An astonishing find - the landmark journal of a
woman living though the Russian occupation of Berlin - which has already earned
comparisons to diaries by Etty Hillesum and Victor Klemperer
For six 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.
At once an essential record and a work of great literature, A Woman in Berlin not only reveals a true heroine, sure to join other enduring figures of the twentieth century, but also gives voice to the rarely heard victims of war: the women.
Friday, April 20, 1945, 4:00 P.M.
It's true: the war is rolling toward Berlin. What
was yesterday a distant rumble has now become a constant roar. We breathe the
din; our ears are deafened to all but the heaviest guns. We've long given up
trying to figure out where they are positioned. We are ringed in by barrels,
and the circle is growing smaller by the hour.
Now and then whole hours pass in eerie silence. Then all of a sudden you remember that it's spring. Clouds of lilac perfume drift over from untended gardens and waft through the charred ruins of apartment houses. Outside the cinema, the acacia stump is foaming over with green. The gardeners must have snatched a few minutes between sirens to dig at their allotment plots, because there's freshly turned earth around the garden sheds up and down Berlinerstrasse. Only the birds seem suspicious of this particular April: there's not a ...
When A Woman in Berlin was first published anonymously in German (five years after an English language version was published in 1954) it was greeted with disgust by German audiences and quickly went out of print. The author was so shaken by the response that she would not allow her diary to be republished again until after her death. In 2003 it was republished in Germany to critical acclaim and more controversy, but also to a great deal more recognition, empathy and understanding. A retranslation was published in English in hardcover last year, and this month in paperback.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (680 words).
In ancient times rape was seen as a reward to the victors; for example, there are a number of references in the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures to acts of mass rape by conquerors, and plenty in Roman and Greek history.
In modern times mass rape has been increasingly used as a premeditated terror tactic by invading armies. According to ReligiousTolerance.org the Germans used rape as a tactic of terror as they marched through Belgium in World War I and gang rape was part of the orchestrated riots of Kristallnacht that marked the beginning of the Nazi campaigns against the Jews in November 1938 (incidentally, the British historian Martin Gilbert, has just published a very well reviewed book about Kristallnacht). The Russians used it as a ...
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