Military history

Despoil the Corpse


The Red Army took more than three and a half years, from that first night in June 1941, to make good its threat to carry the war on to the fascists’ own soil. Stalin had argued for a drive against Berlin at the end of 1944, but the momentum of Bagration was really exhausted by October. The troops involved spent the last months of that autumn in Polish villages or camped among the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. As they drank to the new year, 1945, the armies that comprised Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front had yet to take Warsaw, or at least, what was left of it. The 2nd and 3rd Belorussian Fronts, led respectively by Konstantin Rokossovsky, the charismatic hero of Kursk, and the brilliant thirty-eight-year-old, Ivan Chernyakovsky, had still to close the ring around the Baltic citadel of Koenigsberg. But the sense of anticipation among their soldiers was palpable. The hour of revenge was at hand.

Yakov Zinovievich Aronov was swept into the army from his home town of Vitebsk, in Belorussia, in May 1944. He would die near Koenigsberg just nine months later. In between, there had been little time to train him. His service began as it would end, in a storm of German fire. In June, as the battle to take Vitebsk was drawing to an end, he was assigned to an artillery unit, part of the 3rd Belorussian Front. Their path lay west, across mosquito-ridden woods and sour lowland farms. They moved so fast that they had reached Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, by early July. It was a hard and not always rewarding journey. In Lithuania, the men encountered glum resistance more often than carnations and red flags. The roads into Prussia were littered with burned-out tanks, ‘like camels on their knees’.1 By winter, other shapes loomed from the snow, the huddled silhouettes of corpses, mercifully semi-frozen. ‘We are having to fight for every metre of Russian [he meant Lithuanian] soil,’ Aronov wrote to his sister. But his letters home contained no hint of fear. ‘You cannot defeat a people who are led by the Communist Party,’ he declared. ‘You will say that I am doing agitation on you again. But no, it’s not agitation. I’m writing what I think now. If you knew how much of the German “New Order” I had seen, you would clench your teeth in fury and the tears would well up in your eyes. But you bear it. We are clenching our fists and moving unrelentingly towards the west.’2

Aronov’s westward progress would halt for some weeks between October and the new year. The strategists needed more time to prepare the co-ordinated campaign for Berlin, a set of operations that would draw in armies from the Gulf of Finland to southern Ukraine. Elsewhere, however, the Red Army was storming ahead. By January, it had neutralized Romania, taking Bucharest on 30 August, and on 20 October, a combined Soviet and Yugoslav force had recaptured Belgrade. Budapest, the capital of the only country, Hungary, that remained allied with the Reich, was under siege. Red Army troops were spilling into Europe in their millions. The border, that daunting barrier, had been breached comprehensively, and the exotic world of capitalism was scarcely a mystery in front-line culture now. But Germany was a different matter. The prospect of exacting vengeance on real German soil was prize enough to make even the darkest winter inviting. On 12 January, the Red Army launched the campaign that would take it through Poland to Prussia and onwards to the suburbs of Berlin.

It was rage that gave the troops their energy. Everything, from the deaths of beloved friends to the burning of cities, from the hunger of the children back at home to the fear of facing yet another hail of shells, everything – even the wealth of bourgeois homes – was blamed on the Germans. Consciously or not, too, Red Army soldiers would soon be venting anger that had built up through decades of state oppression and endemic violence. By the time they crossed into the enemy’s territory at last, in the second half of January 1945, the men’s anger could fix on almost any object. They were no deeper into Europe than East Prussia, a windswept enclave on the Baltic coast, but this was Germany, the homeland that had nurtured Russia’s tormentors, and every detail that the soldiers saw was taken as a proof of greed, corruption, arrogance. ‘We are proud that we have made it to the [fascist] beast’s lair,’ a soldier called Bezuglov wrote to his friends back at the collective farm. ‘We will take revenge, revenge for all our sufferings … It’s obvious from everything we see that Hitler robbed the whole of Europe to please his bloodstained Fritzes. They took livestock from the best farms in Europe. Their sheep are the best Russian merinos, and their shops are piled with goods from all the shops and factories of Europe. In the near future, these goods will appear in Russian shops as our trophies.’3

The men knew that their own conduct was turning brutal. ‘I have to say that the war has changed me a lot,’ Aronov wrote. ‘War does not make people tender. On the contrary it makes them reserved, rather coarse, and very cruel. That’s a fact.’4 But he was not really apologizing, and his comrades would also show little sense of shame. ‘Our soldiers have not dealt with East Prussia any worse than the Germans did with Smolensk,’ a Russian combatant wrote home from a town inside the Prussian border. ‘We hate Germany and the Germans deeply. In one house, for example, our boys found a murdered woman and her two children. You can often see civilians lying dead in the street, too. But the Germans deserve the atrocities that they unleashed. You only have to think about Maidanek … It’s certainly cruel to have killed those children, but the cold-bloodedness of the Germans at Maidanek was a thousand times worse.’5

The organs of political education in the Red Army encouraged this kind of thinking. Until the spring of 1945, when Stalin’s propaganda chief, G. F. Aleksandrov, finally curbed him, it was Ehrenburg, with his message of implacable hatred for the Germans as a nation, who shaped the army’s thinking about vengeance. By this stage his writing had become so sacred among the troops that printed pages of it were among the few items of newsprint that were never recycled to roll men’s cigarettes.6 The venom that poured from his pen suited the soldiers’ wartime mood, and there was no diminution in its intensity as the Red Army approached Prussian soil.7 ‘Not only divisions and armies are advancing on Berlin,’ he wrote. ‘All the trenches, graves and ravines with the corpses of the innocents are advancing on Berlin … As we advance through Pomerania, we have before our eyes the devastated, blood-drenched countryside of Belorussia … Germany, you can whirl round in circles, and howl in your deathly agony. The hour of revenge has struck!’8 Revenge was justified, revenge was almost holy. It was enough that a man’s best friend had been killed, his sister abducted, a village on his route ransacked and burned. It was enough, too, to find a German kitchen hung with gleaming pots, a cupboard stacked with china. If there were no Germans to kill, machine-gun blasts could smash their antique glass, or the Red Army’s fire consume their tidy cottages, their barns, even their stores of food.9

The anger of exhausted men, of frightened, anxious, super-vigilant men, stressed by the war and wrung with endlessly repeated grief, would have been easy to provoke, but in the early months of their incursion on to German soil, these men were also under orders. Their new task, said the politruks, was to take revenge on behalf of their people, to become the agents of natural justice. ‘The soldier’s rage in battle must be terrible,’ a slogan of the time declared. ‘He does not merely seek to fight; he must also be the embodiment of the court of his people’s justice.’10 That last phrase turns up in hundreds of letters from the time, proof that it struck a chord among the men. ‘We’ve met our first bunch of “fraus”,’ a soldier from Vladimir wrote in February 1945. ‘What a pitiful and cowardly lot they are when they feel the blows on their own skin for a change. You can sense the crushing strength of the Red Army everywhere. The court has opened, and now it’s here. We’ll try them all on the spot, and our accusation is the same everywhere – we will get our revenge.’11 ‘I’ve already written to you that I’m in Germany,’ Slesarev told his father that winter. ‘You said that we should do the same things in Germany as the Germans did to us. The court has begun already; they are going to remember this march by our army over German territory for a long, long time.’12

Slesarev was a communist, as was Aronov by the time he died, and tens of thousands of the other olive-clad Soviets who streamed into East Prussia from January 1945. The party they belonged to proclaimed strict morality, the virtue of the citizen who aligns himself with history, devoting his life to the creation of a better world. It portrayed human progress as a struggle between good and evil, although the epic that the soldiers understood owed more to Russian folk tales or the psalmists than to Marx. Simple moral messages were woven across the dull warp of ideology like scarlet threads. Good communists spent their whole lives fighting for self-improvement, for literacy and cleanliness, and then for the perfection of society itself. A soldier washed his neck to sluice the lice, but a communist was on a cleansing mission that would end with the whole world. Party members in the army were to be ‘true leaders of the masses, aware of their responsibility to maintain iron discipline and the high political–moral condition of the troops, so that they can bring success on the battlefield and protect the honour and fight ing glory of their unit or army section’.13

‘The ideological training of party members is now more necessary than ever,’ the soldiers’ paper, Red Star, confirmed in September 1944. No one could forget the undoing of those armies in Romania. The troops who faced the border were in grave peril. ‘To find his way about in these new condi tions, a communist needs a sound ideological equipment more than ever.’14 In answer, the party tried to make its recruitment procedures more rigorous. It also established new courses for the politruks. But troops were too fond, by this stage, of thinking for themselves. Frontoviki would remain their own men, scornful of soft-fleshed propagandists from the rear. When it came to brotherhood and moral purpose, too, no preaching could improve on the front-line experience itself. For Aronov, the war, the boys and the party were all bound up in one sacred idea. ‘We are from various parts of the Soviet Union,’ he wrote in November, describing his comrades in their dugout. ‘But we all have one aim: to defeat the enemy as fast as possible and get backhome to the motherland. We have travelled from Vitebsk to East Prussia together. We remember all about our battles, but we try to talk of the good things, about our lives and dreams, about the good, bright future.’15

The irony was heartbreaking then, and so it still remains. For that winter, large numbers of these heroes, the agents of the bright future, would embark on an orgy of war crimes. Historians have called them bestial and crude, as if they acted from some instinct, like animals. But their preparation for it all, the party’s careful work, included a good deal of talking and persuasion, deliberate and sophisticated flooding of their minds. As if in reaction to that, too, the men who rampaged through Prussia were giving vent to the frustrations that had built up over years of suffering; not only in the war but through decades of humiliation, of disempowerment and fear. The party that had preached at them and reproved their most human weaknesses now gave them licence, and they took it. The same party also offered them a cloak of indemnity. None of its speeches and reports, and none of the journalism that made it to the columns of Pravda, would ever mention Soviet atrocities. They simply did not exist in the language of official life. Accordingly, they did not intrude into the things that soldiers wrote. The brutal images may well have burned into the consciousness of thousands of front-line troops, but though many witnessed murder and rape, their letters home continued to describe the weather.

