Rape, Murder and Genocide: Nazi War Crimes as Described by German Soldiers

By Jan Fleischhauer

Part 4: 'We Threw Her Outside and Shot at Her'

Hardly anyone is immune to the temptations of "unpunished inhumanity," as the philosopher Günter Anders once aptly described unbridled terror. Where the door is opened to violence, even good family men quickly shed their inhibitions. Nevertheless, armies differ in their methods, as was the case in World War II.

The Red Army was hardly inferior to the Wehrmacht in terms of its propensity for violence. In fact, the pronounced culture of violence on both sides led to a disastrous radicalization of the war in the East. The Anglo-Saxon forces behaved in a far more civilized way, at least after the first phase of the fighting in Normandy, in which the Western allies also took no prisoners.

The way a body of soldiers proceeds in the regular use of violence is not dependent on the individual. Putting one's faith in self-restraint would be to misunderstand the psychodynamics of armed conflicts. What is in fact critical is the expectation of discipline that comes from above.

War crimes occur in almost every prolonged armed conflict, as evidenced recently by the photos taken by an American "kill team" in Afghanistan, which shocked the public when the images were published two weeks ago. Everything depends on whether these crimes are also seen as crimes by the military leadership and if the perpetrators are then punished accordingly. Even before the war against the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht leadership established that there was no need to punish soldiers for attacks on Russian civilians, and that Red Army officers were to be shot immediately.

Trading Stories Like Sex Tourists

A side of the daily routine during war that is understandably left out of military letters and memoirs is the soldiers' sex life, even though sexuality plays an important role in every army. According to the research literature, the generals had great trouble keeping the men's sex drives under control with brothels. Sexually transmitted diseases were so widespread in the military that entire companies were routinely required to undergo treatment.

The record of a bugged conversation from June 1944 reveals the importance of womanizing among the men. The transcriber decided to summarize the discussion instead of noting the men's exact words:

"18:45 Women

19:15 Women

19:45 Women

20:00 Women."

When the people listening in on the conversations took the trouble to transcribe everything that was being said, the talk, predictably enough, revolved around where the best girls were to be had, how much they cost and what other sexual opportunities there were behind the front. In one such conversation, the men trade stories like experienced sex tourists.

Wallus: "In Warsaw , our troops had to wait in line in front of the building's door. In Radom , the first room was full while the truck people stood outside. Each woman had 14 to 15 men per hour. They replaced the women every two days."

Niwiem: "I have to say that we weren't nearly as respectable in France sometimes. When I was in Paris , I saw our soldiers grabbing girls in the middle of a bar, throwing them across a table and -- end of story! Married women, too!"

Readily Available Sex

Today, we easily forget that the majority of the Wehrmacht soldiers went abroad for the first time as a result of the war. When the Nazis came into power, less than 4 percent of Germans in the Reich had passports. For these men, the charms of life in another country, far away from their wives and children, included exotic food and the excitement of armed conflict, as well as the enjoyment of readily available sex. It's no accident that many tended to romanticize their memories after the fact.

Müller: "When I was in Kharkov (in present-day Ukraine ), everything was destroyed except the center of the city. A wonderful city, a wonderful memory. All the people there spoke a little German, which they had learned in school. And in Taganrog (in Russia ) there were wonderful cinemas and wonderful beach cafés. I went everywhere in a truck. And all you saw were women doing compulsory labor."

Fausst: "Oh, my God!"

Müller: "They were building roads, drop-dead gorgeous girls. So we drove by, pulled them into the truck, screwed them and them threw them out again. Boy, they sure cursed at us."

While accounts of mass rape provoked at most a mild rebuke from their conversation partners, a number of soldiers clearly still felt that the sexual violence at times reached a limit which should be respected, even in the locker-room environment of the POW camp.

Sadistic Sexual Violence

The material contains a series of descriptions of acts of sexual violence so sadistic that modern-day readers would find them difficult to bear. As a rule, they are told in the third person, a tactic that the teller uses to distance himself from the story he is telling. Sometimes he also makes it clear that what he saw or heard disgusts him.

Reimbold: "In the first officers' prison camp where I was being kept here, there was a really stupid guy from Frankfurt , a young lieutenant, a young upstart. There were eight of us sitting around a table and talking about Russia . And he said: 'Oh, we caught this female spy who had been running around in the neighborhood. First we hit her in the tits with a stick and then we beat her rear end with a bare bayonet. Then we fucked her, and then we threw her outside and shot at her. When she was lying there on her back, we threw grenades at her. Every time one of them landed near her body, she screamed.' And just think, there were eight German officers sitting at that table with me, and they all broke out laughing. I couldn't stand it anymore, so I got up and said: Gentlemen, this is too much."

The outrage some felt over the sexual practices of some of their comrades had exceptions, however. When it came to stories of sex with Jewish women, there were no limits. As a rule, all sexual contact with Jews was forbidden, even in the Wehrmacht. The military leadership gave no quarter to "racial defilement." But this didn't stop the soldiers from sexually assaulting Jewish women, or to claim to offer protection in return for sex. Many of the women were shot afterwards to prevent them from incriminating the soldiers.

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