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Eine Frau in Berlin: Tagebuch-Aufzeichnungen vom 20. April bis 22. Juni… (original 1954; edition 2005)
A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary by Marta Hillers (1954)
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Like I've said before, I don't really like reviewing historical books like this as you can't really be that critical, especially this type (war diary) as it directly applies to an actual person.
This is the war diary of an anonymous lady, trapped in Berlin as the Russians are getting closer & finally occupy the city.
There is some pretty awful stuff as you would expect in this kind of publication. It's books like this that make me glad I'm able to read with a sense of detachment sometimes because actually living in this book (although it's not hard to picture) would be absolutely horriffic.
Because of the nature of this book, it took me a long time to read. Longer than I usually take to read a book of this length.
The anonymous writer writes openly, and with great detail, of the brutal Russian occupation of Berlin in the late spring of 1945. Her first person account of the repeated rapes by the Russians and the choices that a woman needed to make in the chaos of war in order to live is chilling, and these were the parts that, after reading I had to put the book down and move into something lighter for a while before resuming. The building ruins, the hunger, the lack of sanitation of a ruined capital are all here. This is a very powerful book and will make the reader wonder how far they would go to survive if they were in a similar situation.
Devastating. This is a nasty story in many ways. Drunken soldiers, mass rape of women and children. Cruelty. Pettiness. The author several times quotes about man being a wolf to other men- sort of a comment on "humanity" that is inhumanity really, in much the same way Christians aren't very Christian (or humane) when they preach hate. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating look at the real cost of war- the ones politicians and generals don't think about. On the other hand, it is also a tribute to the resourcefulness and resilience of women, who bore more than their fair share of the costs of war.
A Woman in Berlin is the diary of an anonymous resident of Berlin during and after the final defeat of the Third Reich, from 20 April to 22 June. It's an intense, closely observed account of how an entire society and system of government collapses, and then the first steps to restoring it to a state of order, though under foreign occupation and with a new ideology being imposed on the disempowered inhabitants.
If that were all, it would still be a really valuable account of catastrophic endings and stumbling beginnings at a truly historical moment for Europe. But that is not all. From 27 April to 7 May, the writer, and pretty much every woman in Berlin who did not manage to hide, was raped repeatedly by Russian soldiers (strictly, Soviet soldiers; she mentions some from other parts of the USSR). I guess I've always known that this was an integral part of the collapse of the Eastern Front, but it's quite another matter to read a first person account. The details are calmly recounted, as the Russians arrive and take what they want, using German homes and bodies with no need for restraint and encountering little resistance (but no consent). It's a collective experience for the women of Berlin, and to an extent their few remaining men who are unable to intervene; but also an intensely personal and individual one for every woman affected. This grim situation is not unique to Germany in 1945, but it can rarely have been better described.
And yet those 11 days of constant rape are less than a fifth of the time period covered by the diary. On 8 May, VE Day, Berliners, women and men, wake up to the abrupt disappearance of the Russians and then the gradual restoration of civil authority after total catastrophe. The writer, aged 34 in 1945, later moved to Switzerland, and after the brutal reception of her diary when published in Germany in 1959, decided that it would not see light again in her lifetime. She died in 2001, and her identity is now pretty well established; it was republished in 2003 and a 2008 film is based on it.
A few years back I found a fascinating short film of scenes from Berlin in July 1945. The general absence of men is very notable. But every single woman we see must have been through the same experience.
This is a really gripping book, if a very tough read.
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Die Andere Bibliothek (221)
Gallimard, Folio (4653)
Virago Modern Classics (560)
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Wikipedia in English (4)
Between April 20th and June 22nd of 1945 the anonymous author of A Woman in Berlin wrote about life within the falling city as it was sacked by the Russian Army. Fending off the boredom and deprivation of hiding, the author records her experiences, observations and meditations in this stark and vivid diary. Accounts of the bombing, the rapes, the rationing of food and the overwhelming terror of death are rendered in the dispassionate, though determinedly optimistic prose of a woman fighting for survival amidst the horror and inhumanity of war. This diary was first published in America in 1954 in an English translation and in Britain in 1955. A German language edition was published five years later in Geneva and was met with tremendous controversy. In 2003, over forty years later, it was republished in Germany to critical acclaim - and more controversy. This diary has been unavailable since the 1960s and is now newly translated into English. A Woman in Berlin is an astonishing and deeply affecting account.
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No one can claim to feel or even understand her experience but one thing is sure, women of Berlin paid the bill of the war ( )