Berliners soon learned that there was a world of difference between the first wave of Soviet soldiers and the second.
“These are good, disciplined and decent soldiers,” one Russian officer explained to a Mother Superior at a maternity hospital. “But I must tell you—the ones coming up behind are pigs.”
With such warnings, some terrified women tried to follow the front, dodging from cellar to cellar, dying from bombs and bullets as they did, but staying just ahead of the horror behind. For most, however, it was too late.
I step out into the dark corridor. Then they got me. Both men had been standing there waiting. I scream, scream. . . . One man seizes me by the wrists and drags me along the corridor. Now the other one also pulls, at the same time gripping my throat with one hand so that I can no longer scream…. I’m already on the ground, my head lying on the lowest cellar stair. I can feel the coldness of the tiles against my back. Something falls from my coat with a tinkling sound. Must be my house keys….One man stands guard at the door upstairs while the other claws at my under- wear, tears my garter belt to shreds and violently, ruthlessly has his way….
When it’s all over and, reeling, I try to get up, the other man hurls himself upon me and with fists and knees forces me back on the floor. Now the first man is standing guard, whispering: “Hurry, hurry... .”
Suddenly I hear loud Russian voices. Someone has opened the door at the top of the staircase, letting in light. Three Russians come in, the third one a woman in uniform. They look at me and laugh. My second attacker, interrupted, has leaped to his feet. They both go off with the others, leaving me lying on the floor. I pull myself up by the banister, gather my things together, and stagger along the wall toward the door of the cellar. . . . My stockings are hanging over my shoes, my hair has fallen wildly over my face, in my hand are the remains of the garter belt.
“What followed was worse than anything we had ever imagined,” recalled nineteen-year-old Juliane Hartman.
One Russian went into the garage and the other headed for the house. Not having the slightest idea of what would happen, I followed the man into the house. First, he locked all of the doors behind him and put the keys in his pocket. I began to feel a bit funny when we got to one of the bedrooms. I wanted to go out on the balcony, but he pointed his gun at me and said, “Frau komm!” We had already heard about a few of the horrible things going on, so I knew one thing for certain and that was “Don’t try to defend yourself.” An upper-middle-class child, I had never been told about the facts of life.
A short time later, Juliane learned much more about the “facts of life” when “an entire horde of Mongolians” stood facing her.
Recounts Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, a German communist:
In the middle of the night I wake up. A flashlight is shining into my face. “Come, woman,” I hear a voice. The smell of cheap liquor assails me…. A hand covers my mouth.
“Good woman ... come,” the voice repeats. A heavy body falls upon me. “No, no,” I gargle, half choked, trying to slip deeper into the pillows. The smell of cheap liquor. Close to my ear panting breath. “O God! ... Dear God!”
Following her own ordeal, Andreas-Friedrich tried to console a young Marxist friend:
She sits huddled on her couch. “One ought to kill oneself,” she moans. “This is no way to live.” She covers her face with her hands and starts to cry. It is terrible to see her swollen eyes, terrible to look at her disfigured features.
“Was it really that bad?” I ask.
She looks at me pitifully. “Seven,” she says. “Seven in a row. Like animals....” She is eighteen years old and didn’t know anything about love. Now she knows everything. Over and over again, sixty times. How can you defend yourself?” she says impassively, almost indifferently. “When they pound at the door and fire their guns senselessly. Each night new ones, each night others. The first time when they took me and forced my father to watch, I thought I would die….”
I shudder. For four years Goebbels told us that the Russians would rape us. That they would rape and plunder, murder and pillage.
“Atrocity propaganda!” we said as we waited for the Allied liberators.
A German attorney and his Jewish wife were two more Berliners who had eagerly anticipated the arrival of Soviet troops. According to a witness:
For months the couple had been looking forward to the liberation of Berlin, had spent nights by the radio, listening to foreign broadcasts. Then, when the first Russians forced their way into the cellar and yelled for women, there had been a free-for-all and shooting. A bullet had ricocheted off the wall and hit the lawyer in the hip. His wife had thrown herself on the Russians, imploring their help in German. Whereupon they had dragged her into the passage. There three men had fallen upon her while she kept yelling: “Listen! I’m a Jewess! I’m a Jewess!” By the time the Russians had finished with her, the husband had bled to death.
Because of the close-quarter street fighting, German troops were often unwilling spectators to the horror taking place just beyond. “The nights, when the women in the occupied side streets were raped by Russian soldiers, were awful,” a sixteen-year-old Hitler Youth reminisced. “[T]he screams were horrible. There were terrible scenes.” Added another Landser: “[I]t is just not a pretty sight to see a terrified, naked woman running along a roof top, pursued by a half-dozen soldiers brandishing bayonets, then leaping five or six stories to certain death.”
After witnessing such scenes as the above, resistance—already fierce— soon turned fanatical. Ferocious as the fight became, little or nothing could stave off the inevitable. Nowhere was this fact more painfully clear than in the bunker far below the Reich Chancellery. Traudl Junge:
[A]n acute sense of anxiety had spread throughout the bunker. Outside, it was like the depths of hell. During the daytime the rumble of gunfire never stopped, and explosions that rocked the ground continued all night long…. Imprisoned in the bunker, we tried to get hold of some news about the outcome of the battle. It should have been at its height. Was that the noise of our guns and tanks? Nobody knew….
Hitler went out to the officers who were waiting in the corridor. “Gentlemen,” he said, “the end is approaching. I shall stay in Berlin and I shall kill myself when the moment comes. Any of you who wish to leave may do so. You are all free to go.”
When those present begged him to fly south to the Alps, while there was still time, Hitler merely waved the words aside: “In this city I have had the right to give orders; now I must obey the orders of Fate. Even if I could save myself, I would not do it. The captain goes down with his ship. How can I call on the troops to undertake the decisive battle for Berlin if at the same moment I myself withdraw to safety?”
While some in the bunker still held hope, pinning their last prayer on General Wenck breaking the Russian ring and relieving the capital, Wenck himself suffered no such delusion.
“The idea of fighting through to Berlin . . . was completely absurd,” the general later wrote. “The Army would have taken weeks to recover and gain battle strength. From hour to hour our own position was growing weaker. The Russians now attacked in overwhelming numbers.” Continues Traudl Junge:
By 26 April, we were cut off from the outside world apart from a radio link.... It began to be obvious that we no longer had an army capable of saving us.... The sound of guns was coming closer and closer, but the atmosphere in the bunker remained the same. Hitler was haggard and absent-minded….[H]e was hollow-eyed and paler than ever. He seemed completely to have given up his role as leader. There were no briefing sessions, no more fixed schedules, no maps spread out on the table. Doors stood wide open. Nobody bothered with anything any more. Our single obsession was that the moment of Hitler’s suicide was approaching.
Goebbels ... arrived to discuss with Hitler their plans for a final radio broadcast. The population were to be told that the Fuhrer was staying in the besieged capital and that he would personally take part in the city’s defense. It was a futile hope that this message would give the German people the courage and energy to achieve the impossible: the sad truth was that there were few able-bodied men left, and a large number of youngsters would sacrifice their lives in vain at a time when their Fuhrer had already given up.
Despite the fast-approaching end, details of state continued. After destroying a Soviet tank single-handedly, a stunned and sleepless child was led down to the bunker and introduced to the Fuhrer.
“With a great show of emotion,” noted a bystander, “Hitler pinned an Iron Cross on the puny chest of this little chap, on a mud-spattered coat several sizes too big for him. Then he ran his hand slowly over the boy’s head and sent him back out into the hopeless battle in the streets of Berlin.”
As the circle closed on central Berlin, the combat became increasingly savage. “One of the worst things . . . was that the Russians always had fresh reserves to put into the fighting, so they could rest their troops...,” wrote Maj. Knappe. “[O]ur people had to just keep fighting, hour after hour and day after day, until they were killed or seriously wounded.”
“Gradually we lost all human appearance,” a German soldier recounted. “Our eyes burned and our faces were lined and stained with the dust that surrounded us.”
“The dust from the rubble hung in the air like a thick fog ...,” added General Weidling as he ducked and dodged from door to door to inspect his defenses. “Shells burst all round us. We were covered with bits of broken stones.”
Another weary Landser took time to faithfully record the daily agony:
Continuous attacks throughout the night. The Russians are trying to break through…. Increasing signs of disintegration and despair. . . . Hardly any communications among the combat groups, in as much as none of the active battalions have radio communications any more. Telephone cables are shot through in no time at all. Physical conditions are indescribable. No relief or respite, no regular food and hardly any bread. Nervous breakdowns from the continuous artillery fire. Water has to be obtained from the tunnels and the Spree [River] and then filtered. The not too seriously wounded are hardly taken in anywhere, the civilians being afraid to accept wounded soldiers and officers into their cellars when so many are being hanged as real or presumed deserters and the occupants of the cellars concerned being ruthlessly turfed out as accomplices by the members of the flying courts martial….
Potsdamer Platz is a ruined waste. Masses of wrecked vehicles and shot-up ambulances with the wounded still inside them. Dead everywhere, many of them frightfully mangled by tanks and trucks….
Violent shelling of the city center at dusk with simultaneous attacks on our positions…. Russians heading for Potsdamer Platz pass us in the parallel tunnel.
As this diarist made note, while one battle raged above, another raged below. Not only was Berlin one of the largest cities in the world, it was also one of the most modern and beneath its surface stretched a maze of subway tunnels, pedestrian passageways and huge drainage pipes. With maps in hand, German commanders were quick to seize the initiative ... with devastating results. Admitted a Russian general:
Our troops would capture some center of resistance and think they had finished with it, but the enemy, making use of underground passages, would send reconnaissance groups, as well as individual saboteurs and snipers into our rear. Such groups of submachine-gunners, snipers, grenade throwers and men armed with panzerfausts emerging from the underground communications fired on motor vehicles, tanks and gun crews moving along already captured streets, severed our lines of communication and created tense situations behind our firing lines.
Though terrified by the black labyrinth, Soviet soldiers were compelled to enter them. Alexander Zhamkov and a squad of scouts crept through one subway until they spotted a distant light.
We decided to crawl the rest of the way. There was a niche in the wall ... and a small electric bulb burning. Close by we heard Germans talking, and there was a smell of tobacco smoke and heat-up tinned meat. One of them flashed a torch and pointed it towards us, while the Germans remained in the shadows. We pressed ourselves to the ground and peered ahead. In front, the tunnel was sealed with a brick wall with steel shields set in the middle. We crawled for- ward another few metres. All of a sudden, bullets began to sing. We hid in the niches. After a while, we attacked, throwing hand grenades and firing Panzerfausts, and broke through. Another 200 metres and another wall.
“[T]hat is the worst possible sort of combat,” said an underground fighter. “You see only flashes of fire coming at you: flame throwers and tracer ammunition.”
Nightmarish in its own right, frightened civilians crowding the subway platforms added immeasurably to the horror, as one soldier reveals:
Platforms and waiting rooms resemble an army camp…. Exploding shells shake the tunnel roofs. Chunks of concrete collapse. Smell of powder and clouds of smoke in the tunnels. Hospital trains of the underground municipal railway roll along slowly. Suddenly a surprise. Water pours into our combat headquarters. Screams, weeping, cursing, people fight for the ladders which lead to the surface through the ventilation shafts. The masses pour over the railway sleepers leaving children and wounded behind…. The water rises over a meter before it slowly recedes. The terrible fear and panic lasts for more than an hour. Many drowned. The cause: on somebody’s orders engineers had demolished the sides of the Landwehr Canal … in order to flood the tunnels to block underground enemy advances….
Late afternoon, we move to Potsdam Platz [station]…. Shells penetrate the roof. Heavy losses above, civilians and wounded. Smoke pours through the shell holes…. After one heavy shell explosion … by the station entrance next to the Pschorr brewery, there is a horrible sight: men, women and children are literally plastered to the walls.
And, the soldier continues, as if the horror were not already great enough, “Flying courts-martial appear among us.”
Most are very young SS…. Hardly any decorations. They are blind and fanatical. Hopes of relief and the simultaneous fear of the courts-martial revitalize the men again. General [Hans] Mummert bans the reappearance of any flying courts-martial in this defense sector. A division with the most bearers of the Knight’s Cross and the oak leaf cluster does not deserve to be persecuted by such young fellows. Mummert is determined personally to shoot one such court-martial that interfered in his sector.
As noted above, the “chain dogs” were omnipresent, insuring that few would “snap” and run to the rear. “[A]nywhere you went, you saw military police,” a Hitler Youth member stated. “Even when the Russians were already in sight, you could see police a hundred yards farther on, still trying to check people. Whoever didn’t have the right papers or the correct pass was strung up as a deserter.”
Of the one hundred and forty men originally in Lothar Ruhl’s company, only a dozen or so were left. Nevertheless, said the brave seventeen-year-old, “An SS patrol stopped me and asked me what I was doing. Was I a deserter?”
They told me to go along with them and said that all cowards and traitors would be shot. On the way, I saw an officer, stripped of his insignia, hanging from a streetcar underpass. A large sign hung around his neck read, “I am hanging here because I was too much of a coward to face the enemy.” The SS man said, “Do you see that? There’s a deserter hanging already.” I told him that I was no deserter; I was a messenger. He said, “That’s what they all say.” I wound up at an SS assembly point. One of our platoon leaders sat there. He saw me and yelled, “Hey, what are you doing with one of our men?” The answer was, “We picked him up.” The platoon leader asked, “What do you mean ‘picked him up?’ This man is our messenger and I know him very well. Let him go so he can get back to his duties.” They finally let me go.
After one of many small counterattacks, German troops briefly reoccupied a battered neighborhood. Wrote a witness:
People who lived there had put out white flags of surrender. There was this one apartment house with white bed sheets waving from the windows. And the SS came—I’ll never forget this—went into the house, and dragged all of the men out. I don’t know whether these were soldiers dressed in civilian clothing, old men, or what. Anyway, they took them into the middle of the street and shot them.
Two groups largely untroubled by flying courts-martial were the Hitler Youth and Volkssturm. Often living only blocks from where they fought, no military police were necessary to remind these men of the fate awaiting their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters should they fail. Explained a Russian general:
[T]he mood prevailing in the Volkssturm during the decisive fighting for Berlin may be described as one of hysterical self-sacrifice. Those defenders of the Third Reich, including mere boys, believed themselves to be the personification of the last hope of a miracle…. It is noteworthy that those men armed with panzerfausts usually fought to the end and during that last stage displayed much more fortitude than the German soldiers who had been through the mill and were demoralized by defeat and many years of strain.
Far from passively defending a sector, the old men and boys launched furious, though forlorn, counterattacks. As a consequence, they died by the thousands. When one Hitler Youth unit joined the battle, it was five thousand strong. Five days later only five hundred were left.
As the struggle for Berlin intensified and the carnage increased, doctors and nurses were taxed beyond their limits. Remembered one physician:
[A]mputations were carried out on an old wooden table covered with a mattress. The surgeons operated without gloves, practically without antiseptics, and with instruments hardly boiled. Everything was defective or exhausted. It was impossible to change one’s overalls and even washing one’s hands became a problem. The oil lamps were dead and the last candles consumed. Fortunately we had found two bicycles equipped with electric lights, and the pedals turned by hand provided sufficient illumination for the operating tables.
Moving in dark, smoky rooms, wading over floors awash in blood and body parts, exhausted medical personnel also endured a nonstop barrage of curses, screamed at them in German, Russian, French, Spanish, and Dutch.
“All of us were now living a waking nightmare. We had lost any sense of clock or calendar time ...,” said Ernst-Guenther Schenck, an intern compelled to perform surgery though his field was nutrition.
Minor casualties, the walking wounded, soldiers shot in the hand or the foot, were not even allowed to leave their assigned combat posts. Those dragged to us, or trundled in on stretchers, were usually unconscious…. Many a wounded soldier died, in horrible anguish, on the blood-smeared table as I operated. These were bewildered young men dragooned from half of Europe. I was up to my elbows in entrails, arteries, [and] gore.
Assisting Dr. Schenck was a Catholic nun, who stuffed arms, legs, bones, and intestines into trash cans.
Surprisingly, amid the smoking, flaming hell that was Berlin, another world existed, a world of strange and surreal contrasts. While men and women fought and died on one street, drunken revelers, bent on a final fling, yelled and laughed on an adjacent street. During brief lulls in the almost constant din of battle, shocked Landsers heard jazz and polka music blaring behind them in the German zone, and the screams of rape victims to their front in the Russian zone. Len Carpenter, an English POW who had simply walked away from his prison, found himself wandering through this bizarre landscape, as if in a “coma.”
I remember going out and queuing up for some salt pork in the middle of the fighting and the queue being strafed by a Russian plane, and I remember joining in when the Germans started looting the shops and getting a big tin of jam and a typewriter, of all useless things. I remember the Hitler Youth boys singing as they marched past after driving the Russians out of Herrenstrasse railway station, and I remember the first Russians to arrive—they were Russians who had been fighting on the German side and when they took shelter in the cellar with us I thought, “Just my luck to be caught by the Red Army with this lot in tow.”
When the Red Army did in fact arrive, Carpenter’s “coma,” if anything, worsened.
[W]hen all the guns and shouting had died down I emerged into the streets. From quite a distance away I could hear the shrieks of young girls. A local cobbler who was a Communist went forward to meet the Russians and show them his Party card but all they did was pinch the leather jacket off his back….I had a chit printed in four languages which said I was a British subject, but they weren’t interested, they couldn’t read, they just dropped it on the ground. I went with them on a plundering foray. We broke into a shoe shop with a lovely stock of shoes in it, and we broke into the wine and spirit shops, all sorts of places.
By the last days of April 1945, all of Berlin save the city center was under Russian control. Consequently, almost everything that the capital had to give had fallen to the victors.
I sense a strange, intangible something in the air, evil and menacing. Some of these fellows look past me in a strange way, exchanging glances with each other. One of them, short and yellow and smelling of alcohol, involves me in a conversation, tries to lure me sideways into a courtyard, points at two watches strapped to his hairy wrist, promising to give me one if I….
I retreat into the cellar corridor, sneak across the inner courtyard, think I’ve given him the slip when suddenly there he is, standing beside me, and following me into the cellar.
“[H]e suddenly throws me onto the bed. Shut your eyes, clench your teeth, don’t utter a sound. Only when the underwear is ripped apart with a tearing sound, the teeth grind involuntarily. The last underwear.”
I feel fingers at my mouth, smell the reek of horses and tobacco. I open my eyes. Adroitly the fingers force my jaws apart. Eye looks into eye. Then the man above me slowly lets his spittle dribble into my mouth….Paralysis. Not disgust, just utter coldness. The spine seems to be frozen, icy dizziness encircles the back of the head. I find myself gliding and sinking deep down through the pillows, through the floor….
Once more eye looks into eye. The lips above me open. I see yellow teeth, one front tooth half-broken. Slowly the corners of the mouth rise, tiny wrinkles form round the slit eyes. The man is smiling….
When I got up I felt dizzy and wanted to vomit. My ruined underclothes fell round my feet. I staggered along the passage ... to the bathroom. There I vomited. In the mirror I saw my green face, in the basin what I had vomited. I didn’t dare rinse it as I kept on retching and we had so little water left in the bucket.
After the horror stories from the east, most women in Berlin expected to be raped once or twice ... but not dozens of times.
I felt wretched and sore and crept around like a lame duck. The widow, realizing immediately the reason why, got down her medicine chest from the loft where she had been hiding it. Without a word she handed me a jar containing vaseline, but her eyes were brimming. I too felt weak and was aware of something rising in my throat.
It occurred to me how fortunate I have been until now, how in the past love-making for me has never been a burden, but always a pleasure. I have never been forced, never had to force myself. Whatever it was like, it was good. What makes me so wretched at this moment is not the too-much, it’s the abused body taken against its will, which reacts with pain…. Frigid is what I have remained during all these copulations. It cannot, it must not be different, for I wish to remain dead and unfeeling so long as I have to be prey. As a result I’m glad I feel so sore and sick. And yet there I stood blubbering, with the jar of vaseline in my hand, in front of the equally blubbering widow.
Throughout ravaged Berlin, the victors ruthlessly laid claim to the “spoils of war.”
“They queued up,” whispers his wife, while Elvira just sits there speechless. “They waited for one another to finish…. She thinks there were at least twenty, but of this she isn’t quite sure. She had to take almost all of it herself. The other one was unwell, they let her alone after four times….”
I stare at Elvira. Her swollen mouth hangs from her deathly pale face like a blue plum. “Just let them see,” says the distiller’s wife. And without a word Elvira unbuttons her blouse, opens her chemise, and reveals her breasts covered with bruises and the marks of teeth…. She herself started talking. We could hardly understand a word, her lips are so swollen. “I prayed all the time,” she muttered. “I prayed: Dear God, I thank You for making me drunk….” For even before queuing up, as well as after, the Ivans had forced liquor down the woman’s throat.
Nothing, it seemed, was a defense against the assaults. “Most of us tried to make ourselves look a lot older than we really were,” said Hedwig Sass, who was in her early forties. “But then the Russians always said, ‘You not old. You young.’ They laughed at us because of the old clothes and eye-glasses we were wearing.” Added another woman: “The younger one, so the mother whispered to me, knowing that the Ivans didn’t like menstruating women, had stuffed herself with cotton. But it didn’t do her any good. Amidst howls and laughter the two rowdies had thrown the cotton all over the kitchen and laid the sixteen-year-old girl on the chaise lounge in the kitchen.”
The same woman continues:
We sit around the kitchen table, everyone hollow-eyed, greenish-white from lack of sleep. We all whisper and breathe uneasily…. In turn we all stare at the bolted, barricaded back door, praying it will hold out…. All of a sudden the sound of steps on the back stairs, and the alien voices which seem so coarse and bestial to our ears. Silence and paralysis settle over the table. We stop chewing and hold our breath. Hands tremble, eyes open wide in horror. Then it’s quiet again beyond the door; the sound of steps has died away. Someone whispers: “If it’s going on like this….”
No one answers. Suddenly the refugee girl from Konigsberg throws herself screaming across the table: “I can’t stand it any longer, I’m going to end it all. . . .” She had to submit to it several times last night, under the roof where she had fled, followed by a gang of pursuers. Her hair hangs over her face; she refuses to eat or drink.
We sit, wait, listen. We can hear firing from a distance. Shots whip down our street.
Like the frantic girl above, many females did indeed choose the ultimate escape. “There is no other talk in the city. No other thought either,” revealed Ruth Andreas-Friedrich. “Suicide is in the air. . . . They are killing themselves by the hundreds.
Those women who did not commit suicide sought out officers, commissars and other powerful men, offering their bodies in hopes of ending the brutal, random assaults.
Compelled by hunger and thirst to leave their holes, Germans were stunned by what they saw in the streets. To many, it was if Berlin had returned to the Dark Ages. Primitive, Asiatic carts, piled high with plunder, stood side by side with American-made tanks and jeeps. Over open fires Kulaks and Tartars roasted whole hogs and oxen on spits. Horses, cattle and sheep, many trailed by their young, filled the streets with a bedlam of sounds.
“The smell of cow-pat and horse dung was everywhere,” one German recalled.
Not all foul odors were so rustic. Ruth Andreas-Friedrich:
We hurry upstairs. An unbearable stench assails us.... Something slimy makes me slip. “They can’t have been sober.” Repulsed, I hold my nose. Andrik stands at the bathroom door. Aghast, he stares at the cause of the stench.
“Buffaloes must have done this,” he stammers, totally overwhelmed, and tries to flush the toilet. There is no water. Nor is there gas, electricity or tele phone. Only chaos. Total and impenetrable chaos.
Dagmar comes back from the cellar. “It’s even worse down there,” she reports and distractedly runs her hands through her hair. “It’s a deluge, I tell you, a real deluge!”
“Shoveling shit” soon became a new preoccupation for many a once-tidy hausfrau. Gagging and retching, the women tried mightily to remove piles of excrement left in living rooms, hallways and kitchens. “They certainly haven’t much restraint, these conquerors,” one disgusted woman wrote. “[T]hey relieve themselves against the walls; puddles of urine lie on the landings and trickle down the staircase. I’m told they behave just the same in the empty apartments placed at their disposal…. In a corner of the back staircase one of them is lying in a puddle of his own making.”
In their dazed, feral condition, many Germans themselves were in no frame of mind to maintain the veneer of civilization. “While looking for a rear entrance,” said a witness, “we run into a woman who, with raised skirt, is quite unashamedly relieving nature in a corner of the yard. Another sight I’ve not seen before in Berlin.”
Like snarling, ravenous wolfpacks, many Berliners swiftly reverted to the law of the jungle. Ruth Andreas-Friedrich:
In front of us a white ox comes trotting around the corner. With gentle eyes and heavy horns…. Frank and Jo look at each other…. In a moment we have surrounded the animal….
Five minutes later it is done. Five minutes later we all act as if we have gone mad. Brandishing kitchen knives, their sleeves rolled up, Frank and Jo are crouching around the dead animal. Blood drips from their hands, blood runs down their arms and trickles in thin lines across the trodden lawn. And suddenly, as if the underworld had spit them out, a noisy crowd gathers around the dead ox. They come creeping out of a hundred cellar holes. Women, men, children. Was it the smell of blood that attracted them? They come running with buckets. With tubs and vats. Screaming and gesticulating they tear pieces of meat from each other’s hands.
“The liver belongs to me,” someone growls.
“The tongue is mine . . . the tongue . . . the tongue!” Five blood-covered fists angrily pull the tongue out of the ox’s throat….
“Ah,” a woman screams, and rushing away from the crowd, she spins around twice and then hastens away. Above her head she waves the ox’s tail.
Records another viewer:
[S]omeone had come rushing into the cellar with the glad tidings that a horse had collapsed outside. In no time the whole cellar tribe was in the street. The animal was still twitching and rolling its eyes when the first bread knives plunged into it—all this of course under fire. Everyone slashed and ripped just where he happened to be. When the philologist’s wife reached out toward some yellowish fat, someone had rapped her over the fingers with the handle of a knife. “You there—you stay where you are!” She had managed nevertheless to cut out a piece of meat weighing six pounds…. [W]e no longer have any sense of shame.
Meanwhile, in the rapidly shrinking pocket that was German Berlin, the death struggle continued. For fear of hitting comrades closing from all sides, Soviet artillerymen now lowered their guns to point-blank range. Nowhere was the fight more intense than in the streets surrounding the heavily fortified flak towers. Recounts a civilian near the Zoo tower:
The barricades . . . were defended by the remnants of Volkssturm units and some youngsters. The Russians had mounted some light guns outside our building to fire at these obstacles. The Russians pushed any men and women that appeared capable of work out of the cellars at gun-point and made them clear the streets of the rubble, scrap metal and steel plates used as anti-tank obstacles, and that without any tools. Many were killed by the fire of German soldiers still holding out.
