Tag Archives: History

Sexual Violence in World War II: New German Study Looks at Rape Trauma 60 Years On

A new German film explores the fate of one of the many women who were raped by Red Army soldiers at the end of World War II. A research project launched the same week is hoping to find some of the victims more than six decades later.

Germany in the spring of 1945. Hitler’s Nazi regime was on the brink of defeat in the catastrophic war it had launched six years earlier. After invading and occupying large swathes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union — and murdering tens of millions of people in the process — the German army was retreating, and the Red Army was following hot on its heels, intent on revenge.

Sweeping across German territory, many of the Russian soldiers burned, killed, looted. And they also raped German women. The Soviets, of course, weren’t the only ones; soldiers from other Allied armies were also guilty of sexual violence as they moved into Germany from the West. But most agree that the problem was particularly acute in eastern Germany. Historians estimate that close to 2 million German women and girls were raped in the closing months of the war, many repeatedly. Continue reading

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Berlin’s New UNESCO Sites: ‘Bauhaus Is Better Known Abroad than Goethe or Schiller’

Last week UNESCO awarded six housing estates in Berlin the World Heritage seal of approval. Bauhaus Archiv Director Annemarie Jaeggi tells SPIEGEL ONLINE why these examples of modernist architecture are so important.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Dr. Jaeggi, last week, six Berlin social housing projects were included on UNESCO’s world heritage list — all of them examples of the kind of modernist architecture not often chosen by UNESCO. Did you expect the honor?

Annemarie Jaeggi: I was delighted. The bid entailed a huge amount of work. Some people have been working on this for 10 years and I had huge concerns because of Dresden. (The city’s plans to build a bridge may jeopardize the Elbe Valley’s UNESCO Status — Ed.) There was a fear that UNESCO would say that Germany was not working hard enough and wouldn’t deal with any of the bids from Germany. Continue reading

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Fear and Slander in Poland: Anti-Semitism Book Could Land Historian in Jail

Prosecutors in Poland are considering charging the US historian Jan Tomasz Gross with slandering the Polish nation following the publication of his book on anti-Semitism in the country after World War II. The book has provoked a storm of controversy.

A new book probing the murder of Jews in Poland after the end of World War II has not only unleashed a storm of controversy, it may land its author in jail. The Krakow Prosecutors Office is considering bringing charges against the Polish-American historian Jan Tomasz Gross for his book “Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz.” The charge? Slandering the Polish nation.

The book has stirred a huge debate in the country since the Polish language version went on sale last Friday. While some academics, clerics and politicians have slammed the book for what they see as generalizations about the attacks that were carried out on Jews in post-war Poland, others have defended it for its contribution to the debate about Poland’s past. Continue reading

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France’s Own Anne Frank: Helene Berr’s Holocaust Diary Flies Off the Shelves

It has been described as a publishing sensation. Helene Berr was a young French student murdered in a Nazi concentration camp. Her recently discovered journal has now hit French bookstores — and become an immediate bestseller.

“I sense that a great dark path awaits me.” The words were written over six decades ago by a young Jewish student named Helene Berr not long before she lost her life in a German concentration camp. But they are only just now coming to light.

The “Helene Berr Journal” was published on Jan. 3 and hit the bookshops in France this week. It is a moving portrayal of how a young woman’s carefree life in Paris is slowly shattered as she becomes increasingly certain of her eventual terrible fate. Described as the publishing sensation of 2008 by the French daily Liberation, the book has likewise been called a “testimonial of rare power” by Le Figaro. And with 26,000 copies sold in just three days, it has been flying off the shelves. Continue reading

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Building Utopia: Berlin Chases UNESCO Status for 1920s Social Housing

In the 1920s Berlin was the world capital of modern architecture. Now six unique social housing projects from the period are up for UNESCO World Heritage status. The buildings mark a time when star architects like Walter Gropius and Bruno Taut were committed to improving the living standards of ordinary people.

The Carl Legien estate is nestled in a leafy oasis between two busy roads in the north of Berlin’s trendy Prenzlauer Berg district. The groups of apartment blocks are set amid grassy lawns and are designed so that all the balconies face inwards on wonderfully mature gardens. The elegant, curving balconies and big windows at the ends of the cream, pink and blue blocks give the buildings their modern Bauhaus-like appeal.

Doris Kirscht, an sprightly widow in her mid-60s, appreciates the careful thought that went into designing her two-bedroom apartment. “Everything is so comfortable and simple and well thought out,” she says about the flat she has lived in for over 25 years. “And then there are the lovely balconies. It is really wonderful to live in.” Like most other residents, Kirscht jumped at the chance to return to her building after recent renovations forced her to move out for a few years.

Her affection for the apartment is not surprising — Kirscht lives in a 1920s social housing block built by one of Germany’s leading modern architects, Bruno Taut, in 1926. The estate is one of six social housing projects dotted across Berlin that are up for prestigious World Heritage status. They are the city’s official candidates for the seal of approval for sites of cultural and architectural importance awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Continue reading

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Cold War Espionage: 10,000 East Germans Spied for the West

And you thought the East Germans spied a lot. A new study shows that the West Germans had fully 10,000 agents snooping on their Communist neighbors. And they knew about the Berlin Wall before it went up.

It’s a well-known fact that East Germany had agents crawling all over West Germany during the Cold War. Up to 6,000 of them, some in high places, were regularly passing information eastwards across the wall.

According to a new study published on Friday, though, when it came to recruiting spooks, the West Germans were even better. Fully 10,000 citizens of Germany’s communist half were spying for Bonn. Not only that, but West Germany’s intelligence agency the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) had a pretty good idea about the plans to build the Berlin Wall, but their bosses in Bonn simply didn’t want to believe them. Continue reading

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Historic Tempelhof: An Uncertain Future for Hitler’s Airport

A monument to Nazi ambitions that became a symbol of hope during the Cold War: Tempelhof is one of the world’s most storied airports. Its fascinating history may not be enough to save it from closure. But plans are now afoot to transform it into a luxury clinic.

The intent was to wow visitors to the monumental new Third Reich capital of Germania. Monumental Tempelhof Airport was to be a statement of Nazi Germany greatness, and a stage for Adolf Hitler to be adulated by the masses.

It never happened of course. The dream of Germania collapsed along with the smoking ruins of Berlin at the end of World War II. But the airport was built, and went on to become a vital element of the massive Berlin Airlift, and one of the most enduring symbols of West Berlin’s ability to survive its isolation deep within Communist East Germany. Continue reading

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