Contributor: C. Peter Chen
On 22 Oct 1944, troops of the 2nd Battalion of the Soviet 25th Guards Tank Brigade moved near the village of Nemmersdorf on the frontier of East Prussia, Germany (now Mayakovskoye, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia), capturing the nearby Angrapa bridge. Several attempts to counterattack were launched, some supported by aircraft. During one of the German air attacks, some Soviet troops fled into bomb shelters built and occupied by 14 residents of Nemmersdorf; Gerda Meczulat, who was in the shelter at the time, claimed that the Soviet officers came in, shot the civilians (seriously wounding, but not killing, Meczulat), and used the shelter for their own purpose. Other troops had also set up defensive positions within the village itself. After sundown, Soviet troops fell back across the bridge, giving up the bridgehead.
German troops returned to Nemmersdorf on 24 Oct and found a large number of civilians killed. German soldier GŁnter Koschorrek's diary revealed his finding of an old man "whose throat had been drilled through with a pitchfork so that his entire body is hanging on a barn door.... It is impossible for me to describe all the terrible sights we have witnessed in Nemmersdorf." Other witnesses spoke of refugees being trampled by Soviet tanks and civilians mowed down by machine gun fire at the bridge leading out of town. After the war, former chief of staff of the German 4th Army Major General Erich Dethleffsen testified before an American tribunal in Neu-Ulm, Germany, stating:
The German propaganda machine immediately took the chance to advertise the Soviet atrocity, citing evidences of brutality. A team of experts was organized, which included those from neutral countries, to investigate, but this failed to achieve the goal of stirring an international incident. Internally in Germany, the effect of this propaganda campaign was rather polarized; while the propaganda helped with the recruitment of volunteers for the Volkssturm units, the population in East Prussia and other eastern German provinces began fleeing in large numbers to the west to avoid similar fate, jamming major transportation junctions and adversely affecting the movement of troops and supplies.
While the Germans claimed that most of the 653 residents of Nemmersdorf were killed, Soviet records showed only 20 to 30 killed. It was generally believed that the Germans had inflated the number of deaths, grouped evidence of other isolated atrocities to embellish the size of this massacre, and might even had created the situations where civilians would be killed by the Soviets (for example, some accused the German military of using civilians to shield one of the attacks on the Angrapa bridge). The Soviet claim of only 20 to 30 killed was equally fantastic, as the Soviet Union was also known to take great liberties with numbers even with its official state records. The actual number of deaths was likely somewhere in-between.
Isabel Denny, The Fall of Hitler's Fortress City
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Winston Churchill, 1935