“[T]he smell of death now permeated everything,” Major Knappe wrote from inside the Zoo bunker. “In addition to human corpses, many of the animals from the zoo had escaped and been killed…. The acrid smell of smoke mingled with the stench of decomposing corpses. Dust from pulverized bricks and plaster rose over the city like a heavy fog. The streets, littered with rubble and pockmarked with huge craters, were deserted.”
Atop the tower itself, anti-aircraft guns were lowered and fired non-stop into the surrounding streets. Even so, admitted a soldier inside the bunker, “Russian pressure . . . cannot be contained much longer. We will have to withdraw again.”
“We experienced the violent shaking when all eight 125mm anti-aircraft guns fired a salvo at the Russians ...,” remembered one Landser inside the Humboldthain flak-tower. “Their artillery fire was particularly fierce against the walls of the bunker since their infantry could not get in. The brave gunners were being killed mercilessly at their posts, and they were nearly all young Flak Auxiliaries, fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds. These brave youngsters continued to serve their guns fearlessly, and several were felled before our eyes.”
Among the thousands of civilians huddled behind the massive walls, one described the atmosphere:
Of the actual fighting I saw nothing but we all heard a lot because the walls were not so thick that they kept out the sounds of shells and bombs bursting against the Flak tower walls. The tower soon became an emergency hospital and we were all expected to help. . . . More and more wounded were brought in and a lot died. Burial parties took the bodies outside and because there were not enough men to dig proper graves the bodies were just put into shell holes and covered with a sprinkling of earth….
There were suicides in the tower, as well. It was a ghastly time and when the shelling began to come really close it was clear that the Russians would soon be at the doors. We all knew what that meant and some of the girls decided not to wait until the Ivans came but to end their lives there and then.
To keep Hitler abreast of the battle, General Weidling and Major Knappe were compelled to spend much of their time moving between headquarters and the Chancellery. Reveals Knappe:
The whole area was in ruins…. Artillery shells exploded continuously, with thundering detonations. When I went outside now, the smoke from the burning city sliced through my nostrils and lungs like a jagged blade edge. The streets were full of both debris and bodies, although the bodies were hardly recognizable as such. The corpses of both soldiers and civilians who had been killed in the shelling and bombing were under debris, and everything was covered with a gray-and-red powder from the destruction of the buildings. The stink of death was suffocating…. [I]nfantry fighting was now everywhere….
When I made the trip to Fuhrer Headquarters now (approximately one kilometer), I had to dart from cover to cover, watching not only for incoming artillery rounds but for rifle and machine-gun fire as well. . . . Some of the SS troops defending the Chancellery were dug in before the building…. [These] one thousand SS troops defending Fuhrer Headquarters—were red-eyed and sleepless, living in a world of fire, smoke, death, and horror.
In the bunker beneath the building itself, Ernst-Guenther Schenck was now in his seventh straight day at the operating table. “Casualties were now tumbling in from the fierce street fighting just three blocks away . . . and from the larger battle now raging for the Reichstag . . . ,” said Dr. Schenck. “From time to time, soldiers who were still conscious and could talk, told me of their hopeless battle. The younger ones, many under sixteen, were terrified, bawling.”
Returning to Major Knappe:
To the people at Fuhrer Headquarters, we represented the outside world. Nobody there had left the bunker for several days. They were safe in the bunker, with its many feet of concrete under many feet of earth, but they did not know what was going on outside—that the fighting was only a kilometer away or that the “rescuing” armies had been halted. Hitler and the high command were juggling divisions that no longer existed or were just skeletons of themselves.
Every time I came into the bunker, Martin Bormann especially was eager to know what was happening. He was always there, in the big antechamber in front of Hitler’s office and living quarters. Every time I came in he would insist that I sit down on one of the green leather chairs and have some of his goodies and tell him about the situation on the outside.
The “situation” was always grim, of course, but Bormann, Goebbels, Hitler, and the other bunker dwellers needed accurate information on Russian proximity so that each might prepare for the end in his own fashion. Joining Major Knappe on what proved to be his final trip to the bunker was Gen. Weidling. Knappe continues:
The bunker smelled damp, and the sound of the small engine that ran the exhaust system provided a constant background noise….I saluted, and Hitler walked toward me. As he neared, I was shocked by his appearance. He was stooped, and his left arm was bent and shaking. Half of his face drooped, as if he’d had a stroke, and his facial muscles on that side no longer worked. Both of his hands shook, and one eye was swollen. He looked like a very old man, at least twenty years older than his fifty-six years.
Weidling presented me to Hitler: “Major Knappe, my operations officer.” Hitler shook my hand and said, “Weidling has told me what you are going through. You have been having a bad time of it. Being accustomed to saying “Jawohl, Herr General,” I automatically said “Jawohl, Herr . . .” and then, realizing that this was wrong, I quickly corrected to “Jawohl, mein Fuhrer.” Hitler smiled faintly, and Goebbels smiled broadly—but Weidling frowned because his subordinate had made a social error.
Hitler said goodbye, shook my hand again, and disappeared in the general direction of Goebbels’s quarters. Although his behavior had not been lethargic, his appearance had been pitiful. Hitler was now hardly more than a physical caricature of what he had been. I wondered how it was possible that in only six years, this idol of my whole generation of young people could have become such a human wreck. It occurred to me then that Hitler was still the living symbol of Germany—but Germany as it was now. In the same six years, the flourishing, aspiring country had become a flaming pile of debris and ruin.
One reason Weidling had come in person was to inform Hitler that his men could no longer hold out; permission for a breakout of the garrison was requested. The other reason the general had come was to urge his leader to escape while there was still time. To the first request, permission was granted; to the second, Hitler was firm. Others, including the Fuhrer’s private pilot, Hans Baur, begged Hitler to leave.
“I had at my disposal a prototype six-engine Junkers with a range of over 6000 miles,” Baur reminisced. “We could have gone to any Middle Eastern country well disposed towards the Fuhrer.”
To all the entreaties, however, Hitler’s response was the same: “One must have the courage to face the consequences. Fate wanted it this way.”
Continues the chancellor’s secretary, Traudl Junge:
The bunker shook with the thundering of the Russian artillery bombardment and the air attack. Grenades and bombs exploded without interruption, and that alone was enough to warn us that the enemy would be at the door in a matter of hours. But inside the bunker there was no unusual activity. Most of the country’s leaders were assembled, doing nothing but waiting for the Fuhrer’s ultimate decision. Even Bormann, always energetic in the extreme, and the methodical Goebbels were sitting about without the smallest task to occupy them…. Hopes of victory had been upheld throughout recent days, but nobody held such illusions any longer…. It seemed amazing to me that, despite everything, we still ate and drank, slept and found the energy to speak.
Despite the gloom and despair, many underground—and many above—did much more than eat and sleep. Some, said a witness, “went up the palm tree.” Remembers Dr. Schenck:
[M]any took to drink. Drink in turn relaxed inhibitions, releasing primitive animal instincts…. From time to time I had to leave a patient on the table while I took a five-minute break in the fresh air—to calm my nerves and to steady my scalpel hand…. Many of the same wild, red-eyed women who had fled their Berlin apartments in terror of rape by Red Army soldiers, now threw themselves into the arms, and bed rolls, of the nearest German soldiers they could find. And the soldiers were not unwilling. Still it came as a bit of a shock to me to see a German general chasing some half-naked Blitzmaedel [signalwoman] between and over the cots. The more discreet retired to Dr. Kunz’s dentist chair upstairs in the Chancellery. That chair seemed to have had a special erotic attraction. The wilder women enjoyed being strapped in and made love to in a variety of novel positions…. Another diversion was group sex, but that was usually off in the dark corners.
Returning to Traudl Junge:
As the hours went by, we became completely indifferent to everything. We weren’t even waiting for anything to happen any more. We sat about, exchanging an occasional word and smoking. There was a great sense of fatigue, and I felt a huge emptiness inside me. I found a camp bed in a corner somewhere, lay down on it and slept for an hour. It must have been the middle of the night when I woke up. In the corridors and in the Fuhrer’s apartments there was a great deal of coming and going by busy-looking valets and orderlies. I washed my face in cold water, thinking that it must be the moment for the Fuhrer’s nighttime tea. When I went into his office, he held out his hand to me and asked: “Have you had some rest, my dear?”
Slightly surprised by the question, I replied, “Yes, mein Fuhrer.”
“Good. It won’t be long before I have some dictation for you.”
Later, as Traudl wrote, Hitler spoke:
It is not true that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war back in 1939. It was desired and provoked solely by those international politicians who either come from Jewish stock or are agents of Jewish interests. After all my many offers of disarmament, posterity simply cannot pin any blame for this war on me…. After a struggle of six long years, which in spite of many setbacks will one day be recorded in our history books as the most glorious and valiant manifestation of the nation’s will to live, I cannot abandon this city which is the German capital. Since we no longer have sufficient military forces to withstand enemy attacks on this city . . . it is my desire to share the same fate that millions of other Germans have accepted….The people and the Armed Forces have given their all in this long and hard struggle. The sacrifice has been enormous. But my trust has been misused by many people. . . . It was therefore not granted to me to lead the people to victory…. The efforts and sacrifices of the German people in this war have been so great that I cannot believe that they have been in vain.
At approximately 3:15 p.m., April 30, Adolf Hitler retired to his room, placed a pistol to his head, then squeezed the trigger. Beside him, his newly-wed wife, Eva, also lay dead.
After administering poison to their children, Joseph and Magda Goebbels bid farewell to those remaining in the compound. Wrote one witness who watched as the couple prepared to leave the bunker for their final act in the courtyard above:
Going over to the coatrack in the small room that had served as his study, he donned his hat, his scarf, his long uniform overcoat. Slowly, he drew on his kid gloves, making each finger snug. Then, like a cavalier, he offered his right arm to his wife. They were wordless now. So were we three spectators. Slowly but steadily, leaning a bit toward each other, they headed up the stairs to the courtyard.
Learning of Hitler’s death, many in Berlin now resolved to escape the noose.
“I’ll never forget sitting in a bunker and hearing of Hitler’s end. It was like a whole world collapsing,” explained a sixteen-year-old Hitler Youth. “Adolf Hitler’s death left me with a feeling of emptiness.”
Nonetheless, I remember thinking that my oath was no longer valid, because it had been made to Hitler. . . . So the oath was null and void. Now the trick was to get out of Berlin and avoid falling into the hands of the Russians. . . . Berlin burned: oceans of flames, horrible clouds of smoke. An entire pilgrimage of people began marching out of Berlin. I spotted an SS Tiger tank unit with room in one of the tanks, so they took me along.
“Even to a hardened soldier, [Berlin] was most unreal, phantasmagoric,” said another of those fleeing. “Most of the great city was pitch dark; the moon was hiding; but flares, shell bursts, the burning downtown buildings, all these reflected on a low-lying, blackish-yellow cloud of sulphurlike smoke. . . . We made most excellent moving targets, like dummies in a shooting gallery.”
Young Siegfried Losch, whose war had begun seemingly a lifetime ago on the Oder, also joined the breakout:
The bridge we had to cross was under fire….I noted that a German tank was crossing the bridge and I took advantage of it by running on the opposite side from where the fire was coming. On the other side of the bridge we all gathered and found that no one was lost. As we walked along ... more soldiers joined our group. . . . from all ranks and organizations, i.e. army, SS, air force and uniformed civilians. There was even a two star panzer general among us.
Increasingly, as the Soviets realized what was taking place, the break-out became a massacre.
Underfoot are the bodies of those who had not made it as far as the bridge. Sad their luck; let’s hope ours is better for in a minute or two it will be our turn to race across. Every man on our lorry is firing his weapon; machine-gun, machine pistol or rifle. We roll onto the bridge roadway. The lorry picks up speed and races across the open space. It is not a straight drive but a sort of obstacle race, swerving to avoid the trucks, tanks and cars which are lying wrecked and burning on the bridge roadway. There is a sickening feeling as we bump over bodies lying stretched out, hundreds of them all along the length.
Although most such groups quickly came to grief, a surprising number, by bluff, courage and sheer determination, did succeed in breaking through the ring. Once clear of the flaming capital, the ragged, bleeding columns struck west, hoping to reach the British and Americans.
Meanwhile, despite the death of their leaders and the collapse of organized resistance, the hopeless fight for Berlin continued, especially among the elite SS. “Bolshevism meant the end of life ...,” one young German said simply. “[T]hat’s the reason for the terribly bitter fight in Berlin, which wasn’t only street to street, but house to house, room to room, and floor to floor…. [E]very single brick was bitterly fought over.”
Rather than surrender and be murdered, most SS were determined to die fighting. Of the three hundred members in one French battalion who began the Battle of Berlin, only thirty were still standing. As much might be said for the Balts, Letts, Danes, Dutch, Spanish, Swiss, and other SS units.
“[They are] still fighting like tigers,” reported a Russian general to his commander, Marshal Georgi Zhukov, who was hoping to present the German capital as a May Day prize to Stalin.
“We all wanted to finish it off by the May 1 holiday to give our people something extra to celebrate,” explained an exasperated Zhukov, “but the enemy, in his agony, continued to cling to every building, every cellar, floor and roof. The Soviet forces inched forward, block by block, building by building.”
Finally, on the afternoon of May 2, General Weidling formally surrendered the city. While most obeyed their commander and laid down their arms, many refused to submit. Remembered Lothar Ruhl:
Now and again, we heard shots . . . so I asked who was doing the shooting. I was told, “Come around to the back, the SS are shooting themselves.” I said, “I don’t want to see it.” But I was told, “You have to watch.” People were actually standing around shooting themselves. Mostly, they were not German SS men; they were foreigners, some West Europeans and some East Europeans. The group included a number of French and Walloons.