Lev Kopelev, a Soviet officer and ardent party member, was an exception. He found the words to describe the horrors he saw, and he was brave enough to think about them for himself, to escape from the moral context of the times. He did not blame the men. He did not even blame the enemy, although it was the war itself that gave birth to the violence. His anger was reserved for his own party, or at least for some of the people who controlled it. Whatever the appalling record of the Nazis, it was the communist leadership, in his view, that had created the specific crisis, the humanitarian disaster, that would now unfold. ‘Millions of people had been brutalized and corrupted by the war,’ he wrote, ‘and by our propaganda – bellicose, jingoistic and false. I had believed such propaganda necessary on the eve of war, and all the more so for the war’s duration. I still believed it, but I had also come to understand that from seeds like these came poisoned fruit.’16 The bitter harvest began well before the troops crossed their own border, but it was in Prussia that it would be most abundant. The teaching that had helped to win the war now seemed to justify atrocity. ‘These young fellows,’ Kopelev added as he watched his fellow troops, ‘who had come to the front straight from school – what would they be like … having learned nothing except how to shoot, dig trenches, crawl through barbed wire, rush the enemy and toss grenades? They had become inured to death, blood and cruelty, and each new day brought them fresh evidence that the war they read about in their papers and heard about on their radios and in their political meetings was not the war they saw and experienced themselves.’17

The first rumours of Red Army atrocities came out of Hungary. The fall of Budapest was followed by a rampage by surviving Soviet troops. As one visitor remembered, ‘It was impossible to spend a day or even an hour in Budapest without hearing of the brutalities committed by [Russian] soldiers.’18 Hungarian women and girls were locked into Soviet military quarters on the city’s Buda side and repeatedly raped; houses and cellars were ransacked for food and wine as a prelude to the multiple rape of their female occupants. There was even a story that soldiers from the Red Army had broken into the mental hospital at Nagy-Kallo and raped and killed female patients ranging in age from sixteen to sixty.19

This was nothing like the marauding of soldiers in Romania. The cruelty in Budapest was something new. The background was a prolonged battle for the city, the last stages of which recalled the blackest days of Stalingrad.20 Eighty thousand Soviet troops were killed. It had been a frustrating, slow and deadly campaign. When the civilians of the shattered city emerged from their homes, some of them bearing bread, as well as bacon, eggs and bottles of the local wine, they found a conqueror whom gifts would not appease.21 It did not help, in Hungary as in Germany, that the two sides spoke different languages. From the earliest days of the Hungarian campaign, incomprehension had added to the Soviet wrath that brought catastrophe to local women. Survivors’ depositions tell a graphic tale. ‘Malasz Maria, married, mother of four children, has been raped by three Russian soldiers one after another in the presence of her husband … Additionally, they were robbed of 1,700 pengo … Berta Jolan, born 1923, Berta Ida, born 1925, and Berta Ilona, born 1926. These three sisters were subjected to attempted rape by three Russian soldiers after their parents had been locked up. The soldiers only decided to stop after the girls’ screams called other civilians to the scene …’22 The testimonies could go on and on.

In East Prussia the story would be darker still. Here above all, three years of hate (and of the propaganda of hate) were to be focused into one cathartic act. As they approached the border the soldiers were entering the beast’s own lair. It was a move with overtones of violation in itself, the breaching of a boundary that no one had invited them to cross. Lev Kopelev had always admired German culture, and he spoke German well, but even he called on his men to get out of their trucks and piss on to the hated soil. ‘This isGermany,’ he said. ‘Everyone out and relieve yourselves.’23 Another group crept to the border on an active mission near Goldap, a town just south of Koenigsberg. Their politruks crawled through the ranks as they advanced, telling each rifleman to look ahead. ‘There,’ they whispered, ‘there behind the trenches, behind the barbed-wire obstacles, there is Germany.’ They added a reminder that this was not merely invasion. The Red Army could still believe itself a liberator, this time of the tens of thousands of Soviets who had been forced to work in German camps. ‘Over there,’ the political officers hissed, ‘over there in Germany our sisters are suffering in slavery … onwards to the destruction of the enemy in his own lair.’24

At the border itself, Soviet troops would set a small red flag into the earth. They often gathered for another short political meeting. They heard again about the crimes that they had come to avenge, about the abduction and abuse of Russian women, the tears of bereaved mothers back at home. At Goldap, seventeen men took advantage of this occasion to apply for Communist Party membership.25 This was the regiment that would go on to surround and capture Goering’s castle, but like so many others, it was not the tough, seasoned formation that it might have been. Thousands of soldiers on the Prussian campaign, including Aronov himself, had been pressed into service from the occupied zones of Belorussia and Ukraine. Some had received no training, others lacked equipment, and few had combat experience. At Goldap, predictably, the conscripts panicked. Their mutiny had to be quelled at gunpoint. The heavy rate of casualties that followed was not surprising and nor, maybe, was the anger that exploded when the fighting was over. These men had been frightened beyond endurance, they had been forced to savour their own weakness, and most were in shock. But the party reassured them that the Germans were at fault. It positively urged them to take their revenge. ‘The nearer we get to victory,’ Stalin told everyone in February 1945, ‘the greater our vigilance must be and the fiercer our blows against the enemy.’26

It must have been a dream-like, surreal interlude. First came the border and the lectures about vigilance and justified revenge. The troops were warned that German agents might have poisoned any food or wine they found, that women might conceal grenades, that everyone they met could be a spy. And then came the abandoned settlements, the ghost towns full of unattended loot. Goebbels had warned his people that the Soviets were an Asiatic horde, a barbarous rabble of savages bent on destruction and a primitive revenge. In answer, hundreds of thousands of Prussian civilians packed their bags and fled, braving the bitter winter cold and the threat of bombardment to form the greatest single tide of refugees that would be seen in Europe in the entire war. ‘There’s not one civilian inhabitant left in the town,’ Ermolenko noted on 23 January when he arrived in a town called Insterburg. ‘So what. We wouldn’t have eaten them.’

The man was a master of self-deception. His army would prove capable of every kind of crime. But it was also poised to suffer yet more violence and strain. This was a time of extremes, of contrasts, and of the daily likelihood of injury or death. The town of Insterburg itself would soon be renamed Chernyakovsk as a memorial to the young general who died in the battle for Koenigsberg. That January, the place was wreathed in flame. Its castle and elegant, spired churches loomed out of the layers of dusty, acrid smoke like sinister bones. Corpses, the bodies of humans and of horses, lay in the streets beside abandoned trucks and burned-out furniture. Smoke hung over the wrecks. The stores, however, had yet to be destroyed. ‘They have butter, honey, jam, wine and various kinds of brandy,’ Ermolenko noted happily. ‘The civilians have left their houses in order. Our radio team has taken a room on the first floor. In the corner is a piano, two sofas, pretty chairs and armchairs, cupboards, flowers. In a German kitchen, on German crockery, we made a fantastic dinner.’27

 A column of Soviet troops of the 3rd Belorussian Front arriving in an East Prussian city, 24 January 1945

Aronov was in Insterburg that January as well. His last letter to his sister  was a postcard, a German one, a picture of the cathedral and its delightful square. The NKVD would soon stop soldiers from making use of bourgeois images like this, but he would never need to care. ‘Hello, dear sister,’ he wrote. ‘Greetings from Insterburg. I am alive and well and send you this with best wishes. I kiss you.’28 Some time later, for these days the field post was getting held up on the railways by all the crates of German plunder, his sister would receive another letter. ‘The person who is writing to you is an unknown soldier,’ she read. He was writing from hospital, two days after receiving a grave wound, but he had made the effort to get paper and a pencil as soon as he was able to sit up. ‘Perhaps someone has already told you the sad news,’ he wrote, ‘but as Yasha’s best friend I could not keep to myself, or from you, the news of his death. Your brother and I were together from 10 May 1944 until the end of his army life. How many sorrows and hardships we bore together! And now, right on the outskirts of Koenigsberg, we have been cut apart. I cannot write any more.’29


The close relationships between the men (the soldier who wrote that letter to Aronov’s sister would soon marry her, as if the bond to his best friend could never break) in part explain what happened next, for much of the Red Army’s terrible revenge was enacted in gangs. The relations that mattered here were not between the men and their German victims, but between the men and their mates, and even between the men and their shared memories of horror. The victims themselves scarcely seemed to feature in their minds as people. ‘They do not speak a word of Russian,’ a soldier wrote to a friend in February 1945, ‘but that makes it easier. You don’t have to persuade them. You just point a Nagan and tell them to lie down. Then you do your stuff and go away.’30 The war had inured men like this to violence, but what was happening was far more than an outpouring of rage. The events in Prussia involved the soldiers’ hopes and passions as well as their hate. The passion in question was largely their love for each other, and also their grief – undrownable despite oceans of wine and schnapps – for all the people and the chances they had lost.31 The objects of the hate, whose corpses would soon litter the roads that led to the west, were German women and girls.

