Berlin: The Downfall 1945, by Anthony Beevor
Reactions to the book in the U.K. and Germany... and Israel
Red Army troops raped even Russian women as they
freed them from camps
By Daniel Johnson
THE Red Army's orgy of rape in the dying days of Nazi Germany was conducted on a much greater scale than previously suspected, according to a new book by the military historian Anthony Beevor.
Beevor, the author of the best-selling Stalingrad, says advancing Soviet troops raped large numbers of Russian and Polish women held in concentration camps, as well as millions of Germans.
The extent of the Red Army's indiscipline and depravity emerged as the author studied Soviet archives for his forthcoming book Berlin, to be published in April by Viking.
Beevor - who was educated at Sandhurst and served in the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert's Own), an elite cavalry regiment - says details of the Soviet soldiers' behaviour have forced him to revise his view of human nature.
"Having always in the past slightly pooh-poohed the idea that most men are potential rapists, I had to come to the conclusion that if there is a lack of army discipline, most men with a weapon, dehumanised by living through two or three years of war, do become potential rapists," he told The Bookseller.
He appears to echo the American feminist Marilyn French's notorious claim that "in their relations with women, all men are rapists, and that's all they are".
Any such resemblance is, however, superficial. Beevor is careful to qualify any suggestion that what happened from 1944 onwards is in any way typical of male behaviour in peacetime. But he admits that he was "shaken to the core" to discover that Russian and Polish women and girls liberated from concentration camps were also violated.
"That completely undermined the notion that the soldiers were using rape as a form of revenge against the Germans," he said.
"By the time the Russians reached Berlin, soldiers were regarding women almost as carnal booty; they felt because they were liberating Europe they could behave as they pleased. That is very frightening, because one starts to realise that civilisation is terribly superficial and the facade can be stripped away in a very short time."
Beevor's high reputation as a historian ensures that his claims will be taken seriously. Stalingrad was widely praised and awarded the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize, the Wolfson Prize for History and the Hawthornden Prize.
His account of the siege of Berlin, however, promises to be more controversial. "In many ways the fate of the women and the girls in Berlin is far worse than that of the soldiers starving and suffering in Stalingrad."
To understand why the rape of Germany was so uniquely terrible, the context is essential. Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, began the most genocidal conflict in history. Perhaps 30 million inhabitants of the Soviet Union are now thought to have died during the war, including more than three million who were deliberately starved in German PoW camps.
The Germans, having shown no quarter, could expect none in return. Their casualties were also on a vast scale. In the Battle of Berlin alone more than a million German soldiers were killed or died later in captivity, plus at least 100,000 civilians. The Soviet Union lost more than 300,000 men.
Against this horrific background, Stalin and his commanders condoned or even justified rape, not only against Germans but also their allies in Hungary, Romania and Croatia. When the Yugoslav Communist Milovan Djilas protested to Stalin, the dictator exploded: "Can't he understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle?"
And when German Communists warned him that the rapes were turning the population against them, Stalin fumed: "I will not allow anyone to drag the reputation of the Red Army in the mud."
The rapes had begun as soon as the Red Army entered East Prussia and Silesia in 1944. In many towns and villages every female, aged from 10 to 80, was raped. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel laureate who was then a young officer, described the horror in his narrative poem Prussian Nights: "The little daughter's on the mattress,/Dead. How many have been on it/A platoon, a company perhaps?"
But Solzhenitsyn was rare: most of his comrades regarded rape as legitimate. As the offensive struck deep into Germany, the orders of Marshal Zhukov, their commander, stated: "Woe to the land of the murderers. We will get a terrible revenge for everything."
By the time the Red Army reached Berlin its reputation, reinforced by Nazi propaganda, had already terrified the population, many of whom fled. Though the hopeless struggle came to an end in May 1945, the ordeal of German women did not.
How many German women were raped? One can only guess, but a high proportion of at least 15 million women who either lived in the Soviet Union zone or were expelled from the eastern provinces. The scale of rape is suggested by the fact that about two million women had illegal abortions every year between 1945 and 1948.
It was not until the winter of 1946-47 that the Soviet authorities, concerned by the spread of disease, imposed serious penalties on their forces in East Germany for fraternising with the enemy.
Soviet soldiers saw rape, often carried out in front of a woman's husband and family, as an appropriate way of humiliating the Germans, who had treated Slavs as an inferior race with whom sexual relations were discouraged. Russia's patriarchal society and the habit of binge-drinking were also factors, but more important was resentment at the discovery of Germany's comparative wealth.
The fact, highlighted by Beevor, that Soviet troops raped not only Germans but also their victims, recently liberated from concentration camps, suggests that the sexual violence was often indiscriminate, although far fewer Russian or Polish women were raped when their areas were liberated compared to the conquered Germans.
