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A WOMAN IN BERLIN by Anonymous Kirkus Star


Eight Weeks in the Conquered City

by Anonymous & translated by Philip Boehm

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 2005
ISBN: 0-8050-7540-2
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Complex, closely observed diary by a woman living in conquered Berlin at the end of WWII.

A professional journalist and editor who died in 2001, the author documents with immediacy her struggle to survive at the closing stages of the war. Originally published in 1953, the diary chronicles in the present tense the lives of Germans in the spring of 1945 as 1.5 million Soviet soldiers advance through bombed-out Berlin. The first interactions are relatively calm. Russians happily ride stolen bicycles through the streets; the author hears and sees their “friendly voices, good-natured faces.” This period quickly ends with mass rape of German women, including the diarist. After describing in detail the psychological and physical toll of rape, Anonymous decides, “I’m alive, aren’t I? Life goes on!” Many women adopt gallows humor, saying, “Better a Russki on top than a Yank overhead.” Using a strategy adopted by many, the author seduces a high-ranking Russian officer: “I have to find a single wolf to keep away the pack,” she explains. Several of these arrangements not only provide her with some protection, but also much-needed food and supplies. Anonymous writes of her neighbors’ collective shame about their complicity with Nazism and quotes a German refugee, brutalized at the Czech border, who says wearily, “We can’t complain. We brought it on ourselves.” But she also notes how quickly many of her compatriots pull a hollow about-face and reject Hitler. A tireless observer, she pinpoints wartime relationships and small revealing scenes: the eeriness of vanished sparrows, the progress of gardeners tending their plots between bombings, a boy dreamily asking his mother if they can eat an emaciated horse, Berliners repeating with scornful irony the prewar propaganda catchphrase, “For all of this we thank the Führer.”

Frank and affecting, a remarkable piece of war literature.