“When the Russians [finally] rounded us up,” Ruhl continues, “we were divided into different march columns. . . . The Russians didn’t select anyone in particular; they just said, ‘You go here, you go there, and these men go sit in the square’…. No one was allowed to stand up. If anyone tried, the Russians immediately fired live ammunition at head level.”
“We prisoners,” said another weary Landser, “waiting as soldiers always have to wait, sat in the exhausted daze that the end of a battle brings. There was such a depression that we hardly talked, but dozed off into light sleep or smoked, waiting to know what was our fate.”
That “fate,” as rumors had already hinted, was in fact contained in one chilling word—Siberia. Even so, many surviving soldiers quietly counted their blessings. Johannes Hentschel:
I had begun to console myself. I was alive. Now, as we were herded out of the Reich Chancellery … where a truck was waiting to haul us away, destination unknown but suspected, we looked up and saw a very grim sight. Dangling bodies of some six or seven German soldiers were suspended from lamp-posts. They had been hanged. Each had a crude German placard pinned or tied to his limp body—traitor, deserter, coward, enemy of his people.
They were all so young. The oldest may have been twenty, the others in their mid-teens. Half of them wore Volkssturm armbands or Hitler-jungend uniforms. As we were shoved aboard our truck, prodded in the buttocks by bayonets, I saw that I could almost reach out and touch one of those lifeless boys. He looked sixteen perhaps. His wild, bulging, porcelain blue eyeballs stared down at me blankly, blinkless. I shuddered, looked away.
Another soldier leaving Berlin for slavery was Wilhelm Mohnke. As the general and thousands of other dispirited captives marched east on the roads, they were stunned by what they saw.
There was very little traffic moving in the same direction we were. But coming toward us now, column after column, endlessly, the Red Army support units. I say columns, but they resembled more a horde, a cavalcade scene from a Russian film. Asia on this day was moving into the middle of Europe, a strange and exotic panorama. There were now countless panya wagons, drawn by horse or pony, with singing soldiery perched high on bales of straw. Many of them had clothed themselves in all kinds of unusual civilian dress, including costumes that must have come from ransacked theater and opera wardrobes. . . . Those who noticed that we were Germans shook their brown fists and fired angry volleys into the air…. Then came whole units of women soldiers, much better disciplined, marching on foot. . . . Finally came the Tross, or quartermaster elements. These resembled units right out of the Thirty Years’ War.
Behind the east-bound German prisoners, roughly 20,000 dead comrades lay buried beneath the rubble of a place that no longer resembled anything of this world. “The capital of the Third Reich is a heap of gaunt, burned-out, flame-seared buildings,” reported one of the first American correspondents to reach Berlin. “It is a desert of a hundred thousand dunes made up of brick and powdered masonry. Over this hangs the pungent stench of death…. It is impossible to exaggerate in describing the destruction…. Downtown Berlin looks like nothing man could have contrived. Riding down the famous Frankfurter Allee, I did not see a single building where you could have set up a business of even selling apples.”
Added a German visitor later:
The first impression in Berlin, which overpowers you and makes your heart beat faster, is that anything human among these indescribable ruins must exist in an unknown form. There remains nothing human about it. The water is polluted, it smells of corpses, you see the most extraordinary shapes of ruins and more ruins and still more ruins; houses, streets, districts in ruins. All people in civilian clothes among these mountains of ruins appear merely to deepen the nightmare. Seeing them you almost hope that they are not human.
But, and almost miraculously, there were humans yet living in Berlin. When the guns finally fell silent, these dazed survivors spilled from their cracks and caves, trying to flee a nightmare, they knew not where. “Crowds of people were laboriously trying to make their way through the rubble,” Traudl Junge noted. “Old and young, women and children, and a few men carrying small packs, pushing rusty carts or prams full of assorted belongings. The Russian soldiers did not seem to be paying much attention to these desperate human beings.”
We clamber over bomb craters. We squeeze through tangled barbed wire and hastily constructed barricades of furniture. It was with sofas that our army tried to block the Russian advance! With oil cloth sofas, wing chairs and broken armoires. One could laugh if it didn’t rather make one feel like crying.
Tanks riddled with holes block the way. A pitiful sight, pointing their muzzles toward the sky. A fatality comes from them. Sweet, heavy, oppressive. . . . Burned-out buildings left and right. God be with us, if it goes on this way. Silently we keep walking. The weight of our luggage is crushing us. . . .
Behind a projection in a wall sits an old man. A pipe in his right hand, a lighter in his left. He is sitting in the sun, completely motionless. Why is he sitting so still? Why doesn’t he move at all? A fly is crawling across his face. Green, fat, shiny. Now it crawls into his eyes. The eyes . . . Oh God have mercy! Something slimy is dripping onto his cheeks….
At last the water tower looms up in the distance. We are at the cemetery. The gate to the mortuary is wide open. Again that sweet, oppressive smell…. Bodies, nothing but bodies. Laid out on the floor. Row after row, body after body. Children are among them, adults and some very old people. Brought here from who knows where. That draws the final line under five years of war. Children filling mortuaries and old men decomposing behind walls.
While stunned survivors drifted among the ruins like ghosts in a graveyard—or stood for hours in the interminable water lines—the conquerors celebrated in an orgy of drink, rape, music, and song.
“A rosy-cheeked Russian is walking up and down our line, playing an accordion,” said one broken woman who had been raped dozens of times. “‘Gitler kaputt, Goebbels kaputt, Stalin goot!’ he shouts at us. Then he laughs, yells a curse, bangs a comrade on the shoulder and, pointing at him, shouts in Russian . . . ‘Look at this one! This is a Russian soldier, who has marched all the way from Moscow to Berlin!’ They are bursting out of their pants with the pride of conquerors. It is evidently a surprise to themselves that they have gotten this far.”
Although he had failed to present the German capital to Stalin as a May Day gift, and although the cost of taking Berlin had been enormous—well over 300,000 casualties—Marshal Zhukov was exuberant as well.
What a stream of thoughts raced through my mind at that joyous moment! I relived the crucial Battle for Moscow, where our troops had stood fast unto death, envisioned Stalingrad in ruins but unconquered, the glorious city of Leningrad holding out through its long blockade of hunger, the thousands of devastated villages and towns, the sacrifices of millions of Soviet people who had survived all those years, the celebration of the victory of the Kursk salient—and now, finally, the goal for which our nation had endured its great sufferings: the complete crushing of Nazi Germany, the smashing of Fascism, the triumph of our just cause.
No one was more quietly elated or deeply relieved, however, than Josef Stalin. And none more clearly perceived the great political and post-war prize that had been gained than the communist dictator.
“Stalin said,” remembered Gen. Nikita Khrushchev, “that if it hadn’t been for [U.S. Gen. Dwight] Eisenhower, we wouldn’t have succeeded in capturing Berlin.”
As these United States of Surveillance & Torture approach one of its highest, holiest days, Memorial Day, a few thoughts straight from the cocoanut to the keyboard. . . .
Why is it that we Americans must always witness soldiers, sailors and airmen marching in the flag at sporting events? Who gave these peeps a corner on “patriotism?” Why must patriotism always be associated with wars, death, wars, lost limbs, wars, wheel chairs, wars, and other such brainless bull shit? Why not allow firemen or farmers or brick layers or doctors or electricians or students or housewives or truck drivers to present the colors? After all, do we not count? Do we not represent America too? Do we not slave and build and create and produce and pay taxes that allow Pentagon fat cats to shower their mistresses with presents? Do we not enable the military/industrial complex to shell out billions on aircraft that can’t fly? Do we, the working men and women of America, do we not make $500 army toilet seats possible? In a word, does not our labor that purchases these bimbo gifts, these crashed jets, and these toilet seats, does not this also make a nation safe and strong?
The reason members of the armed forces must always represent us, of course, is that the old can-do America of hope and prosperity has been usurped utterly by the welfare/warfare state; we have been taken over not by the peace-makers, but by the war-makers; we have been hijacked by those with a vested interest in perpetuating war. Indeed, the average American sitcom-watcher is so busy waving flags, tying yellow ribbons, supporting troops, and honoring “heroes” that “peace” is a word hardly heard anymore.
American TV runs an endless list of old war movies reminding us how glorious war is; there is even a military channel showing all the up-to-date and fun, fun ways we might murder other people. One cannot watch a sporting event on TV without several military recruitment commercials trying to woo the young and the dumb to join “The Few, the Proud, the Marines” (Hmmmm. A quarter million of anything—meatballs, monkeys, or marines—does not sound like a “few” to me) or to join the navy and be “a force for good around the world” (“good,” of course, depends on which side of the sidewinder missile you happen to be on), or “Get off your butt, you yellow-livered bed-wetter, and be strong . . . BE ARMY STRONG!” Football and baseball teams now regularly sport camouflage uniforms to show their patriotism and military support. Video games are all about combat and slaughter, past, present and future, and impressionable teens eagerly shed rivers of cyber blood and dream of the day when they can shed rivers of real blood. Our holidays—Christmas, included—have become little more than war commemoration days in which we give solemn thanks to all the “heroes” who keep us safe from all those lurking boogie men around the globe who hate our freedoms and who are trying to take them away. “Peace on earth, good will toward men” is now but a quaint slogan with about as much modern relevance as “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too!”
“Support the Troops!” This phrase has become the universal cry. Why? Why support the troops any more than we support the cops, the car salesmen, the garbage men, the school teachers, or the funnel cake makers? “Support the Troops . . . They are fighting for our freedoms.” Ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha! Sorry, but NO ONE seven thousand miles away killing with drones and missiles is fighting for my freedom. Last time I looked no one anywhere in the world was trying to filch my freedoms except my very own federal government. And so, until we come to our senses—not likely–or suffer a defeat so deadly and devastating that no American will even whisper the word “War” for a thousand years—very likely—I expect to see so-called “heroes” in military uniform cranking out the flag before every sporting event.
Of course, the endless wars we witness today have absolutely nothing to do with “freedoms” here in America but they have everything to do with making the world safe for Israel to continue its crimes around the globe without fear of punishment.
I can think of no other nation on the planet—save Israel—that is more geared toward war, destruction, torture, assassination, and unmitigated evil than this one I live in, America! And the sad fact is, this nation has been taken over so thoroughly by AIPAC and its horde of Jewish lobbyists that we are now little more than Israel’s private bank and personal army, ready to go wherever we are told to go—and pay for it ourselves, mind you—whether it is to the hot sands of Sudan or to the green fields of Ukraine. The US military and its endless wars to defend Israel neither defines me nor speaks for me. Had I the power I would bring home tomorrow all American troops from around the globe, find them good civilian jobs or place them on our southern border with Mexico with orders of “shoot to kill.” Not only would this move save US taxpayers trillions and trillions and stop millions and millions from invading us, but it would help heal all the angry scars we have created around the world these past hundred years.
And “Neocons”? I would bet that not one in fifty Americans could accurately define “neocon” if questioned on the street. Those of us with similar carbon-dating well remember the greasy, vulgar hair-balls of the Sixties who led violent protests against the US wars waged against communism. Well, these same “peace-loving” radical leftists who opposed the war and actually sided with the Marxists back then are now the flaming pro-war “conservatives,” or neocons, of today. The difference? When the wars were waged against communism, wars were bad; when wars are fought to further Israel’s goals, as all current American wars are, wars are good. Remember Jerry Rubin, Abby Hoffman, Bela Abzug, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and other loud Jews of the Sixties who led the anti-war movement and who were supposedly so opposed to war and violence? These same people–or their younger versions–are now the war-mongering Neocons of today, those who never met a Middle East war or an American body bag that they did not love. Right now, war with and destruction of Israel’s greatest enemy, Iran, is their main mission, and Donald Trump is happy to oblige. Neocons are hypocrisy personified and Donald Trump is the embodiment of lying treachery.
Final Thought—No government which sanctions torture, no government which spies on me, no government which works to limit my freedoms, no government which is clearly and patently anti-white, no government which encourages the invasion of my country by illegal “migrants,” no government which sends my child or grandchild off to fight for Israel in whatever their war de jur happens to be, no government who does all this will ever get my respect or loyalty. This warfare/welfare regime is utterly and terminally out of control and yet we have the spectacle at this time of year of these brain-dead hicks, urged on by the warbots of the Jewish media, getting all mushy-mouthed and misty-eyed about “fallen heroes,” about “fighting for our freedoms,” about “all their sacrifices,” and about all other such lame nonsense. Muttering such platitudes beats the hell out of thinking, I suppose. The simple fact is: To honor anyone who fights to prop up evil is the same thing as honoring evil itself.
Final Thought #2—We should work to make war such a shameful and ignominious pursuit that whenever some senile fossil like John McWar of Arizona, or the equally revolting and equally despicable Israel-Firster, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, when these or any other neocon war-monger suggest that what this nation needs is yet another nice quick war to help our gallant little ally, Israel, then all of our surviving 18-25 year-olds should yawn loudly, then respond in a unified voice. . . .
“You want war, you go for it. But remember, Bucko: You break it, you buy it. Any blowback, any jets flying into buildings killing thousands, any dirty bombs playing in Peoria, any American tourists losing their cabezas in Egypt, any of that will be crimes charged directly to you; to YOU, Bucko, not to the Muslim maniacs made maniacs by your endless wars against them. TO YOU, BUCKO, TO YOU! Do not—repeat—Do NOT be dragging back to our porch any more dead skunks after your Israeli-instigated foreign adventures. As we have learned so well, a dead skunk is a gift that keeps on giving . . . and giving . . . and giving.”
