Assault on Berlin

Sixty years ago today the Red Army began its assault on Berlin while the Western Allies waited not far from the city, allowing the Russians to advance as per a prior agreement. The German civilians, for their part, prayed fervently that the Western Allies would take Berlin. But the Russians advanced, ragged Belorussians and Mongolian conscripts. Tens of thousands of women were raped repeatedly and brutally. It is a sickening tale. I have spoken with victims and survivors of the horror.

As a boy, I was fascinated by Leon Uris’s Armageddon. This compelling work of fiction that deals in part with this situation raised my interest in this historical episode. But that is all it remained to me until I myself went to Berlin and labored among that city’s inhabitants as a missionary. Now this episode is much more than a history of a fallen city; I can see the wives and mothers, the cramped and desperate cellars where they hid in refuge from the raping army. It was a tragedy. Their misery and suffering is added to the unmeasurable horror perpetrated by Hitler’s aggression in condemning Hitler and his war machine. He himself made Berlin a front-line city and swore that the innocent civilians would pay with their blood for his defeat. His defeat was indeed necessary; the war against him was just. If only the Western Allies could have assaulted Berlin that day sixty years ago.

10 Responses to Assault on Berlin

  1. Ronan says:

    It’s all too easy to not be bothered about German suffering in the war because, after all, “they started it”. At least that must be the explanation for the fact that these kinds of things don’t get talked about much.

    Have you seen “Downfall”? I really want to. I hope it’s not “R”….:)

  2. Stephen says:

    Things like this is what led Patton to his hatred for the Russians.

    Similar terrible things happened in Prague because they would not let the Allies advance.

    And it led nowhere.

  3. Jordan says:

    If only the Western Allies could have assaulted Berlin that day sixty years ago.

    I kind of hope you meant that tongue-in-cheek.

    If not, you’d do well to remember that even American soldiers were no saints- soldiers are soldiers.

    Many Germans among whom I served in Dresden recall vividly the horror of the February fire-bombings, which took place at American hands

  4. Anonymous says:

    Wasn’t it George Washington that warned us NOT to be entangled in foreign affairs? We should have never been there in the first place!

  5. john f. says:

    Jordan, I didn’t mean it tongue-in-cheek at all. I understand your point with the firebombing–I even blogged about the boming of Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, and other German cities at http://fowlesview.blogspot.com/2005/02/do-nazis-have-free-speech-too.html. (Now I remember why I liked Ebenezer’s hack so much–I could put links in the comments.) I am not justifying the firebombings; I am also not claiming that no allied or American soldiers raped any German civilians. But by and large the Red Army was notorious for its cruelty and inhumanity–and particularly for its brutal gang rapes. Many Berlin women actually died from the rapes. There is a huge difference in degree. One could even argue that the firebombing of Dresden and other cities was necessary to bring Hitler’s war machine to its knees; raping tens of thousands of women in a conquered city, however, is a different sort of evil.

  6. Nate Oman says:

    John: Your post comes right after a very interesting conversation I had with someone who just returned from a German Marshall Fund event in Munich. He said that the elite opinion in Germany has found an interesting new use for these events. The argument is that although Hitler was an atrocious dictator, the German people — as the people who uniquely suffered the full impact of total war — were one of the chief victims of the conflict. This status as victim of total war, in turn, gives them a unique moral position from which to judge the justice of war and peace in the world.

    I am curious as to your response to this line of thinking. First, I wonder to what extent this is really a set of ideas circulating in German circles and to what extent my friend was exagerating. If it really is a vibrant line of thinking at this time, I wonder to what extent it is serious, and to what extent it is simply an outgrowth of the anti-American rhetoric that Schroeder is grasping at to shore up a difficult domestic situation.

  7. john f. says:

    This status as victim of total war, in turn, gives them a unique moral position from which to judge the justice of war and peace in the world.

    Your friend is correct, from my perspective, that this argument/posture is gaining currency in some of the more self-righteous German circles. That is, they do use their status as the victims of a total and unjust war that they perpetrated to label America’s wars unjust, to the extent that they judge them to be unjust. The Iraq war certainly falls into this category. I have never read, however, a decent treatment of the Saddam-Hitler comparison’s that it seems some policy-makers and war supporters in America used/relied on in the run-up and later justification of all this. I have, however, seen much in Germany since the Iraq war that unequivocally (and non-sensically, in my opinion) compares Bush and Hitler, and it is done in all seriousness. Much of this, of course, is used to buttress a deeper anti-American sentiment which has already become very useful to Schröder and his Social Democrats several times during his chancellorship.

    To be honest, despite my tendency to roll my eyes at Bush-Hitler comparisons, I actually think that the “victims-of-total-war-have-something-to-say-about-war” argument to be somwhat persuasive. I might also be put-off by the smugness and/or superiority and self-righteous that some Germans are using this argument to support, but the argument itself makes sense to me, and the suffering gives them a sort of standing to speak on these issues (but perhaps less so as time moves further away from the events and the actual sufferers die off).

    Your friend might have been exaggerating somewhat depending on how widespread he depicted this attitude, although I do think that it is influencing many (and has influenced many on the German left for many years now).

    A scary and slightly-related argument that some German circles are making, though not the elite circles that your friend was referring to, is that the German victims of e.g. the firebombings should be commemorated as victims of the “bombing Holocaust.” And correlated to that is the notion that the firebombings were a war-crime tantamount to the Holocaust (which the groups making such an argument often deny happened in the first place). But surprisingly, it is not only neo-Nazis that are decyring the firebombings; the left-wing news magazine Der Spiegel often features articles about the firebombings, full of quotes and notes about how unnecessary it was, how brutal, and merely retributive. Much of this is spin, to my mind, but much of it is indeed legitimate because, after all, real men, women and children, particularly the latter completely innocent of any Nazi-affiliation, were the ones incinerated together with hundreds of years of art, infrastructure, architecture, and heritage. The whole thing was all very tragic, no matter how you look at it.

    One last thing that I became aware of while working in a law firm in Hamburg (and this surprised me). There are circles composed of largely conservative types who (secretly) advocate the return of Germany’s legitimate landholdings east of the Oder River. These are not fringe neo-Nazi types but rather merely conservative elements who are taking a look at history and wondering about the plight of a loser in a world war. Specifically, many people do not know this, but Germany’s legitimate holdings before WWII included much of what is now Poland (and Poland existed as a country to the southwest of those German lands). Before WWI, Germany’s eastern arm extended continuously almost all the way to Vilnius, Lithuania. The Memel River was the eastern-most border. I personally know Germans who grew up in Königsberg (now Russian Kaliningrad) and in towns even further east than Königsberg who were forced from their homes as the Red Army advanced, pushing more than three million ethnic Germans out of Eastern Prussia into what is now East Germany (but what was then really central Germany).

  8. john f. says:

    Of course, I meant that Poland was located to the southeast, not southwest.

  9. [...] bombing raids. It was also the scene of brutal street to street fighting during Russia’s 1945 Assault on Berlin as the Red Army pounded at the last defenses of Hitler’s crumbled dictatorship. After the [...]

  10. [...] bombing raids. It was also the scene of brutal street to street fighting during Russia’s 1945 Assault on Berlin as the Red Army pounded at the last defenses of Hitler’s crumbled dictatorship. After the [...]

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