Jews, however, were not necessarily regarded by Soviet troops as fellow victims of the Nazis. The Soviet commissars had commandeered German concentration camps in order to incarcerate their own political prisoners, who included "class enemies" as well as Nazi officials, and their attitude towards the previous inmates was, to say the least, unsentimental.
As for the millions of Russian prisoners or slave workers who survived the Nazis: those who were not executed as traitors or sent to the Gulag could count themselves lucky. The women among them were probably treated no better than the Germans, perhaps worse.
The rape of Germany left a bitter legacy. It contributed to the unpopularity of the East German communist regime and its consequent reliance on the Stasi secret police. The victims themselves were permanently traumatised: women of the wartime generation still refer to the Red Army war memorial in Berlin as "the Tomb of the Unknown Rapist".
darker side to the story
Date: 26 January 2002
SIR - Daniel
Johnson's piece about the behaviour of Red Army troops in 1945 (report,
Jan. 24) quoted parts of a small interview at the beginning of this
month for the Bookseller about my book Berlin - The Downfall 1945, to inform the
book trade about some of the issues covered before publication in April. It
never occurred to me, perhaps naively, that this interview would trigger a
newspaper story, nor that others would make a connection with Holocaust Memorial
I describe in my book the medical assistance that the Red Army immediately provided to the victims of Auschwitz and include a photograph. I also emphasise, as I did in Stalingrad, the great suffering, courage and sacrifices of the Red Army in the Second World War. And I certainly do not omit the frequent acts of great kindness to German women and children.
But unfortunately, there is also a much darker side to the story, including the widespread rape of Soviet women prisoners released from slave labour, as documents of the period make abundantly clear, including a detailed Red Army report.
Antony Beevor, London SW6
Date: 25 January 2002
SIR - As a citizen
and Ambassador of Russia to Britain, I refuse to believe that the article
headlined "Red Army troops even raped Russian women as they freed them from
Jan. 24) could be authorised by any of your responsible colleagues
with a minimal knowledge of the history of the Second World War.
I have absolutely no intention of taking part in any debate on these obvious lies and insinuations. It is a disgrace to have anything to do with this clear case of slander against the people who saved the world from Nazism.
The article appeared on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, which transforms its publication into an act of blasphemy, not only against Russia and my people, but also against all countries and the millions of people who suffered from Nazism.
I think that millions of those who were saved by the Russian army and the heroism of Russian soldiers will undoubtedly agree with me.
Grigory Karasin, Ambassador of the Russian Federation, London W8
Russians angry at war rape claims
By Daniel Johnson
RUSSIA'S ambassador has accused the historian Anthony Beevor of "an act of blasphemy" against the Russian people for publishing details of the mass rapes committed by Soviet soldiers in Germany at the end of the Second World War.
In a letter published in The Daily Telegraph today, Grigory Karasin appears to deny that the rapes occurred, declaring: "I have no intention to take part in any debate on these obvious lies and insinuations."
Mr Karasin claims that the article's appearance shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day "transforms its publication into an act of blasphemy not only against Russia and my people but also against all countries and peoples who suffered from Nazism".
He adds: "It is a disgrace to have anything to do with this clear case of slander against the people who saved the world from Nazism."
Western historians agree that in 1945-47 the Soviet forces raped hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of German women. The rapes are well documented, as is the fact that Stalin tolerated and even encouraged them as a form of revenge.
A forthcoming book about the siege of Berlin by Mr Beevor, author of Stalingrad, claims that archives show that "[Soviet] soldiers were raping the Russian and Polish women and girls who were coming out of the concentration camps too".
But public debate on the subject remains taboo in post-Soviet Russia, where the Great Patriotic War is still seen as above criticism. Even in liberal or academic circles where the atrocities of Stalin and other Communists are no longer denied, there is very little discussion of Soviet war crimes against the Germans or their allies.
Mr Karasin, 52, a career diplomat from the Soviet era, was appointed two years ago.
ambassador isn't serving his people well
Date: 26 January 2002
SIR - I am
astonished to read the denial by the Russian ambassador (letter,
Jan. 25) of Antony Beevor's claims about the behaviour of Russian soldiers
at the end of the Second World War.
There must be millions of witnesses to these atrocities and I am one of them. As a child living in Budapest during the liberation of the city from Nazi occupation, I well remember the enthusiastic welcome the triumphant Red Army received from the population. This quickly turned to resentment, then terror, as the Soviet (not only Russian) soldiers raped girls and women of any age who ventured on to the streets. This outrage, together with the extensive looting of shops and private homes by the same troops and the mugging of individuals on the streets (particularly for wrist watches), left an indelible mark on my childhood mind.
Nobody should underestimate the sacrifices and, indeed, the heroism of the Russian people in general and the Red Army in particular in defeating Nazism. However, the ambassador does not serve his people well by denying historical facts.
