Berliners learn to accommodate the Red Army

View of ruined buildings in Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, taken from the second floor of the Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium).

View of ruined buildings in Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, taken from the second floor of the Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium).

An aerial (oblique) photograph taken from a De Havilland Mosquito of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit showing badly damaged buildings in the area between Friedrich Hain and Lichtenberg, Berlin.

An aerial (oblique) photograph taken from a De Havilland Mosquito of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit showing badly damaged buildings in the area between Friedrich Hain and Lichtenberg, Berlin.

The reality of the Soviet occupation of Germany now became all too apparent. In days and weeks of lawlessness following their victory the Red Army was to indulge in an epic of rape and pillage, much of it officially sanctioned. The Soviet authorities moved swiftly to dismantle and remove whole factories to the East.

Any man who had served in the military, and many who were merely suspected of having done so, were marched off to Russia where they would spend many years labouring to rebuild what had been destroyed. Many would not survive the hardships.

Werner Harz had narrowly avoided being marched off to the east on more than one occasion when his Volkssturm unit disbanded. He escaped and made his way back to his home in Berlin. For him and many others the ordeal of the Soviet occupation was only just beginning:

The atmosphere during the next few days was incredibly complicated and perplexing. We could scarcely realise our joy that the war was over because we had perpetually to be on the watch.The Russians were celebrating everywhere: in our house, in the streets, in the gardens, their victory celebrations lasting night and day for weeks. Unluckily a huge store of wine and spirits had been found just down the road, and an unending stream of keen-eyed soldiers flowed up the street, while on the other side a rolling flood of paralytic conquerors staggered back.

They were mostly from Eastern Russia, with Mongolian faces, Chinese-looking beards and earrings.There were little undersized men from Turkestan and sturdy- looking Siberians.

But one thing they all had in common — an absorbing and childish fascination in domestic gadgets and machinery. My electric radiogram really intrigued them. But having no electric current I found it rather difiicult to explain and as the machine obviously wouldn’t work they showed me their displeasure in no uncertain terms – by smashing it.

They were also fascinated by the water-closet which again, in spite of my rather undignified pantomime, they completely failed to understand. They searched steadily through my library looking for pictures.They sought continually after watches although we had already paid off our share of the reparations with every watch and clock in the place.They played with two cameras and broke them immediately. With deathly calm they took a lovely antique grandfather clock to pieces, and no one has since been able to reassemble it.

The street in front of our house looked like a fairground. Dirt, rubbish, pieces of cars and tanks were strewn everywhere and amidst everything dozens of Russians were riding bicycles — obviously trying this new type of transport for the first time in their lives. They fell to left and right but clambered back again like armless little apes. Some, just able to stay on, began immediately to try acrobatics; others stared proudly at their rows of watches, usually extending up both forearms.Then, when they were tired of it, they let the machines lie where they fell and walked away.

We had to watch like lynxes to prevent our inquiring visitors taking too much away that interested them. And my room was full ofinterest. I found it a matter of some delicacy to persuade a chummy Uzbeker not to demonstrate his prowess with the pistol by shooting the Iphigenia of Tauris illustration out of my Goethe first edition.

One national trait puzzled us. This was the habit of nearly every Russian who came to visit us of relieving nature in various, and to us strange and unusual places. We discovered these faecal visiting cards in every corner, on tables, beds, carpets and one, strangest and most ambitious of all, on the top of a particularly high stove. My own theory that this was the remains of an old superstition which implied than an object be possessed if the owner had stooled on it, did not obtain any general currency. But I still think it a possibility in the absence if any more valid theory.

It was all incredibly tiring. One had to be on one’s toes the minute a soldier came near, and dozens of them came near all the time. Each one had to be conducted through the whole house and couldn’t be trusted alone for a moment. As long as one watched them, kept talking, and treated them as guests, they could be dissuaded from taking away what they wanted, and breaking up what they didn’t. But they were always inspired with awe when they saw my row of books and the pictures on the walls.

The demand for women continued unabated and the unfortunate girls had to stay hidden under the roof for a whole week.We had nothing but admiration for the physical endurance which made the Russians capable of this exercise at all hours of the day or night. Fortunately I had a pornographic book in my library with which I managed to divert them from their more practical excursions in this sphere.

Since the exercise of hospitality took up the major part of our day it was a continual worry to find things to eat and drink. During the early days it was quite simple. Dozens of dead horses were lying in the streets and all one needed was a bucket and a sharp knife. Or it was merely a question of following the looters and joining in the free-for—all fights that were always in progress in the many grocer’s shops and food depots.

This account appears in Louis Hagen (ed): Ein Volk, Ein Reich: Nine Lives Under the Nazis.

British and Russian troops in the garden of the former Reichs Chancellery. The entrance to Hitler's bunker is immediately behind them.

British and Russian troops in the garden of the former Reichs Chancellery. The entrance to Hitler’s bunker is immediately behind them.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe May 18, 2015 at 8:55 pm

No matter what the Germans did, and they did a LOT wrong, it wasn’t right for the Russians to do what they did.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

antfreire May 16, 2015 at 9:10 pm

How tragic for a highly civilized people to have to pay homages to semi wild hordes.

Howard Appel May 16, 2015 at 8:36 pm

Also, it is fascinating to read the articles five years apart. Amazing how much the world changed in five years.

Howard Appel May 16, 2015 at 8:34 pm

Whereas, in comparison, the Nazis treated their conquered terrritories and subjects with the utmost tenderness and affection, just ask the citizens of Lidice and those in the Soviet territories conquered by the Nazis. Oh, the extermination camps were really health spas.

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