Final Thought #3–What about America and its lovely allied associate, ISIS? If a nation creates evil, if a nation funds evil, if a nation arms evil, if a nation protects evil, and if a nation excuses evil . . . then that nation IS evil. America is evil. America is evil in the truest sense of the word. And as long as we remain Israel’s dutiful attack dog around the globe, just so long will our nation remain evil.
Unlike almost every other volume published on the subject, my book, Hellstorm—The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947, is not the “Good War” scenario; this book is not about what they did to us; this book is about what we did to them.
When most folks think of war, they think of bombs and bullets, tanks and airplanes. But war is more than that; indeed, actual fighting is only a small part of war. War is also about occupation, domination, starvation, imprisonment, torture, degradation, humiliation.
Below is a passage from Hellstorm. There is much more in the book on the subject, but the excerpt is fairly representative. Magnify the accounts by a million or more and we have a pretty good picture. Although the perpetrators here are Soviet soldiers, particularly the Mongol and Asiatic troops, similar incidents were committed by all the Allied armies, Americans included. This is the true face of war.
“All of us, without exception, suffered the same,” revealed one victim.
“And to make matters worse,” added a witness from Neisse, “these atrocities were not committed secretly or in hidden corners but in public, in churches, on the streets, and on the squares. . . . Mothers were raped in the presence of their children, girls were raped in front of their brothers.”
“They . . . raped women and girls . . . in ditches and by the wayside, and as a rule not once but several times,” echoed another viewer. “Sometimes a whole bunch of soldiers would seize hold of one woman and all rape her.”
For those Germans who had naively imagined that they might “win over” the Soviets with kindness and courtesy, they now understood, too late, that Nazi propaganda had in this instance grossly understated the threat, rather than exaggerated it. “[T]he atrocity reports in the newspapers were harmless, compared to reality,” one incredulous victim revealed. While many upright Russian officers courageously stepped in and risked their own lives to stop the murders and rapes, their efforts were little more than a drop of water to a forest fire.
“[A]ll of us knew very well that if the girls were German they could be raped and then shot,” admitted Alexander Solzhenitsyn. “This was almost a combat distinction.”
“There will be no mercy–for no one. . . ,” ran one Russian general’s order to his men. “It is pointless to ask our troops to exercise mercy.”
“Kill them all, men, old men, children and the women, after you have amused yourself with them!” urged the Jewish propagandist, Ilya Ehrenberg, in his flaming broadsides. “Kill. Nothing in Germany is guiltless, neither the living nor the yet unborn. . . . Break the racial pride of the German women. Take her as your legitimate booty. Kill, you brave soldiers of the victorious Soviet Army.”
Springing from house to house and victim to victim “like wild beasts,” the drunken horde was determined to embrace such words as the above at their literal worst.
“And as we were then hauled out of the cellar,” recalled a woman who, along with her mother and grandmother had been raped repeatedly, “and as they stood there with their machine guns, my mother said, ‘Well, now we’ll probably be shot.’ And I said, ‘It’s all the same to me.’ It really was all the same to me. . . .”
You can imagine Asian cruelty. . . . “Frau, come,” that was the slogan. “Frau, come.” And I was so furious, because I’d had it up to here. . . . [H]e had me in such a clinch I couldn’t free myself, with my elbow I hit him in the pit of his stomach. That definitely hurt him, and he yelled, “You, I shoot.” And he was brandishing this kind of machine gun around my nose and then I said, “Then shoot.” Yelled it, yelled it just like he did. “Then shoot.”
Though the woman above miraculously lived, many who offered even token resistance did not. Wrote a witness from Bauschdorf:
Emilie Ertelt . . . wanted to protect her fifteen-year old daughter, who had been raped sixteen times on one and the same day. Holding a lighted candle in her hand, Mrs. Ertelt, and all those present in the room began to pray for her daughter. . . .[F]our shots were suddenly fired at us. After a few moments some more Russians appeared and started shooting at Mrs. Ertelt, wounding her in the head. The blood streamed down her face, and the nuns who were present went to her assistance and bandaged her head. Soon afterwards another Russian appeared, a brutal-looking fellow . . . and fired a shot at close range. Mrs. Ertelt was killed instantaneously.
Surrounded by Soviets, flight was simply not a sane option for females–and yet, some tried. One young teacher from Kriescht ran terror-stricken into the nearby woods. The woman was soon found, however, and, according to a chronicler, “They drove her out on the road stark naked, and many soldiers used her one after the other. She reached her village crawling on hands and knees along the ditch, through mud and snow. . . .” Another group of females found temporary haven in a woodland barn near Schoeneiche. But again, the refuge was swiftly discovered. Remembered one who was there:
They burst in, drunk with vodka and with victory, looking for women. When they saw only older women and children hiding behind a pile of carpets, they must have suspected that somewhere younger bodies were being concealed, and they started to ram their bayonets into the carpets. Here and there first and then systematically. . . . Nobody knows how many young girls were killed instantly that night. Eventually, the muffled cries of anguish and pain gave the hiding places away, and the victors started unrolling their prey. They chased those girls that had remained unhurt through the barn. . . . By then the barn looked like a battle field with wounded women on the floor right next to screaming and fighting victims forced to endure repeated and violent acts of rape. The sound of women’s pleading outcries and the brutal voices of the conquering heroes and their drunk singing followed them out into the darkness.
Faced by relentless assaults, with flight out of the question, females tried a variety of stratagems to save themselves. “Some of us tried to make ourselves as unattractive as possible by rouging the tips of our noses, putting gray powder on our upper lips to look like mustaches, and combing out our hair wildly,” revealed Lali Horstmann. Others placed pillows under their dresses and hobbled with sticks to appear like hunchbacks. One crazed woman “left her door open purposely to attract soldiers to where she was lying in bed in an alluring nightdress, in the hope of finding a protector,” one viewer recalled. “Two Russians, who had entered for a moment stood speechless. Then both spat in disgust, using a coarse word, shocked to the core by a woman who could offer herself to them. They went on to the room next door, from where soon came cries for help from the girl’s grandmother, aged sixty-nine. Her valiant defense of her honor had made her more attractive than the pretty, too willing girl.” Regarding “willing” women such as the above as “unclean,” Red troops were as likely as not to kill on the spot such individuals.
Many frantic females mistakenly assumed a house of God would provide protection. In fact, churches were usually the rapists’ first stop. Agonized a priest from Neisse:
The girls, women and nuns were raped incessantly for hours on end, the soldiers standing in queues, the officers at the head of the queues, in front of their victims. During the first night many of the nuns and women were raped as many as fifty times. Some of the nuns who resisted with all their strength were shot, others were ill-treated in a dreadful manner until they were too exhausted to offer any resistance. The Russians knocked them down, kicked them, beat them on the head and in the face with the butt-end of their revolvers and rifles, until they finally collapsed and in this unconscious condition became the helpless victims of brutish passion, which was so inhuman as to be inconceivable. The same dreadful scenes were enacted in the hospitals, homes for the aged, and other such institutions. Even nuns who were seventy and eighty years old and were ill and bedridden were raped and ill-treated by these barbarians.
Those women pregnant, on their menstrual cycle, or enduring diarrhea, suffered like all the rest. Nothing, it seemed–not age, ailment or ugliness–could repel the Red rapist. Even death was no defense.
“I . . . saw some twenty Red Army men standing in line before the corpse of a woman certainly beyond sixty years of age who had been raped to death,” one sickened witness recorded. “They were shouting and laughing and waiting for their satisfaction over her dead body.” As this viewer went on to add, and as numerous examples attest, such ghoulish depravities were not isolated events.
And so, at the behest of Israel, the U.S. is poised to effect yet another round of regime change, this time in Syria.
Assad in Syria, Morsi in Egypt, Khadafy in Libya, Saddam in Iraq . . . the list goes on. Despite the fact that 91% of Walmart shopping American sports fans are against yet another in a long litany of wars, it doesn’t matter one thin dime. Israel wants regime change and good old Uncle Stooge, with a host of Jewish lobbyists kicking him in the pants, is happy to oblige.
Israel’s menu for Uncle Stooge:
a) first, Syria
b) second, Iran
c) third, Russia
And you actually thought you had a choice, a voice in decisions, didn’t you Americans? We Americans have not had a voice in U.S. foreign policy for decades. With nearly 90% of Americans against war in Europe in 1941, FDR and his Jewish ‘advisers’ worked like beavers to goad the Japanese into attacking, thereby enabling the U.S. to enter the war against Germany via the ‘backdoor.’ You know the rest. And that has been the pattern ever since. Stage an incident—back then it was Pearl Harbor, today it is poison gas in Syria–and the Jewish media will happily turn that 90% against war into 90% FOR war. No Texas rancher ever herded his cattle with greater ease than the U.S. welfare/warfare state and its Jewish media herd Americans.
The fact is, the corrupt and criminal U.S. government will do exactly as Israel directs, polls or no polls, Trump or no Trump.
Seems there is a growing problem in America with public Easter Egg hunts. Seems some such events are scrubbed each year. Seems cheating is the problem. Seems adults, not kids, are the cheaters. . . .
Seems “helicopter parents” (adults who hover over their children and see it as their mission in life to flatten every friggen speed bump that lay in their kids’ path), are so fearful that their precious darlings will not find an egg or two and will thus be so terribly traumatized as a result that it might actually spiral out of control until their kids face a future full of failure as a result—drug addictionism, high school drop outism, living out their miserably failed lives in a van down by the riverism—and all because they didn’t find a fuggin’ Easter Egg. . . .
Anyway, these “adults” are so stressed that their kids might not find some candy during the hunt that they themselves cross the barriers and like ridiculous bird dogs point their kids to the eggs. When one or two idiots cross the ropes, of course, those left behind are disgusted and rightly think, “NOT FAIR!” However, instead of simply allowing these moron parents to publicly display their moronitude under the scornful glare of all, many of the outraged parents join the original morons and cross the ropes to help their own little Baileys, Addisons, Mackenzies, and Emersons.
As I see it, the parents who originally cross the ropes make a really bad decision . . . but for a good reason. Although they display no more intelligence and maturity than their four- and five-year-olds, no doubt these “grown-ups” knew something of deprivation as children, knew a bit about failure during kidhood, knew the insecure feeling and low self-esteem that only ineptitude, ignorance and inadequacy can deliver . . . and by God, come hell or high water they are now bound and determined that their kids will have it different than they. Okay, fine. But who can doubt that their actions are creating a whole new set of problems for their kids? What these well-meaning, but unthinking, parents forget is that the truly stronger character traits come from BOTH sides of the line, the winning as well as the losing.
And while we are at it, who can doubt that the screaming outbursts and sobbing spectacles witnessed last election night by the Hillary loser loons were a direct consequence of those well-meaning, but clueless, helicopter parents who had flattened every bump and pointed to every Easter Egg in their kids’ lives, lives now locked in a ridiculous and revolting state of perpetual immaturity?
When Bart yelled at the old lady—let’s call her Barb—to whip him up a burger, and make it snappy, Barb told Bart to get off his good-for-nothing lazy ass and fix it himself. Since these were not the words a starving maniac wants to hear, nor were the words spoken in a manner a starving maniac wants them spoken, Bart got off his lazy ass, walked to the kitchen, grabbed a knife, then killed Barb. With that little matter out of the way, Bart went to work on that hamburger he so ravenously craved.
Once his hamburger hunger had been thoroughly sated, Bart realized he might be in a bit of trouble for severely stabbing Barb to death. Although the sassy bitch had it coming, unless he thought fast, Bart reasoned, this might prove one expensive hamburger. And so, the hub tore the hell out of the kitchen, trying to make it look like a burglar had been extremely hungry for a burger as he was looting the place and when Barb had refused to fry him that burger the burglar had gone bonkers. Bart would tell the cops he had seen it all. They would never guess, right?
In near record time—maybe 30 seconds or less—this case was solved and Bart the mastermind murderer now lays on his lazy ass in jail on a Murder Two rap. The chow is gratis now, of course, courtesy of the state, but there are, alas, no hamburgers on the prison menu. Poor fellow.
Bart is 83 and counting. Bart’s ex-wife, Barb, was, is, and will now always remain, 70-something forever.
Meanwhile. . . .
A Forty-eight-year-old individual—let’s call him Jerry—got into a physical misunderstanding a piece back up at a so-called ”Gentleman’s Club” in Tampa. Since he was bounced out on his head, I reckon old Jer lost the fight. Drunk, stupid, mean, murderous, and above all, mad, when Jerry saw a chap—let’s call him Fred—coming out of an adjoining adult book store a short time later he mistook the steamer for his former fight foe and yelled a curse or two at him (well, he was drunk and the bar was dark). When Fred fled, Jer jumped into his truck and gave chase up Interstate-4 toward Orlando, determined to get some revenge for his public beat-down. Fred, of course, didn’t have a clue why a maniac was chasing him.
As the terrified Fred pegged in 911 on his cell, Jerry drew alongside and began pointing a pistol out his window. The 911 call taker answered—“Okay, what’s your beef? Talk to me”—heard gunfire, then her phone went dead. Pun intended.
After his little regular-rage which ended in road-rage, Jerry now calls state prison his home and forty-seven forever Fred is winging his way around all those big X-rated porn shops in the sky.
Gentleman’s club? Adult book store? These mother-muckers sound like anything but gentlemen or adults.