Among the Soviet troops who overtook the tide of Prussian refugees as it poured out of Insterburg and Goldap was a young officer called Leonid Rabichev. Decades later, this man would find the strength to write about the atrocity he witnessed. ‘Women, mothers and their children lie to the right and left along the route,’ he wrote, ‘and in front of each of them stands a raucous armada of men with their trousers down.’ He might have added that the baying crowd included adolescent boys, for whom this gruesome ritual amounted to the first sexual experience of their lives. ‘The women who are bleeding or losing consciousness get shoved to one side,’ Rabichev continued, ‘and our men shoot the ones who try to save their children.’ Meanwhile, a group of ‘grinning’ officers stood nearby, one of whom was ‘directing – no, he was regulating – it all. This was to make sure that every soldier without exception would take part.’32

That night, Rabichev and his men were sent to sleep in an abandoned German shelter. Every room contained bodies: the corpses of children, of old men, and of women who had evidently suffered serial rape before their deaths. ‘We were so tired,’ Rabichev wrote, ‘that we lay down on the ground between them and fell asleep.’33 Mere corpses, after all, were barely shocking any more. When they came upon another building and found the bodies of women who had been raped and then mutilated one by one, each with an empty wine bottle in their vaginas, Rabichev’s men were less composed.34 The problem was that sympathy for enemy females was actively discouraged; group pressures also worked to bind the men together in their crime. On another occasion, when Rabichev was invited to select a German girl from among a group of terrified captives, his first fear was that his own men might take him for a coward if he refused to accept. Worse, perhaps, they might think that he was impotent.35

The first atrocity that Lev Kopelev would witness was the burning of a Prussian town. There was no military reason for it. Valuable food and other products – blankets, clothing, even medicines – were all consumed in the fire. It was this kind of profligacy, the waste of resources, that would eventually bring the great rampage across Prussia to an end. The interests of the war, as Rokossovsky would insist, called for more discipline. But military thinking seemed to have been suspended in those first wild hours; or rather, a new tactic had become widespread. The word, Kopelev observed, is ‘smash, burn, have your revenge’. Many of his fellow officers were shocked, especially at the wanton waste, but the political officer in charge dismissed the incident. ‘The Fritzes have plundered all over the world,’ he said. ‘That’s why they’ve got so much. They burned down everything in our country, and now we’re doing the same in theirs. We don’t have to feel sorry for them.’36 Kopelev’s own concern would soon be dubbed ‘bourgeois humanitarianism’, and within a few weeks of his first complaint he was arrested for it.

There was nothing bourgeois or humanitarian about most Soviet troops in those cold days. ‘In the few German areas that have been occupied by the Red Army,’ German intelligence reported, ‘the behaviour of the soldiers is exactly as predicted earlier in the war – in most cases it is horrifying. Brutish killings, rapes of young women and girls as well as senseless destruction are taking place on a daily basis.’ A prisoner of war told his German captors that a specific order from Stalin had decreed all this by stating that revenge should be taken for German atrocities. ‘A confirmation of the Stalin order,’ the author observed, ‘is not available yet.’37 It would not be, for nothing as specific as an order to rape and destroy was ever issued. Indeed, all through these months the penalty for rape and looting, technically at least, was death on the spot,38 but the men read licence into every order they received to take revenge. ‘Red Army soldier!’ a poster of the time declared. ‘You are now on German soil. The hour of revenge has struck!’39 A packet of the men’s letters, intercepted by German intelligence in February 1945, required no editing to make the point. ‘Happy is the heart as you drive through a burning German town,’ wrote one man to his parents. ‘We are taking revenge for everything, and our revenge is just. Fire for fire, blood for blood, death for death.’40

‘It was evening when we drove into Neidenburg,’ Kopelev wrote. It was a small town, meaner than Insterburg, and like all the others it was almost deserted. The Red Army had torched the place. Through the smoke, the officer made out the body of a dead old woman. ‘Her dress was ripped,’ he saw, and ‘a telephone receiver reposed between her scrawny thighs. They had apparently tried to ram it into her vagina.’ The pretext was that she could easily have been a spy. ‘They got her by the telephone booth,’ one of the men explained. ‘Why fool around?’41 It was the first of several murders he would witness in that cursed place. Then came Allenstein, and more fire, more death. Near the post office, he met a woman with a bandaged head, clutching the hand of a young girl with blond pigtails. Both had been crying, and the child’s legs were stained with blood. ‘The soldiers kicked us out of our house,’ she told the Russian officer. ‘They beat us, they raped us. My daughter is only thirteen. Two of them did it to her. And many of them to me.’ She wanted him to help her find her little boy. Another woman begged Kopelev to shoot her.42

The violence was on a scale that no one could have overlooked, and yet it disappeared from Soviet consciousness. Witnesses like Kopelev were soon outcast, the German victims dismissed or silenced. It would take foreign observers, historians especially, to rediscover it, collect the testimonies and to describe how, in some East Prussian towns, almost all the women were raped. ‘The screams of help from the tortured,’ one witness remembered, ‘could be heard day and night.’43 It did not matter, in this polyglot, transition zone, if the women were Germans or Poles and thereby Russia’s allies. It did not matter, either, if the women were young or old, for the women themselves were not the main object.44 The victims of the gang rapes were just meat, embodiments of Germany, all-purpose Frauen, recipients for Soviet and individual revenge. Many soldiers, purportedly, found them ‘disgusting’.45

Rape was not the only crime that Soviet soldiers would commit on their sweep through Prussia. Towns were burned, officials murdered, and columns of refugees were strafed and shelled as they fled west towards Berlin.46 But of the violent crimes, rape was the most prevalent. One reason was that women far outnumbered men among German civilians, and probably in the entire surviving population, since so few soldiers were left. However, other pressures were at work as well. Rape is a common instrument of war, a chillingly familiar accompaniment to conquest and military occupation.47 The atrocities in East Prussia could be compared to others, such as those in Bosnia or Bangladesh. But this was not just any war, nor fascism just any system. Red Army soldiers on Prussian soil felt they were dealing with an enemy people, a people that would never rest until it had destroyed their world. ‘It’s absolutely clear,’ Bezuglov’s letter to his friends ended, ‘that if we don’t really scare them now, there will be no way of avoiding another war in future.’48 In his own memoir, Rabichev speculates that Stalin might informally have encouraged Chernyakovsky to drive his men to commit what a later generation would describe as ethnic cleansing.49 The murders around Koenigsberg, after all, would clear the way for future Soviet settlement, and rape ensured a generation of fresh Soviet stock.

It would certainly be convenient, now, to lay the blame for this war crime on Stalin and his leadership. As if in echo of post-war German debates on the same theme, the Russian heirs of this atrocity will one day have to grapple with the question of individual responsibility in conditions of totalitarian rule.50 There is no doubt that the men’s actions were encouraged, if not orchestrated, from Moscow. Propaganda played an active part in shaping their perceptions of the enemy and in justifying vengeance. The Sovinformburo stoked the collective rage with manufactured images that could score themselves so deeply into a man’s mind that he came to think of them as part of his own experience. The universality of the men’s own tales is evidence of this. As Atina Grossman observed in her reflections on the rapes, ‘Again and again in German recollections of what Russian occupiers told them, the vengeful memory summoned was not a parallel violation by a German raping a Russian woman, but of a horror on a different order: it was the image of a German soldier swinging a baby, torn from its mother’s arms, against a wall – the mother screams, the baby’s brains splatter against the wall, the soldier laughs.’51

That said, the men had motives of their own. They were not passive, and despite the power of their state, they were not helpless. If many acted in a kind of dream, it was in part because the majority, for understandable reasons, chose to use alcohol to numb their senses. ‘It is nearly impossible not to be drinking,’ a soldier wrote home in February. ‘What I am going through is indescribable; when I am drunk everything is easier.’52 ‘A drunken Russian is a wholly different person than the sober one,’ a German writer noted at the time. ‘He loses all perspective, falls into a fully wild mood, is covetous, brutal, bloodthirsty.’53 ‘Alcohol makes men lecherous,’ the anonymous author of a diary of the rapes observed. ‘It increases considerably their sexual desire (though not their potency, as it has been my lot to learn). I am convinced that had the Russians not found much alcohol here, there would not have been half the number of rapes. These Ivans are not Casanovas. To commit acts of sexual aggression they have to work themselves up artificially, drown their inhibitions.’54 Sometimes the result was a binge that could leave scores of victims in its wake. Sometimes it was the alcohol that won. Gabriel Temkin was among the many troops who sampled the wines of Tokay in Hungary. The sweet liquor was greatly, and in this case fatally, to the Russian taste. ‘When I entered a huge wine cellar with rows of tall, black oak barrels I saw an incredible scene,’ the old soldier recalled. ‘The floor was knee-deep in wine, and floating in it lay three drowned soldiers. They had used their sub-machine guns to make holes in the barrels as “the easiest way” to fill up their mess tins, and then, having tasted it, evidently could not stop drinking and became so intoxicated that they drowned in it.’55

Those who were not entirely drunk might well have explained their actions in terms of pent-up lust. Later on, certainly, some Russian troops treated German women as legitimate spoils of war, selecting the prettiest ones whenever they had the chance to choose.56The anonymous author of the Berlin diary, watching from her basement room, observed that ‘they prefer the fat ones. Fat equals beauty because it’s more female, more distinct from the male body.’ It was a taste that she deemed ‘primitive’, although she took some pleasure in the thought that Berliners who had stolen or hoarded food were paying for their anti-social acts.57 But whether the troops picked their prey or not, purely sexual desire was not their main motive in Prussia. In those first vicious weeks, the rapes were both systematic and extraordinarily savage.

