I recall reading but not where I read it that soldiers of Jewish extraction or actual Jews tended to avoid the excesses of the Red Army once German civilians were encountered. Is there any evidence of or explanation for this restraint?
You may have read this in Antony Beevor's book The Fall of Berlin 1945 where he writes:
And a wide range of anecdotal evidence indicates that Red Army officers who were Jewish went out of their way to protect German women and girls.
Anecdotal evidence is as much as one can expect under the circumstances - the Red Army's image was of paramount importance and such crimes, while discouraged, were all too often ignored or swept under the carpet.
The only piece of direct evidence I've found is from Vasily Grossman's A Writer at War. Grossman, a Jew, was "a special correspondent for the Red Army newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda, or Red Star" and "proved to be the most perceptive and honest eyewitness of the Soviet frontlines between 1941 and 1945." Referring to the 8th Guards Army in the town of Schwerin, Grossman writes:
Women’s screams are heard from open windows. A Jewish officer, whose whole family was killed by Germans, is billeted in the apartment of a Gestapo man who has escaped. The women and girls [left behind] are safe while he is there. When he leaves, they all cry and plead with him to stay.
As to why Jewish soldiers might have been less inclined than their Red Army colleagues to participate in such atrocities, there are two plausible (but by no means definitive) explanations:
- Jewish soldiers were very conscious of the perception that they were bad soldiers - cowards, weak, etc. Adding 'rapist' to the list would not have improved their image and they were motivated to prove their bravery and military professionalism, showing that they could fight. That Jewish soldiers did fight with distinction is evidenced by the fact that they were awarded a disproportionately high number of medals relative their numbers.
- In his book, Beevor relates that many incidents of rape were fueled by alcohol. Martin McKee (Alcohol in Russia) and R. J. Simon (In the Golden Land) note that incidents of alcohol abuse among Soviet Jews were lower than among Slavs, and Simon adds that spouse abuse was also less common.
Neither of the above explanations mean that Jewish soldiers did not participate in atrocities, but they could account for the apparently greater 'restraint' shown.