By Taylor McClain
In the summer before my eighth birthday, I sat on my Grandmother’s screen porch, relaxed in the two-toned, metal gliding chair, and read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I had never heard of the author. The story was inserted into an anthology of science fiction stories titled The Treasury of Science Fiction Classics. I was a member of a science fiction book club and once a month I would receive in the mail one volume of my choice, sometimes a collection and other times a single work by one author. I believe this was the first work of fiction that viscerally bothered me. I could not stop thinking about the implications of the narrative. What was the author trying to tell us? Why did the woman allow herself to fall in love with a grown man and then care for him, as he became an infant? At what age did Benjamin’s caring for the woman as a lover morph into his love for her as his mother? What would society be like where this aging pattern in reverse was the norm?
Before subjecting myself to the torment of Button, I read comic books. My Mother, instead of discarding them in the trash when I had read the latest Captain Marvel, Archie, Aquaman, Superman, and others, would place each one into a brown kraft paper grocery bag that she kept on the top shelf of her bedroom closet. I still have those comic books, thanks to my Mother’s obsessive/compulsive behavior, and occasionally I’ll drag them out from my own closet and read one randomly selected. I am always intrigued that the plots and the characters drawn in the cartoons show more about our culture at the time than we might otherwise imagine. I don’t read comic books published today. Instead, I view them in their movie or TV adaptation. But the comics still reveal the truths of people, groups, and culture just as they did when I was young.
The other night I could not sleep, so I turned on the bedroom TV and began watching Netflix’s The Iron Fist. I won’t bore you with the plot, but for those of you old enough to remember the 1970s TV drama Kung Fu starring the weird-to-the-end David Carradine, The Iron Fist is a reimagining of that show. But Carradine’s character, Kwai Chang Caine, was more compelling because he remained faithful to his Shaolin monk teaching despite the many temptations of the American Wild West. He was always harkening back to his dialogues with his blind teacher Master Po during troubling moments:
Master Po—“Vengeance is a water vessel with a hole. It carries nothing but the promise of emptiness.”
Young Caine—“Shall I then repay injury always with kindness?”
Master Po—“Repay injury with justice and forgiveness, but kindness always with kindness.”
The Iron Fist (real name, Danny Rand), on the other hand, upon returning to civilization after being raised in a Himalayan monastery for fifteen years, quickly gives up his moral virginity to the lure of the 51% phallus of a massive technology company.
Danny meets an Asian woman, Colleen Wing, who owns a small Dojo that is financially struggling. But Danny likes her and admires her skills (at stick fighting). He shows up at the Dojo one evening to surprise her with an expensive catered dinner brought in by three white coated waiters who set up a table and folding chairs. However, Colleen has been teaching a private lesson to another woman who is African-American.
Now here comes the teachable moment about culture or rather the difference in “cultures” among people born and reared on the same soil. Anyone who has spent any appreciable time at all with AAs knows that they are “different” from White Americans. It does not matter if you live in Alabama, Illinois, Montana, or wherever—the observed differences are shared among Whites. Sometimes we speak of them by telling a humorous anecdote about an event from school or work. We might then laugh and go our ways knowing that our bias has been confirmed by the other White person who might say, “Yep, that is so true.”
Lest the reader conclude that racial prejudice is rearing its ugly head in my narrative, let me inform that AAs make the same observations about White people, to the extent they can observe, recall, and retell.
So, in episode 5 of the Iron Fist, the waiters leave the Dojo, and Danny, Colleen, and the AA student share an awkward moment. It is made awkward by the student inviting herself to a seat at the banquet table. This behavior is gauche, but perhaps she believes she is protecting Colleen from, hmm, a handsome, virtuous, well-dressed billionaire, who bows to Colleen at every opportunity because she is the Master of the Dojo and is to be accorded respect.
The student chows down while asking prying and personal questions of Danny about his life, which he answers as if he were channeling his spiritual Zen Master of the Himalayas. Finally, the student has had her fill and are we, the viewer glad so that Danny can now get to the point of his being there, which is to ask Colleen a favor.
This next scene, the one when the student exits stage right is the cultural tableau. After watching this scene, I called five of my friends, all White, three men and two women, the next day and asked them to watch the six to eight minutes of the catered dinner scene of episode 5. I told each of them that I wanted their reaction to any part that made a light go off in their head, rang a bell, or provided an “Aha” moment. That was it, even when they would ask, “What should I be looking for?” I gave no further instruction.
They all called me back within two-three days, and they all gave the same response in almost the identical wording!
So, what was it? What was in this scene that six White people from different backgrounds, from three different states, with different occupations, observed with no hesitation?
As the scene played out, the AA student slyly smiled, picked up her dinner plate and walked to the makeshift hunt board on which sat several other covered trays of food. Just as we think she is going to throw her plate in the trash can, she turns to Danny, gives him a roguish smile, and asks, “Do you mind?” I wondered what she was going to say or do next, but as the TV series writer scripted it, Danny instantly knew what she was referring to, and he replies, “Oh, no. Go ahead, help yourself.”
The AA student then folds her arms around four of the covered trays and scurries out the door. This is it. The cultural phenomenon that all AAs engage in at picnics, dinner parties, wedding rehearsal dinners, and any gathering where someone else has provided the food. AAs never leave the festivity empty handed. They always treat these occasions as if the host has not only served up a meal for the persons in attendance but also for the AA’s extended family and friends.
This behavior, which Whites view as rude, is engaged in by AAs with nary a second thought. Now if this behavior is typical at AA functions, we might understand that they would practice the same way with no intended perfidy at a gathering hosted by a White person. But as viewed through the lens of white culture, food cost money whether the host prepares the food or has the event catered. So when a person feeds their guests in their home, it can hardly be expected that the invitation carried a subliminal message that the invitee’s family were to be fed later. Thus, Whites have been conditioned to expect this pilfering by AAs, and thus prepare enough food to satisfy the craving of two to three times the number of AAs personally in attendance.
When my friends called me back to say that this was the standard behavior of AAs, each of them related to me stories of their discernment of this at their workplace or elsewhere. One told me that where he worked (a large doctors’ offices), the AA staff kept insulated food containers under their desks should the occasion arise when a vendor might bring the doctors pizza or sandwiches.
Another friend related to me that AAs don’t seem to understand that this is especially vexatious at catered wedding parties where the food and beverages are costly since the caterer counts each plate whether the food is eaten at the party or not. She said that one young girl in her office was getting married for the first time and that she and her fiancé were bearing the expense of the wedding party as the parents could not afford the high-end caterer. She let it be known that the AAs should leave their insulated containers at the office, as no food would be taken away from the party. All the AAs in the office were invited but only a few attended.
Why is it that this behavior of two groups of people, raised in the same country, the same cities, and neighborhoods, has diverged so completely? Is it that some biological imperative, some strange genome sitting on a chromosome, can account for this? Why is it that all Whites act one way and all AAs act in an entirely different way, when it comes to this conduct that if it happened occasionally would be seen as humorously innocuous? But it does not happen occasionally—it is the rule rather than the exception. I wish I knew the answer to this particular comportment that is proven through the shared knowledge—the conventional wisdom—of all White people.
There are many more expressions of this divergent cultural evolution between these two groups. We shall examine some of these shortly.
As I said at the beginning of this discussion, comic books can teach us a lot about our culture and belief systems.
Taylor McClain is a practicing attorney and a University of Alabama alumnus
Every month, it seems, yet another movie is released based upon some real or some fanciful event of World War Two. Invariably, like some stylized Greek drama in which the actors all wear the same masks and all chant the same lines, the cast in these propagandistic morality plays are as predictable as the message. . . .
On one side are arrayed the Allies, the good guys; generally, these are the happy-go-lucky gum-chewing Americans who are heroically “fighting for freedom” and are striving to save the world and the folks back in Ohio from slavery. On the other side are the arrogant Germans, the evil Nazis; this is the dark force the world is being saved from, those overbearing monsters who live only to murder, rape, torture, kill, and make lampshades and bars of soap out of defenseless, harmless Jews.
It has now been over 70 years since the conclusion of the so-called “Good War.” Thousands of books, articles and movies have been devoted to this pivotal period and the supposedly heroic sacrifice of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” Despite the sheer tonnage of material dedicated to the victor’s version of WWII, there has yet to be an honest, accurate and straight-forward retelling of that cataclysmic event and what it really looked like, not merely from the victors’ perspective, but through the eyes of the vanquished, as well.
The following is from my book Hellstorm—The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947. To date, this book remains the only in-depth account of what the end of the war and the beginning of the so-called “peace” looked like from the German perspective. To this day, what happened to Germany and her people, especially after the war, remains the darkest and best-kept secret in world history. And to this day, what happened to Germany and her people also remains, by far, the greatest and most sadistic crime ever committed in the history of mankind.
Since the German invasion of the Soviet Union in September 1941, the fight on the Eastern Front had been little better than a savage war of annihilation. A contest between “European Nationalism” on the one hand, and “International Communism” on the other, would have been a most desperate struggle under any conditions. But then, fighting for his life, Josef Stalin deliberately exacerbated the situation.
Dubious over the loyalty of his armed forces, aware of the massive Russian surrenders during the First World War, the Red premier steadfastly refused to sign the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war or the Hague Treaty regarding land warfare. It was Stalin’s belief that if a soldier had no guarantee of survival in captivity, then he must of necessity fight to the death in battle. Despite such ruthless measures, Soviet troops surrendered by the hundreds of thousands in the first weeks and months of the war. Swamped by the flood of prisoners, strained to adequately clothe, feed and house such numbers, and understandably hesitant to even do so unless the Russians reciprocated, the Germans time and again tried to reach an accord with Stalin. The efforts were flung back with contempt.
“Soviet soldiers do not surrender,” communist officials airily announced. “[A] prisoner captured alive by the enemy [is] ipso facto a traitor…. If they had fulfilled their duty as soldiers to fight to the last they would not have been taken prisoner.”
“Everyone who was taken prisoner, even if they’d been wounded . . . was considered to have ‘surrendered voluntarily to the enemy,’ ” wrote Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, whose own brother was captured and promptly disowned by her father. “The government thereby washed its hands of millions of its own officers and men . . . and refused to have anything to do with them.”
Hence, growled a disgruntled captain of Russian artillery, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “[Moscow] did not recognize its own soldiers of the day before.”
Not surprisingly, many Red Army men, including General Andrei Vlasov, swiftly turned on their government after capture and became “traitors” not only in name, but in fact, by joining the Germans in their anti-communist crusade.
That the Soviets would treat their own troops in such a deplorable manner bode ill for that German soldier, or Landser, unlucky enough to fall into enemy hands. Although responses varied greatly among Soviet units and some captured Germans were treated as POWs, most were not. During the first glorious days of German victory in 1941, the Red Army’s headlong retreat precluded the likelihood that large numbers of Landsers would be captured. Nevertheless, thousands of unwitting Germans did fall into communist hands and were dispatched on the spot.
On July 1, 1941, near Broniki in the Ukraine, the Soviets captured over 160 Germans, many of them wounded. In the words of Corporal Karl Jager:
After being taken prisoner . . . other comrades and I were forced to undress. . . . We had to surrender all valuable objects including everything we had in our pockets. I saw other comrades stabbed with a bayonet because they were not fast enough. Corporal Kurz had a wounded hand and . . . could not remove his belt as quickly as desired. He was stabbed from behind at the neck so that the bayonet came out through the throat. A soldier who was severely wounded gave slight signs of life with his hands; he was kicked about and his head was battered with rifle butts. . . . Together with a group of 12 to 15 men I was taken to a spot north of the road. Several of them completely naked. We were about the third group coming from the road. Behind us the Russians commenced the executions . . . panic broke out after the first shots, and I was able to flee.
“My hands were tied up at my back . . . and we were forced to lie down. . . ,” said another victim in the same group. “[A] Russian soldier stabbed me in the chest with his bayonet. Thereupon I turned over. I was then stabbed seven times in the back and I did not move any more. . . . I heard my comrades cry out in pain. Then I passed out.”
In all, 153 bodies were recovered by advancing Germans the following morning. Despite the summary slaughter of their own men at Broniki and elsewhere, Wehrmacht field marshals strictly forbid large-scale reprisals. One group which could expect no mercy from the Germans was the communist commissars who traveled with Red Army units. Composed “almost exclusively” of Jews, it was these fanatical political officers, many Germans felt, who were responsible for the massacres and mutilations of captured comrades. Explained one witness, Lieutenant Hans Woltersdorf of the elite SS:
One of our antitank gun crews had defended itself down to the last cartridge, really down to the last cartridge. Over thirty dead Russians lay before their positions. They then had to surrender. While still alive they had their genitals cut off, their eyes poked out, and their bellies slit open. Russian prisoners to whom we showed this declared that such mutilations took place by order of the commissars. This was the first I had heard of such commissars.
With the threat of torture and execution facing them, many idealistic German soldiers had an added impetus to fight to the death. In the minds of most Landsers, the war in the east was not a contest against the Russian or Slavic race in particular, but a crusade against communism. In the years following World War I, Marxist revolutionaries had nearly toppled the German government. Because most of the leaders were Jews, and because Lenin, Trotsky, and many other Russian revolutionaries were Jewish, the threat to Nazi Germany and Europe seemed clear. Hence, from Adolf Hitler down to the lowliest Landser, the fight in the east became a holy war against “Jewish Bolshevism.”
“The poor, unhappy Russian people,” said one shocked German soldier as he moved further into the Soviet Union. “Its distress is unspeakable and its misery heart-rending.”