There would have been reason enough for lust. Unlike the Germans (who made use of captured Soviet women for the purpose), the Soviets did not have field brothels near the front. Sex, in official terms, scarcely existed. Gabriel Temkin recalled how one regiment reacted when it found a cache of German condoms. ‘They blew them up,’ he wrote, ‘and the soldiers played with them like balloons.’58 The whole culture of party and motherland was dedicated to struggle and sacrifice. Women were chaste, waiting at home, while men – in the theory, at least – thought only of their duty. If they fought bravely and kept up their leisure reading of Lenin and Marx, there would be no time left for soldiers’ erotic selves.

This sterile blandness was not confined to the army and it began long before the war. Lenin himself had taken a dim view of lust, preferring healthy exercise and long sessions with piles of books. The flowering of sexual licence that had accompanied the revolution, the silver age of the erotic, was crushed under the boots and hammers of Stalinist collectivism. Sexual passion was for the bourgeoisie (and, privately, for members of the Bolshevik élite). Good workers gave their energy to long shifts at the bench, and when they had finished turning out ball bearings, they went to a meeting or caught up with Pravda. ‘Dialogue in a Soviet picture,’ the satirist Ilya Ilf wrote in his diary. ‘Love is the most awful vice.’ Even the Venus de Milo was deemed ‘pornographic’.59Licence gave way to ever-stricter laws about divorce, abortion and the family. Meanwhile, more and more people found themselves sharing their living space. Often they shared one room with children, who slept behind curtains or on wooden shelves, but sometimes they also shared with other adults, other entire families. If the good worker of Soviet iconography has a stern expression, his chiselled features lacking irony or humour, it may just be because he seldom got the chance to waste an afternoon in bed.60

Like almost every other human pleasure in the land of brotherhood, sex was something that went underground. The public emphasis on strict morality and sheer hard work pushed it into the darkness, to a twilight hazed by sweat, tobacco and whatever vodka could be found. The gap between ideal and reality was nowhere more apparent than among the soldiers at the front. It was a male world, a world of makhorka, cheap spirit, and decaying boots. The nearest many soldiers got to the women they cared about was in a letter or perhaps in the stories that they sometimes told. ‘My army friend is telling us about his life,’ Aronov wrote one evening. ‘It’s not the first time he’s done that. Right now he’s got to the bit where he falls in love for the first time.’61 His pre-war life had faded into fantasy, and like all dreams, it could be better than the truth. ‘After the war,’ another man told his friends, ‘I’m going to go to the south somewhere, and I’m going to teach maths and physics in a girls’ boarding school, somewhere where the rules are that no girl can go out on the street. I’ll use all my military experience.’62 The longing was there, and the desire for escape, for the feminine, but these feelings were miles away from gang rape and a bayonet in the belly.

Whatever lust they may have felt, large numbers of the men had stronger reasons for resenting and even hating representatives of the female sex. All through the war, they had been getting sad letters from home. Some were tales of hunger, others told of rape and death, but many were letters of farewell. Families were unravelling, new lives asserting themselves in separate worlds. The strain between soldier and family was part of the general gulf between combatants and civilians. It was also a symptom of the overpowering maleness of army life. Women were objects of suspicion, aliens, in a misogynistic world. The soldiers’ letters became more suspicious of women, and also more repressive, with the passing years. ‘We fought for our country from the very first days,’ a Red Army man wrote to Kalinin, the Soviet president, at this time. ‘Some of us have been wounded several times, but we did not begrudge our very lives for our motherland and families. And now our complaint is that some women are betraying us … and our children are losing their fathers … We must take severe legal measures against these women-betrayers for their treachery and the insult to their husbands.’63 The letter is one among hundreds.

Official policy was changing, too. In July 1944, the Soviet Union began its campaign to create iconic mothers, striking medals for the women who had given birth to large broods of healthy, surviving young. The ideal woman, if the photographs could be believed, was stern and provident, tough as a tank driver, the nurse and teacher of armies to come.64 She was also sweet, innocent and untroubled by hardship, let alone by war. Frivolity and sex (the many children notwithstanding) had no place in her life. Soldiers began to praise the type, to dream of faithful, moon-faced women and their healthy, well-nourished sons. The gentleness, the sentimentality, of many Soviet troops towards small children was noted at the time. By April at least, a woman with a baby, local people learned, was practically immune from rape. But even sentimental troops, the men who kept their pockets full of sweets for hungry German kids, worried about their families back home. It was a long time since any had seen their children.

There were reasons to be concerned. Even the strongest marriages were showing signs of strain by this time. The classic letter, received by thousands of men, contained an image of cold homecoming: ‘Our flame was not hot enough to last.’65 Each gap between her letters prompted Belov to suspect that his own marriage was faltering. ‘I’ve had a note from my wife,’ he scribbled in March 1944. ‘I get the feeling that she and I are heading for a major row. It’s an unpleasant feeling, a kind of general inertia.’66 Perhaps she had been worrying, as Taranichev’s Natalya had, about the cost of separation. ‘You won’t know us at all if the war goes on much longer,’ Natalya wrote in October 1944. ‘It’s a pity that you have become so remote from us.’67 ‘I try to write whenever I can,’ her husband replied in a brisk, reproving tone. ‘Even when I’m on the march. But I would remind you that there are moments when my mood is so lousy, because of the general situation, that I can’t bring myself to write so much as a postcard, even if I have the time. I will remember Stalingrad for a long time!’68

The men whose marriages collapsed were angrier still, whatever infidelities they had committed for themselves. Part of the problem was the wartime idealization of the Soviet wife, the waiting girlfriend, the family for whom each soldier fought. Back home, where survival was a matter of humiliation, of exhausting struggle, real life was nothing like the image, and real women could not match up to the soldiers’ dreams. At the front, too, a new morality prevailed. Kopelev was a father and a married man. He fully expected to return to his old life when the war ended. But at the front, he took a second ‘wife’, as countless officers like him would do. ‘I told her that since we had to work together day and night, we couldn’t avoid sleeping together, so why put it off?’ The point was that ‘perhaps we would be killed together by the same shell’.69 Sauce for the front-line gander, however, was not supposed to be enjoyed by geese back home. Among their petitions from these last months of war were soldiers’ appeals for new laws to give them control over their children, to allow for postal divorces and to punish the women who had shamed and betrayed them.70

But fighting men were powerless to change things back at home. The only world they could affect was here, in Germany, where the women who had brought on their ruin, the spoiled Frauen, still wrapped themselves in silk and fur, or so the soldiers fantasized, while Russian children starved. Where Russian women wore their peasant blouses and embroidered sarafans (in theory and in folklore, anyway), these German females dressed in provocative western styles, wore make-up, teetered on high heels.71 The whole culture that had produced them seemed sick, disgusting – and wickedly seductive. Some German women were accused of deliberate whoring. ‘German ladies are … ready to begin payment of “reparations” at once,’ a disgusted Soviet officer observed. ‘It won’t work!’72 ‘Europe is a dirty abyss,’ a soldier wrote home from Prussia that winter. ‘I have taken a look at German magazines, and they disgust me … Even their music is indecent! Is this Europe? Give me Siberia every time!’73 Another discovered a cache of pornographic pictures (probably not, in this case, the Venus de Milo) in an abandoned German position near Koenigsberg. ‘What could be more disgusting?’ he asked. ‘Our culture must be higher than that of the Germans, because you would never find such images among our ranks.’74

Rape, then, combined the desire to avenge with the impulse to destroy, to smash German luxuries and waste the fascists’ wealth. It punished women and it reinforced the fragile manliness of the perpetrators. It also underscored the emotional ties between gangs of the men, and it was as a gang, not individuals, that the men usually acted, drawing an energy and anonymity from the momentum of the group. It was the collective triumph of these males, certainly, that rape purported to celebrate. And though women bore the brunt of the violence, German men were also victims of a kind. It was no accident that many rapes took place in view of husbands and fathers. The point was being made that they were now the creatures without power, that they would have to watch, to suffer this most intimate degradation.75 One woman recounted the tale of a lawyer who had stood by his Jewish wife all through the Nazi years, refusing to divorce her in spite of the risks. When the Russians arrived, he protected her again, at least until a bullet from a Russian automatic hit him in the hip. As he lay bleeding to death, he watched as three men raped his wife.76

The anecdotes fill stacks of files, but the precise statistics will remain unknown. The violence was worst in East Prussia, but rape was a problem wherever the Red Army encountered its enemies. Tens of thousands of German women and girls undoubtedly suffered rape at the hands of Soviet troops; indeed, it is virtually certain that the figure ran to hundreds of thousands.77 However, numbers are dangerous tools, creating certainties on paper that have nothing much to do with life. This was a world of propaganda, a world coloured, to the last, by Goebbels’ pen. Numbers could make the Russians seem more terrible, turn Germans into victims, perhaps wipe out some dark stains from the Nazi past. They clearly helped to reinforce the image of the Red Army as an Asiatic horde.78 But though the stories told by the rates of abortion and venereal disease infection after 1945 are evidence of a kind,79 some other numbers are less definite. When a Berlin newspaper reported that a seventy-two-year-old woman had been raped twenty-four times, the anonymous Berlin diarist wearily asked, ‘Who counted?’80

It is just as problematical to estimate the number of perpetrators. The veterans themselves are unlikely to volunteer new lists of names. Some officers I came to know would mention cases where they restored discipline, as Kirill did in East Prussia by threatening two perpetrators (‘not from my unit, of course’) with his own pistol, but rank and file soldiers, who must at least have witnessed the atrocity, refused to talk of it. ‘They say there were rapes,’ one man told me. ‘I never saw any. The thing is, we never actually saw any Germans. They had always run away before we got to any town.’ For many, the silence suggested a kind of selective amnesia, no doubt the child of shame. But other pressures operated, too. No army trumpets its crimes, but the Soviet official silence about rape was numbing. It is enough to look at the records of the NKVD troops. Officials with responsibility for discipline and for maintaining order among civilians in the front-line zones were in a position to report cases of rape whenever they chose. Their records, after all, were marked ‘absolutely secret’. But even these internal documents mention almost no incidents of gang rape and few individual crimes. It was as if the officers conspired to keep it out of their written accounts, filling the space with incidents of drunkenness or absence without leave instead.

