Konigsberg, the capital of Prussia in eastern Germany had been under siege since January 1945, surrounded by Soviet forces. Only the route out by sea had allowed some civilians to escape west. For thousands of concentration camp inmates there had been no route out, they had been forced into the sea and machine gunned.
Large parts of the city had been reduced to rubble, first by RAF bombing and then by the pounding of Soviet artillery. Thousands of civilians had died – but in many respects this was just the beginning of the horrors that would be visited on the German population.
Just before midnight on the 9th April the commander of ‘Fortress Koenigsberg’ Otto Lasch decided that, with ammunition short and the Soviet forces overwhelming, there was no point in continuing. On hearing that the ‘Fortress’ city had surrendered, Hitler ordered that Lasch’s family in Germany be arrested.
Pockets of resistance continued through the 10th April. Groups of German soldiers made desperate attempts to break out through the Soviet lines, most attempts ended in bloody annihilation.
As Lasch and the German officers eventually were marched off they discovered the reality of the Soviet occupation, where Red Army soldiers had been given official permission for two days of looting:
The houses burned and smoked. Soft furnishings, musical instruments, cooking utensils, paintings, china — all were thrown out of the houses. Smashed vehicles stood between burning tanks, clothing, equipment lay everywhere.
Amongst this danced drunken Russians, shooting wildly, searching for bicycles to ride, falling over and lying by the kerbstones with bloody injuries. Weeping girls and women were dragged into the houses despite their resistance. Children cried out for their parents. It was unbearable.
We marched on. We saw scenes that cannot be described. The ditches by the sides of the streets were full of corpses, many of them clearly showing signs of unbelievable maltreatment and rape. Dead children lay around in great numbers, bodies hung from the trees, their watches cut off.
Staring—eyed German women were led in all directions, drunken Russians flogged a German nun, an elderly woman sat by the side of the road, both of her legs having been crushed by vehicles. Farmsteads burned, the household belongings lying in the roads, cows ran across the countryside, and were indiscriminately shot and left lying.
Cries for help from German people came to us constantly. We could not help. Women came out of the houses, hands raised beseechingly — the Russians chased them back and shot them if they didn’t hurry. It was dreadful. We had never imagined such things.
Nobody had boots any more, many were barefoot. The untended wounded groaned with pain. Hunger and thirst were the greatest torments. Russian soldiers assailed the platoon from all sides. They took away coats from some, caps from others, the odd briefcase with its meagre contents. Everyone wanted something. ‘Watches, watches,’ they called, and we were left defenceless against this banditry.
Otto Lasch would not be released from Soviet captivity until 1955. He wrote his memoirs So fiel Königsberg. Kampf und Untergang von Ostpreußens Hauptstadt, in 1958.
Meanwhile another German officer, von Lehndorff, saw what happened in one of the improvised field hospitals:
In the ambulance, the young nurses defended themselves against a few particularly intrusive individuals. I didn’t dare imagine what would happen when they grew more confident. Now, they were still clearly in haste and concerned with loot.
Particularly striking were our storage buildings. I stood speechless before the heaps of foodstuffs there, which had been withheld from us during the months of siege, and thought back in anger at my naivety, at how we and our patients had gone hungry the whole time. Now there was a wild, howling mess, as the finest tinned produce and supplies, which could have kept hundreds alive for a whole year, were destroyed in a few hours.
Doktora was in the operating theatre, bandaging patients. A swarm of nurses had fled here and eagerly pretended to help. In the background, the Russians moved through the wounded soldiers, searching for watches and usable boots.
One of them, a young chap, suddenly burst into tears, because he had still not found a watch. He held up three fingers: he would shoot three men unless he was given a watch immediately finally a watch appeared from somewhere, with which he disappeared, beaming with joy.
The appearance of the first officers destroyed my last hopes of a bearable outcome. All attempts to speak to them were completely in vain. For them, too, we were no more than dressed clothes dummies with pockets.They only saw me from the shoulders down.
A couple of nurses who were in their path were seized and dragged along behind them, and before they could comprehend what was going on, they were released, completely dishevelled. They wandered around the passageways aimlessly. There was nowhere to hide. And new trouble came upon them constantly.
These account appears in Prit Buttar: Battleground Prussia: The Assault on Germany’s Eastern Front 1944-45, which makes use of many German sources not published in English.
The surviving German occupants of Konigberg, perhaps as many as 100,000 people, would eventually be forced out of the city. Their place would be taken by Russian settlers. Today ‘Konigsberg’ is Kaliningrad, a wholly Russian enclave squeezed between Poland and Lithuania.