Is there any hard, definitive, reliable evidence that it were the Soviets who committed the Massacre of Nemmersdorf (incl. crucifixions and nailing people on barn doors)?

Several, primarily German sources (see below) make it look like fake news.

Miriam Gebhardt (book Als die Soldaten kamen, positions 757–778 in the Kindle edition):

The symbol of what the Germans would experience after the entry of Soviet troops was the massacre of Nemmersdorf which was exploited for propaganda purposes. It became a portent of German fear of the Russians, purposefully exploited by the propaganda minister Goebbels to increase people's endurance.

On October 18th, 1944, the Soviets crossed the German border for the first time and […] went 60 kilometers (37 miles) into German territory. […] On October 21st, 1944, the Red Army reaches the German village Nemmersdorf not far from Königsberg (today Mayakovskoye in the Kaliningrad region) with approximately 700 inhabitants.

On October 23rd, the Wehrmacht recaptures the village.

Nobody knows completely what exactly happened in the 48 hours [between Soviets capturing the city and the Germans re-capturing it]. Historians assume that in two days between 19 and 30 people were killed (among them 13 civilians).

The Nazi regime uses this event as a propaganda opportunity. It sends messengers to the village who bring terrible messages home. Accoring to them, there were 72 deaths, tortures and crucifixions on barns. Most importantly: All women and children were raped.

Another reporter, to the contrary, mentions lootings, 2 rapes and 26 fatalities (shot in the neck).
The "Wochenschau" shows creepy, most likely fake, images of dead women and children, whose skirts have been pulled up and the underwear removed. In the following months Goebbels initiates a pseudo-objective investigation commission. It consists of representatives of occupied or allied states. Its goal is to investigate the crimes of the Red Army. Witnesses of the events in Nemmersdorf are being influenced and put under pressure.

After the war, the massacre of Nemmersdorf remains a rhetoric weapon agains the "red menace" from the East. Rumors of villages being nailed to barn gates or raped by the Red Army, are extended with further scary details such as castrations and crucifixions. At some point it is said that there is only one man among 72 victims, the rest are women and children. Photos made by Goebbels' propaganda people are taken at face value.

Only in the 1990es was it possible to reduce the exaggerations through interviews with eyewitnesses.

We will never know what really happened in autumn 1944.

English Wikipedia says (my emphasis):

Bernhard Fisch […] interviewed many witnesses still alive on both sides (e.g., Soviet General Kuzma Galitsky, former commander of 11th Guards Army) and crossing out faulty memories against each other, he found out some disturbing details: the German army itself was responsible for destroying the strong German defensive position in front of Nemmersdorf, and after the event no attempt had been made to identify the photographed victims by name.
He was able to conclude that liberties were taken with at least some of the photographs, that some victims on the photographs were from other East Prussian villages, and that the notorious crucifixion barn doors were not even in Nemmersdorf. There also was the tight time schedule of witness Joachim Reisch, reducing the Soviet presence at Nemmersdorf to less than four hours of heavy fighting in front of the bridge.
Another writer, Joachim Reisch, claimed 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.

German Wikipedia seems to confirm Miriam Gebhardt's thesis:

Photographs of the [Goebbels'] propaganda campaign as well as reports and articles of the Nazi authorities were regarded in the [post-war] German discourse as reliable sources.

German text:

Fotografien der Propagandakompanie sowie Berichte und Artikel offizieller NS-Stellen wurden im bundesdeutschen Diskurs als verlässliche Quellen betrachtet.

That page has a list of people killed by the Soviets and this list contains 26 (not 72) people.

  • 9
    When I see so much material in a question, my response is usually "what more do you want to know?"
    – Spencer
    Mar 31, 2018 at 15:42
  • I want to check the statements. Maybe there are facts that Wikipedia and the cited authors are not aware of.
    – user23839
    Apr 1, 2018 at 17:16

1 Answer 1


It is not entirely clear what exactly happened at Nemmersdorf at the hands of the Red Army. Civilian people were killed in the fighting and it stands to reason that similar to the behaviour of the Red Army – and other allied troops – elsewhere not everything went according to Geneva convention or just some human moral standards.

What is clear is that the German side then exploited the event to max, aided by some international press reports. One small event had the whole investigation clouded for decades. During the cold war "the Russians" were still painted as subhuman in the West and especially the West-German press. The West adopted the Goebbels propaganda practically wholesale. Meanwhile the glorious liberators and communist brothers were not be criticised at all. That only changed after the Soviet Union collapsed and Western researchers were allowed to enter the archives in greater scale.

The first book to really account for both sides and weigh the arguments was by the East-Prussian author Bernhard Fisch: "Nemmersdorf, Oktober 1944. Was in Ostpreußen tatsächlich geschah. edition ost: Berlin, 1997". In that book you'll find that most of the reports and especially details disseminated by German propaganda, and subsequently the whole of the Western world, are full of holes, contradictions and dubious conclusions.

The Goebbels account claims that over 30 civilians were most brutally tortured, raped, massacred and defiled. The work of Fisch relies on eyewitness reports, Red Army soldier's letters home and concludes that it may not be the Red Army's finest hour of gallantry but that there were mainly 'just dead people' to be seen, by those Germans who retook the town, and not so many atrocities as the propaganda claimed.

