"The Americans retreated from the East German town of Halle and the Russians marched in. When that happened my female friends all fled, but I couldn’t run because my leg was injured. So the Russians attacked me, and they raped me."
It was the end of July 1945, when 19-year-old Ruth Schumacher was raped by four Russian soldiers, a fate shared by an estimated two million women in Germany who, at the end of the Second World War, suddenly found themselves confronted with the Soviet army. For decades many of these women didn’t talk about what happened – in the post-war years, faced with the crimes of the Nazis, nobody dared focus on German suffering.
"In West Germany the topic was taboo because the Germans were seen as guilty for the war," says Sibylle Dreher, a member of the Association of German Expellees. "And in Soviet-occupied East Germany, people weren’t allowed to talk about the abuse committed by the Soviet soldiers."
Over the years, women have gradually started talking about their trauma. But it’s only now that the first scientific study is being carried out, here at the university of Greifswald, in North East Germany. Psychiatrist Phillip Kuwert is gathering first-hand accounts from women who were raped by Soviet soldiers.
"What happened then is now being brought to light. I think it is only now, 60 years after the end of World War II, that it is possible to deal with this topic in a more nuanced way. We are really seeing a development of the German collective memory," he says. "One aim is to develop a new sort of therapy, suitable for elderly women who were raped in 1945. The events may have happened a long time ago: but the trauma can still be very much felt today."
The traumatic memories of recently-widowed Ruth Schumacher, who was not able to have children because of the rapes, are typical. "The fear always remains in your body, and you never get rid of it. The pain lessens over time, but the fear is always there."
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