Paul Partos, St Albans, Herts
Igonikon S Jack
28 January 2002
Sir--Russians and their
Soviet contemporaries should not decry the credible reports of mass rape of
German women and other nationals by Soviet soldiers during World War 2 but
should face the realities and make amends, if the charges are true
angry at war rape claims, 26 January 2002].
The Russian Ambassador, Grigory Karasin, criticised Anthony Beevor's book which vividly profiled the alleged rape atrocities. Yet, Ambassador Karasin offered no credible evidence to contradict Beevor. Karasin didn't create any alibi for Soviet troops by undisputably putting them above and beyond the crime scenes. He didn't provide facts and statistics to discredit the book, or serve as character witness for the battlefield Soviet troops, which could serve as mitigating or exonerating factors.
As in other similar World War 2 rape atrocities in Nanking, China or the Philippines, the forced use of so called comfort women in Korea along with other war crimes these disclosures are not designed merely to condemn the perpetrators, but to move the conscience of the world and discourage similarly reprehensible acts.
To paraphrase George Santayana, people who forget their past are condemned to repeat its mistakes. History should be revealed and in doing so provide a valuable education for posterity.
Der Publizist und Historiker Joachim Fest über den dramatischen Untergang Berlins 1945 und die Darstellung seines britischen Kollegen Antony Beevor
Zu den großen Themen, die das vergangene Jahrhundert den Historikern vermacht hat, gehört die Geschichte nicht nur von Aufstieg und Herrschaftspraxis, sondern auch vom Fall des Hitler-Regimes. Vielleicht hat das Machtgebilde sich und alles, was es ausmachte, zu keiner Zeit so offenkundig wie im Sturz demaskiert.
Die vom Diktator mit wirren Befriedigungsgefühlen betriebene Inszenierung des Endes, die wagnerianischen Zuspitzungen, die er dem Geschehen gab, haben wenig, was ihnen gleicht. Mitsamt den Weiterungen, die der Gegenstand enthält, bildet er eine einzigartige Herausforderung für den Historiker. Denn er beansprucht ihn gleichermaßen als Analytiker, der die Ziele und oftmals verborgenen Antriebe der Beteiligten herauszufinden versucht, wie auch als literarischen Gestalter des Tragödienstoffes, der auf dem Grund aller Geschichten hervortritt.
Umso erstaunlicher, dass das Geschehen in nahezu 60 Jahren zwar von Schriftstellern wie Theodor Plivier und historisch bewanderten Reportern wie Erich Kuby oder Cornelius Ryan beschrieben, jedoch von der Geschichtswissenschaft niemals zureichend behandelt worden ist. Nicht einmal eine Quellenbeschaffung und -sicherung ist geleistet worden. Dabei bieten jene Monate eine nahezu unvergleichliche Fülle erregenden und menschlich bewegenden Stoffs, und beides verleiht den Vorgängen, neben aller geradezu berstenden Anschaulichkeit, den Rang der großen Parabel.
Merkwürdigerweise sind es aber offenbar ebendiese Besonderheiten, die den Gegenstand in den Augen der akademischen Geschichtshandwerker disqualifizieren. Denn in ihrer Vorstellung steht die so genannte Ereignisgeschichte seit geraumer Zeit unter wissenschaftlichem Verruf. Stattdessen behaupten die Struktur- und Sozialgeschichte das Feld. Eines der großen historischen Dramen nicht nur der Epoche wird auf diese Weise gleichsam entsorgt.
Umso verdienstvoller, dass jetzt ein britischer Autor das Thema aufgegriffen hat. Von Antony Beevor ist bereits vor einigen Jahren ein erfolgreiches Buch über die Schlacht von Stalingrad vorgelegt worden. Zu den gerühmten Vorzügen des Werks gehörte die Auswertung zahlreicher Materialien zumal aus Moskauer Archiven. Im vorliegenden Buch greift der Autor auf das bewährte Verfahren zurück.
Die Darstellung beginnt mit dem Durchbruch der Roten Armee an der Weichselfront Mitte Januar 1945 und schildert ihren Vorstoß zur Oder-Neiße-Linie. Dort verhielten die Verbände zunächst für einige Zeit, um die zweieinhalb Millionen Mann, die vielen zehntausend Geschütze sowie die Panzerarmeen heranzuschaffen und aufzustellen, die den Krieg jetzt zu Ende bringen sollten. Am 16. April 1945 eröffnete Marschall Schukow im Mittelabschnitt der Front den Angriff auf die Seelower Höhen und damit die Schlacht um Berlin, während Marschall Konew über Cottbus und Luckenwalde auf die Reichshauptstadt vorrückte. Alsbald entwickelten die Operationen sich zu einem Wettlauf nicht nur der sowjetischen Heerführer gegeneinander, sondern zugleich gegen die von Westen her vorstoßenden Amerikaner. Die mit immer neuen Tricks und stummer Erbitterung ausgetragene Rivalität zielte nicht nur auf den Ruhm des Eroberers, sondern galt auch, wie der Verfasser nicht ohne einige Übertreibung immer wieder hervorhebt, dem ersten Zugriff auf die deutsche Atomforschung im Berliner Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut.