In another article we find:

The tribunal took place on 31 October afternoon in the large hall of the Berlin Charite in front of an auditorium of about 600 people. "The audience included well-known representatives of foreigners working in Germany (Spain, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy and Serbia). In addition, about 100 representatives of the domestic and foreign press and radio appeared. The majority of the audience consisted of delegations from the Berlin local groups of the NSDAP "72 The propagandistic climax was followed on 2 November by the report in the Völkischer Beobachter. It was emphatically objective. But also the large staged court hearing brought the inconsistencies to light. The Volkssturmmann (People's Storm Man) convicted himself of the lie with the sentence: "I am not an expert, but everyone could see so much, these people had only been killed shortly before, the blood was still warm". Blood, however, coagulates after 5–8 minutes and takes on the temperature of the environment. - The War Court Council repeated the observation made in the "Völkischer Beobachter" that "in very many cases small-calibre weapons had been used", which was regarded as proof that "Soviet officers and commissioners were excellently involved in these infamous acts". The field police, on the other hand, had considered MP deployment possible. A lieutenant who came to the village only "one day after the reconquest", i.e. on October 24 (the bodies had already been collected at the cemetery), claimed that the "police captain of the village was the last one to flee with his motorcycle". But policemen of such high rank were not stationed in Nemmersdorf at all. The witness further asserted: "All residents, [...] have been murdered or deported to Siberia." But there is no evidence of any abduction. Major Hinrichs further distorted his account, which had already been manipulated by Taubert: "One could assume [...] that the infamous acts were committed by order of the Soviet leadership.

Prisoner testimonies speak clearly in favour of it. It corresponds to Stalin's order of May this year that "the animal in his cave shall be destroyed". In his unpublished written report the Major had expressed himself even more balanced: "According to numerous prisoner statements, day orders to the troops of the Red Army demanded decent behaviour on German soil. In addition, many prisoners speak of a planned agitation on the part of the mostly Jewish political officials within the units of the Red Army." There Hinrichs had characterized the slogan "destroy the animal in its cave" as a means of strengthening the fighting spirit of the Red Army troops, now before the tribunal, as an invitation to murder the civilian population. "The only survivor," Charlotte M., made the shortest escape from the tribunal report. She simply repeated her statement, which she had given to the field police. By the way, a Polish agricultural worker was interrogated with her (the appearance of a member of the people persecuted by the Nazis was concealed from his readers by the "Völkische Beobachter"). Finally Mae summarized the testimonies of the witnesses. Remarkable is his statement: "The younger women were demonstrably almost all raped". He formulated: "the younger women" and "almost all".

The comprehensive coverage of the tribunal was followed by further "documentaries". The popular Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung printed three pictures on 9 November: a defaced child's head, a girl's head and a devastated refugee stretch, all accompanied by short texts in the familiar style. The press in the province also fulfilled its tasks. This is shown by examples from Thuringia. The "Thüringer Gauzeitung", for example, or the "Jenaische Tageszeitung" published articles in the sense of the "Völkischer Beobachter", or direct takeovers from this newspaper. The newsreel brought pictures from Nemmersdorf. In Jena, between the tirades of hatred controlled by Goebbels, a comprehensive presentation of the course of the military actions appeared, in which Nemmersdorf appears only as a target of hostilities. Parallel to the domestic reporting, journalistic support from abroad began. The Berlin representative of the Oslo Fritt Folk wanted to have seen in a children's room in Nemmersdorf "the corpse of an 8 to 9 month old child who had been killed by smashing the skull". The Swiss Courier de Geneve wrote: "With the exception of a young German woman and a Polish worker, everything was destroyed by the Red Army. 30 men, 20 women and 15 children fell into the hands of the Russians in Nemmersdorf and were killed." This enormous amount of reporting and investigation leads one to suspect that the truth must be sought far from the propaganda. That amounts to a revaluation of the few assumptions of eyewitnesses, often neglected in historiography, that it was SS men who mutilated the dead civilians and prepared them accordingly. Such a statement has been indirectly passed down, among others, by the Air Force War Reporter Gudzinski. He had come to Nemmersdorf on October 25 to accompany the war correspondent of the Einsatzzug der Heeresgruppe Mitte on October 25. The most credible testimonies, such as those of the soldier Thürk and the sergeant Hoffmann, leave no doubt that terrible things had happened in Nemmersdorf on the morning of October 23. But both reached the place only 6-8 hours after the Soviet troops left at night. What happened that night? The Volkssturmann and his companion were to find out in the morning "whether people were shot here". Could this order have been given because it was already clear what awaited the small reconnaissance troop?

Bernhard Fisch: "Nemmersdorf im Oktober 1944" in Elke Scherstjanoi (Ed): "Rotarmisten schreiben aus Deutschland. Briefe von der Front (1945) und historische Analysen", Texte und Materialien zur Zeitgeschichte Vol 14, De Gruyter: Berlin, 2004.

Fisch's analysis was met with considerable criticism. Mainly for his reliance on the previously neglected eyewitness reports, and also for even considering the Soviet side. But the mainstream narrative about Nemmersdorf atrocities is now:

The particularly hideous details in the reports on Nemmersdorf, the systematic rape of almost all villagers and the women's corpses nailed to gates, on the other hand, were probably the result of rumors and became popular through the Nazi propaganda offensive: they simply fitted perfectly into the enemy's image of the "Bolshevik Beast."
(Sven Felix Kellerhoff: "Was geschah beim Massaker in Nemmersdorf?", Welt, 2013.)