The Holocaust Historiography Project


Soviet Atrocities in German Silesia

  • Silesian Inferno: War Crimes of the Red Army on its March into Silesia in 1945, by Karl Friedrich Grau. Introduction by Prof. Ernst Deuerlein. Valley Forge, Penn.: Landpost Press, 1992. Hardcover. 210 pages. Charts. Maps. Bibliography. ISBN 1-880881-09-8. (Available from the IHR for $19.95, plus $2.00 shipping.)

Reviewed by Theodore J. O’Keefe

This work — a re-issue of a 1970 English translation (from the 1966 German original) — limits itself to atrocities committed between January and August 1945 by Red Army troops and functionaries in the Silesian districts of Oppeln and Wohlau (although for comparative purposes a chapter on Soviet crimes reported from other Silesian districts is included). Silesian Inferno gathers and analyzes the evidence of sworn, signed statements by the German victims. Important contemporary documents are also presented here.

Considerable pains have been taken objectively to present and examine the testimonies. While the revisionist eye will note a certain amount of hearsay, nevertheless the abundance of convincing, and shattering, first-hand testimony to gruesome Soviet crimes, ranging from the vilest murders and rapes on down, against helpless non-combatants, will provoke shame or at least defensiveness among even the most hardened advocates of the myth of Allied rectitude. Supplementing the various testimonies, most of them excerpted, are helpful charts showing the extent of Red bestiality.

Professor Ernst Deuerlein’s introduction places the systematic Soviet atrocities squarely in the context of Soviet policy toward Germany, demonstrating that the mass murders and rapes were the ineluctable consequence of a calculated and deliberate choice between alternative modes of dealing with the “German problem": whether to liberate the oppressed German masses from the rule of “the Ruhr magnates and Prussian junkers and their Hitlerite henchmen,” or to heed the hate-drunk exhortations of Ilya Ehrenburg, Stalin’s reigning Literat, to rape and kill the German “beasts.” Citing Stalin’s well-known interviews with the Yugoslav writer Milovan Djilas, Deuerlein also shows that kindly Uncle Joe was entirely cognizant of his troops' behavior, and took no action, rather rationalizing it with a logic that would do credit to his predecessors among the khans who ruled the vast steppes before him. (To his credit, Deuerlein, writing at a time when German nationalist writers tended to be publicly more indulgent of the Western powers, nevertheless points to high-ranking British and American officials whose tirades against the Germans were scarcely less vicious than those of Ehrenburg.)

A minor weakness of Silesian Inferno are the author’s several scattered references to German policies, attributed to the National Socialists, that he suggests paralleled, or even evoked, the Red war and peace crimes. Here it must be stated that whatever the numerous failings of Nazi (and German) wartime behavior, including the harsh conduct of the war in the East, no German crimes can match those of Stalin and his henchmen, against their own peoples and others, in war and in peace, nor the murderous bombing terror of the British and American air forces against hapless civilians from Amsterdam to Bucharest (not to forget Yokohama, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki). This may be for many a bitter pill to swallow, but it is based on historical fact, not mere propaganda.

Readers unfamiliar with Silesia and its history will learn of the civilizing mission of its German settlers, most notably in their peaceful peopling of that historic province following the 13th-century depredations of the Mongols.

The English translation of the text is generally first-rate, contrasting markedly with rather clumsy English of the dust jacket.

Anyone interested in a clinical presentation and analysis of World War II conduct of one of the “Big Four” that sat in judgment at Nuremberg, as well as anyone with an interest in the comparative evaluation of testimonies and reports as to the numerous atrocities of the Second World War (real and imagined), is urged to read Silesian Inferno.

Theodore J. O’Keefe is book editor for the Institute for Historical Review, and an associate editor of the IHR’s Journal of Historical Review. He previously worked at the IHR from 1986 until 1994, serving as chief editor of this Journal from 1988 until April 1992. He also addressed the IHR Conferences of 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1992. Educated at Harvard College, he is the author of numerous articles on historical and political subjects that have appeared in a range of periodicals.

Bibliographic information
Author: O’Keefe, Theodore J.
Title: Silesian Inferno: War Crimes of the Red Army on its March into Silesia in 1945 (review)
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: January/February 1994
Issue: Volume 14 number 1
Location: Page 43
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.