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A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the…

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary (2003)

by Marta Hillers (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,149427,104 (4.19)68
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    City of Women by David R. Gillham (betsytacy)
    betsytacy: After reading Gillham's novel about a German woman's life in Berlin at the height of World War II, including her affair with a Jewish man and her growing involvement in hiding Jewish residents, turn to A Woman in Berlin, an anonymous diary account of a woman's struggle to survive the Russian occupation of Berlin at the end of the war.… (more)

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“A Woman in Berlin” is the diary of a thirty-four year old German woman, a successful journalist who wrote an eye-witness account of the Soviet conquest of Berlin. Her diary starts on April 20, 1945. Berlin contained about 2,000,000 people, mostly civilians, many women and children. Advancing toward Berlin is a 1,500,000-man Soviet army, all battle-hardened, well-trained, and well-equipped soldiers.

Her first entry in her diary is “It’s true the war is rolling toward Berlin. What was yesterday a distant rumble has now become a constant roar. Our fate is rolling in from the East, and it will transform our entire climate, like another Ice Age.” Seven days later, the Russians are at her door. She is raped along with many other women in Berlin.

To protect herself from repeated rapes, the young German woman seeks a relationship with a Russian officer: “Alliance with a big wolf will keep the rest of the pack away!” It worked to some extent. She was still forcibly raped, but not as often as she would have been without the protection of the officer. In her diary, she criticized the retreating German army for leaving liquor behind in hope that a drunken army can no longer wage war. “Don’t the Nazis realize what drunken soldiers would do to captured women?” The adulation Berliners once had for Hitler, when he seemed invincible, now becomes: “No pole is too high (to hang him).”

She describes the forced labor to dismantle factories and ship the machines and supplies by rail to Russia. She also relates other observations: “I long ago lost my childhood piety so that God and the Beyond have become mere symbols and abstractions.” “Why does a cross on a grave affect us if we no longer call ourselves Christian?” Her diary ends on June 22, 1945. Her last entry is about her boyfriend: “Does Gerd still think of me? Maybe we’ll find our way back to each other yet.”

After the war, the young woman typed her handwritten notes and had them published in the 1950’s. Her diary was not well received in Germany. She then remained out of the public eye for her remaining years. The woman survived to be ninety, dying in 2001. Her diary is another vivid eye-witness account of civilian’s experience when their whole world collapses around them. I found this book very interesting. ( )
  MauriceAWilliams | Jan 17, 2015 |
A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous; 4 1/2 stars

This is a wonderful book, as much for what the author does not say as for what she does say. The author was a professional writer and editor and the diary is a very powerful study of these few weeks of the history of Berlin.
The author is more a survivor than a heroine. She becomes numbed by by the experiences she suffers & of those around her. She does not following a moral code but does what she must to survive. She suppresses her rage for that would be of no help to her. The demands of day to day survival require that she must endure what the Russian army takes from her & does to her. We never learn the real cost to her in terms of the rest of her life as we do not know her. Her understated way of describing the literal rape of a city makes the horror that much more palpable.
The author avoids callow sermonizing and obvious appeals to the reader's emotions. There is not a trace of self-pity here. This is obviously material that speaks for itself and in the author's skilled hands it does just that.
The author was well-educated, reasonably well-traveled, at least a passive acceptor of the Nazi state, and not inclined in this diary to express any particular sense of regret at what that state had done. It is mostly others in the diary who make the point that the German army probably did worse to the Russians than is being done to them. A point on which historians would agree. As horrific as the rapes were, the Russians were intent on alcohol and women, not mass murder of civilians.
Smart, clever, more sophisticated and world-weary than the average good German, the author was simply a citizen muddling through as best she could, neither the best nor the worst. She makes the horrible and unimaginable seem almost ordinary.
This book was a refreshing read as it is fairly matter of fact. I very highly recommend it. ( )
3 vote rainpebble | Feb 14, 2014 |
A book that brings an interesting mix of feelings for the (non-German) reader. Sympathy for the women who had to endure rape, starvation, the whims of their Russian conquerors, and conflict and jealousy among themselves as they scrapped for survival, and at the same time righteous joy that the Germans are getting what they deserved after inflicting such horrors on the world. Admittedly its hard to feel much empathy with the Russian soldiers, the best of whom are simply ignorant and boorish, the worst of whom are no better than the Nazis they conquered, but my sympathy for the author and her compatriots was much more muted than it would have been for, say Polish women, or Russian women for that matter. Really this is a difficult book to read impartially - a small amount of empathy and a whopping dose of schadenfreude, although the reader will have to admit that the author's refusal to drown in self-pity, her pluck, practicaility and talent for survival are admirable and make this a worthwhile read. ( )
  drmaf | Oct 10, 2013 |
Profound. Everyone should read this book. ( )
  mjennings26 | Apr 3, 2013 |
This was an extremely difficult book to read, not because of the prose because the book was extremely well written but because of the subject matter. It is the first book, and actually it is non fiction from the authors own diary, I have read about a insider living in Berlin and what the ordinary people went through when the Russians took over. She writes for her own sanity but also in the hope that if her husband returns he will read it and know what has happened to them. All the rapes, young and old, can't believe that something like this on such a grand scale went on. These women who were left behind and their will to survive is amazing. They were in fear all the time, never had enough to eat, literally starving and under the complete power of the occupying force of the Russians. Very powerful. ( )
  Beamis12 | Mar 30, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hillers, MartaAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marek, Kurt W.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Slofstra, FroukjeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Friday, April 20, 1945, 4:00 P.M.
It's true: the war is rolling toward Berlin.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (5)

Book description
A Woman in Berlin is the astonishing and deeply affecting diary of a woman fighting for survival amid the horror and inhumanity of war. Begun on 20 April 1945, the day Berlin first saw the face of war and ending on 22 June 1945, the anonymous author describes life within the falling city as it was sacked by the Russian army.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312426119, Paperback)

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

For eight weeks in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army, a young woman kept a daily record of life in her apartment building and among its residents. "With bald honesty and brutal lyricism" (Elle), the anonymous author depicts her fellow Berliners in all their humanity, as well as their cravenness, corrupted first by hunger and then by the Russians. "Spare and unpredictable, minutely observed and utterly free of self-pity" (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland), A Woman in Berlin tells of the complex relationship between civilians and an occupying army and the shameful indignities to which women in a conquered city are always subject--the mass rape suffered by all, regardless of age or infirmity.

A Woman in Berlin stands as "one of the essential books for understanding war and life" (A. S. Byatt, author of Possession).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:53 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"For eight weeks in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army, a young woman, alone in the city, kept a daily record of her and her neighbors' experiences, determined to describe the common lot of millions." "Purged of all self-pity but with laser-sharp observation and bracing humor, the anonymous author conjures up a ravaged apartment building and its little group of residents struggling to get by in the rubble without food, heat, or water. Clear-eyed and unsentimental, she depicts her fellow Berliners in all their humanity as well as their cravenness, corrupted first by hunger and then by the Russians. And with shocking and vivid detail, she tells of the shameful indignities to which women in a conquered city are always subject: the mass rape suffered by all, regardless of age or infirmity. Through this ordeal, she maintains her resilience, decency, and fierce will to come through her city's trial, until normalcy and safety return."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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