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 Soviet soldiers against German civilians and French and Belgian noncombatants. Determining the facts has aroused controversy, with fatalities estimated at 64 to 71. Records of the Russian Army have become newly available to scholars for research since the fall of the Soviet Union, resulting in new works being published on this topic.
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 on October 21, 1944. 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 news series, 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.
"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."
"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."
At the time, the Nazi Propaganda Ministry disseminated a graphic description of the events in order 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" became 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. There has been a tremendous amount of research into World War II era events.
The historian Bernhard Fisch, a native of East Prussia who had served as a Wehrmacht soldier during the war, had been in Nemmersdorf a few days after it was re-taken. He remembered a different scene than that portrayed by the Wochenschau series shown in cinemas. 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 (2003), he incorporated the material from newly available 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 identify the names of some of the photographed victims. He suggests that some photographs were altered, documents that some 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 book was covered on TV by German TV Channel ZDF that same year.
Another writer, Joachim Reisch, claims to have personally been at the scene of the bridge when the event was supposed to have occurred. He has said that the Soviet Brigade was on the bridge for less than four hours.
Ian Kershaw is among those historians who generally believe that the Soviet forces committed a massacre at Nemmersdorf, although details and numbers are disputed. The German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) contain many contemporary reports and photographs by officials of Nazi Germany of the victims of the Nemmersdorf massacre. It also holds evidence of other Soviet massacres in East Prussia, notably Metgethen. In the late 20th century, Alfred de Zayas, now recognized as an expert in international law, interviewed numerous German soldiers and officers who had been in the Nemmersdorf area in October 1944, to learn what they saw. De Zayas also interviewed Belgian and French POWs who had been in the area and fled with German civilians before the Russian advance. He incorporated these sources into his histories of events: Nemesis at Potsdam (Routledge 1977/7th edition Picton Press, 2003), and A Terrible Revenge (Macmillan 2006).
- Dezayas, Alfred. "DIE GROßE FLUCHT AUS DEM OSTEN" (in German). Retrieved 2011-10-29.
- Thorsten Hinz (2004). "Kein Erinnerungsort nirgends" (in German). Retrieved 2011-10-29.
- Pater Lothar Groppe, "Als der rote Terror Deutschland erreichte - Vor 60 Jahren begingen Rotarmisten das Massaker von Nemmersdorf",[dead link] Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung, 16 October 2004
- Hastings, ibid.
- Samuel References Page ?
- Thorwald References Page ?
- Thorwald References Page ?
- Dönhoff References Page ?
- Fisch References 192 pp
- Bernhard Fisch: "Nemmersdorf 1944 – nach wie vor ungeklärt", in: Gerd R. Ueberschär (Hrsg.): Orte des Grauens. Verbrechen im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Primus Verlag, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-89678-232-0, pp. 155–167; also, Fisch, Nemmersdorf, October 1944: What Actually Happened in East Prussia (2003)
- Joachim Reisch
- [Ian Kershaw, The End, 2012, Penguin Books, pp. 111-117]
- Brandenburg, Christel Weiss and Dan Laing. Ruined by the Reich: Memoir of an East Prussian Family, 1916-1945. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-1615-7
- Dönhoff, Marion. Namen die keiner mehr nennt. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbücher Verlag, 1962.
- Fisch, Bernhard. Nemmersdorf, Oktober 1944: Was in Ostpreußen tatsächlich geschah. Berlin: 1997. ISBN 3-932180-26-7
- Samuel, Wolfgang. "War on the Ground", in The War of Our Childhood: Memories of World War II, University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-482-1
- Thorwald, Jürgen.Wielka ucieczka (Große Flucht). Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1998. ISBN 83-08-02890-X
- Gerd R. Ueberschaer, (Hrsg.): Orte des Grauens. 2003
- Thorsten Hinz: Eines der düsteren Kapitel - Nemmersdorf: Neue Aspekte eines Verbrechens, in www.jungefreiheit.de 47/97 14. November 1997 (German)
- Joachim Reisch: Ein Storchennest als Mahnmal - Ostpreußen: Ein Augenzeuge erinnert sich an das Massaker von Nemmersdorf, in www.jungefreiheit.de 08/98 13. February 1998 (German)
- Joachim Reisch: `Perkallen Versunkenes Paradies in Ostpreußen´ Landgut und Pferdegestüt zwischen Rominten und Trakehnen - Dokumentation (1999)
- Archived website mirroring various reports about Nemmersdorf (German)
- German TV channel ZDF: Die Wahrheit über Nemmersdorf (German)