A Woman in Berlin is the true story of one woman’s experience living in Germany in the country’s final 8 weeks of World War II; the 8 weeks after Russian troops reached the outskirts of Berlin, and conquered the city in 1945. The only people in the city were the elderly, women, children, and a few injured soldiers.
There was no running water and no electric. Surrounded by bombed out buildings, and living in a home with no window panes, holes in the roof, and nightly air raids that prompted everyone to rush to basement shelters, this anonymous writer kept a journal of daily events. She was an educated woman; a journalist with basic Russian language skills. Her diary vividly describes the city streets, the apartments, the clothes, the hunger and the fear, the pain and the isolation, the animosity felt towards Hitler and the failed political regime, and the contempt felt towards their own men, the hushed intimate conversations between the woman, and the intense intimidating communication with the Russian soldiers.
Above all, this is a documentary of the human capacity for survival. The Russian soldiers had just three things in mind: food, alcohol and sex. No woman was safe from rape. In fact, there was estimated to have been more than 100,000 rapes after Berlin was conquered. Women had little choice; hide in an attic somewhere and starve to death, or barter with the soldiers, sex for a loaf of bread.
It was all horrible, but near the end of the book I found myself thinking, okay, the war is almost over. The citizens of Berlin must have known by this time what happened to the Jewish people. At worst they approved and participated in turning the Jewish families in to the SS, robbing them of their lives and confiscating their belongings. At best, they stood by and did nothing, and with an animalistic instinct for survival, they tolerated and accepted. The anonymous writer expressed no theory, no opinion, no thoughts, no conversations, no inner psychological guilt, no remorse, and no spiritual angst – nothing – over what was done to the Jewish people. Her big complaint was over retreating German soldiers leaving all liquor stores intact for the advancing enemy “because alcohol impairs the enemy’s strength to fight. Now that’s something only men would think up. If they just thought about it for two minutes they’d realize that liquor greatly intensifies the sexual urge.”
The written message: war is barbaric and even the German’s suffered untold atrocities. My conclusion: at the end of World War II Berlin was a city of amoral people. Well written, unique, authenticity verified by experts, scathing documentary.
Rated 4 Stars.
I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Books rated 1, I seldom finish; books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.