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Culture

Movie Sheds Light on Forgotten Post-War Rape Victims

For the first time, a German movie deals with rape victims in the aftermath of World War II. Coinciding with the release, a German university is investigating the trauma of the victims.

A scene from the movie: A Young German woman talks to Russian officer in post-war Berlin

The relationship with a Russian officer is the woman's only way to protect herself

The movie picks up a story long neglected in German post-war history: The plight of rape victims in the aftermath of World War II.

"A woman in Berlin" premiered at Septembers' film festival in Toronto and is being released in theaters across Germany on Thursday, Oct. 23.

The movie is based on the autobiographical account of Marta Hiller, a young woman in Berlin between the months of April and June in 1945. When the book was published anonymously in the 1950s, reactions were overwhelmingly negative.

From flop to bestseller

A republished edition hit the shelves only as late as 2003 - - two years after Hiller's death - - and proved to be a bestseller.

Women picking up rubble in Berlin

With their men gone, women were left to pick up the pieces

The lead role is portrayed by German actress Nina Hoss, playing the young woman as Soviet soldiers entered Berlin in May 1945. She's raped several times by Red Army soldiers until she eventually enters into a relationship with a Russian officer to shield herself from further attacks.

Rape victims in the aftermath of World War II have long been a difficult chapter in German history, especially in communist East Germany, where any criticism of the Russian army was impossible.

"For the first time the phenomenon of mass rapes at the end of the war is the subject of a German movie," said Jochen-Konrad Fromme, a German parliamentarian and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.

"That means that 63 years after the end of the war, the fate and suffering of hundreds of thousands of German women is being acknowledged for the first time," he added.

Millions of victims

A scene from the movie: Young woman walking past a line of soldiers

Actress Nina Hoss says her character 'went through hell'

Fromme added that historians estimate around 2 million women became victims of rape after the war. Cases of sexual violence also occurred in the western part of Germany under the Allied forces, yet historians agree that the problem was particularly acute under the Soviet army.

Coinciding with the release of the movie, the University of Greifswald in northeastern Germany has launched a research project to study the trauma of women raped during that period.

Phillip Kuwert, who is heading the project, said that it will help to analyze the long-term psychological effects. Better methods of treatment could then be developed for other conflict or war zones.

German newspapers have reacted with mixed reviews to "A woman in Berlin." Some critics are bashing the filmmakers for treating the serious subject on a level way too trivial and sentimental. Others praise the movie for bringing a chapter of German history to a wider audience which so far many people have been ill-informed about.

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