You can probably call to mind instances in your own life when fear gripped you, squeezing your chest tight making it difficult to breathe. Most recently for me, being hit by a motorized vehicle while on my bike has changed my life in Holland. Now each time I put my feet to the pedals my heart rate to increases. The dread of what might happen or happen again only worse is the spark of ice-fired fear.
Gang rapes by Russian patrols were a part of the daily life in the Soviet occupation zones for years in post-war Europe. Irene Kucholick’s memoir describes several instances of Russian attacks, some worse than others. In interviews Irene said there were good patrols and bad patrols. On one night in her village four soldiers abducted four women and took them back to their headquarters where they appeared to wait for the commandant to take first pick of the bound victims before beginning their festivities.
“Antony Beevor describes it as the ‘greatest phenomenon of mass rape in history’, and has concluded that at least 1.4 million women were raped in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia alone.” I suspect his work probably does not take into account the decades of rebel activities in the mountains of east Congo which is north of where my NGO project operates. Regardless, as recently as 2015 his books were banned in some Russian schools and universities.
This was one time during The Iron Curtain Memoirs that I appreciated the lack of sentimentality typical of Irene’s accounts. At this point, Irene was already “Hidden As a Boy” when she went out.
The Russian solders’ constant search for women was greatly feared by the women in Euba. When the women learned they could not be protected within their homes they left their children and slipped away to sleep in the trenches dug by German soldiers. The trenches were deep and fairly dry. Some trenches had small wooden sheds with straw floors which provided cold but fairly comfortable places to hide. German men were afraid to protect their women from these assaults since they were not allowed to have weapons.
….One night a Russian patrol on horseback came into the area where we lived. One of them knocked on the door. We opened the door and saw a big soldier smiling at us. He grabbed Mama. My thought my heart would stop beating. We knew immediately what would happen to Mama. We screamed as loud a we could. Mama screamed too. Ortwin and Hartmut kicked him….By now five solders were standing in the open doorway… [Irene tells how assault was averted.]
….On those nights when everything was quiet and we heard no “Frau comm, Frau comm,” we would say, “Tonight the good ones are on patrol.”
….One day Mama sent me to Niederwiesa to get a few pounds of oat kernels ground….Ursel and her mother decided to go with me. We walked rapidly and made it to the mill with no problems. We had to wait in line to get the kernels milled. It was late afternoon when we started home….
At dusk a group of five Russians patrolling on bicycles passed us and turned around to begin following us. We walked faster. they advanced and wheeled around us in a threatening circle from which we could not escape.
There was no doubt as to their intentions. They suddenly wheeled closer, dismounted and grabbed us by the shoulders. Would I be mistaken for a boy? Evidently so, I was to be taken care of first. A hard blow to my face sent me reeling dizzily backward. A sickening kick in my stomach knocked me down. Four of the men grabbed Ursel and her mother, forcing them to the ground. I tried to slip along the wall of the building, thinking the growing darkness would hide my escape. A big hand on my neck shoved me against the bricks. I was warned not to move if I wanted to live. Another blow in my face and stomach left me in great pain and unable to move. I could only lie there and witness the sordid scene of rape. [Excerpt from “Survive Little Buddy: The Iron Curtain Memoirs.” © Irene Kucholick 1996]
According to Wikipedia, “Female deaths in connection with the rapes in Germany, overall, are estimated at 240,000.” Rape-murder was not uncommon. Victims ranged in age from 8 to 80. Yet as recently as 2008 when a feature film was made about this, “it was widely rejected in Germany after its initial publication but has seen a new acceptance and many women have found inspiration to come forward with their own stories.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_during_the_occupation_of_Germany)
During last year’s A to Z Challenge I wrote about my project trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and chose to focus on the brighter side, beauty, and reasons for hope. With this Historical Treasure theme the posts are mostly dark this first week. Certainly there were holidays, fun times, even laughter and little reasons to rejoice throughout Irene’s accounts. A few of those are coming. However…
Next up, G is for Gestapo.
Kristin King is a co-founder of Future Hope Africa, an educational project in east Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although she published Irene’s Historical Treasure, Kristin is a fiction author, mom to four boys, military spouse, and family travel planner. She thanks God that the man in Czech Republic who tried her hotel door knob, knocked, and called “Come, sex, come” for two hours one dreary night in Prague did not get into her room.