Emma Anderson — The Local March 5, 2015
A German historian estimates in a new book that French, British and American soldiers raped 860,000 Germans at and after the end of the Second World War, including 190,000 sexual assaults by American soldiers.
Professor Miriam Gebhardt’s book When the Soldiers Came, published this week, includes interviews with victims, stories of the children of rape and research that she conducted over the course of a year and a half into birth records in Allied-occupied West Germany and West Berlin.
“Now, 70 years after the war, it’s long past the time when one could be suspected of dealing with German victimhood,” Gebhardt, an author and lecturer at the University of Konstanz, told The Local.
“There is no longer the question that one might want to relativize the responsibility of the Germans for the Second World War and the Holocaust.”
Gebhardt said she arrived at that number of sexual assaults by estimating that of the so-called ‘war-children’ born to unmarried German women by the 1950s, five percent were products of rape.
She also estimates that for each birth, there were 100 rapes, including of men and boys.
Gebhardt’s numbers are higher than previous estimates. A well-received 2003 book by American professor of criminology J. Robert Lilly, Taken by Force, estimated that American soldiers committed around 11,000 rapes in Germany.
While an article published by Der Spiegel on Monday raised questions about whether Gebhardt’s figures accurately reflected the incidence of sexual assault in post-war Germany, Lilly told The Local that her estimates were certainly reasonable.
“Gebhardt’s numbers are plausible, but her work is not a definitive account,” said Lilly in an interview with The Local, explaining that no exact number could ever be known because of a lack of records.
“It is confirmation of research that I have done and it adds to this ongoing discussion of what happens in the underbelly of war – What goes on that we haven’t talked about.”
Much of the discussion of sexual assaults against Germans has focused on the Soviet troops in East Germany, who are estimated to have committed between one to two million rapes during the time.
Gebhardt said she wanted to challenge the assumption that it was only the Red Army that was responsible for such acts.
“Goebbels warned that the Red Army would rampage through Germany, would rape German women and commit atrocities against civilians… People hoped that they would be occupied by Western troops and not the Soviets,” she said.
“But the course of events was the same. Both sides plundered valuables and mementoes, and soldiers often committed gang rapes against women.”
Gebhardt’s research also included records from Bavarian priests recording the Allied advance in 1945, including one description that reads “the saddest event during the advance were three rapes, one on a married woman, one on a single woman and one on a spotless girl of 16-and-a-half. They were committed by heavily drunken Americans.”
The book paints a much darker picture than what is often seen in cinema and literature of the Allied troops who liberated Germans from the Nazi regime and thus could take time for people to fully absorb, Lilly said.
“It will be resisted to some extent. There are American scholars who will not like it because they may think it will make the war crimes committed by the Germans less bad,” Lilly said.
“I don’t think it will minimize what the Germans did at all. It will add another dimension to what war is like and it will not diminish that the Allies won.”
That chimes with Gebhardt’s attitude to her work, which she says aims simply to expose the horror of such actions in war.
“War actions that led to the defeat of Germany, the defeat of the Nazi regime, are a different question than the rapes, which were more personal and served no military purpose,” Gebhardt said. “Rapes can’t decide a war.
The rapes “lasted for years, not just at the moment of the conquest,” she added.
“They weren’t just part of the violence that took place in the last weeks and days of the war, but continued for years.”
Tom Barfield contributed reporting.