Book On Red Army Rapes In
Berlin Angers Russians


(Reuters) - A new book about the fall of Berlin is angering Russians, who feel widespread pride in their victory, by describing the Red Army's brutal conduct during the final days of World War Two, including gang rapes.
In an interview, Antony Beevor, British author of the best-selling "Berlin: The Downfall, 1945", said the controversy stems in part from Russia's failure to come to terms with its Soviet totalitarian past. Germany, the war's loser, has long dealt with its Nazi crimes. "Germany really started to face up to the horrors of its past after it had an economic miracle," he said. "Russia hasn't had an economic miracle yet and it will take quite a long time even after it does before it starts to see things less in terms of the heroism of the Great Patriotic War. "When you're economically humiliated you hang on to that moment of great pride even more so and refuse to contemplate any dark side to it."
Alongside the rape of an estimated two million German women, more than half of them gang-raped, by Soviet soldiers, Beevor's research shows thousands of Ukrainian and Polish women were raped as the Red Army advanced westwards to end Hitler's reign. "By the time the Red Army reached Berlin, rape had evolved into treating women as carnal booty," Beevor said.
"For me, the most striking or horrific discovery from a Russian point of view was that Soviet troops raped young Russian and Ukrainian women, because that undermines any justification of Red Army behaviour on the grounds of revenge," he added.
Josef Stalin deployed 2.5 million troops, 7,500 aircraft, 6,250 tanks and 41,600 guns in the Battle of Berlin. The war victory - at a staggering cost of 27 million dead - is perhaps the only part of Soviet history that all Russians see with pride. Their May 9 Victory Day anniversary of the end of the war remains a major national holiday.
Moscow's ambassador in London, Grigory Karasin, described the book, which has yet to be translated into Russian, as "an act of blasphemy" and "a case of slander".
Beevor said: "What the Russians had not realised was the bulk of the material came from Russian archives. It's hard to say it's slander or to say it was all taken out of context." Beevor is a former army officer who has written a number of history books and works of fiction. His breakthrough work was "Stalingrad", a harrowing description of the one of the most brutal battles in history.
An incident in 1943, when a Red Army soldier taunted German prisoners in the ruins of Stalingrad with the words "This is how Berlin is going to look", inspired "Berlin: The Downfall, 1945".
Beevor received many letters from German rape victims saying they were glad their story was being told at last. "All of them say in relief: 'None of us dared tell our story because we didn't think anyone would believe us. You've now told the story.' That was extremely encouraging," he said.
He said it was German men who had suppressed the subject. "For them the worst humiliation was that their wives had been raped and they simply could not talk about it, they forbade their wives from talking about it and it became a taboo." Beevor says the story of the rapes, while important, has attracted more attention than he would have hoped.
Nearly 80,000 Russian soldiers died and more than a quarter of a million were wounded in the fight for Berlin. He said it was vital to understand the suffering of Russian soldiers at the hands of both the Germans and their own commanders. "The last chapters are among the saddest - that those people who survived the war thinking they were going to go back and be treated as heroes then found life was very hard to fit into."


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