October 12, 2016

A Woman In Berlin

by Anonymous; attributed to Marta Hillers

Historical novels have always interested me, and a favorite sub-genre that falls under the "historical" umbrella is war books. A Woman In Berlin is one such book, but distinct in the fact that it is a diary written by a German woman who witnessed and lived through the fall of Berlin at the end of the Second World War.

The diary entries were written in a detached, matter-of-fact manner. Perhaps it was the diarist's way of disconnecting herself from the atrocities that the Russians were committing right and left: mass rape, pillaging, among others. One can only speculate on her intentions for writing the diary: was it cathartic for her to record her experiences on paper, or did she intend for it to be an objective account thereof, for purposes of future public consumption? Again, this is subject of intelligent speculation.

I really liked this book because it allowed a glimpse of the true events in Berlin at the end of the Second World War. It gave a true account of the experiences of the common people, the Germans who were forced to bear the retaliation of the Allied Forces and the Russians for the crimes committed by their leader. It's the other side of the fence, if you will, even if everyone who had suffered or died by reason of the war are all considered collateral damage.

The diarist wished to remain anonymous, but certain events transpired through which the name of Marta Hillers floated around as the author of the entries published in this book. And one can easily understand the legitimate desire to be nameless and faceless: the diary entries incriminated against the German men, who were depicted as weak and useless, as opposed to the women whose resilience carried them through. Ours is a patriarchal society and so one can expect the reception that this novel has had in Germany.

As for the Russians, the atrocities they committed against the Germans, particularly the women, are damnable indeed, but there were certain entries recounting events when the Russians showed humanity and compassion. Not the Russian officers that the diarist was compelled to bed in exchange for food and commodities (read: survival), but the soldiers, who, all things considered, are also forced actors in the stage called war. They raped the women because they were considered spoils of war, and in retaliation for the rape of their own women by the Germans.

In the end, no one won.

"I only know that I want to survive - against all sense and reason, just like an animal."

Rating: ★★★★★
Book Details: Trade paperbook, brand-new from The Book Depository.
Read in September 2016

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