Viel mehr als solche militärstrategischen oder gar die politischen Aspekte der Endphase des Krieges beherrschen die grauenhaften Barbareien im Verlauf der Kämpfe den Vordergrund der Darstellung. Es ist ein Bild schwarz in schwarz und ohne jeden Lichtpunkt. Gerade die ausgiebige Verwendung sowjetischer sowie mitunter auch neutraler Quellen gibt den Beschreibungen eine überzeugende Aussagekraft, und manches bleibt unvergesslich. Beevor berichtet von einer Gruppe sowjetischer Zwangsarbeiter, die in einem deutschen Lager aufgegriffen und unter dem Vorwurf, für den Feind gearbeitet zu haben, reihenweise liquidiert wurden. An anderer Stelle erzählt er von einem jungen SS-Soldaten, den ein paar siegestrunkene Rotarmisten ans Klavier zwangen und mit Erschießung bedrohten, falls er zu spielen aufhöre. Als der SS-Mann nach 16 Stunden erschöpft und schluchzend mit dem Kopf auf die Tasten fiel, klopften sie ihm bewundernd auf die Schulter, zerrten ihn vor das Haus und exekutierten ihn.
Vergeltungsbedürfnisse, die in eigens veranstalteten "Racheversammlungen" der Sowjetverbände geschürt wurden, Übermut und wüste Siegerlaune beherrschten die Stunde. Keiner der Eroberer unterschied zwischen Mann oder Frau, alt oder jung, und selbst Akteure des Widerstands oder ehemalige Kommunisten, die überglücklich, oft mit den alten Parteiausweisen in der erhobenen Hand, ihren Befreiern entgegenliefen, fanden keine Gnade.
Solche Vorgänge bestätigten den Zeitgenossen nicht nur die schlimmsten Vorahnungen, sondern zugleich vieles von dem, was das Regime vorab an Schreckensbildern verbreitet hatte. Weit seltener ist naturgemäß von deutschen Grausamkeiten die Rede. Der Furor, mit dem das Reich fast ganz Europa unterworfen hatte, war erschöpft und reichte allenfalls noch für die Zerstörung des eigenen Landes, das hektische Demolieren von Fabriken, Brücken oder Transportlagern sowie für die Standgerichte, die in der Endphase des Krieges durch von Hitler oder Himmler erlassene Bestimmungen eingesetzt wurden und überall, wo sie ans Werk gingen, ganze "Galgenalleen" hinterließen.
Zum Ende hin, angesichts der Eroberung von Berlin, beherrschen zunehmend Vergewaltigungsorgien die Szenerie. Der Verfasser spricht von wenigstens zwei Millionen Frauen, denen im Verlauf der Kämpfe nicht selten Dutzende von Malen Gewalt angetan wurde, ungerechnet die beträchtliche Zahl ins Reich verschleppter Russinnen, die sich zu ihrem Erschrecken nicht befreit, sondern ebenfalls als eine Art Siegesbeute behandelt sahen.
Der Dichter Wassili Grossman, den Beevor häufig heranzieht, wollte in seinen Notizen zunächst nicht wahrhaben, dass sich sowjetische Soldaten, gar die "Helden der Front", dergleichen zu Schulden kommen ließen. "Ihre Herzen sind rein und gesund", hielt er anfangs, gegen alle Gräuelberichte, fest und schob die Abscheulichkeiten, von denen er hörte, kurzerhand auf die Einheit der Etappe. Aber die Beweise waren allzu erdrückend. Einmal hörte er von einer jungen Mutter, die im Verlauf einer Serie von Vergewaltigungen die umstehenden Rotarmisten anflehte, eine Pause einzulegen, damit sie ihr schreiendes Kind stillen könne. Ungemein versöhnlich klingt vor diesem Hintergrund die Beobachtung eines sowjetischen Offiziers, er habe im Verlauf des Vormarsches entdeckt, dass die deutschen Kinder nicht anders weinten als die russischen.
Im Episodischen, das einen großen Teil der Darstellung ausmacht, liegt zweifellos der Vorzug und die Stärke des Beevorschen Werks. Manches davon ergänzt das bestehende Bild auf informative, nicht selten erschütternde Weise. So vermerkt der Autor, dass der eine und andere Sowjetsoldat verstimmt oder sogar empört darüber war, dass die Bewohner im deutschen Osten bei Annäherung der Roten Armee nach Westen flohen. Auch stößt man verschiedentlich auf eine verblüffende Unkenntnis der Verhältnisse.