The NKVD troops who served with the 1st Belorussian Front were in the eye of the Red Army storm, but the tone of their reports at the time remained cool. ‘In one house we found eight Germans,’ an officer observed, ‘an old man, five women and two youths of twelve–thirteen.’ Like many others – hundreds – they had hanged themselves. The officers who reported the scene explained that local witnesses had suggested that, ‘despite the fact that most of the women in the settlement are of a certain age’, the victims had been afraid because ‘Russian soldiers are raping German women’.81 The allegation is reported with the scepticism usually reserved for sightings of the Virgin Mary, but this was January 1945. For six months already, the same army had been anxious about the rates of venereal disease among its troops in Poland, the Baltic and Romania. Monthly inspections had been ordered among all soldiers of either sex.82 However, when it came to the reports on discipline, more space – many times more – was given to ideological wavering than to rape. It was only in April and May 1945, when Stalin himself had intervened, that ‘relations with German civilians’ began to feature in reports on discipline.83

Just as seriously, rape was seldom punished, especially at first. In the early months, up to the spring of 1945, the soldiers were still fighting under an order to take revenge. Thereafter, when even the Soviet leadership had begun to appreciate the cost – to discipline and to the army’s combat capability – of the unmilitary violence, some officers took stricter control, and there were even executions for rape in the Red Army. In April 1945, when his army joined Konev’s troops in Silesia, Rabichev recalled that forty men and officers were shot in front of their units to discourage further atrocities.84 ‘Some commanders!’ the soldiers would mutter. ‘They’ll shoot their own men over a German bitch.’85 More usually, however, the perpetrators whose crime was not condoned might be given relatively light punishments. Five years was a standard sentence, but it could be reduced to two or less on appeal, especially for soldiers with good war records.86 In any case, these men were needed at the front. Their sentences were almost all deferred until the fighting stopped, and many, in the best Red Army style, had ‘redeemed their crime with their own blood’ – died or been incapacitated – by that stage. Rape, in other words, was treated more leniently than desertion, theft or – as in Kopelev’s case – a unilateral attempt to protect German civilians. A few cases were singled out (usually when other breaches of discipline were involved) but the majority simply disappeared from Soviet records.

It is unlikely that every one of the scores of veterans who agreed to talk to me was guiltless in this gruesome tale, but they have no incentive to discuss it now. Back then, they had a war to win. They fought, they suffered, and many would end up as victims, as invalids, themselves. What they remember after sixty years may not be a moment of rage but the long days in hospital, or else the lads, the night marches, the songs. Women – baby in Russian, a dismissive word that translates somewhere on the scale between bitches and old bags – would not be worth a thought compared with the regiment, the victory. Baby were not worth much at home in Russia. Why should they be so special in this other world? Why should they count against the crime of Maidanek, the tears of Russian children? ‘You want to hear about the war,’ the old men say. ‘Let’s talk about that. Only journalists want to know about those scandals.’


The men took more than memories from Prussia. This may have been a hard campaign, with tens of thousands of casualties, but it was also a time of strange abundance. Germany was rich. Hungary, too, and even Bucharest, were full of goods to loot. On paper, the last phase of the war marked the final triumph of communism. In reality, it was like the first day of a great bazaar. As with all other crimes, including rape, the Soviets were not the only guilty men. Their allies in this war ransacked cellars and wealthy homes as well, as did the thousands of former prisoners and other displaced persons who now found themselves at liberty on German soil.87 But the Red Army did everything on a monumental scale. It had suffered and lost more than anyone, and now it demanded its recompense. Stalin insisted that the Reich owed his people at least ten billion dollars’ worth of reparations.88 The army, more or less with government connivance, would set about securing a portion of this as soon as it set foot on German territory.

A set of regulations was in place by 1944 to cover the capture and despatch of ‘trophies’. The list was comprehensive. Anything that was captured in battle or abandoned by the enemy, including weapons, supplies of ammunition, fuel, food, boots, livestock, rolling stock, railway track, automobiles, amber and cases of vintage champagne, was deemed to be the property of the Red Army and Soviet state. Whole factories would be dismantled later in the war. Eighty per cent of Berlin’s industrial machinery had been hauled away by the Soviets before their allies entered the city in 1945. ‘They had dismantled the refrigeration plant at the abattoir,’ an American officer observed, ‘torn stoves and pipes out of restaurant kitchens, stripped machinery from mills and factories and were completing the theft of the American Singer Sewing Machine plant when we arrived.’89 The context was the utter devastation of the western regions of their own empire, but even so, the destruction was often pointless, at least as far as observers from the West could see. Meanwhile, back in the Soviet Union, the labour of German prisoners, ex-soldiers, was deemed to be a war trophy as well. If anyone could reassemble the dismantled German plant, these were the men.

It was inescapable that troops faced with the chaos of a battle zone would help themselves to anything they found. Indeed, some looting was essential to the war effort. The supply lines for Zhukov’s advancing armies were stretched to breaking point. When Aronov or Ermolenko sat down to German meals in Insterburg, they were getting the best rations that they had seen for weeks, not indulging mere gluttony. One officer wrote to his family about the meal he enjoyed with his exhausted and hungry men just after the fall of Koenigsberg. The unit was issued with passes to the local military store, a repository for all kinds of trophy food and other goods. They entered the premises at eleven and came out at five, having drunk beer, wine and vodka, eaten sausages, and stuffed themselves with tongue, biscuits, chocolates, truffles, raisins and dates.90

When their own stomachs had been filled, some men began to think about their families at home. They knew that there was nothing in Russia to buy. Their leaders were already packing crates with fine china, bedlinen and rich German furs. Senior officers requisitioned cars to get the stuff home and even, later in the war, a fleet of special trains.91 The men began to think on the same lines. On 26 December 1944, well in time for the Russian new year, the Soviet ministry of defence confirmed a regulation that authorized all army personnel to send parcels back home from the front line.92 It was, effectively, a licence to loot. In fact, an officer who heard that his men were not sending much back home henceforth was liable to tell them to ‘get better at grabbing’.93

As ever, the looting process was graded by privilege and rank. Only soldiers of good conduct were permitted to send their parcels back east, and even then they were supposed to send just one parcel a month. The permitted weight varied from 5 kg for soldiers to 16 kg (a notional limit in practice) for generals.94 Kopelev leafed through a library of exquisite rare books. His comrades in arms chose antique paintings, hunting rifles and even a piano.95 Frontoviki had the first pick and often destroyed anything they did not take.96 It could be a misfortune, suddenly, to be assigned to the second echelon. ‘I’m really miserable,’ Taranichev wrote to his Natalya. ‘They’ve just said that we can send ten kg of stuff a month [this was the allowance for officers], but I’m in a place where there is nothing, it’s all been looted, and the prices are absolutely crazy.’97 He would soon overcome his disappointment, for even the least warlike of officers and ‘rearguard rats’ could fill their quotas when they learned to look. A favourite item, predictably, was food. ‘Eat for your health,’ an officer scribbled to his wife and daughter as he enclosed canned meat, sugar and chocolate, ‘and don’t have any pangs of conscience, and don’t think of giving any of it away.’98 Other men sent packets of nails back home, or even panes of glass, as well as more attractive gifts like china, tools and piles of German shoes and clothes.99 The jamboree involved no guilt. Even today, the veterans can talk of it without embarrassment, like recounting a particularly fruitful jumble sale. Getting the best things was a sign of skill, of concern for one’s family, of an ability to deal with the new beast, capitalism.

The men’s choices were sometimes strange, or at least poignant. Soldiers took typewriters that they would never use, since the Cyrillic alphabet required completely different keys. Taranichev eventually picked out a radio (‘made by an excellent German firm’) but noted sadly that ‘for this, of course, we will need electricity. Wherever we decide to live after the war, we’re not going to be in a place that has no electricity.’100 He did not say it, but a radio was a truly exclusive item back at home. The Sovinformburo had seized the lot in 1941. But other things were scarce as well, including those with more immediate utility. The engineer went on to send home parcels of food, an overcoat, a feather eiderdown with a silk cover, several sets of sheets, and padded trousers for those hunting expeditions of the future. He added a bolt of black silk for his wife, together with some yellow leather to make boots.101 Like other Soviet wives in other provinces, Natalya was about to bring the fashions of 1940s central Europe to the steppes of post-war Turkestan, not always with accessories to match.

Infantrymen of a guards regiment stowing their bicycles for shipment, May 1945

More practically, Taranichev also sent shoes for each of his children, choosing sizes that they might grow into within a year or so. He also sent the woollen cloth to make them winter coats, white flannel for their underwear and leather suitable for making extra shoes.102 Again, he packed the parcels up with pride. So did Kirill. The young officer was based in Poland through the last winter of the war. He remembers his task there as a version of peacekeeping; a combination of strong government, light engineering work, and crime prevention. Decent civilians, in his view, had reason to be grateful to him. When the time came to send something home, he folded up a quilt or two and packed a typewriter, but he also let it be known that he and his wife needed a pram for their daughter. The next morning, two dozen models had been left outside his quarters. ‘I chose the best,’ he smiled. The local people’s generosity seemed to confirm that he was a humane soldier, a communist officer of the best kind.