“When you see what the Jew has brought about here in Russia, only then can you begin to understand why the Fuhrer began this struggle against Judaism,” another stunned Landser wrote, expressing a sentiment shared by many comrades. “What sort of misfortunes would have been visited upon our Fatherland, if this bestial people had gotten the upper hand?”
Following the devastating German defeat at Stalingrad in 1943, the “upper hand” did indeed pass to the enemy. Supplied by the US with a seemingly inexhaustible amount of goods, from tanks and planes to boots and butter, the resurgent Red Army assumed the offensive.
As the heretofore invincible Wehrmacht began its long, slow withdrawal west, a drama as vast and savage as the steppe itself unfolded, the likes of which the modern world had never witnessed. In dozens of major battles, in thousands of forgotten skirmishes, a primeval contest was waged wherein victory meant life and defeat meant death.
Overwhelmingly outnumbered in men and materiel, especially the dreaded tank, for young German recruits sent to fill depleted ranks there was no subtle transition from peace to war on the Eastern Front—they simply stepped straight from the train or truck into the inferno. Likewise, the step from boy to man could, and often did, come within a matter of moments once the recruit reached the lines. Guy Sajer’s youth ended abruptly one day when his convoy was ambushed.
“Anybody hit?” one of the noncoms called out. “Let’s get going then. . . .” Nervously, I pulled open the door [of the truck]. Inside, I saw a man I shall never forget, a man sitting normally on the seat, whose lower face had been reduced to a bloody pulp.
“Ernst?” I asked in a choking voice. “Ernst!” I threw myself at him. . . . I looked frantically for some features on that horrible face. His coat was covered with blood. . . . His teeth were mixed with fragments of bone, and through the gore I could see the muscles of his face contracting. In a state of near shock, I tried to put the dressing somewhere on that cavernous wound. . . . Crying like a small boy, I pushed my friend to the other end of the seat, holding him in my arms. . . . Two eyes opened, brilliant with anguish, and looked at me from his ruined face.
In the cab of a . . . truck, somewhere in the vastness of the Russian hinterland, a man and an adolescent were caught in a desperate struggle. The man struggled with death, and the adolescent struggled with despair. . . . I felt that something had hardened in my spirit forever.
“The first group of T34’s crashed through the undergrowth,” another terrified replacement recalled when Russian tanks suddenly shattered his once peaceful world.
I heard my officer shout to me to take the right hand machine. . . . All that I had learned in the training school suddenly came flooding back and gave me confidence. . . . It had been planned that we should allow the first group of T-34’s to roll over us. . . . The grenade had a safety cap which had to be unscrewed to reach the rip-cord. My fingers were trembling as I unscrewed the cap . . . [and] climbed out of the trench. . . . Crouching low I started towards the monster, pulled the detonating cord, and prepared to fix the charge. I had now nine seconds before the grenade exploded and then I noticed, to my horror, that the outside of the tank was covered in concrete. . . . My bomb could not stick on such a surface. . . . The tank suddenly spun on its right track, turned so that it pointed straight at me and moved forward as if to run over me.
I flung myself backwards and fell straight into a partly dug slit trench and so shallow that I was only just below the surface of the ground. Luckily I had fallen face upwards and was still holding tight in my hand the sizzling hand grenade. As the tank rolled over me there was a sudden and total blackness. . . . The shallow earth walls of the trench began to collapse. As the belly of the monster passed over me I reached up instinctively as if to push it away and . . . stuck the charge on the smooth, unpasted metal. . . . Barely had the tank passed over me than there was a loud explosion. . . . I was alive and the Russians were dead. I was trembling in every limb.
Another Landser who found truth facing Russian tanks was eighteen-year-old Guy Sajer. Armed with single-shot “Panzerfausts,” a shoulder-held anti-armor weapon, Sajer and five comrades cowered in a shallow hole. “Our fear reached grandiose proportions, and urine poured down our legs,” admitted the young soldier. “Our fear was so great that we lost all thought of controlling ourselves.”
Three tanks were moving toward us. If they rolled over the mound which protected us, the war would end for us in less than a minute. I [raised] my first Panzerfaust, and my hand, stiff with fear, [was] on the firing button.
As they rolled toward us, the earth against which my body was pressed transmitted their vibrations, while my nerves, tightened to the breaking point, seemed to shrill with an ear-splitting whistle. . . . I could see the reflected yellow lights on the front of the tank, and then everything disappeared in the flash of light which I had released, and which burned my face. . . . To the side, other flashes of light battered at my eyes, which jerked open convulsively wide, although there was nothing to see. Everything was simultaneously luminous and blurred. Then a second tank in the middle distance was outlined by a glow of flame. . . .
We could hear the noise of a third tank. . . . It had accelerated, and was no more than thirty yards from us, when I grabbed my last Panzerfaust. One of my comrades had already fired, and I was temporarily blinded. I stiffened my powers of vision and regained my sight to see a multitude of rollers caked with mud churning past . . . five or six yards from us. An inhuman cry of terror rose from our helpless throats.
The tank withdrew into the noise of battle, and finally disappeared in a volcanic eruption which lifted it from the ground in a thick cloud of smoke. Our wildly staring eyes tried to fix on something solid, but could find nothing except smoke and flame. As there were no more tanks, our madness thrust us from our refuge, toward the fire whose brilliance tortured our eyes. The noise of the tanks was growing fainter. The Russians were backing away.
After pulling wounded from the burning tanks, Sajer collapsed in a heap. As the young Landser and his exhausted comrades well knew, however, the respite would be brief: “They would undoubtedly reappear in greater numbers, with the support of planes or artillery, and our despairing frenzy would count for nothing.”
Sajer was correct. In yet another contest between man and machine, the soldier and his companions could only watch in helpless horror as the steel monsters overran a gun emplacement.
Our cries of distress were mingled with the screams of the two machine gunners and then the shouts of revenge from the Russian tank crew as it drove over the hole, grinding the remains of the two gunners into that hateful soil. . . . The treads worked over the hole for a long time, and the Russian crew kept shouting, “Kaputt, Soldat Germanski! Kaputt!”
Many scenes from the East Front, like the above, seemed scripted in hell. After a hastily organized force of mechanics, bakers and cooks had beat back one enemy assault, a group of Landsers, including Hans Woltersdorf, crept up to a damaged Russian tank. “The men looked into the tank,” the lieutenant remembered, “and they were near vomiting, so they didn’t look further but instead went away, embarrassed. A headless torso, bloody flesh, and intestines were sticking to the walls.”
Several soldiers did succeed in pulling an injured driver from the wreck. “He lay there, wearing a distinguished award for bravery,” noted Woltersdorf.
The back of his head was gaping open and bloody brains were pouring out. He was foaming at the mouth and his breath was still rattling, the typical rattle after an injury to the back of the head. You’re dead but your lungs are still puffing….I took his military papers and the award. Later, when it was all over, I would send them to his family and write to them that he had fought bravely to the last for his country . . . he had given his best … they could be proud of him … what does one write at such times?
Terrible in their own right, sights and sounds such as the above were made doubly horrifying by the haunting suspicion that the viewer was gazing down on his own fate. “One always sees oneself sticking to the walls in thousands of pieces like that,” confessed Woltersdorf, “without a head, or being dragged from the tank with a death rattle in one’s throat.”
Facing cold, robot-like tanks was terrifying enough. When humans became such, the results were devastating. Perhaps the most frightening moment in any Landser’s life came when he first faced the human wave. In a nation so vast that it compassed two continents, men were a resource the Soviets could afford to waste . . . and did. Following a Russian artillery barrage upon his position, Max Simon redeployed surviving soldiers along a ridge.
“Then,” the SS general wrote, “quite a long distance from our positions there were lines of brown uniformed men tramping forward. The first of these crossed a small river and was followed at about 200 meters distance by a second line. Then there rose out of the grass—literally from out of the ground—a third wave, then a fourth and a fifth.”
“To see them, the Ivans, rise up from the ground and just stand there, thousands of them, was really frightening,” said another who faced the human wave. “They would stand there, within range . . . silent, withdrawn and not heeding those who fell around them. Then they would move off, the first three lines marching towards us.”
Returning to General Simon:
The lines of men stretched to the right and left of our regimental front over-lapping it completely and the whole mass of Russian troops came tramping solidly and relentlessly forward. It was an unbelievable sight, a machine gunner’s dream. … At 600 metres we opened fire and whole sections of the first wave just vanished leaving here and there an odd survivor still walking stolidly forward. It was uncanny, unbelievable, inhuman. No soldier of ours would have continued to advance alone. The second wave had also taken losses but closed up towards the center, round and across the bodies of their comrades who had fallen with the first wave. Then, as if on a signal, the lines of men began running forward. As they advanced there was a low rumbling “Hoooooraaay.”
“The sound of that bellowing challenge was enough to freeze the blood,” admitted one trembling Landser. “Just the sound alone terrified the new recruits.”
Again, Max Simon:
The first three waves had been destroyed by our fire, but not all of the men in them had been killed. Some who dropped were snipers who worked their way forward through the grass to open fire upon our officers and machine gun posts. The rush of the fourth wave came on more slowly for the men had to pick their way through a great carpet of bodies and as the Soviets moved towards us some of our men, forgetful of the danger, stood on the parapets of their slit trenches to fire at the oncoming Russians. The machine guns became hot from continual firing and there were frequent stoppages to change barrels….
The great mass of the Soviet troops was now storming up the slope towards us but our fire was too great and they broke. About an hour later a further five lines of men came on in a second assault. The numbers of the enemy seemed endless and the new waves of men advanced across their own dead without hesitation…. The Ivans kept up their attacks for three days and sometimes even during the night. Suddenly they stopped and withdrew.
While the slaughter of thousands in such suicidal assaults seemed senseless, the results were not altogether one-sided. The psychological wounds inflicted on the Germans were, as Gen. Simon acknowledged, perhaps an even greater blow than the physical havoc wrought on the Russians. “The number, duration and fury of those attacks had exhausted us… ,” confessed Simon. “If the Soviets could waste men on our small move, and there was no doubt that these men had been sacrificed, how often, we asked ourselves, would they attack and in what numbers if the objective was really a supremely important one?”
The carnage following battles such as the above was truly horrific. Although most recruits soon became hardened after two or three similar encounters, no soldier ever became complacent about war. The battlefield had many grim faces and no two were alike. Surprisingly, some of the most shattering moments in a Landser’s life concerned the dreadful impact war had on horses, thousands of which served both armies. Harald Henry remembered vividly one animal in particular, lying by the wayside:
It reared, someone gave it a mercy shot, it sprang up again, another fired…. [T]he horse still fought for its life, many shots. But the rifle shots did not quickly finish off the dying eyes of the horse…. Everywhere horses. Ripped apart by shells, their eyes bulging out from empty red sockets…. That is just almost worse than the torn-away faces of the men, of the burnt, half-charred corpses.
After just experiencing what he imagined was all the horror one battle had to give, Lieutenant Friedrich Haag noticed a “beautiful white horse grazing by a ditch.”
An artillery shell … had torn away his right foreleg. He grazed peacefully but at the same time slowly and in unspeakable grief swayed his bloody stump of a leg to and fro….I don’t know if I can accurately describe the horror of this sight. . . . I said then . . . to one of my men: “Finish that horse off!” Then the soldier, who just ten minutes before had been in a hard fight, replied: “I haven’t got the heart for it, Herr Lieutenant.” Such experiences are more distressing than all the “turmoil of battle” and the personal danger.
Although massed human assaults and tank battles were dramatic, earth-shaking events, surviving German soldiers could normally expect a welcome, if brief, respite between contests. Not so with the ever-lurking partisan war. For that Landser behind the front who dropped his guard, the result could mean instant death … or worse. “When German soldiers were captured by guerrillas, they were often abominably treated,” one Wehrmacht general recounted. “[I]t was not unusual for the Soviets to torture their prisoners and then hang them up, sometimes with their genitals stuffed in their mouths.” Other Landsers were released, then sent staggering down roads toward their comrades, naked, bloody, eyes gouged from sockets, castrated.
Unable to deal decisively with the civilian-clad irregulars, German reprisals against the surrounding communities were swift, grim and arbitrary.
“A partisan group blew up our vehicles,” recorded one private, “[and]. . . shot the agricultural administrator and a corporal assigned to him in their quarters…. Early yesterday morning 40 men were shot on the edge of the city. . . . Naturally there were a number of innocent people who had to give up their lives…. One didn’t waste a lot of time on this and just shot the ones who happened to be around.”
As with commissars, “no quarter” was the standard fate of guerrillas who fell into German hands. Wrote a witness:
Businesslike, the men of the field police emerge and tie with oft-practiced skill seven nooses on the balcony railing and then disappear behind the door of the dark room…. The first human package, tied up, is carried outside. The limbs are tightly bound …a cloth covers his face. The hemp neckband is placed around his neck, hands are tied tight, he is put on the balustrade and the blindfold is removed from his eyes. For an instant you see glaring eyeballs, like those of an escaped horse, then wearily he closes his eyelids, almost relaxed, never to open them again. He now slides slowly downward, his weight pulls the noose tight, his muscles begin their hopeless battle. The body works mightily, twitches, and within the fetters a bit of life struggles to its end. It’s quick; one after the other are brought out, put on the railing…. Each one bears a placard on his chest proclaiming his crime…. Sometimes one of them sticks out his tongue as if in unconscious mockery and immoderate amounts of spittle drip down on the street.
