Year Zero

Year Zero by Ian Buruma

Book: Year Zero by Ian Buruma Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ian Buruma
disparity in wealth, as well as racialism, created a vicious circle of mutually hostile propaganda that made Soviet behavior in Germany especially brutal. Germans were told to fight to the death, rather than to see their women fall prey to the “Asiatic” or “Mongol” barbarians. The harder the Germans resisted, the more the “barbarians” wanted to exact their pricefor brutality that had been far greater in scale than anything they did to the Germans. But here too vengeance was related to the war against capitalism. German women were not just depicted in Soviet propaganda as Nazis, just as bad as the men, but as fat, pampered, rich Nazis. In one Russian cartoon, a wealthy German woman, her daughter, and her maid, surrounded by loot from Russia, frantically look for something to use as a white flag of surrender. Ironically, a caricature of a German woman (“Miss Veronica Dankeschön”) in a U.S. Army magazine, plump, blond, her skirt embroidered with swastikas, looks identical. The only difference is that the GIs were warned to stay away from Miss Veronica to avoid VD, while the Soviet soldiers were invited to seize what was their due. As the Russian ex–slave worker says to her former mistress in another Soviet cartoon: “Now you’ll see, Frau. I’ve come to collect.” 12
    And collect they did. The anonymous author of
A Woman in Berlin
described in harrowing detail the humiliation visited on women, which showed the kind of disgust expressed by the soldier who wanted to smash his fist into all those neat little gewgaws in bourgeois German homes. On one of the many occasions that she is raped by a soldier, while others await their turn, she notes how her attacker barely seems to notice her. She is an object too, “which makes it all the more frightening when he suddenly throws me onto the bed . . . I feel fingers at my mouth, smell the reek of horses and tobacco. I open my eyes. Adroitly the fingers force my jaws apart. Eye looks into eye. Then the man above me slowly lets his spittle dribble into my mouth . . .” 13
    Raping German women, especially those who appeared to have unlimited wealth, and especially in front of the emasculated ex-warriors of the “master race,” made the despised
feel like men again. In the words of a senior Soviet officer in Berlin, “in the first flush of victory our fellows no doubt derived a certain satisfaction from making it hot for those
women.” 14 However, it went on well beyond that first flush of victory. In its wild form, freed from any official restraints, the raping of German women continued through the summer of 1945. After that, Soviet military and civilian officials tried to crack down, at leastsporadically, sometimes with draconian measures, including the death penalty. In fact, the risk of being raped by a Soviet soldier ceased only once the troops were confined to their barracks in 1947.
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    IF THE WISH TO OVERCOME humiliation and restore masculine pride is one plausible explanation for the violence of Soviet soldiers in German lands, it might also explain the vengeful behavior of men who had suffered far less than the Soviets. During the so-called wild purge (
l’épuration sauvage
) in France, which took place in 1944, before the war was even over, about six thousand people were killed as German collaborators and traitors by various armed bands with links to the resistance, often communists. Double that number of women were paraded around, stripped naked, their heads shaven, swastikas daubed on various parts of their anatomy. They were jeered at, spat on, and otherwise tormented. Some were locked up in improvised jails, and raped by their jailers. More than two thousand women were killed. Similar scenes, though not nearly on the same scale, took place in Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and other countries

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