A Woman In Berlin

This anonymously written diary was kept between April 20th and June 22nd 1945 by a single thirty-something journalist in Berlin, and describes first-hand the utter collapse of German power in the capital of the Reich and the coming of the Soviet Red Army. One of the writer’s first observations is that “among the many defeats at the end of this war is the defeat of the male sex”; but she is referring to the beaten Germans, not to the agressively triumphant Soviets who sweep into town a week into her narrative. For all her efforts to avoid it, she is raped within hours, and repeatedly over the ensuing period, by various soldiers, on a high from their thousand-mile dash across Europe to the heartland of their defeated enemy. She comes quickly to the conclusion that the best strategy for survival is to seek protection from chance encounters by hooking and hanging onto one of the higher-ups; she is able to implement this in particular because of her limited command of Russian.

Yet while she is savvy, there is nothing cynical about her delivery; her spirit is wounded but survives still with gusto. This is not just an accomplished piece of writing and a fascinating if sobering account of a society in a state of complete breakdown, where even the basics that we most take for granted are hit and miss, and people treat each other with an odd mixture of selfless compassion and self-interested manipulation, but a touching account of her outward struggle for survival and her inner indomitability. She has a fine eye, and one of the most likable traits of the book is the descriptive power of her imagery; that, and the frankness of her vulnerability, her unstinting faith in herself, and her expression of her own vivacious humanity, in spite of the brutality she is subjected to. An essential piece of World War II reading.

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