Breaking the Silence: Denazification and Violence against German Women in the Post-War
In recent years, with only the last survivors still living, there has been a surge of interest in stories of the Soviet rape of German women. The celebrated film, Eine Frau in Berlin (A Woman in Berlin, 2008), depicts one journalist’s anonymous diary of her experiences during the fall of Berlin, and Gabriele Köpp’s, Warum war ich bloß ein Mädchen? (“Why Did I Have to Be a Girl?” 2010), was the first non-anonymous published memoir on the rapes. Yet still, scholarly investigation of sexual violence committed against German women in the final stages of the war remains severely understudied. This is in large part due to a scarcity of firsthand accounts and the general silence about these crimes that prevailed after the war within both occupying armies and the German populace. The few scholars who have studied this difficult subject – including Norman Naimark, Anthony Beevor, and Miriam Gebhardt – explain that social memory of sexual violence against Germans became politicized in the early years of the Cold War, especially in East Germany, where the regime depended on portraying the Soviets as liberators from fascism. Sexual violence was an open secret, one that was rarely recorded, and therefore researchers have struggled to address the subject using conventional tools of historical analysis. My research brings to light a largely overlooked historical source, one that has the potential to contribute much to the study of physical violence perpetrated against German women during the occupation years (1945–1949). As part of Allied denazification efforts, millions of German women were forced to complete political questionnaires (Fragebögen). They were asked to list any Nazi affiliations that they had held during the Hitler regime, but also to share instances in which they had suffered. While these questions were meant to elicit anti-Nazi activities and sentiments, many respondents embraced the opportunity by recording any instance where they experienced hardship, especially in the final months of the war and in the war’s immediate aftermath. Thousands of German women wrote at length about physical violence that they had endured at the hands of Nazi officials and invasion soldiers. Perhaps they believed that by recording instances of extreme suffering, the denazification officer reviewing their case would recognize them not as perpetrators but victims and therefore allow them to work in their desired profession. While this source is not without its biases – many Germans certainly lied in their questionnaires to retain employment – it also cannot be assumed that these stories of violence were falsified. My paper introduces this rich repository of autobiography and provides a previously unheard voice to millions of women who were subject to extreme physical violence in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. It carefully considers the language used to communicate personal experiences of sexual violence and the psychological ramifications that this process had for traumatized German women in the post-war world.
About the author
Mikkel Dack is Assistant Professor of History at Rowan University and Director of Research for the Rowan Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. His research focuses on psychosocial history, emotions, memory, and gender. His current book project The Paper Occupation: Allied Denazification and Rewriting the German Past examines the Allied military occupation of Germany after World War II and the psychological and social effects of denazification on the individual German. Dr. Dack has also written articles on post-traumatic stress, sexual violence against German women, negative eugenics legislation, and the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia.