Siege of Breslau - former capital of Schlesien

Former Festung Breslau, May 1945
The very German city of Breslau became part of Poland, along with almost all of the fertile flatlands of Lower Silesia, under the terms of the Potsdam Conference in August 1945. When the Soviets approached the city in February 1945, 18,000 women and children froze to death in icy snowstorms during a poorly organised evacuationBy the end of the siege, an estimated 40,000 civilians lay dead in the ruins. Eyewitness account No. 15 from the Bonn investigation report gives an inkling of what it was like: I was raped twice a day for seven days, each time by several soldiers, she said. The seventh day was my worst. I was picked up in the evening, and released the next morning. My genitals were completely ripped open, and I had an arm-wide sore all the way down to my knees. I could neither walk nor lie down. There were three more terrible days like this one before the Russian soldiers decided we had had enough, and chased us naked out of that hellhole. Together with other victims, she was sent on a death march - barefoot. According to historian Christian Habbe almost 90,000 people perished in the evacuation of the city and the subsequent siege. The end of the war also signalled an active campaign to de-Germanize Breslau, renamed Wrocław, and Sovietisation soon followed. By January 1948 the city was officially declared to be free of German inhabitants, there were in fact still 3,000 in the city, essentially kept on to do jobs Poles were unqualified for. This siege remains little-known in the West therefore the first-hand account In the fire of the Eastern Front by Dutch Waffen-SS Volunteer Henrik C. Verton is of particular historical interest. He served in SS-Festungs-Grenadier-Regiment Besslein, an ad-hoc unit raised in February 1945 for the defense of Breslau. Credit: Der Spiegel. Image: Dolny Śląsk. Public domain.

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