Hedy reviews “A Woman in Berlin”

“A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary by Anonymous translated from the German by Philip Boehm 940.5343 WO (also DVD FOREIGN WOMAN)

I would not have read this book on my own (war wearies me), but the German American Heritage Center book group chose it to discuss and I acquiesced.  I ended up reading most of it at the University of Chicago Reynolds Club while my husband was at a conference (on happiness, of all things!)  It was so powerful and moving to me.  I was immersed in the WWII German homefront in defeat and how very harrowing that was.   Despite the author’s being my country’s official enemy at the time, I related to her humanity and especially to her being a woman.  She was a journalist and used to observing details and recording events.  For eight weeks she wrote a lot because it helped to preserve her sanity.  She (and most every woman around her) was raped repeatedly.  How does one survive that?  She did and she tells the reader how.  It wasn’t easy, but it’s possible through force of will and thought.  She writes, “What does it mean–rape?  When I said the word for the first time aloud, Friday evening in the basement, it sent shivers down my spine.  Now I can think it and write it with an untrembling hand, say it out loud to get used to hearing it said.  It sounds like the absolute worst, the end of everything–but it’s not.”   But it’s not.  After reading that, anonymous became my hero.    Despite everything bad that was happening to her, she exhibited hope and a fundamental sense of decency for herself and for all of us.

Of course, this diary wasn’t all about rape–it was about surviving with no food or water and no electricity in the midst of  bombings, and finally, invasion.  Physical, mental, and emotional anguish.  How does one react and relate to the invaders and then to the returning German soldiers?

One of the things that really appalled me was the reaction of the German public to this diary.  It was published outside Germany first in 1953 because no German publisher would take it on.  Within Germany, anonymous was castigated, criticized, made to feel immoral, and treated as a traitor–to Germany, to German men, and to her own gender.  She was so shocked and downtrodden by this, she refused to allow the book to be reprinted in her lifetime.  A half-century later, it was republished to international acclaim.  And she became a hero to me.

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