About two thirds of the USSR’s 27 million casualties were civilians – that is, almost 10% of its prewar population. Had those percentages been applied to Nazi Germany, it would lost 8 million people – an order of magnitude than the 400,000 civilians it lost due to Allied strategic bombing, and the 600,000 who died during the expulsions of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe (the vast majority of which were carried out by local authorities, not the Red Army or the NKVD).
About 3.3 million out of 5.7 million Soviet POWs died in Nazi custody (compared to 15% of German POWs in the half-starved USSR, and low single digit figures for Allied POWs in Nazi Germany). Had the Soviets treated its 4.2 million German POWs as harshly, with a death rate of 60%, the German number of military dead would have risen from 5.3 million to around 7.3 million. That’s not far off the figure of 8.7 million Soviet military deaths (9.2 million taking into account unregistered militia in 1941).
It’s now well known that Nazi long-term plans called for the eventual genocide of about 75% of the Soviet population, and the helotization/expulsion of the rest. If we count probabilities, assuming there was a 50% chance of Nazi victory over the USSR in 1941-42, and a 50% chance of Generalplan Ost being implemented in its full scale, that translates to around 200 million times 25% equals 50 million additional deaths. This means that in the average of all possible timelines, about 75 million Soviet citizens died, or 37.5% of its prewar population. That translates to around 30 million if these percentages are applied to Germany and its East European diaspora.
And yet for some people – for the most part, the most Rusophobic neocons and Cold Warriors, the more Nazi elements of the Alt Right, and deranged Poles and Balts who don’t quite realize what Hitler had in store for them – the Soviet rape of about 2 million women in Eastern Germany at the end of the war is supposed to be a really huge, defining war crime, even something that delegitimizes the overall Soviet victory.*
How many rapes is one death/murder “worth”? My intuition is that murder is quite a lot worse, perhaps by an order of magnitude if I had to quantify it, and I suspect that most people will agree. It just so happens that so do sentencing guidelines. The typical term for murder in the US is 30 years to life (which might functionally translate to an average of 50 years). The average term for rape is 10 years, of which about 5 are served. This is a differential of five. It also happens to be almost exactly the differential between the murder rate in the US (~5 cases / 100,000 anually) and the rate of rape and sexual assault (~30 / 100,000 annually, as per police records and self-victimization surveys). Let us then provisionally estimate that rape is on average 20% as “bad” as murder. (Note: I actually think it’s considerably less, because sentencing for murder is range constricted by biological ageing. And the homicide problem is usually considered to be worse than the sexual violence one, even though there are usually far fewer of them than there are rapes).
Therefore, let’s say 2 million rapes translates to 400,000 deaths. Compare this to 27 million Soviet civilian deaths (of which two thirds were civilians) in a war started by Nazi Germany, or the 75 million or so Soviet deaths across all timelines. Even assuming that the worst estimates of the Red Army rapes are accurate – they were still, at most, equivalent to far less than 1% of the Nazi crimes against Russia.
Now to be sure you can argue that not all “murders” are equal, especially in war. Direct genocide, like the gassings of Jews or the massacres of Belorussian villagers, seems to be worse than deaths incurred by incidental effects of war, such as bombings of industrial facilities or famine incurred due to the stresses of the war effort, which in turn are worse than military deaths, since society tends to consider soldiers as pretty much “fair game” (though it is questionable to what extent this can be applied to conscripts on the Eastern Front, who did not even get the theoretical possibility of opting out by applying for a “conscientious objector” status at the cost of their social reputation, as in the less “total” conflict of World War I). But there are many different types of rapes as well. There were traumatic gang rapes, to military brothels relying on considerable degrees of coercion, to women semi-voluntarily hooking up with one particular soldier in return for security, or just trading their bodies for food.
Furthermore, contrary to the myth of the “clean Wehrmacht” spread by retired Nazi generals and their wehraboo admirers after the war, there was plenty of rape amongst German soldiers in the USSR. For instance, here is a quote from historian Alexander Dyukov’s 2007 book “What the Soviet People Fought For”:
Rape continued, and acquired an organized character. From time to time “hunting groups” ventured out of Wehrmacht positions. “We ventured out to the village near Rozhdestvenno near Gatchina,” said Peter Schuber, a private who was at the Seversky airport, “We had orders to bring girls to the officers. We did the operation successfully, surrounding all the houses. We grabbed a truckload of girls. The officers held the girls all night, and gave them to us soldiers in the morning.”
In the large cities, permanent brothels were organized. This was standard Wehrmacht practice. “There were military brothels, called Puff,” recalls SS officer Avenir Benningsen, “They were present on almost all fronts. Girls from all Europe, all nationalities, gathered up from all camps. By the way, the two condoms regularly handed out to men and officers were indispensable posessions.” But whereas in the European countries the Wehrmacht brothels were staffed more or less voluntarily, in the USSR there were no such considerations. Girls and women were forcibly rounded up, in scenes seared into the memories of people undergoing the occupation. In Smolensk, for instance, women were dragged off by the arms, by the hair, dragged along the pavement, into the officers’ brothel in one of the hotels. Those who refused to remain there were shot.
After Red Army soldiers drove the Germans out of Kerch, they encoutered a terrible sight: “In the courtyard of the prison there was a shapeless heap of naked female bodies, horrifically mutilated by the fascists.”
So even if we are to tally sexual crimes completely separately, the rapes of the Wehrmacht carried an organized, long-term character – similar to the Japanese Army’s abuse of Chinese and Korean comfort women – whereas Red Army rapes happened in a concentrated orgy of violence in the last few months of the war. That fury in turn was fueled by a regrettable but very understandable hatred for the death and devastation the Germans had wreaked in the USSR, made all the more inexplicable by the overwhelming prosperity of the Germans relative to the ramshackle poverty of Soviet life.
Incidentally, soon after the war, as the follow-up to his “toast to the Russian people,” Stalin presided over another famine that took 500,000 Russian lives (more than fifty years after the worst famine of late Imperial Russia, in which a similar number died). Why? Because the USSR was exporting grain to support its new Communist client states, including East Germany. (Functionally, Stalin agreed with the Nazis that German lives were worth more than Russian lives). This one event alone is by utilitarian metrics considerably more horrific than all the Red Army rapes in Germany.
The real “Soviet Story“: Stalin mutilates Russia. Hitler mutilates Russia. Stalin mutilates Hitler, then mutilates Russia some more. Russophobe ideologues conclude that Russia is as bad as Hitler (if not worse).
Just people who insist on questioning the lethality of Zyklon B or how many people the shower rooms in Auschwitz could accomodate tend to have motives that are suspect, to put it mildly, so it is a pretty good bet that anyone who consistently gives primacy to the Red Army rapes and looting in Germany when discussing the moral weightings of the USSR vs. Nazi Germany might sooner be looking to replay Hitler’s/Stalin’s joint genocide against Russia.
* I would note that there are questions about whether there actually were that many Red Army rapes in Germany; for instance, there are arguments that they are based on unrealistic extrapolations from a small sample of abortion statistics. I haven’t studied this issue in any depth myself and will assume that the conventional mass rape narrative is broadly correct. If this is not the case and there actually were much fewer rapes, that makes the main argument even stronger.