The parcels helped to boost morale, but postal services were swamped. The soldiers’ packages were deemed to be ‘of exclusive political importance’, which meant that pilfering, delays and poor storage would count as state crimes. But the great despatch began in January, in the depths of the Russian winter. In a few weeks, the railhead at Kursk – and anywhere where soldiers’ families lived – looked like a giant warehouse. Three hundred parcels arrived at Kursk in January 1945. By early May, that monthly figure had jumped to 50,000, and the total for the five-month period was 87,000 parcels. Twenty thousand wagons of plunder were waiting to be unloaded by mid-May. A special tent was built beside the station to keep the rain off packages of printed cotton, tinned meat and jam, typewriters, bicycles, bedding, hosiery and china cups. Storage, however, was only the start. Many of the recipients lived in remote villages, and there were no cars. Soldiers’ families had to rely instead on ‘German trophy horses’, the clapped-out nags that the Wehrmacht had abandoned, many of which were sick or injured. In the end, more staff (and more horses) had to be taken on. A special hostel was set up near Kursk station to accommodate a workforce specially brought in to sort and despatch soldiers’ loot.103

In Germany itself, the soldiers pilfered from each other. ‘I’m afraid to send things home at the moment,’ Ageev told his wife in May, ‘because there have been lots of cases of theft.’104 Some items, however, were never meant to reach the post. Guns and ammunition, strictly forbidden for private use, were selling well on the Polish black market by the late summer of 1944.105 Apart from alcohol and tobacco, the soldiers’ other favourite items included bicycles and wristwatches. Some men were photographed with several watches on each arm, proof of their war record as well as future money in the bank. ‘The German makes always ran down,’ one survivor explained. ‘That’s why we needed several at a time.’ It was the same with bicycles. The men had little grasp of riding, let alone repair. ‘They teach each other to ride,’ one witness wrote, ‘sit stiff on the saddle like chimpanzees bicycling in the zoo, crash into trees and giggle happily.’106 She could have added that the crashed bikes were left where they collapsed. There were always others to be had. A famous photograph from this moment shows a Russian soldier pulling a bicycle out of its outraged female owner’s hands. Others show the men stowing them away, preparing for the long journey back home.107 The idea of property had become as vague as privacy or peace. Amid the devastation, nothing seemed to belong to anyone much – unless, that is, the new owner was armed or wearing an official badge.

While the front line moved west towards Berlin, soldiers in the rear sections, and even the NKVD troops who were set to guard them, enjoyed a foretaste of the victory to come. There were orgies of looting, drunken binges, and chaotic relations with local women, including ‘marriages’ as well as rape. Four years of fear and tension unravelled in weeks. Few soldiers feared the international border now. It was time to discover the entire world, to taste it, drink it, grab it, triumph over it. Reports from the late winter and early spring tell a story of chaos behind the lines, of soldiers getting drunk (of course), of soldiers stealing clothes and jewellery, dressing in civilian disguise, billeting themselves on local women, driving army vehicles around at breakneck speeds. Relations with civilians in every ‘liberated’ zone reached breaking point.108 The very guardians of discipline, a detachment of NKVD troops, were discovered rolling around a Polish city singing their ‘uncensored songs’. They even turned up drunk at their own party meeting and ranted on about the army’s glory until someone could be found to take them out and make them sober up.109


The Germans knew they were defeated by the spring of 1945, but still the war was not over. Hitler refused to surrender, and the German army, the remains of it, fought on towards final collapse. This resistance mirrored the doggedness of which the Soviets had been so proud when they held out three years before, and it delayed the battle for Berlin, which Chuikov, the stoical defender of Stalingrad, had hoped to close in February 1945. Far from admiring it, however, Soviet troops regarded German stubbornness as yet another despicable trait. Ageev remained amazed at the sight of the Germans he was fighting. ‘Among the Fritzes that we took prisoner,’ he wrote to his wife, ‘was a fifty-nine-year-old German, and he didn’t have a tooth in his head, but this bastard was fighting like some kind of brainless automaton, even though he couldn’t have chewed a piece of dry bread if he’d wanted to.’110 Ageev’s outrage owed something to his apprehension that, for all its certainty, the coming victory against an enemy like this could not be cheap.

The battle for Berlin began in earnest in mid-April. By that stage, Koenigsberg had fallen at last, as had the Prussian city of Kustrin. These last campaigns – often described as ‘cleaning up’ – were bitter, and they cost the Red Army thousands of men. But the prospect of Berlin itself seemed yet more daunting. Red Army troops could not have guessed how botched and ramshackle the final preparations for the city’s defence had been.111 As far as they could tell, the place was likely to have been fortified in advance by a maze of minefields, booby traps, entanglements. The dangers were drummed into them, as if the myth of easy victory, the dream of 1938, could be reversed into a tale of desperate odds to glorify the final chapter of the European war. But though they faced a broken, hungry and demoralized enemy, Red Army soldiers knew that they had reached Hitler’s own citadel. Whatever their superior strength – and the Soviets outnumbered Berlin’s defenders by at least two to one112 – the coming battle was certain to be challenging. Men who remembered Stalingrad – including Chuikov himself – began to train another generation in the art of house-to-house combat.113

The final chapter opened on 16 April. ‘There has not been a day at the front yet like today,’ an engineer called Petr Sebelev, whose war experience had begun in 1941, wrote to his family that evening. ‘At four o’clock in the morning thousands of Katyushas and machine guns opened fire, and the sky was as bright as day from horizon to horizon. On the German side, everything was covered with smoke and thick fountains of earth flying up in columns. There were huge flocks of frightened birds flying around, a constant humming, thunder, explosions. Then came the tanks. In front of the whole column floodlights shone, which was to dazzle the Germans. And then people everywhere started shouting, “To Berlin! To Berlin!”’114 ‘Flares soared into the sky,’ wrote Chuikov of the same scene, ‘and Lenin’s face looked down as if alive from the scarlet banners on the soldier-liberators, as if summoning them to be resolute in the last fight with the hateful foe.’115 The thunder of the guns was so deafening that even experienced artillerists were awed. It was an effort to remember that they were supposed to keep their mouths open to equalize the pressure on their ears.116

The men’s excitement was the thrill of action after a long wait, the joy of thinking the war almost won. ‘Today no one is thinking about death,’ wrote Sebelev, ‘but everyone is only thinking about how quickly they can roll into Berlin.’ The Soviets seemed poised to storm the fascists’ lair at last, but for a final time, the optimism of Red Army soldiers played them false. Zhukov’s assault on the Seelow Heights, the last formidable natural barrier on the way to Berlin, was destined to falter as a consequence of his own miscalculation. The searchlight beams that he had ordered the advance guard to deploy – a novel method, he imagined, to dazzle and confuse the enemy – merely reflected back into his own men’s eyes, bouncing off the wall of smoke that their artillery had made.117 Their bombardment had also made the ground ahead impassable. Worse, the trenches that the Soviets had been shelling with such energy turned out to have been deserted. A captured Red Army soldier had warned the Germans of the coming storm the previous day, and most had withdrawn well behind this forward line.118 Far from moving triumphantly towards Berlin, the troops under Zhukov’s command slowed down, unable to get past the second line of German defenders.

The delay was good news, oddly, for Zhukov’s rival, Ivan Konev. The two commanders were supposed to work together in the campaign for Berlin, though it was Konev’s task, in theory, to sweep round from the south, through Leipzig and Dresden, and cut the German front in two. But Stalin had encouraged a professional rivalry between the two marshals, a competition to reach Berlin first, and Zhukov’s problems allowed Konev’s leadership, briefly, to shine. It was a bizarre kind of race, and to the end of their lives the two marshals contested the real order of events. The most that can be said is that the contest secured Soviet priority over the Allies in the capture of Berlin. But in strategic terms it was disastrous. Zhukov’s fury forced inexperienced men – some of whom were former prisoners of war, others forced labourers with no training – to battle on through deadly streets and mined emplacements so that Berlin would fall to them. Laggards, as ever, would be threatened with a bullet or the shtraf battalion. Even experienced troops were over-tense, their terror heightened by warnings and threats. Chuikov, who also felt the lash of Zhukov’s tongue,119 told all his men to remain on their guard, and he also advised them to use overwhelming force. ‘The enemy is hidden in basements, inside buildings,’ he explained. ‘A battle in a city is a battle of firepower, a battle at close quarters, in which close-range firing is carried out not by automatic weapons only, but by powerful artillery systems and tank armaments, all firing over a few score metres only.’120Red Army soldiers had no time, as they took their aim, to bother with the fates of the civilians who still lived in their way.

Berlin itself was poised on the brink of death. There had been no deliveries of food for days, and many of the water pipes were wrecked. ‘Children are dying right and left,’ the Berlin diarist recalled. ‘Old people are eating grass, like animals.’ Berliners crept into their basements, huddling in candlelit darkness, while outside, in the street, the spring continued with uncanny, mocking clarity. The diarist crept out from her shelter one afternoon. Even the light was a surprise. ‘Through the fire-blackened ruins the scent of lilaccomes in waves from ownerless gardens,’ she wrote. ‘Only the birds distrust this April; there are no sparrows on the gutter of our roof.’121 Before the storm, her thoughts were all of hunger, like the victim of a siege. Then came the bombardment, earthquakes of shelling and deafening noise, and in its wake, soldiers, ‘Ivans’, advancing slowly, house to house and room to room, lobbing grenades into doorways and stairwells, firing first and asking all the questions later. Soon, everything the diarist wrote would relate to these strangers, Red Army soldiers with their booze and boorish tastes, their bandaged limbs, scarred faces, and their endless, unquenchable need.

