How many rapes did the Wehrmacht commit in the Soviet Union during World War II?

Every year in May we hear Germans and those who use them complain about the rapes of the Red Army after its victory over the Nazis. And every year two hugely important topics are overseen: First, concerning rapes, the Soviets weren’t better or worse than the Americans. Second, before the Soviets raped German women, German soldiers invaded the Soviet Union and raped Soviet women.

Rapes in particular, and violence against civilians in general, doesn’t seem to bother the modern public in most cases. It is considered problematic only when it can be attached to Holocaust. That is, if the Nazis rape a woman and she happens to be Jewish, that’s a problem. But if she is non-Jewish, then it isn’t even worth mentioning. At least that’s the impression I get from reading materials on the topic.

Such behavior on the Western side can be explained by the fact that the Cold War was about finishing what the Germans started in Russia. You cannot have compassion with people whom you intend to nuke. What’s striking is that Soviet and Russian historians, politicians, and propagandists never used that topic in their ideological fight against the West. It seems they don’t care about their women as well.

But a hypocrisy doesn’t cease to a hypocrisy just because everybody supports it. In this post I estimate the number of rapes committed by the Germans on the Eastern front, primarily in the Soviet Union.

It all started when I asked this question on a history forum. When you ask a simple question there, you get an answer within an hour, sometimes even faster. My question was about an event that happened almost 80 years ago and which was central to most of the civilized world. Yet, hours passed and nobody responded with answer. I didn’t expect a precise number, but not even an estimate was provided.

So I had to estimate it myself. My answer: The Germans raped between 442,462 and 1,245,450 women in all countries of the Eastern Front from 1941 through 1945.

Below you can find an explanation, how I calculated this number.

Warning

I believe a bad estimate is better than no estimate at all and I’m aware of the flaws of this “method”. If you know a better one, please send it to me or post it on History.StackExchange.com.

The calculation

Miriam Gebhardt writes in her book Als die Soldaten kamen: Die Vergewaltigung deutscher Frauen am Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges (German, “When the soldiers came: Rapes of German women at the end of World War II) that

  • at least 190 000 German women were raped by American troops (positions 60 and 459 of 5321 in the Kindle edition of the book above),
  • 50 000 by the French (pos. 459),
  • 45 000 by the British,
  • 15 000 by the Soviets and
  • 10 000 by the Belgians.

We can estimate the number of rapes per soldier. The author of that book writes that the maximum number of troops stationed in Germany was, at its peak,

  • 600,000 for US (beginning of 1946, pos. 312 of 5321) and
  • 400,000 for the British (pos. 325 of 5321).

No data is available in the book for the French and Belgians. The data for the Soviets (1,500,000 in 1945, 800,000 in 1949) is available, but looks suspicious to me (reason see below).

From these data we can calculate the estimate of rapes per soldier:

  • 190 000 rapes / 600 000 troops = 0,3167 rapes per soldier
  • 45 000 rapes / 400 000 troops = 0,1125

For the Soviets that estimate would be an order of estimate lower, which doesn’t look believable to me.

If we assume that the Germans in the Soviet Union raped with roughly the same intensity as the Americans and the British in Germany, we can get an estimate by multiplying rapes per soldier by the strength of the German troops in the Soviet Union. This assumption can be justified by the claim that ideas about sexual violence at war used by the Nazis and the Allies were similar: Regina Mühlhäuser writes in her paper Eine Frage der Ehre. Anmerkungen zur Sexualität deutscher Soldaten während des Zweiten Weltkriegs (German; “A question of honor // Notes about the sexuality of German soldiers during World War II”):

In the middle of the 20th century Göring’s argumentation was in accordance with the values and norms system in Europe and the USA.

[…]

In 1946 [acts of sexual violence] were considered by the Allies not as a crime to be punished, but as a natural side effect of the war.

According to Wikipedia (PDF) there were 3,933,000 German troops on the Eastern Front.

This results in following estimates of German rapes in the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia (and other German adversaries on the Eastern Front):

  • 3,933,000 troops * 0.3167 rapes per American soldier = 1,245,450 rapes
  • 3,933,000 troops * 0.1125 rapes per British soldier = 442,463 rapes

For comparison: According to Miriam Gebhardt, 860,000 German women were raped between 1945 and 1955 in all Germany (Eastern and Western), by all occupational powers.

Sources