So wussten die Stäbe der Eroberer angeblich nicht, ob Hitler sich in der Hauptstadt aufhielt. Der Kommandeur der Division, die im Norden Berlins vorrückte, glaubte allen Ernstes, dass Joseph Goebbels persönlich, neben anderen Aufgaben, die Verteidigung des Zuchthauses Moabit leite, und den Rotarmisten, die aus den rasch anschwellenden Gefangenenhaufen die SS-Angehörigen auszusondern hatten, war, wie Beevor darlegt, die Tätowierung unbekannt, die jeder SS-Mann an der Innenseite des linken Armes trug. Einer der Offiziere stellte eine Frage, die eine ausführliche Antwort verdient hätte: Warum die Deutschen, die doch "kein gedankenloses Volk" seien, ihre sauberen Kleinstädte, ihre guten Straßen und gepflegten Vorgärten, ja ihren ganzen Wohlstand aufs Spiel setzten, um die Sowjetunion zu überfallen.
Doch Beevor gibt keine Antwort darauf. Der Reichtum des Buches an Einzelauskünften ist auch dessen Schwäche. Es hat keinen dramaturgischen Höhepunkt, sondern reiht nur die mit staunenswertem Fleiß zusammengetragenen, nicht selten regellos präsentierten Fakten zu einem Patchwork der Geschichte aneinander. Der Befund ist umso auffälliger, als das Werk auch keinen leitenden Gedanken enthält, und die gelegentlichen reflektierenden Einschübe sind von solcher Schlichtheit, dass es dem Leser mitunter die Sprache verschlägt.
Hinzu kommt, dass eine ganz aufs Tatsächliche gegründete Darstellung hinsichtlich der Tatsachen über jeden Zweifel erhaben sein sollte. Leider ist das nicht der Fall. Das beginnt schon bei manchen Namen und Begriffen. General Burgdorf, der Chef des Heerespersonalamts, hieß keineswegs "von" Burgdorf, der so genannte Reichsgesundheitsführer Conti war weder Minister, noch schrieb er sich "Konti", und die Feldgendarmerie hieß im Volksmund "Heldenklau", nicht "Heldenklauen". Das sind Kleinigkeiten.
Schon gravierender sind die verschiedentlich falschen Zitierweisen. Hitlers berühmter "Nerobefehl" vom 19. März 1945 (der die Anweisung enthielt, "alle militärischen, Verkehrs-, Nachrichten-, Industrie- und Versorgungsanlagen sowie Sachwerte innerhalb des Reichsgebiets, die sich der Feind für die Fortsetzung des Kampfes ... nutzbar machen kann, sind zu zerstören") wird ersichtlich in einer noch dazu lückenhaften Rückübersetzung aus dem Englischen angeführt. Bei Beevor heißt es: "Alle Militär-, Verkehrs-, Fernmelde- und Versorgungseinrichtungen sowie alle materiellen Werte im Reichsgebiet" seien zu vernichten.
Das hat auch die Folge, dass der unter Fachleuten gelegentlich geführte Streit, ob nach dem Wort "militärischen" ein Komma stehe oder nicht, was den Anwendungsbereich des Befehls tatsächlich nicht ganz geringfügig verändert, gar nicht erst aufkommen kann. Auch lautet die Maxime der SS nicht "Deine", sondern "Meine Ehre heißt Treue". Im Faktischen reichlich ungenau sind darüber hinaus, neben anderem, etwa die Beschreibungen vom Ende des SS-Generals Hermann Fegelein, dem Verbindungsmann Himmlers im Führerhauptquartier und am Ende sogar Hitlers Schwager. Anders als Beevor glauben macht, hat sich Fegelein am 25. April nicht nach Nauen "abgesetzt", sondern war zunächst ins Hauptquartier seines Förderers, des SS-Obergruppenführers Jüttner in Fürstenberg, gefahren und anschließend in seiner Wohnung in Charlottenburg, Bleibtreustraße 4, untergetaucht. Fehlerhaft ist auch die Auskunft, Anton Graffs Porträt Friedrichs des Großen, mit dem Hitler in den letzten Tagen wieder und wieder stumme Zwiesprache gehalten hatte, sei von russischen Offizieren in einem Kleiderschrank des Bunkers gefunden worden. In Wirklichkeit hatte Hitler das Gemälde am 30. April seinem Flugkapitän Hans Baur zum Abschied überreicht, dem es dann wenig später, während der Gefangennahme, abhanden kam. Und so weiter bis zu der Behauptung, die letzten deutschen Kriegsgefangenen seien im Januar 1954 aus der Sowjetunion entlassen worden, während jeder weiß, dass dies erst nach Adenauers Moskau-Besuch 1955 geschah.