The Soviets in Berlin, May 1945

As the outskirts of Berlin collapsed, cleared at the careful pace of men advancing through a maze of traps, more troops came to secure the liberated zones. There was not much to take in Berlin any more, but they seized any food and other goods that they still fancied. Almost casually, and without the intense hate of three months before, they also wreaked their usual revenge on Berlin’s women. The intimacy was not good for discipline, nor was it good for the men’s sexual health (not that most of them were without some form of infection already).122 The looting and the drunkenness were disastrous for the army’s reputation with its allies and among German civilians. In April, Stalin and Zhukov intervened, issuing a series of new orders concerning property, the violation of civilian living quarters, and what were euphemistically described as relations with civilian women. Confusingly, the most famous order deplored what it called liberal behaviour towards the Germans in the same breath as it decried excessive brutality.123 But the message was unmistakable. ‘Stalin’s order’, as the men soon called it, demanded restraint. It was read out to the troops at their political meetings, and German women learned to invoke it like a kind of spell to deter their Ivans. It does not seem to have made very much difference in Berlin. When the men discussed it, the diarist claims, ‘their eyes twinkled slyly’.124 The only thing that was guaranteed to restrain them – apart from the barrel of an officer’s Nagan – was the absolute priority of combat.

Zhukov’s forces entered Berlin on 21 April. The following day, Konev’s men crossed the Teltow Canal. It would be Zhukov’s troops, too, including those under Chuikov’s direct command, who surrounded and stormed the Tiergarten, a district eight kilometres long and two across. Though it was also the site of the Berlin zoo, this was the Nazi citadel. The bunkers at its heart, surrounded by anti-aircraft guns, had walls two metres thick. One housed the Gestapo; another, on the edge of the zone, was Hitler’s own bunker, a building that combined the functions of command post, bastion, and grand imperial reception room. To the north of it, beyond the Brandenburg Gate, was the Reichstag building, the symbol that the Soviets selected to embody Hitler’s rule. The Tiergarten itself was bisected by the Landwehr canal, a pleasant landmark that would turn into a barrier and then a death trap when the SS blew up the underground tunnels deep beneath it. But that would be their last desperate throw. On 29 April, the whole area was a bomb site, the fires an ominous red glow that lit even the darkest sky above the rubble, dust and smoke. There was no doubt at all what the outcome would be, but the last throes of this empire would not be gentle.

It took three days of intense fighting for the Red Army to capture the totemic buildings. The storming of the Reichstag was the emblematic moment. Stalin had wanted to publish the news of this (and, ideally, of Berlin’s surrender) in time for the Soviet May Day holiday. In fact, the famous photograph of Sergeants Yegorov and Kantariya (the latter, like Stalin, a Georgian) waving their red flag from the Reichstag roof was posed, taken the next day when the real danger was past. At the time, the troops involved were inching forward through a hail of machine-gun fire, risking grenades and booby traps. Three hundred defenders, more than 200 of whom were killed, held them off for more than eight hours. The story was repeated at other sites, including the formidable Zoo flak tower in the Tiergarten. Each time one of these bastions was captured, scores, if not hundreds, of Nazi troops surrendered. Many more, the wounded and the dying, lay in the basements waiting for the end.125 Hitler himself was already dead. He and his closest aides committed suicide on 30 April. ‘The Wehrmacht fought on,’ runs one account, ‘like a chicken with its spinal cord severed.’126 It was not until six o’clock on 2 May that the commander of the Berlin garrison, General Weidling, surrendered to the Red Army.127

One witness to it all was Nikolai Belov. ‘I wanted to write to you so much on the first of May,’ he wrote to Lidiya on 3 May, ‘but the way it’s worked out is that we’ve been in battle the whole time, and what’s more they’ve been really hard and drawn-out battles, the kind where you don’t have time to talk, let alone to think about writing.’ Four of her letters had arrived on 1 May, but he had been in the thick of the shelling in the Tiergarten, and when it was over he was too tired to open them. Then came the city’s capitulation, a lull in the thunder of guns, and finally, a chance to rest. ‘I haven’t slept like I did just now for a long time – I was like a corpse,’ he wrote. But he knew the war was coming to an end. ‘I don’t know if there’ll be another lot of fighting like we’ve just seen, but I doubt it. It’s all finished in Berlin.’ When Weidling signed the capitulation papers, Belov had been asleep.

The lieutenant had not witnessed the end of Operation Bagration. He had been wounded just weeks after writing the last entry in his diary, in the late summer of 1944. His reward had been the first home leave of his entire war, a second honeymoon with Lidiya. It was of home that he was thinking as he wrote on 3 May. A fellow officer had invited him to celebrate the first of May – belatedly – in his ‘baronial’ quarters in Berlin, ‘where, as they say, you probably can relax a bit’, but the thought of luxury repelled the weary officer at that moment. ‘To hell with all this stuff,’ Belov declared. ‘I’d rather be in a hut somewhere – anywhere, as long as it’s in Russia, so that I could relax and forget the whole nightmare of this war, including the bloodstained German race.’ The luxuries reproached his conscience, too, for he had not had time to send a parcel home, although he longed to help his family. He was exhausted and sick of the war, but his letter also contained a germ of real hope.

The point was that Lidiya was expecting their baby, a child conceived during his leave. He called the pregnant woman ‘fatty’, affectionately telling her to eat well and get lots of rest. More seriously, he also contemplated the things his unborn children would think later on, when they asked what their father had done in the war. He had no reason to reproach himself, and the thought made him proud. They would, he thought, ‘not be ashamed, because we fulfilled our duty to the end’. But all that was still in the future. In those first days of May the war was not quite over, and nor was the stress, the sense of endless combat, in his brain. ‘No doubt you are celebrating,’ he wrote. ‘I can imagine how delighted our whole nation must be, but for us, soldiers, it’s difficult to grasp the true extent of our victory, our aim has been to take a city or to win a battle, and we’re used to weighing the effect of a given battle, and we’ll only start thinking about the victory when we have heard the last shot.’

He knew that there would not be long to wait. ‘Perhaps,’ he concluded, ‘the war will have ended before you even get this letter.’ Five days later, Zhukov accepted Germany’s unconditional surrender. The ceremony was as dignified, as final, as wartime conditions could make it. The cameras of the world’s press flashed as Keitel, the German head of state, took off his glove to sign the act of capitulation just after midnight on 9 May. When the German delegation had left the hall, the Soviet and Allied delegations collapsed with relief, the wine and vodka appeared on the green baize tables, and Zhukov himself danced to the applause of his generals.128 Outside, the men greeted their victory with salvoes of heavy gunfire, rifle shots, and yet more drink. But Belov never heard the last shot of his war, nor did he ever see the daughter who was born a month later. He was sent west, to Burg on the Elbe, on 4 May. The next day, 5 May, he was killed there.129


More than 360,000 soldiers of the Red Army and of its Polish comrades perished in the campaigns for Berlin, perhaps a tenth of them in the battles around the capital itself.130 Those men and women were the ghosts at the feast on 9 May. But for a few hours, most soldiers remembered life, not death. ‘We heard the joyful news on the radio at three o’clock this morning,’ Taranichev wrote home to his wife. ‘Anyone who was already asleep was woken up, and we organized a gathering straight away: we fired volleys out of every kind of gun till morning, which means that right up till dawn the town was under such heavy fire that it looked as if a real battle was going on. My dears, you cannot imagine what joy there is among our officers and men because of the war’s ending; it’s true that you suffered very greatly back home behind the lines, and that our rearguard together with the valiant Red Army defeated the fascist beast, but all the same for us at the front it was hardest of all, and you’ve got to understand us, frontoviki!’131 Ageev spoke for many when he declared that ‘there has never been such happiness and pride in history as the Soviet people are experiencing today’.132 At Samoilov’s base, the soldiers had been celebrating since the fall of Berlin on 2 May. On 7 May, they heard a rumour that the war was finally over, and some began to fire into the air. They fired again on 8 May, this time because the BBC had announced Germany’s capitulation, but it was not until Keitel surrendered to Zhukov himself that they got really drunk.133

Elsewhere the men had not waited that long. On 5 May, a soldier in the NKVD’s border guards happened to find a canister of wood alcohol in the courtyard of one of SMERSh’s Berlin stations. He drained an experimental portion into a teapot and shared it with two other troops in the security service. The single pot was not enough, and so they filled a three-litre container and shared that out, fetching yet more when the cook turned up and invited himself to the party. That night, another seven men joined in – or helped themselves, because the original drinkers had passed out by this stage, happily forgetting that the war was not yet won. They did not live to see the victory. The first three men died on the second day. The rest would die before Keitel had signed the final papers.134Such cases were repeated all along the front. Wood alcohol was frequently to blame, but so were antifreeze, white spirit, and even too much looted schnapps.135 At least the victims never knew the disappointments of the peace.

The next day, 10 May, Berlin would feel deserted, silent. The streets were empty, and the public squares, where the Wehrmacht had felled trees in preparation for its own artillery, felt blank, bereft even of songbirds. Most soldiers were sleeping off their hangovers. But not everyone had remained in the German capital to greet the end of European war. Ermolenko was among the thousands of men already heading east. His company received the news of victory as their train approached the Ural mountains.136 He did not know the details of his mission yet, but he was heading for Manchuria. The European war was over, but the Soviets would now join in the struggle to defeat Japan.

It was the first straw in the wind, the first hint that Germany’s defeat would not mean the end of military service for Red Army troops. They had fulfilled their duty, as Belov had said, not flinching even to the last, but now the first of many disappointments loomed. It would not be a few weeks but some months, and even years, before most men would see their wives and families again. As for their hopes, the dreams that they had nurtured through long evenings of talk and writing, it would be a longer wait still. As Kopelev had understood as he watched the flames rising above Neidenburg, it was not clear what these people were now equipped to do. It would never be clear how they would deal with peace. The only thing that they could count on as they watched the spring unfold around the ruins of Berlin was the ruthless power of the state for which so many had died. They had saved it. Now they would learn the measure of its gratitude.

