By late 1944, the end of WWII was in sight. The Western Allies were pushing the Germans out of France as the Eastern Front rapidly collapsed under the weight of the Soviet Red Army. Now, the ordinary citizens of Germany were trapped in between the advancing armies. Starvation and misery were common as the country was blocked off from receiving supplies from the outside world. And as the Soviets pushed the German army back to their homeland, they prepared to take a terrible revenge against the German people.
After all, Russian losses during the war had been staggering. Close to 40% of all Russian men born in 1923 who were alive at the start of the war died during the conflict. When you account for German atrocities against the civilian population, it’s estimated that 20,000,000 Soviet citizens, 15% of the pre-war population, was dead by 1945. As the Soviet troops advanced towards Berlin, their hatred towards the Nazis could no longer be contained. They wanted revenge. And as the first Soviet troops entered German soil in East Prussia, the civilians began to get an idea of what that revenge would look like.
In October 1944, Soviet troops captured the small German village of Nemmersdorf. Within a short time, German troops managed to drive out the Soviets, only to be greeted with a scene of unimaginable horror. Not a single civilian in the village was left alive. The men and boys were all executed. The women had their infant children ripped from their arms, only to watch as their heads were smashed in. The women themselves, young and old alike, were raped and murdered. Their bodies were crushed underneath the treads of tanks, and many had been nailed through the hands to the doors of barns or to farm carts.
Word of what happened at Nemmersdorf soon spread back towards Berlin. Everywhere in Germany, people began to fear for what would happen when the Soviets reached their homes. As the Soviets advanced ever closer, the atrocities continued, condoned and even encouraged by the officers. Leonid Rabichev, a Russian soldier, reported how his unit encountered a group of German refugees on the road to Berlin. He wrote that the Russians, “flung themselves in the thousands upon women and girls. Their commanders, their majors, and colonels stood on the highway, and some laughed while others directed.”
These attacks were also not limited to the Eastern Front. Though less common on the Western front, they occurred there as well. Some historians have suggested that American troops may have raped over 100,000 German women during the war and occupation. The total number of rapes in Germany may have been as high as 2,000,000. And as the wave of atrocities swept across Germany, many Germans worried that the entire country might be exterminated. For his part, Hitler welcomed the idea. In his fortified bunker in Berlin, he was preparing to make sure that the German people died along with his Reich.