Wenn die Geschichte über das Endes des Hitler-Reiches auch bisher keine überzeugende Gesamtdarstellung gefunden hat, sind doch einige Arbeiten vor allem über Teilaspekte erschienen. Zu den Unbegreiflichkeiten des Buches zählt, dass der Verfasser die einschlägige Literatur nicht kennt, nicht berücksichtigt oder auch überholte Versionen verwendet. Die mehrfach angeführten Äußerungen Albert Speers etwa werden nach den Nürnberger Vernehmungsprotokollen oder nach der Darstellung von Gitta Sereny zitiert, nicht jedoch nach der offenkundig verlässlichsten Quelle, den verschiedenen Speerschen Erinnerungsbüchern.
Die wenigen Seiten, die Beevor für die Schlussbetrachtung erübrigt, vermerken die "Verbitterung", mit der die Deutschen seit der Niederlage von 1918 auf die Wechselfälle der Geschichte reagiert hätten. Noch nach dem Zusammenbruch von 1945 entdeckt er eine Vielzahl von Versuchen, das "Weltbild der Nazis" ins Recht zu setzen.
Natürlich hat es dergleichen gegeben. Aber ohne jeden Hinweis auf die gleichzeitig weit verbreitete traumatische Verwirrung angesichts der ungeheuerlichen Verheerung des Landes, auf die Einsichten und Schuldgefühle, die auch anzutreffen waren, ist diese Überlegung nicht nur von einer entgeisternden Einfalt, sondern schlechthin falsch.
Beevor leistet, was er zu leisten vermag. Das ist immerhin einiges. Historisch wie gedanklich jedoch ist er seinem Gegenstand nicht gewachsen, und vielleicht hat das damit zu tun, dass er als Romanschriftsteller begonnen hat; umso erstaunlicher, dass er sogar in der Gestaltung des dramatischen Stoffes unbeholfen wirkt. Aber womöglich gibt sein Buch einen Anstoß, dass der gewiss große Gegenstand endlich die angemessene Behandlung erfährt.
Beevor under fire over last
days of Reich
John Hooper in Berlin
Sunday November 3, 2002
Antony Beevor's runaway bestseller Berlin: The Downfall 1945 has come under withering fire from Germany's leading expert on the last days of Hitler's Third Reich.
As Beevor was preparing to fly to Berlin to promote the German edition of his book, the news magazine Der Spiegel published last week a bitter three-page attack on his work, describing it as 'patchwork history'.
Professor Joachim Fest, who has written a biography of Hitler and a history of the Third Reich, claimed that Beevor's book was peppered with factual inaccuracies and treated his compatriots unfairly. Beevor, he said, was 'historically and intellectually not up to the stature of his material'. He added: 'Perhaps that has to do with the fact that Beevor started out as a novelist. All the more astonishing that he is so clumsy in putting together his dramatic raw material.'
The British author hit back yesterday, accusing Fest of contradicting himself: 'At one point he says it is good that history is written in a narrative style, and then says that there is no analysis.'
Beevor's book has not so far had the same impact in Germany as in Britain. A spokeswoman for the publisher, C. Bertelsmann, said it had sold 'very well', but almost two months after publication it has yet to make the Der Spiegel list of the 20 bestselling works of non-fiction.
This is all the more surprising since the book's subject matter - the plight of ordinary Germans in the final stages of the Second World War - is currently popular in Germany. The literary event of the year was the publication by Nobel Prize-winning writer Günter Grass of a novel that centres on the sinking in 1945 of a liner laden with German refugees.
Fest picks out a string of relatively minor alleged factual errors before going on to accuse Beevor of mishandling source material. However, his contention is backed by an argument that will sound odd to British historians. He criticises Beevor's treatment of Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, on the grounds that he relies on the records of the Nuremburg trials rather than Speer's own memoirs.
The German historian's bitterest words are reserved for Beevor's treatment of the immediate aftermath of war. The British author notes that some Germans reacted to defeat by trying to provide a justification of the Nazis' view of the world.
While accepting that this was the case on occasions, Fest argues that the British historian failed to take into account 'the then widespread traumatic disorientation, because of the unbelievable destruction of the country, and the admission of error and feelings of guilt that were also to be found'. This, he said, rendered Beevor's assessment 'not only astonishingly simplistic, but also utterly wrong'.
Beevor noted that Fest 'has
himself just written a book on the same subject'.
Hitler und das Ende des Dritten Reiches was published earlier this year.
'He regards the subject as his
own personal terrain and maybe he finds someone coming in from a different
direction difficult to take,' said Beevor.
Mon., March 08, 2004 Adar 15, 5764
The rape of Berlin
By Uri Dromi
Antony Beevor, a successful historian and author, has repeated the formula that turned his previous book, "Stalingrad," into a worldwide best-seller. With the help of newly unearthed documents from German and Russian archives, interviews with war veterans and tremendous descriptive powers, Beevor takes a story that has been told countless times, and breathes new life into it.
Those of us who grew up on William Shirer's "Rise and Fall of
the Third Reich," John Erikson's "The Road to Berlin" and John Toland's "The
Last Hundred Days" will be amazed at how dramatic and bloody the battle for
Berlin was, and how much more one can still learn about it.