Notes – 9 Despoil the Corpse

1 Chuikov, Reich, p. 18.

2 RGASPI-M, 33/1/261, 9 and 24.

3 RGASPI-M, 33/1/1409-19, 6.

4 RGASPI-M, 33/1/261, 29.

5 Intercepted field post, Bundesarchiv, RH2-2688, 51 (January 1945).

6 I am grateful to Professor W. Brus, himself a witness to Russia’s war at the time, for this insight into Ehrenburg’s wartime standing.

7 Christopher Duffy, Red Storm on the Reich (London, 1991), p. 274.

8 Cited in Werth, p. 965.

9 See Beevor, Berlin, p. 34.

10 Bundesarchiv, RH2-2467, 82.

11 Khronika chuvstv (Vladimir, 1991), pp. 175–6.

12 Pis’ma s fronta i na front, p. 93. Letter dated 26 February 1945.

13 Bundesarchiv, RH2-2467, 86.

14 Werth, p. 944.

15 RGASPI-M, 33/1/261, 27.

16 Kopelev, p. 14.

17 Ibid., p. 13.

18 Julius Hay, cited in Norman Naimark, The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945–49 (Cambridge, MA, 1995), p. 70.

19 See Naimark, loc. cit., and also RH2-2686, 37.

20 See Glantz and House, p. 235.

21 Bundesarchiv, RH2-2338, 45-01.

22 Bundesarchiv, RH2-2686, 33.

23 Kopelev, p. 36.

24 Bundesarchiv, RH2-2467, 9.

25 Ibid.

26 Stalin, O velikoi otechestvennoi voine, p. 100 (23 February 1945). This formula echoed a time-honoured earlier phrase about capitalism, used in the harsh years of class war (collectivization). Then, the catchword was that the class enemy would resist with greatest desperation as the victory of the proletariat approached.

27 Ermolenko, p. 105.

28 RGASPI-M, 33/1/261, 35.

29 Ibid., 38.

30 Bundesarchiv, RH2-2688, 13 (captured letter).

31 For a parallel story of captivating inhumanity, see the account of the slaughtered buffalo in Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, pp. 75–6.

32 Leonid Rabichev, ‘Voina vse spishet’, Znamya, 2005, no. 2, p. 163.

33 Ibid, p. 163.

34 Ibid, p. 159.

35 Ibid, p. 165.

36 Kopelev, p. 37.

37 Bundesarchiv, RH2-2338, 44-10, 3.

38 Kopelev, p. 50.

39 Werth, p. 964.

40 Bundesarchiv, RH2-2688, 12.

41 Kopelev, p. 39.

42 Ibid., pp. 46–53.

43 Naimark, p. 74.

44 This seems clear despite the bland statement by Werth (p. 964) that the rapes were just an outlet for the soldiers’ sexual frustration.

45 Bundesarchiv, RH2-2688, 13.

46 Overy, p. 260.

47 For discussions, see Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (London, 1975); Sylvana Tomaselli and Roy Porter (Eds), Rape: An Historical and Social Enquiry (Oxford, 1986).

48 RGASPI-M, 33/1/1409-19, 6.

49 Rabichev, p. 164.

50 Set in a culture of almost total denial, Rabichev’s article and Kopelev’s book are, to date, among the only discussions of this question in Russian. The time for an honest assessment of the war is still far off, as the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow in 2005 testified.

51 Atina Grossman, ‘A Question of Silence: The Rape of German Women by Occupation Soldiers,’ October, 72, spring 1995, p. 51.

52 Bundesarchiv, RH2-2688, 13.

53 Cited in Naimark, p. 112.

54 Anonymous (sic), A Woman in Berlin, trans. James Stern (London, 1955), pp. 93–4.

55 Temkin, p. 197.

56 Beevor, Berlin, p. 326.

57 A Woman in Berlin, p. 64.

58 Temkin, p. 202.

59 Igor Kon and James Riordan, Sex and Russian Society (London, 1993), pp. 25–6.

60 For a more recent parallel, see Gilles Kepel’s comments about Algerian Islamists, those ‘impoverished young men’ whose crowded family conditions forced them into abstinence and who, in consequence, ‘condemned the pleasures of which they had been so wretchedly deprived’. Cited in Jason Burke, Al Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam(London, 2004), p. 133.

61 RGASPI-M, 33/1/261, 27.

62 N. Inozemtsev, Tsena pobedy v toi samoi voine: frontovoi dnevnik N. Inozemtseva (Moscow, 1995), p. 108.

63 GARF 7523/16/79, 56.

64 For an example of such propaganda, see Pravda, 13 July 1944, p. 3 (account of Olga Ivanovna Kotova and her ten children).

65 Pushkarev, Po dorogam voiny, p. 154.

66 Belov, p. 469.

67 RGASPI-M, 33/1/1414, 57.

68 RGASPI-M, 33/1/1405, 67.

69 Kopelev, p. 29.

70 GARF, 7523/16/79, 59, has another letter demanding that soldier fathers have control over their children.

71 Exotic German women’s clothes – ‘Gretchen knickers’ – would often scandalize the soldiers’ wives who received them as gifts from their husbands. See Beevor, Berlin, p. 407.

72 Cited in Naimark, p. 108.

73 RH2-2688, 51.

74 Ibid., 52.

75 On this aspect of rape, see Ruth Harris, ‘The “Child of the Barbarian”: Race, Rape and Nationalism during the First World War,’ Past and Present, 141 (November 1993), pp. 170–206.

76 A Woman in Berlin, p. 219.

77 The most comprehensive figure, from Barbara Johr, is a total of two million in the whole of Germany. See Naimark, p. 133. See also Helker Sander, ‘Remembering/Forgetting’, October, 72, spring 1995, p. 21.

78 Atina Grossman, ‘Silence’, p. 46.

79 Venereal disease statistics are available in NKVD files and also in the records of hospitals near the front throughout and just after the war. Although it generally maintained a cool attitude towards the epidemic, the NKVD did occasionally note the pace of infection, as in RGVA 32925/1/516, 178.

80 A Woman in Berlin, p. 17.

81 RGVA, 32925/1/526, 43. See also Naimark, p. 74.

82 Velikaya Otechestvennaya, 2(3), p. 304 (order of 11 July 1944).

83 For example, the three cases of gang rape dating from April 1945 are cited in RGVA, 32925/1/527, 132. The guilty men in each case were turned over to SMERSh.

84 Rabichev, p. 164.

85 Kopelev, p. 51; Temkin, p. 201.

86 GARF, 7523/16/424, 85 and 98, for example.

87 See Douglas Botting, In the Ruins of the Reich, pp. 23–4.

88 Naimark, p. 10.

89 Botting, p. 99.

90 Snetkova, p. 47.

91 GARF, R7317⁄6⁄16, 81.

92 This confirmed the GKO’s resolution of 23 December 1944. Velikaya Otechestvennaya, 2(3), 344–5.

93 Temkin, p. 199.

94 Velikaya Otechestvennaya, 2(3), 344.

95 Kopelev, pp. 39–40.

96 Beevor, p. 35.

97 RGASPI-M, 33/1/1405, 146.

98 Snetkova, p. 47.

99 See Beevor, Berlin, pp. 407–8.

100 RGASPI-M, 33/1/1405, 157.

101 Ibid., 152.

102 Ibid., 158.

103 GAOPIKO, 1/1/3754, 5–9.

104 RGASPI-M, 33/1/1454, 139.

105 TsAMO, 233/2354/1, 28.

106 A Woman in Berlin, p. 60.

107 See photo, p. 280.

108 For an account from Poland, see RGVA, 32925/1/527, 86–7.

109 Ibid., 108.

110 RGASPI-M, 33/1/1454, 125.

111 Beevor, Berlin, pp. 177–8. For a different perspective, see Glantz and House, p. 255.

112 The numbers given are two and a half million Red Army and Polish troops and roughly a million German defenders. Glantz and House, p. 261; Overy, p. 266.

113 Glantz and House, p. 260.

114 Pis’ma s fronta i na front, p. 160.

115 Chuikov, Reich, p. 146.

116 Beevor, Berlin, p. 218.

117 Chuikov, Reich, p. 147.

118 Overy, p. 268.

119 Beevor, Berlin, p. 222.

120 Chuikov, Reich, p. 184.

121 A Woman in Berlin, pp. 13 and 17.

122 See Beevor, p. 412. As a military nurse who worked in Belorussia told me, ‘They were all infected with venereal diseases. All of them!’ This was an exaggeration, naturally, but she must have wondered when she would see a patient who was not.

123 A version appears in RGVA, 32925/1/527, 10–11.

124 A Woman in Berlin, p. 107.

125 Overy, p. 273; Beevor, Berlin, p. 372; Chuikov, Reich, pp. 242–9.

126 Glantz and House, p. 269.

127 Chuikov, Reich, p. 251.

128 Beevor, Berlin, p. 405.

129 Belov, p. 476.

130 Glantz and House, p. 269. The higher figure is based on Krivosheev’s global estimate for the campaign on three fronts (1st and 2nd Belorussian, 1st Ukrainian).

131 RGASPI-M, 33/1/1405, 137.

132 RGASPI-M, 33/1/1454, 146.

133 Samoilov, ‘Lyudi’, part 2, p. 96.

134 RGVA, 32925/1/527, 50–3.

135 Other cases occur on almost every page of this same file. See, for example, RGVA, 32925/1/527, 48; 233.

136 Ermolenko, p. 126.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!