May 10, 1940 And What of the Mouse?

Throughout history and across cultures, having a child with a member of a hostile force is looked upon as a grave betrayal of social values.

Throughout history and across cultures, having a child with a member of a hostile force is looked upon as a grave betrayal of social values.  Often such parents, usually women, are shunned by neighbors and even family.  “War children” may experience even worse subjected to ostracism, bullying, and more.

Much is written of what takes place, when politicians send nations to war. Few take note of the innocents. The proverbial mice wishing only to go about their business while all about them, is chaos.

“When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”.

African Proverb

On the Eastern Front of World War 2, combat between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union rose to proportions of apocalyptic race war, Slav against Teuton, in a paroxysm of mutual extermination that is horrifying, even by the hellish standards of that war.  Four out of every five German soldiers who died in all World War 2, died on the ‘Ostfront’.

While precise numbers are impossible to ascertain, an estimated several hundred thousand to as many as 2 million German females from 8 to 80 were raped by Red Army soldiers. Some, as many as 60 or 70 times according to historian, William Hitchcock.. Austrian women were no different nor even Soviet women, released from work camps. 

“The front-line Russian troops who did the fighting – as a woman, you didn’t have to be afraid of them. They shot every man they saw, even old men and young boys, but they left the women alone. It was the ones who came afterwards, the second echelon, who were the worst. They did all the raping and plundering. They stripped homes of every single possession, right down to the toilets”.

Anonymous German woman, living in Berlin

British military historian Antony Beevor concludes that 1.4 million women were raped in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia, alone. Female deaths in connection with such rapes in Germany and the butchered abortion attempts which followed, are estimated at 240,000. 4,148 Red Army soldiers were punished for such atrocities.

The only survivors of 150 Polish people who walked from Lodz, Poland to Berlin Huddle in blankets, on December 14, 1945. They are waiting by a railway track hoping to be picked up by a British army train and given help. (Fred Ramage—Keystone/Getty Images / Photo colorization by Sanna Dullaway for TIME)

When Yugoslav politician Milovan Djilas complained about rapes in Yugoslavia, Stalin replied that he should “understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle.”

Small surprise when Stalin’s own Chief of the Secret Police Lavrentiy Beria, was a serial rapist.

Displaced persons cross a bridge on the River Elbe at Tangermunde, which was blown up by the Germans, to escape the chaos behind German lines caused by the approach of the advancing Russians on May 1, 1945. (Fred Ramage—Keystone/Getty Images / Photo colorization by Sanna Dullaway for TIME)

In his 2007 book Taken by Force: Rape and American GIs in Europe in World War II, Northern Kentucky University sociology and criminology professor J. Robert Lilly reports that 11,040 rapes were carried out by US servicemen.

In 1959, journalist Marta Hillers wrote what was then an anonymous memoir of the weeks between April 22 and June, 1945. In it, Hillers describes being gang raped by Red Army soldiers before forming a relationship with a Soviet officer, for her own protection. Marta Hillers died in 2001. Seven years later, her account was retold in the German feature film, Eine Frau in Berlin. (A Woman in Berlin).

German woman walks by Soviet troops in a scene from the 2008 film, A Woman in Berlin

Propaganda banners and posters appeared all over the Soviet-occupation zone and later East Germany, proclaiming the heroism of those who had smashed the Nazi war machine and paved the way to Soviet-German friendship. The plight of tens of thousands of “Russian children”, mostly fatherless, was taboo.

All these decades later, former East German Jan Gregor can still remember the day his mother told him that she was “made pregnant by force”.

An estimated 100,000 “Amerasian” children were born to Asian mothers and U.S. servicemen during WWII, the Korean War, and war in Vietnam. 

Some 37,000 children were fathered by American soldiers with German and Austrian women in the 10 years following the German surrender. Locals disapproved of such relations, not only because these Americans had recently been their enemies, but also because such children often became “wards of the state” in local economies already impoverished, by war.  The “brown children” of black GIs and German mothers were particularly difficult to adopt out in what was heretofore a racially homogeneous culture.  Many were adopted by American couples and families of African ancestry, back in the States.

Military forces of Nazi Germany invaded the neutral Scandinavian Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway on April 9, 1940.  Denmark fell in a day. Norwegian armed resistance ceased within two months, when civil rule passed to the Reichskommissariat Norwegen (Reich Commissariat of Norway).  The neutral Scandinavian countries remained under Wehrmacht occupation, for the next five years.

Sometimes, relationships formed between German occupying troops and native women.  The racially obsessed Nazi regime was happy to encourage such relations, particularly in Norway, where local women were considered to be of pure, “Aryan” ancestry.  Some such relationships were consensual.  Many were anything but.  Some 10,000 to 12,000 children were born to Norwegian women and German fathers, the most famous being Anni-Frid Synni Lyngstad of the Swedish pop group ABBA, who fled Norway after the war for fear of reprisals.

For nearly a thousand years, the administration of Iceland was all but indistinguishable from that of Denmark and Norway.  The Act of Union established Iceland as a fully sovereign state in 1918, an independent country in a personal union through a common monarch, with the Kingdom of Denmark. 

Following the allied withdrawal from Dunkirk, every nation on the European mainland was either neutral, or under Nazi occupation. Alarmed at the possibility of German military presence to their north, British authorities invited the neutral nation Iceland to join the war as “as a belligerent and an ally,” following the collapse of Denmark. That invitation, was rejected.

On this day in 1940, the United Kingdom invaded Iceland, an initial force of 746 British Royal Marines disembarking at the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík. 

The British invasion of Iceland never resembled the “shooting war” in Europe.  The government complained that its neutrality had been “flagrantly violated” and demanded compensation, but principle opposition took the form of hordes of civilians, who crowded in to see what was happening.  Icelandic public opinion was sharply divided at the invasion and subsequent occupation.  Many described it all as the “blessað stríðið“, the “Lovely War”, the building of a roads, hospitals, harbors, airfields and bridges across the nation a boon to the Icelandic economy.  Others resented the occupation, which rose to half the native male population.

Sexual relationships between foreign troops and local women were severely frowned upon. Such women often accused of being traitors, even prostitutes. 

In 1941, the Icelandic Minister of the Judiciary investigated “The Situation”.  Upset that foreign troops were “taking away” women from friends and family, police investigated over 500 women for sexual with soldiers and determined, most had been consensual.  Two facilities opened to house such women in 1942 but both closed, within a year. Two-hundred fifty-five ástandsbörn (‘children of the situation’) were born of such relationships.  332 Icelandic women married foreign soldiers.

It has been said that, when governments make war, it’s the everyday Joe and the Nigel, the Fritz, Pierre and the Ivan down the street, who must do the fighting, the bleeding, and the dying.  It may well be added. It’s usually left to the mice, to pick up the pieces.