As the Wehrmacht was pressed inexorably west, the daily attrition was staggering. Repeated Russian attacks opened gaps in German ranks simply too great to be filled. Outnumbered sometimes ten to one, each Landser was thus expected to fight as ten if they were to survive. Many did. After beating back waves of Soviets with only a handful of men, Leopold von Thadden-Trieglaff refused to abandon his tiny section of line. Holding on throughout the night, the surrounded squad again fought furiously the following dawn.
“[A] hail of fire rained on us, from right, from left,” recorded the young soldier in his journal. “In a few minutes our bunker was full of wounded and I struggled to quiet the poor fellows. . . . Screams and groans, and singing. I had to strain every nerve in order to remain as calm as before.”
Finally, a German counterattack broke through and rescued the survivors, ending “the most terrible night and the hardest battle of my life. . . ,” wrote Thadden-Trieglaff. “As I returned to my command post in the village I gaped at the dead comrades. I was so shaken that I almost cried. . . . When might this hideous defensive struggle come to an end?”
For the heroic twenty-year-old, that end came the following day when he was killed.
As the crushing attrition ground the German Army into the Russian mud, the turnover rate from death and wounds was tremendous. Green recruits often found themselves within months, even weeks, the oldest veterans in their unit.
“I noticed that it was particularly in the first few days that newcomers were most likely to get killed,” observed Jan Montyn (below).
Gert was one of those newcomers. He was sixteen….I saw in his eyes, behind his round spectacles, the same bewilderment that I had felt myself when I was finding my way around that first day—almost a month ago now. His legs were trembling, he kept blinking. He had never held a real gun in his hands before. And I felt that he would not be with us for long. “You have to think carefully about everything you do,” I told him. “You must not allow anything to become a habit. On the other side there are snipers on the look-out day and night. If you as much as strike a match, you are finished. They notice every regularity in your behavior. When you have to scoop out a trench, don’t throw the earth over the side in the same place twice. . . . Gert nodded. He would remember. But less than two hours later I heard a cry. He had climbed out of the trench. He had been hit with his trousers down. In ten paces I was with him, and pulled him back into the trench by his legs. Oh, you idiot! Did I have to say that …? There was a big hole in his groin. I pulled a roll of substitute bandage out of my breast pocket. But the poor quality paper was drenched within a few seconds. I tried to close the wound by pressing on it with my thumbs, begging and praying that someone might come along. I dared not call; that might provoke mortar fire. Gert lay panting, his mouth half open. He did not seem to feel any pain. For God’s sake let someone come. No one came. The blood that gushed through my fingers mingled with the mud. And Gert no longer moved.
Added to the trauma of watching comrades die one by one, was concern for the safety of loved ones at home. Unlike Allied soldiers, whose words from home brought comfort and cheer, for the German Landser a letter from a loved one was merely one more burden to bear. Penned Martin Poppel in his diary:
My wife wrote to me: “Today we are worn out after this terrible hail of bombs. To be hearing the howling of these things all the time, waiting for death at any moment, in a dark cellar, unable to see. . . . Everything gone. . . .”
No, here at the front we musn’t think about it…. We understood the feelings of the people at home, suffered with them and feared for our loved ones who had to bear terror bombing.
“A few days ago,” scribbled a tormented sergeant, “I found out that just at the same time as we dreamed of home, the rubble was smoking in my home city of Mannheim. What a bitter irony.”
“These pigs . . . think they can soften us up in that way. But that is a mistake, a mistake,” growled another sergeant. “Ah, if only the Fuhrer would send a pair of … divisions to England. They would deal a death dance that would give the devil himself the creeps. Oh, I have a rage, a wild hatred.”
Despite official orders against killing prisoners, the unofficial reality was often quite different. Living without hope, dealing with death on a daily basis, aware of the fate their loved ones at home were facing, as well as their own should they be captured, many crazed, brutalized individuals could not be restrained.
“A prolonged and penetrating cry rose from the hole on my left…,” Guy Sajer noted after one desperate fight. “Then there was a cry for help.”
We arrived at the edge of a foxhole, where a Russian, who had just thrown down his revolver, was holding his hands in the air. At the bottom of the hole, two men were fighting. One of them, a Russian, was waving a large cutlass, holding a man from our group pinned beneath him. Two of us covered the Russian who had raised his hands, while a young [corporal] jumped into the hole and struck the other Russian a blow on the back of his neck with a trenching tool. . . . The German who had been under him . . . ran up to ground level. He was covered with blood, brandishing the Russian knife with one hand … while with the other he tried to stop the flow of blood pouring from his wound.
“Where is he?” he shouted in a fury. “Where’s the other one?” In a few bounding steps he reached the … prisoner.
Before anyone could do anything, he had run his knife into the belly of the petrified Russian.
Following three days of frenzied fighting, Sajer and his sleepless comrades finally snapped.
Sometimes one or two prisoners might emerge from their hideout with their hands in the air, and each time the same tragedy repeated itself. Kraus killed four of them on the lieutenant’s orders; the Sudeten two; Group 17, nine. Young Lindberg, who had been in a state of panic ever since the beginning of the offensive, and who had been either weeping in terror or laughing in hope, took Kraus’s machine gun and shoved two Bolsheviks into a shell hole. The two wretched victims … kept imploring his mercy…. But Lindberg, in a paroxysm of uncontrollable rage, kept firing until they were quiet.
We were mad with harassment and exhaustion. . . . We were forbidden to take prisoners…. We knew that the Russians didn’t take any … [that] it was either them or us, which is why my friend Hals and I threw grenades . . . at some Russians who were trying to wave a white flag.
Nevertheless, amid the insane upheaval of combat, the same soldier who might one moment murder helpless prisoners could the next risk his own life to pull men from burning enemy tanks. Hans Woltersdorf stood for one eternal instant, his machine-gun trained on several Russians he had surprised, the last flicker of humanity struggling mightily against all the dark forces of his past.
“Do I shoot or not? ” the lieutenant asked himself, as the terrified prisoners begged for mercy. “They got up. . . , stumbled backwards a few steps more to the fir thicket, turned round, put their hands down and ran like the devil…. Did I try to shoot? Did my machine gun really fail to function, as I claimed later?”
Very often, death was the highest act of kindness one could show an enemy. “On Tuesday I knocked out two T-34’s… ,” one Landser wrote. “Afterward I drove past the smoking remains. From the hatch there hung a body, head down, his feet caught, and his legs burning up to his knees. The body was alive, the mouth moaning. He must have suffered terrible pain. And there was no possibility of freeing him…. I shot him, and as I did it, the tears ran down my cheeks. Now I have been crying for three nights about a dead Russian tank driver.”
“From time to time one of us would emerge from torpor and scream,” admitted Guy Sajer. “These screams were entirely involuntary: we couldn’t stop them. They were produced by our exhaustion. . . . Some laughed as they howled; others prayed. Men who could pray could hope.” Sajer continues:
We felt like lost souls who had forgotten that men are made for something else . . . that love can sometimes occur, that the earth can be productive and used for something other than burying the dead. We were madmen, gesturing and moving without thought or hope…. Lindberg … had collapsed into a kind of stupor…. The Sudeten … had begun to tremble . . . and to vomit uncontrollably. Madness had invaded our group, and was gaining ground rapidly….I saw … Hals leap to his machine gun and fire at the sky….I also saw the [sergeant] … beat the ground with his clenched fist…. [I] shout[ed] curses and obscenities at the sky…. After hours and then days of danger … one collapses into unbearable madness, and a crisis of nerves is only the beginning. Finally, one vomits and collapses, entirely brutalized and inert, as if death had already won.
“[We were] the dead or the dead to be,” stated one Landser simply.
As the East Front moved steadily west, the struggle became even more desperate. By the winter of 1944, the Red Army had finally driven the invaders from Russian soil and was pressing them through Poland. Although enormous losses had melted away much German manpower, and although the odds remained overwhelmingly in the Soviets’ favor, the Red Army suffered grievously as well. For every German casualty on the field of battle, there were four Russians. Many Soviet units had been reduced to a mere 50% of their original strength. Consequently, Red ranks were increasingly filled by troops from far eastern provinces. “This is not the Red Army,” spit one Russian officer. “The Red Army perished on the battlefields in 1941 and 1942. These are the hordes of Asia.”
In addition to Asians, Soviet officials called up a motley reserve— boys as young as thirteen, women, cripples, even convicts. “We opened up our penitentiaries and stuck everybody into the army,” Stalin admitted. If possible, these raw levies were thrown away with more criminal disregard than ever. Wrote a German soldier:
It does not matter that these conscripts are untrained, that many are without boots of any kind and that most of them have no arms. Prisoners whom we took told us that those without weapons are expected to take up those from the fallen. …I saw … attacks which were preceded by solid blocks of people marching shoulder to shoulder across the minefields which we had laid. Civilians and Army punishment battalions alike advanced like automata, their ranks broken only when a mine exploded killing and wounding those around it. The people seemed never to flinch nor to quail and we noticed that some who fell were then shot by a smaller wave of commissars or officers who followed very closely behind.
“This was not war anymore,” a Landser who witnessed the massacres confided. “It was murder.”
Of all the horrors the East Front could inflict—human waves, Red crewmen bolted inside burning tanks, murder of prisoners, partisan atrocities—the facet most frightening to the average Landser was undoubtedly “Ivan” himself.
“The Russian infantryman . . . always defended himself to the last gasp. . . ,” remembered Gen. Max Simon. “[E]ven crews in burning tanks kept up fire for as long as there was breath in their bodies. Wounded or unconscious men reached for their weapons as soon as they regained consciousness.”
Added another German soldier, Erich Dwinger:
Among the prisoners waiting to be ferried back across the river were wounded, many of whom had been badly burnt by flame-throwers. . . . Their faces had no longer any recognizable human features but were simply swollen lumps of meat. One of them also had had his lower jaw torn away by a bullet and this wound he had bandaged roughly. Through the rags his windpipe, laid bare, was visible and the effort it made as his breath snorted through it. Another soldier had been hit by five bullets and his right shoulder and his whole arm was a ragged mass of flesh. He had no bandages and the blood oozed from his wounds as if from a row of tubes….
Not one of them was moaning as they sat there in the grass. . . . Why did they not moan? But this was not the most tragic picture of that day. . . . [S]ome of our soldiers brought out barrels of margarine and loaves of Russian bread. They began their distribution more than thirty metres distant from the place where the badly wounded were lying and these rose up, yes, even the dying rose up quickly and in an inexpressible stream of suffering hurried toward the distribution point. The man without a jaw swayed as he stood up, the man with the five bullet wounds raised himself by his good arm . . . and those with burned faces ran … but this was not all; a half dozen men who had been lying on the ground also went forward pressing back into their bodies with their left hands the intestines which had burst through the gaping wounds in their stomach wall. Their right hands were extended in gestures of supplication. . . . [A]s they moved down each left behind a broad smear of blood upon the grass . . . and not one of them cried … none moaned.
As Dwinger makes implicit, such scenes left a profound impression on thousands of Landsers. The almost unearthly stoicism of the Russian, his fatalism, his willingness to suffer and die in silence, was bewildering to German soldiers. To some, it was as if the harsh climate and crushing conditions of communism had molded a man in which normal human emotions were no longer important.
“It’s not people we’re fighting against here,” one Landser burst out, “but simply animals.”
Perhaps. And yet, as deep as their differences undoubtedly were, there were also similarities, some as elemental and ancient as the earth itself. On December 24, 1944, a strange, seemingly impossible understanding was reached by the deadly foes in which each side promised to stop hating the other “from four o’clock in the afternoon until six o’clock the following morning.”
“An unreal silence fell,” recalled Jan Montyn.
Hesitantly, we crawled out into the open. We on our side. They on theirs. Step by step we approached one another, almost timidly. And the enemy, of whom we had seen nothing until then but the vague movement of a helmet or the barrel of a gun, suddenly turned out to be boys like ourselves. They too were dressed in rags, they too were starving, ill, filthy.
We met in the middle of no-man’s land. We shook hands, exchanged names and cigarettes. They tried out their few words of German, we our Russian. We laughed at one another’s accents. Merry Christmas. We made big bonfires, shared out our Christmas rations….
When we withdrew, after midnight, each to his own side, the fires in no-man’s land were still glowing. For several hours the silence lasted. Then firing broke out. Was it heavier than the day before? Not at all. But there were more casualties than ever. The break, however brief, had broken the resistance of many of us.
Obviously, by the winter of 1944, German soldiers on the East Front were well aware that all their sacrifices during three years of war had been for naught; defeat was inevitable. Close as victory had once been, by invading the Soviet Union tiny Germany had unleashed a force of almost unlimited resources; a colossus spanning much of the globe. To continue the struggle against such a giant was hopeless. And yet, many German soldiers, especially those of the elite SS, were determined to fight to the death, or, as one private wrote, “to sell our skins as dearly as possible.” Explained an observer:
Even the last soldier was aware that the war was lost. He was aiming to survive, and the only sense he could see was to protect the front in the East to save as many refugees as possible. . . . [H]e was hoping for a political solution for ending the war…. but … the demand for unconditional surrender left in the light of self-respect no alternative but to continue the hopeless fighting.
As was the case during the Christmas truce, when “Fritz” looked into the face of “Ivan” the White Russian, or “Popov” the Ukrainian, he generally saw himself reflected. Not so the inscrutable Mongolians and other Asiatic “slit eyes” that usually followed just behind the front. In their faces the German saw something ferocious and frightening and something not seen in Europe since the days of Ghengis Khan. Lurking in the back of every Landser’s mind, especially after the horror at Nemmersdorf, was the nightmare should this new “yellow peril” reach the Reich to run loose among the cities, towns and farms of Germany, among wives, sweethearts, sisters, and mothers.