Nemmersdorf Gumbinnen Atrocities Nemmersdorf Germany
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Nemmersdorf in East Prussia (today's Mayakovskoye, Kaliningrad Oblast) was one of the first pre-war ethnic German villages to fall to the advancing Red Army in World War II. On October 21, 1944 it was the scene of a massacre perpetrated by the Soviet soldiers against German civilians and French and Belgian noncombatants. Determining the facts has aroused controversy.
The 2nd Battalion, 25th Guards Tank Brigade, belonging to the 2nd Guards Tank Corps of the 11th Guards Army, crossed the Angerapp bridge and established a bridgehead on the western bank of the river. German forces tried to retake the bridge, but several attacks were repelled by the Soviet tanks and the supporting infantry.
During an air attack, a number of Soviet soldiers took shelter in an improvised bunker already occupied by 14 local men and women. According to the testimony of the seriously injured Gerda Meczulat, when a Soviet officer arrived and ordered everybody out, the Russians shot and killed the German civilians at close range. During the night, the Soviet 25th Tank Brigade was ordered to retreat back across the river and take defensive positions along the Rominte. The Wehrmacht regained control of Nemmersdorf and discovered the massacre.
Nazi German authorities organized an international commission to investigate, headed by Estonian Hjalmar Mäe and other representatives of neutral countries, such as Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The commission heard the report from a medical commission. It reported that all the dead females had been raped (they ranged in age from eight to 84). The Nazi Propaganda Ministry, (separately) used the Völkischer Beobachter and the cinema Wochenschau to accuse the Soviet Army of having killed dozens of civilians at Nemmersdorf and having summarily executed about 50 French and Belgian noncombatant POWs who had been ordered to take care of thoroughbred horses but had been blocked by the bridge. The civilians were allegedly killed by blows with shovels or gun butts.
"In the farmyard stood a cart, to which more naked women were nailed through their hands in a cruciform position...Near a large inn, the 'Roter Krug', 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 72 women, including children, and one old man, 74, all dead....Some babies had their heads bashed in."
"When in October, 1944, Russian units temporarily entered Nemmersdorf, they tortured the civilians, specifically they nailed them to barn doors, and then shot them. A large number of women were raped and then shot. During this massacre, the Russian soldiers also shot some fifty French prisoners of war. Within forty-eight hours the Germans re-occupied the area."
The Nazi Propaganda Ministry disseminated a graphic description of the events with the intention to inspire the German soldiers. On the home front, civilians reacted immediately, with an increase in the number of volunteers joining the Volkssturm. A larger number of civilians responded with panic, and started to leave the area en masse.
To many Germans, "Nemmersdorf" is a symbol of war crimes committed by the Red Army, and an example of the worst behavior in Eastern Germany. Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, the post-war co-publisher of the weekly Die Zeit, at the time of the reports lived in the village of Quittainen (Kwitany) in western East Prussia, near Preussisch Holland (Pasłęk). She wrote in 1962 that:
"In those years one was so accustomed to everything that was officially published or reported being lies that at first I took the pictures from Nemmersdorf to be falsified. Later, however, it turned out that that was not the case."
After 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union, new sources of Russian military records were made available to scholars. The historian Bernhard Fisch, himself from East Prussia and a Wehrmacht soldier during the war had been in Nemmersdorf a few days after it was re-taken and remembered a different scene than that portrayed by the Wochenschau cinema. He resolved to research the matter and separate the facts from the Propaganda Ministry fiction. In his book Nemmersdorf, October 1944: What Actually Happened in East Prussia he incorporated the material from Russian records and statements from the many witnesses from both sides, including Soviet General Kuzma N. Galitsky, former commander of 11th Guards Army.
Fisch documented 23 civilian murders at Nemmersdorf and another 38 in nearby villages, leaving ten unexplained deaths. He was unable to locate the names of some of the photographed victims, presents the possibility that some photographs were altered, shows that some of the victims came from other areas of East Prussia, (which suggests but does not prove that they were not murdered in Nemmersdorf) and states that the account of barn doors being used for the crucifixion of women did not occur in Nemmersdorf, but elsewhere. Fisch's account was presented on TV by German TV Channel ZDF in 2003.
Another writer, Joachim Reisch, claims to have been at the very scene of the bridge personally when the event was supposed to have occurred. He claims that the Soviet Brigade was on the bridge for less than four hours.
Most historians, such as Ian Kershaw, now generally believe that a massacre by Soviet forces is beyond reasonable dispute.. The German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) contains many contemporary reports and photographs by officials of Nazi Germany of the victims of the Nemmersdorf massacre, as well as on other Soviet massacres in East Prussia, notably Metgethen. Information is also provided by the expert in international law, Alfred de Zayas, who interviewed a large number of German soldiers and officers who were in and around Nemmersdorf in October 1944. de Zayas also interviewed Belgian and French prisoners of war who had been in the area and fled with the German civilian population. See Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam (Routledge 1977, 7th edition Picton Press 2003), and A Terrible Revenge (Macmillan 2006).