Beevor studied history at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst with the eminent historian John Keegan ("The Face of Battle"). Like Tom Segev, he knows how to tell an epic story by weaving in the secondary stories of key figures. These are not only the tyrants, Stalin and Hitler, who knew alliances, betrayals and brutal warfare, sacrificed their people on the altar of their megalomania without batting an eyelash, and now embarked on their final run-in.
They are not only the military chiefs - the Soviet generals Zhukov, Konyev and Rokosovsky, who privately competed over who could reach the German capital first, or the German generals Guderian and Heinrici, whose army went up in smoke.
Beevor also writes about Vasily Grossman, the writer who became the military correspondent of the Red Army and documented both its courageous fight and the atrocities it committed; Reinhard Appel, a member of the Hitlerjugend, who tried to stop the Russian tanks with his body; and Gerda Peterson, who watched from her hiding place as all the women in the family were cruelly raped by Soviet soldiers. These people are the heroes - and victims - of that terrible war.
At the same time, Beevor writes simply: The story is dramatic enough without a florid prose style. Unlike Joachim Fest, author of "Hitler: A Career," he keeps the melodrama to a minimum.
Running like a thread through this spine-chilling book is Stalin's race to get to the German capital before his American and British allies - both because he was suspicious of them and because he wanted to get his hands on the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, where the Germans were carrying out advanced nuclear research. That was why he pushed westward like a madman, prodding his marshals on and ignoring the massive losses (which were often the result of "friendly fire" due to lack of coordination between the troops).
The magnitude of Stalin's evil has already been probed by Dmitri Volkoganov, a former "court historian" who turned around and wrote a damning biography ("Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy"). But one has to read Beevor to grasp how indifferent tyrants are to the fate of their soldiers and citizens, and it goes without saying, the enemy.
And in the other corner was Adolf Hitler, who managed, in the course of his 12 years in power, not only to lay waste to Europe and exterminate 6 million of the Jews he so despised, but to destroy Germany, which he had promised "a thousand-year Reich." In the face of the mighty Russian onslaught ("Der Ivan komt! - "The Russians are coming!" shouted the Germans in panic, as the Russian tanks rolled forward, crushing all those in their path), Hitler moved back and forth between depression and despair, and spurts of energy and optimism that had no basis in reality.
To comprehend the kind of fantasy world in which the leaders of the collapsing Third Reich were living, one has to read the telegrams that Hitler sent to his armed forces, which had already ceased to exist. They sound like something Saddam Hussein might have written from his pit: History and the German people will have nothing but contempt for those who fail to do everything in their power to set things right and save the Fuhrer.
Just look at what preoccupied Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress, in those final days: She ordered that all her dressmaking bills be disposed of so that the German public would not see how much of the Fuhrer's money she had frittered away. Likewise, she demanded to see Untersharfuhrer Schtegman. He had given her diamond watch for repair to a watchmaker, almost certainly Jewish, who had been "removed" from the Oranienburg concentration camp and sent on a death march.
And if that were not enough, Traudel Junge, one of Hitler's secretaries, told journalist Gitta Sereny ("Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth") how, in all the madness, Goebbels' giggling children were brought in for tea every day with "Uncle Adolf" - before their parents poisoned them.
Caught in the middle were the soldiers, who fought one another with a ferocity unknown in Europe since the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). On the Russian side - hungry soldiers, incited by the politruks and eager for revenge after the havoc wreaked by the German army in their homeland. On the German side - soldiers fighting to the bitter end, despite the hopelessness of the situation and knowing full well that to keep up the fighting was an idiocy imposed on them by their cowardly officers to save their own skins.
The cynicism of these German officers calls to mind the World War I stories of Avigdor Hameiri. "What a courageous and devoted officer, Mr. Big Chief was," wrote Hameiri in one of his stories. "He would bravely send his soldiers out into the most terrible danger and never feared death at all."
Antony Beevor already got the Russians jumping down his throat in "Stalingrad," where he questioned the myth of the Red Army's heroism in this famous stand and wrote about the inhumane methods employed by the Soviet authorities to force their soldiers to fight. But in this book, he really takes the cake. The Russians didn't capture Berlin, says Beevor. They raped it.
In the last days of the Third Reich, one Berlin woman wrote in her diary about a kind of "collective disappointment" among the women. The Nazi world, which was ruled by men, and glorified and extolled male power, was collapsing - and with it, the myth of `manhood.'" But if the German male disappointed the women of Berlin, the Russian male sent them into total shock. As the Red Army marched into Germany, the soldiers, gripped by hatred for what the Germans had done to their country, took revenge on the women.
