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Book Review: A Woman in Berlin

Author: Anonymous
Published: Originally 1954
Publisher: Picador
Number of Pages: 288
My Rating: 5

Summary from
For eight weeks in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army, a young woman kept a daily record of life in her apartment building and among its residents. "With bald honesty and brutal lyricism" (Elle), the anonymous author depicts her fellow Berliners in all their humanity, as well as their cravenness, corrupted first by hunger and then by the Russians. "Spare and unpredictable, minutely observed and utterly free of self-pity" (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland), A Woman in Berlin tells of the complex relationship between civilians and an occupying army and the shameful indignities to which women in a conquered city are always subject--the mass rape suffered by all, regardless of age or infirmity.

If you have read any of my earlier posts, you will realize how much I thoroughly enjoy books about World War II. This, despite the subject matter, was no exception. However, I would like to start off by saying that this memoir was by no means an easy or enjoyable read. 

A Woman in Berlin is an anonymous diary about a young German woman's daily life during the eight weeks when Berlin was being captured by the Russian army. I was immediately drawn to this book because it was originally published so quickly after the war and was not received well by the public. The author chose to stay anonymous because of the dark subject matter, but many people accused her of being a liar and inflating what had happened to the German women at the time. She let the book fall out of circulation and gave the directions to only ever republish it after she died.

As we now know, everything that the author outlined about that time during the end of the war was true, especially the barbaric and brutal rapes that occurred to a huge percentage of the population. They say war is hell and unfortunately, throughout history, the suffering doesn't end after the battle is won- women and children are often the 'prize' of the conquerors. The author shares what happens to the women in her building as well as herself in a comprehensible way that provides you with a picture of the terror that was felt. Many of the women felt that it was simply what they deserved, however, and took it as just another part of war.

I don't review this book as a way to gain sympathy for the German citizens who really weren't living too bad of a life during most of the war while other populations were starving, in concentration camps, or wiped out completely by the Nazi war machine. I read this book and am reviewing it as a way to bring awareness to all sides of war- rape, murder, pillage, and destruction. The author did not write this has a way to gain sympathy either, in fact, quite the contrary. She wrote with such honesty and rawness while showing no bitterness or hatred, using her diary instead as a way to continue a sense of normalcy and routine despite all of the destruction and chaos happening around her.

Overall, I think this is definitely a book that is worth your attention. It is so completely opposite of most World War II memoirs or diaries and shows things from a different perspective. Days after finishing this book, I am still haunted by the passages that were written in such extraordinary detail and yet complete complacency at the same time. This diary is a testament to the resilience of humans depsite all of the horrific and incomprehensible things they go through. You can now find more information about the author and her story, but one thing is for sure; you won't be forgetting the woman from Berlin anytime soon.

-Busy Brunette


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