The Forgotten Victims

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The Forgotten Victims

The Forgotten Victims

Hitler's Nazi regime was on the brink of defeat in the catastrophic war it had launched six years earlier. After invading and occupying large swathes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union -- and murdering tens of millions of people in the process -- the German army was retreating, and the Red Army was following hot on its heels, intent on revenge.

Sweeping across German territory, many of the Russian soldiers burned, killed, looted. And they also raped German women. The Soviets, of course, weren't the only ones; soldiers from other Allied armies were also guilty of sexual violence as they moved into Germany from the West. But most agree that the problem was particularly acute in eastern Germany. Historians estimate that close to 2 million German women and girls were raped in the closing months of the war, many repeatedly.

This week a new film, called "A Woman in Berlin," opens in Germany which deals with the story of one of those women. The film is based on "Anonymous," an autobiographical account, originally published by a German journalist and editor in the 1950s, describing her experiences between April and June 1945. When it was originally published, reaction was overwhelmingly negative, prompting the author to forbid it from being republished during her lifetime. She died in 2001 and the book hit the shelves again in 2003, going on to become a best-seller.

The woman, played by Nina Hoss in the film (the film's North American release date is still pending though it was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September), is raped several times by Red Army soldiers before forming a liaisons with a Russian officer in order to protect herself from further attacks. While the film tries to turn this into a love story of sorts in the book the relationship is purely functional.

Whether or not the film is strictly accurate, it seems certain to open up the theme of World War II rapes to a much wider audience. And that is exactly what Dr. Phillip Kuwert is hoping for. He is the director of a new research project, based at the University of Greifswald in eastern Germany, which is studying the trauma of women raped during that period. The study has been in the planning stages for over two years and Kuwert decided to launch it officially on Monday to coincide with the release of the film. "It's important to reach the women," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

With the events in question dating back 63 years, Kuwert knows that only a small minority of the women who were the victims of sexual violence in those months can be found. Encouragingly, however, since Monday his team has already been contacted by a number of elderly women who want to participate in the project.

The interviews with the women will be carried out by two female Ph.D. students and will be strictly confidential. Kuwert is seeking to find out exactly what these women experienced, how the rapes affected the victims' ...
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