A young artillery officer by the name of Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about what he saw when his unit entered Niedenberg in eastern Prussia in January 1945 in his narrative poem "Prussian Nights": "Herringstrasse no. 22. The house was not burned, just looted. From inside came a half-choked whimper. The injured mother, hovering between life and death. The young daughter lying on her bed, dead. How many had defiled her sheets? A platoon? Maybe a whole company? A little girl transformed in an instant into a woman, and a woman into a corpse ... The mother pleads: `Soldier, kill me!'"
These were routine sights as the Red Army advanced, but voices like Solzhenitsyn's were few and far between (he ended up being arrested and sent to a forced labor camp). The plundering, willful destruction and wholesale rape continued unabated, evoking comparisons to the Thirty Years' War and the Middle Ages. Even the Crusaders, judging by Israeli novelist Amos Oz's story of Guillaume de Toron in his novella "Unto Death," exercised a certain restraint.
Stalin, on the other hand, did not even understand what the outcry was about. When the Yugoslav leader Milovan Djilas protested that Red Army troops were raping women in Croatia, Rumania and Hungary, the Soviet dictator expressed his amazement that Djilas had any problem with the idea that a soldier, after trudging thousands of kilometers through blood and fire, might want to fool around with a woman and take a little booty.
Beevor estimates that millions of German women were raped - ranging in age from 8 to 80. Between 1945-1948, 2 million illegal abortions were performed in Germany every year. No wonder that until the fall of the Soviet Union, women in East Berlin called the monument commemorating unknown Soviet soldiers in Berlin the "Tomb of the Unknown Rapist."
Beevor confesses that he himself was stunned by the figures. Particularly shocking was the discovery that Soviet soldiers raped not only German women (among them nuns and hospital nurses) but also Russian women captured by the Germans and sent to forced labor camps. Hence it was not just revenge. It was evidence of the darker side of men. Working on this book, Beevor says, made him reconsider Marilyn French's grim verdict in "The War Against Women" that "all men are rapists."
A lesser known incident briefly mentioned in this book is the torpedoing of a giant German passenger ship, the SS Wilhelm Gustloff, on January 30, 1945 by a Russian submarine. Beevor says that there were 6,600 refugees on board the ship, but in the meantime, a survivor, Heinz Schoen, has published an in-depth study claiming that there were over 10,000 passengers, of whom 9,343 perished. That would make it the largest naval disaster in history. But unlike the Titanic, which had a megabucks Hollywood movie made about it, the tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff remained in the shadows.
The person who did the most to rescue it from oblivion was Gunter Grass, author of the "The Tin Drum" (1959) - one of the first attempts by a German author to confront Germany's Nazi past. Recently, Grass has embarked on another pioneering mission, addressing an issue that until now has been taboo: the suffering of the German people at the end of World War II.
In his novel "Crabwalk" (2002), he describes the ordeal of millions of German citizens who fled East Germany as the Red Army advanced. Some of them were on the deck of the Wilhelm Gustloff when it sank. The ship was named for an emissary of the Nazi party in Switzerland, who was murdered by a Jewish medical student, David Frankfurter, in 1936. Grass zigzags between the stories of Gustloff, Frankfurter, the ship itself and Alexander Marinesko, the Russian captain who sank it. It is this strange, scuttling progression toward the "target" that gives this book its name. Grass tries to show how the suffering of these refugees has affected three generations of Germans.
In interviews Grass has given since the publication of the book, he has defended his decision to write about this sensitive topic. True, German history is painful, he says (in the book, he compares it, not very subtly, to a piece of shit that won't go down, no matter how many times you flush the toilet), but better that a moderate man like him deal with it, and not extremists who could use it to further their own aims.
Indeed, this is what happens in the book. The narrator - whose mother gave birth to him in the rescue boat after the Wilhelm Gustloff goes down - discovers that his son is engaged in a caustic debate over the Internet with someone who calls himself Frankfurter. In the course of this exchange, the son's anti-Semitic feelings well up to the surface.
Because "The Fall of Berlin" is about Germans during World War II, Israeli readers will probably find themselves pulled in opposite directions. On the one hand, Beevor's descriptions of suffering are heart-wrenching. On the other hand, it is hard to empathize.
I can tell you about myself. I once read somewhere about Jewish babies who had miraculously survived after long hours of being crammed into a packed freight car. All the adults were dead. The SS officers wondered what to do with them. So in fine German bureaucratic style, they picked up the phone and called headquarters. They dialed over and over, but the call didn't go through. Finally, they came up with a creative solution: They let their dogs loose to finish up the job. After that sort of thing, it is hard for me to feel for the German people. And, of course, Daniel Goldhagen has already proven the ridiculousness of the claim that the Germans didn't know what was happening to the Jews.
Arieh Hashavya is the ideal translator for such a complicated text, laden with military terminology in both German and Russian. His translation into Hebrew is fluent and accurate. Through him, Beevor sends us a grave reminder that the veneer of civilization covering human bestiality is alarmingly flimsy.
Uri Dromi is the publications editor of the Israel Democracy Institute.
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