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A WOMAN IN BERLIN August 1, 2010

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.

     I was involved in a conversation about books the other day that began with Anne Frank’s diary and went on to other titles about WWII. There are uncountable non-fiction and fictionalized accounts, most of them very good and well worth reading, but the most powerful one I have read is an anonymous journal called A WOMAN IN BERLIN. This book was originally published in 1954 and was banned in Germany. The author was discovered to be a journalist and photographer, Marta Hillers, who would not agree to a new edition of her book. So it wasn’t until after her death at the age of ninety in 2001 that the book could be brought once again to light. When  reprinted in 2003, it became a nationwide sensation and a bestseller. This is a hard book to read, and the ending is brutal and leaves the reader feeling drained, but it is an example of the will to keep going, to live, and the hope for something beyond what we can see that keeps us fighting for survival even when hell looms all around us. 
      This 1945 war diary was written by a woman who described herself only as a pale woman who always wore the same coat. After being raped several times over the course of a few days, she decided to find “a single wolf to keep away the pack.” Although I found many of the wonderful photos Hillers had taken, I could not find a picture of her. She must have been rather beautiful, because for the eight weeks that Russia occupied Berlin, she was able to offer herself  in exchange for protection, and choosing the more powerful of two willing officers, managed to save herself and her neighbors. This heart gripping tale is clear-eyed and completely unsentimental, and is told in a matter-of-fact voice that illustrates this woman’s amazing strength and character.

     This is an important book that shows the darkest side of human nature. Best estimates are that 100,000 women, despite age or infirmities, were raped after the conquest of Berlin, and those numbers very well may have been arrived at by tallying only those still alive and with voice to be counted.



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