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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The other side of war, 14 Nov 2008
This review is from: A Woman in Berlin: Diary 20 April 1945 to 22 June 1945 (Paperback)
A "Woman in Berlin" is the frank and honest diary of a young woman caught up in the dark days during the fall of Berlin in 1945. The book contains an excellent forward from Antony Beevor the historian who wrote the equally compelling "Berlin the Downfall". This extraordinary work has an interesting history. It was first published in 1953 to a German public that was not quite ready to face such brutal truths. It quickly disappeared from view and after many decades slowly re-emerged. It is now an international phenomenon and has recently been made into a film which will only enhance its reputation further.

The diary is well written as you would expect from someone who has travelled Europe in the publishing trade. The diary does not tell us exactly what she did. That she is extremely intelligent and articulate there is no doubt. She reads such literary greats as Goethe and has travelled Europe. Those who might seek titillation in such a book will probably be dissappointed. I hope so. The rapes that she endured so stoically are not sensationalised in any way. She accepted that she could not alter the situation and did her best to live through it. There is no doubt that Stalin's Red Army raped on a huge scale in the early days. These were men who were out to revenge horrific atrocities against their own population. They were men who had often been on the front for years. No home leave for most of them. They were mainly simple workers with a smattering of intelligentsia. They felt it was their right to treat German women as war booty and they did so with impunity.

We follow the diary through the brutal early days and find this well read woman sleeping with a simple Russian peasant. One of the incongruity's that war throws up. She is not beneath sleeping with Russians for food to survive. A fact that would have upset many Germans. Many of the German men at that time were helpless to prevent assaults on their womenfolk and felt emasculated. The matter was best swept under the carpet. The matter was not talked about. Even today there are those that refuse to believe these events ever took place. My own Mother who lived through that era is among them. She believes the diary to be a lie and believes the Red Army would never have behaved in such a way. Having read this account and many others I have long been convinced that these events occurred. I would no more deny this than deny that the world was round. The bulk of evidence is convincing. But what convinced me most was her many descriptions of the more mundane tasks like collecting nettles.

I will not give five stars purely on the basis that I am not sure I like the diarist as a person. I sometimes find her comments grate. That is her character and another good case for authenticity. I disliked her comments about the elderly. She describes old age as something to be pitied, not venerated in those desperate times. Often true that the elderly and the very young are the first to suffer at such times. But surely if we behave in such a way then we are no better than the beasts. She quotes the Lapps and Indians as leaving the old to perish when they have gone past usefulness. However it is a fact that many ancient cultures venerate the elderly. As we should.

Aside from these small reservations I find this a compelling work that is deserving of its growing reputation. It is the grittier adult version of Anne Franks diary. It is as the hype says a chilling indictment of war. An important and serious work in the can'on of war literature. Read it.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Oct 2010 18:25:24 BDT
S. Massini says:
I agree fully with your review on all points. But your mother is most definitely wrong in her assumptions about the Red Army's behaviour. My mother's family lived through this, my mother being only four at the time. But my grandmother spent four days hiding under coal in a cellar and then, when she realised (as this author describes) that the Russians didn't go higher than the 4th floor of buildings, that's where she retreated and remained thereafter. I'm sure, again as the author describes, that having three children under five at the time also saved her from the worst of the attentions many many women received. But my grandmother also recounted great kindnesses from Red Army officers who were later billeted in her home. She recorded all this in a memoir after my grandfather died in 1979; she herself passed away in 2000 aged 86. Sadly, her youngest child did not make it through this time of extreme privation. But of course, they were shocking times for a great many people....

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Oct 2010 09:35:37 BDT
Bob Salter says:
Thank you for your insight into those traumatic days. It was good to see that there was great kindness from Red Army officers. As in all armies there are good and bad soldiers. No army is exempt from this rule. The sadness is that there are still good men fighting each other to this day.

Regards.

Bob Salter

Posted on 27 Apr 2012 12:09:27 BDT
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