Some general reflections on rape accusations during war-time. Rape as crime, is probably one of the most repulsive manifestation of the human nature. As such, accusing someone of rape ,in the eyes of the public, dehumanize the accused to a large degree. Dehumanization of the enemy historically was something that armed forces everywhere looked (some still do) for, since if the enemy considered less than human - it is easier to kill him. Thus branding the opposing force as bunch of rapists served useful purpose. Image of the Russian Army as “raping and rampaging Asiatic horde” can probably be traced at least to the times of Napoleonic wars – ironic since the Great Army was less than blameless itself to which widespread partisan movement in its rear – in both Spain and Russia – a great testament (No Ereneburg, no propaganda machine with radio broadcasts or printed material, to say nothing of the fact that most of Russian peasants were illiterate and probably would not be able to use it anyway . Thus partisan movement was direct reaction to what was happening on the ground) . These Napoleonic thesis was revived during the Crimean war - nothing was of course said of the Sack of Kerch by French or behavior of Ottoman troops in the Balkans (nothing bad anyway). The situation changed during WW I when the Turkish atrocities were widely publicized. During WW I Germans laid accusation of rape on the Russian army again (to be fair Entente replied in kind) but it seemed that they were retracted later on:
All important question remains to be answered before the mental worlds of the German soldiers and French and Belgian civilians in 1914 can be examfined. Did other armies during the early part of the war commit comparable violence against civilians, or was German behaviour in the west unique? There are four potential comparisons: first, the Russian invasion of East Prussia in August-early September 1914; second, the subsequent German invasion of the north-western fringe of the Russian Empire (Poland and Lithuania); third, the Russian invasion of Galicia and the Bukovina, in Austria-Hungary, in autumn 1914, followed by the Russian retreat in spring and summer 1915; and finally, the failed Austro-Hungarian invasions of Serbia in August-September and November 1914. Next. to the German invasion of Belgium and France, these invasions produced the main occasions for violence between soldiers and enemy civilians."
Lurid atrocity tales emerged in all four theatres of war which told not only of widespread pillage, physical destruction, and rape by invading soldiers butt of mutilation and Murder by civilians as well. The army and public in Germany were stunned by the rapid Russian mobilization and invasion of East Prussia. "The Cossacks are coming' was the catchword of widespread panic, motivating the German Social Democrats to vote for war credits and impelling a large part of the East Prussian population to flee. By mid-August 1914, stories circulated in the German army and then in Germany at large, of women being raped, mutilated, or murdered by Russian troops."" In Galicia and the Bukovina, from autumn 1914 to summer 1915, stories abounded of rape and brutality by Russian troops, especially Cossacks, and of pogroms against the Jewish population. In Serbia and Bosnia, Serb civilians were held to be mutilating captured Austro-Hungarian soldiers, and Austro-Hungarians to be raping Serb women and decimating whole villages. Intense images of enemy atrociousness accompanied the invasions in eastern Europe as in the west.
Evidence of real civilian resistance and military brutality, however, varied considerably. The German government, in a report published in March 1915, charged the Russians with practising `indisputably barbarous' methods of warfare in Last Prussia, including the spoliation of towns and villages, the murder of `thousands' (including young men of military service age), mass deportation, rape, and mutilation."' But such accusations must be treated with caution. Although in some cases corroborated details were given, in many the evidence was weak; for example, no Russian army units were named. This makes the report's estimate that only 101 civilians were killed during the invasion of East Prussia, in a campaign of the same duration as that of Belgium and the Marne, all the more remarkable. There were two `major incidents', as defined above, at Santoppen, where 19 civilians were executed on 28 August, and at Christiankehmen on 1 1 September, with 14 civilian fatalities."
A more nuanced account emerges from an unpublished collection of reports and diary extracts made with the intention of writing a history of East Prussia during the war. This reveals a varied pattern of Russian army conduct, and also helps explain the motivation for violence. Certainly the Russian troops often had to requisition supplies and this, as elsewhere, led to plunder and destruction, and sometimes casual violence against civilians. "The Russians claimed that they had been fired upon in a number of localities, such as Jusmen (Pillkallen district) on 9 August, where Russian cavalry shot six inhabitants, or Neidenberg on 22 August.11" According to a report to the Ministry of the Interior by the provincial governor of Gumbinnen, where a major battle was fought, there had been numerous cases in which the enemy has burned down farmhouses used by German patrols as shelter and from which they had fired. In most cases the Russians then accused German civilians of unauthorized use of weapons in order to justify their incendiarism. 'The arson committed in the villages GroB and Klein Daguthelen and BartschkUhnen on 17 August had its origins in this cause.'"
The Russians thus appear to have shared the German idea of the illegitirnacy of civilian participation in combat. In fact, the evidence for such resistance on any serious scale is even weaker for East Prussia than for Belgium and northern France. But the Russians seldom intentionally killed civilians in response. Even where there was a civilian militia which they considered illegal, reprisals against civilians did not ensue. Although much remains to be established about the East Prussian campaign, systematic violence against German civilians was not a major constituent of Russian behaviour, even though the same potential for it existed as in the German army's invasion of France and Belgium.
By and large the Russian troops in East Prussia respected international law and the laws of war, as a commission of the Reich Office for Internal Affairs concluded after the recovery of East Prussia. It reported that `Russian atrocities have [...] turned out to have been grossly exaggerated.' The commission
has found that the descriptions of Russian cruelties and the reported devastation of the country are based on falsehood. It is reported that the Russian troops have behaved correctly everywhere towards the inhabitants. If individual towns and villages were burned down, this occurred almost without exception during artillery battles, in some cases also because German patrols fired from houses and the Russians assumed that the civilian inhabitants were involved in the shooting.
This view was shared by no less a person than Erich Ludendorff, who after playing a leading role in the assault on Liege city, was given command with Hindenburg of the East Prussian campaign and masterminded the victory of Tannenberg (26 to 31 August). Ludendorff wrote in 1919 that, lie had been appalled by the Belgian francs-tireurs and the way in which `the Belgian government had systematically organized civilian warfare', whereas by contrast he found that `many of the Russian troops behaved in exemplary manner in East Prussia.' He attributed the `harshness and terror' that undoubtedly did take place to Cossack indiscipline rather than to military policy`" For all the destruction caused by the invasion, the "harrowing' of East Prussia by the Russians appears to be a myth."
German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial by Associate Prof. John Horne and Dr. Alan Kramer
German WW II propaganda in effect recited old clichés with additional “Jewish” spin – alleged Erenburg complicity. That is not to say that there were no rapes they are undoubtedly took place - as confirmed by Soviet documents and by actually Erenburg himself.
It is probably worth mentioning, as a side note, that slogan not all that different from Erenburg’s “Kill the German” was adapted by US in the form of “KILL JAPS. KILL JAPS.KILL MORE JAPS. You will help to kill the yellow bastards if you do your job well.” Accidently propaganda spread by Japanese forces among civilians on Okinawa was not all that different from German home front propaganda – it also caused math suicides among Geraman civilians and civilian population of Okinawa. I have to unambiguously state though that I have no knowledge of excesses committed by US forces. The difference between US and USSR of course was that US did not experienced wanton destruction of its homeland from Japan while USSR got plenty of that from Germans. I believe that the point by Kuby in regards to effect of Ereneburg on Soviet troops is basically correct – the excesses were caused by personal experience of the soldiers (many of which were called from freshly librated territories) with Germans than with anything else.