A number of troop companies reported to the fortress commander [at Königsberg] the discovery of several mounds of corpses situated quite close to one another. The commander, General Lasch, ordered a commission to investigate these discoveries. The commission reported that many similar piles of bodies were strewn throughout the area; but in two cases there were virtual mountains of bodies made up of ca. 3,000 women, girls, children and only a few men.
A special commission of doctors, forensic investigators and foreign journalists was formed to establish identities and the circumstances of the deaths. The work was made difficult by the fact that the Russians had poured gasoline on the mounds of bodies and attempted to burn them. Nevertheless many of the dead were photographed. The pictures graphically showed the often savage circustances under which these people had been murdered. On the basis of these pictures and of reports made by the forensics team, the conclusion was drawn that the victims had been beaten and stabbed; in very few cases were persons killed by a shot to the base of the skull. A large number of bodies had the breasts cut off, the genitals stabbed through and were disemboweled. The testimonies of witnesses, who had survived the raping and other physical abuse by the Russians, along with the photographs, are on file in my department. They were used by the security officers and officials of the criminal police to interrogate prisoners of war brought back from the Eastern Front; and to question civilians in the attempt to establish the identities of the victims.
I made my own observations when I was sent to Metgethen on official business on February 27, 1945. Just on the outskirts of town near the first railway crossing, I turned my motorcycle into a gravel driveway so that I could look over a building and see if it was suitable for service use. Behind the building I suddenly came upon the bodies of 12 women and six children. Most of the children had been killed by a blow to the head with a blunt instrument, some had numerous bayonet wounds in their tiny bodies. The women, mostly between 40 and 60 years of age, had been killed with knife or bayonet. All of them bore the unmistakable black-and-blue marks of beatings.
After the first Soviet blockade had been completely smashed, I was ordered on February 28, 1945, to report to a unit of the 4th Army. On my way, I stopped for a rest in the village of Gross Heydekrug. I had arrived just as medics and civilians were burying some 35 mostly female bodies. Here again I saw the gruesome mistreatment practiced by the Russians, all shown to me by indignant soldiers and civilians. Most of the victims were again women. A corporal told me of a church where a girl and two soldiers had been found. The girl had been actually crucified on the altar cross, the two soldiers strung up on either side.
Farther into the village I saw civilian bodies lying everywhere, as far as the highway crossing to Powayen. While most of the men had been shot in the base of the skull, the women were completely naked, raped and then killed in the most brutal way with stab wounds or rifle butt blows to the head. At the highway crossing to Powayen stood a Soviet tank which had been dragging the now-dead bodies of four naked women behind it. A commission was already there taking photographs of the scene.
Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), pp. 40-41.
Karl Potrek, a civilian from the capital city of Königsberg, had been recruited into the Volksturm and hurriedly sent as reinforcement to the area of Gumbinnen and Nemmersdorf. He later reported:
At the edge of town, on the left side of the road, stands the large inn ‘Weisser Krug’ … In the farmyard further down the road stood a cart, to which four naked women were nailed through their hands in a cruciform position. Behind the Weisser Krug towards Gumbinnen is a square with a monument to the Unknown Soldier. Beyond is another large inn, ‘Roter Krug’. Near it, parallel to the road, stood a barn and to each of its two doors a naked woman was nailed through the hands, in a crucified posture.
In the dwellings, we found a total of seventy-two women, including children, and one old man, 74, all dead … all murdered in a bestial manner, except only for a few who had bullet holes in their necks. Some babies had their heads bashed in. In one room we found a woman, 84 years old, sitting on a sofa … half of whose head had been sheared off with an axe or a spade …
We carried the corpses to the village cemetary where they lay to await a foreign medical commission … In the meantime, a nurse from Insterburg came, a native of Nemmersdorf, who looked for her parents. Among the corpses were her mother, 72, and her father, 74, the only man among the dead. She also established that all the dead were Nemmersdorfers. On the fourth day the bodies were buried in two graves. Only on the following day did the medical commission arrive, and the tombs had to be reopened. Barn doors were set on blocks on which to lay the bodies so that the commission could examine them. This foreign commission unanimously established that all the women, as well as the girls from eight to twelve years and even the woman of 84 years had been raped. After the examination by the commission, the bodies were again buried.
Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam: The Expulsion of the Germans from the East, 3rd edn (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988), pp. 63-64.
For reasons best explained by a psychologist, one of the aberrations practiced by the [Soviet] soldiers was to take victims, mostly female, strip them naked and nail them to barn doors in cruciform fashion. This one particular atrocity features prominently in many eyewitness reports.
Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), p. 42.
Flags will hang in the Holocaust Museum to honor the millions of Soviet soldiers who drove Nazi forces westward and who were the first allied forces to liberate and publicize the existence of the camps … Much more than simply wartime memorabilia, these military artifacts are a significant contribution to memory, one that will remind future generations of the pivotal role Soviet forces played in defeating Nazism.
“Russian Embassy Presents Flags of Liberating Units to Museum,” U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Newsletter, Fall 1992, p. 6.