I have just finished one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read: A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City by Anonymous.
This book is based on a diary kept from April to June 1945 as Russian troops flood into Berlin. It opens with the anonymous author, a 34-year old journalist and author, hiding in the basement bomb shelter of her apartment house . The residents of the apartment building have grown close in the final days of the war and rely on one another for survival. But then the Russians come and begin to rape and pillage and suddenly the defeated Germans must find new ways to survive. The author looks unflinchingly at her own behavior, which included cozying up to Russian officers in exchange for food and protection. Her lacerating critiques and evocative descriptions illuminate the lengthes people take to adapt and survive.
When the book was published in Germany in the early 1950s, (it actually found an American publisher before a German one) it was criticized for dishonoring German women and soon went out of print. The author died in 2001, paving the way for this new edition.
This is Ursula Heigi’s take on the book, from the Washington Post Book Review:
“A Woman in Berlin is an amazing and essential book. Originally written in shorthand, longhand and the author's own code, it is so deeply personal that it becomes universal, evoking not only the rapes of countless German women in 1945 but also the rape of every anonymous woman throughout war history -- the notion of women as booty. The book's focus is not on the Nazi rampage across Europe but on its aftermath, when 1.5 million Red Army soldiers crossed the Oder River and moved westward. More than 100,000 women in Berlin were raped, but many of them would never speak of it. "Each one of us will have to act as if she in particular was spared," Anonymous writes. "Otherwise no man is going to want to touch us anymore."