AN 80-YEAR-OLD German woman has smashed a decades-long taboo by going public about the rapes she endured at the hands of Soviet soldiers during World War II in a searing book about the Red Army's crimes as it marched on Berlin.
Why Did I Have To Be A Girl? by Gabriele Koepp is the first book published about the rapes under a victim's real name. It is a harrowing, un-self pitying scrutiny of agony that the Russian establishment continues to deny to this day.
Ms Koepp was one of an estimated 2 million German girls and women raped by Soviet soldiers, encouraged by their leader Joseph Stalin to regard the crime as a spoil of war after Hitler's invasion had left 26 million Russians dead. In the weeks after Berlin fell in 1945, the rape epidemic was so bad that even the Catholic Church countenanced abortion for some victims.
Ms Koepp still has trouble sleeping and she shunned romance after her ordeal - ''For me, sexuality was just violence,'' she says resignedly.
Only one other account, A Woman In Berlin, was published anonymously after the war but its veracity is now doubted.
''I was hardly more than a child. Writing this has not been easy, but I had no choice: who else would do it?'' asked Ms Koepp.
Her book speaks not only for her, but all the victims. Experts who have interviewed survivors say they were raped an average of 12 times. Victims ranged from eight to 90, with many literally raped to death.
Ms Koepp told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that it was on January 25, 1945, aged 15, that her mother told her to flee from the advancing Russians. They lived in Schneidemuehl, in the former German region of Pomerania, which is now a Polish town called Pila.
She and her sister left the next day on a cattle train supposedly bound for Berlin. But it went in a different direction and she and her sister became separated after the engine was blown up by Russian artillery. She never saw her again.
The next day, in a small village, the ordeal began as Soviet troops scoured houses for prey. She was raped twice that first day, then twice again the next morning.
Her attempts to hide under a table in a room filled with refugees were betrayed when older women pulled her out and handed her to Russian troops, who dragged her to a ransacked house.
''The next morning, it was the women, once again, who pushed me into the arms of a greedy officer,'' she writes.
''I despise these women.''
Her ordeal, rape after rape, day after day, went on for two weeks until she was taken in at a farm and hid from the marauding Soviets.
She wrote a heart-rending letter to her mother that was never posted, which she still has: ''There is no one here to come to my aid. If only you were here. I'm so afraid, because I no longer have my 'illness' [her period] any more. It's been almost 10 weeks now. I'm sure you could help me. If only dear God wasn't doing this to me. Oh, dear mother, if only I hadn't left without you.''
She was reunited with her mother 15 months later in Hamburg but says her mother was cold to her when she tried to speak of her pain and shame. She thinks she felt guilty for letting her and her sister leave home alone.