on 3 April 2006
This book is wonderfully easy to read, not often the case with a diary or diaries, and more than that it is absolutely compelling. The editing is superb, so you not only get Vassiltchikov's diary entry, but the circumstances of the time as well. Vassiltchikov was involved on the periphery of the 20th July plot and relates the circumstances of it fantastically. I thought the book was marvellous, a good read for anyone who has an interest in the social and cultural history of the Second World War. I couldn't put it down.
on 31 March 2007
These are the absorbing wartime diaries of Marie "Missie" Vassiltchikov, a White Russian who worked in a German foreign office in Berlin from 1940-45. Idealistic, vivacious and observant, Missie was a diarist of the first order, and her book is both a detailed portrait of 1940's Berlin and a gripping account of political conspiracy. She wrote her diary in English and is very detailed throughout with occasional humour. Her accounts of the bombing raids are so descriptive you can almost imagine being there yourself, brushing off the dust. Missie was also unwittingly in the centre of the most famous plot which led to the failed assassination of Hitler at the Wolf's Lair. Towards the end of the war she became a nursing Helferin before finally fleeing the advancing Russian army, where the diary ends.
The book had me gripped from start to finish, and is clear and easy to read throughout. I cannot recommend it enough.
Princess Marie "Missie" Vassiltchikov was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on January 11, 1917. Her parents were the prince Hilarion Vassiltchikov and his wife, the former Princess Lidiya Leonidovna Vyazemskaya. Her family left Russia in 1919 and later the Vassiltchikovs lived as refugees in France, Weimar Germany and Lithuania. Fearing Lithuania will be annexed by Soviet Union, prince Vassiltchikov send his children to Germany in 1939, just before the start of World War II.
Arriving to Germany "Missie" Vassiltchikov was just 22 years old and even if she had many cousins and friends amongst German aristocracy, she was nevertheless penniless and had to find work quickly. She managed finally to find a low level clerical job in III Reich Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held it until 1944. From the moment of her arrival to Nazi Germany to the autumn of 1945 she kept a diary. After the war she married an American officer and they both settled in France, where were born their four children. In 1977, very seriously ill and feeling that her time has come, she decided to publish her diary. The book was indeed published in 1978 - she died soon after.
"Berlin diaries" covers the years 1939-41 and 1943-1945, as already during the war "Missie" decided to destroy many pages of two years of her diary, for reasons she decided not to share with anybody (also, some pages from that period were lost when the building where she lived was bombed). Considering that many of her closest friends were very involved with anti-Nazi opposition, there is a possibility that she destroyed part of his diary so it is not found by Gestapo - although after reading this book I personally strongly suspect, that during this time she had a romance with prince Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a great night fighter flying ace of Luftwaffe (and a strikingly handsome young man), who was killed in action in January 1944 (at the time of his death he was credited with 83 victories, 60 of which were four-engined strongly armed heavy bombers). Although I have no real evidence to offer which would prove that they had a relation, it is clear from what she wrote in her diary that she mourned him greatly and for a long time...
There are three things which make this book an interesting lecture:
- the record of life and tribulations of European cosmopolitan aristocrats (both wealthy and destitute) in time of the greatest war in human history. This gives to this book a taste of "Gone with the wind" situated in the real world, with just the main character being more intelligent and definitely less spoiled than Scarlett... The first 50 pages or so describe a world of bals, picnics, flirts and all kind of social events as seen by a 22 year old, smart, full of life and very attractive young princess - but gradually things become much, much darker...
- a look into the daily life in the III Reich during the war, with all its little joys and especially big sorrows: news of acquaintances who died on the front, food and clothing shortages, permanent threat of Gestapo sniffing around, the more or less permanent air raids with all their consequences and finally the menace of approaching Red Army - whose soldiers were known for routinely raping all women they could get their hands on (and for "Missie" and her family, who were White Russian refugees, the approach of Red Army meant also the deportation to a Soviet concentration camp or simply execution)
- but what makes this book particularly interesting, is the description of anti-Nazi opposition. Many amongst the plotters who tried to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime on 20 July 1944 were aristocrats, beginning with colonel Graf Claus von Stauffenberg and lieutenant Werner von Haeften, the two officers who actually smuggled the bomb into the "Wolfsschanze", Hitler's command post near Rastenburg in Eastern Prussia. For that reason "Missie" knew many of the plotters and was especially close to Adam von Trott zu Solz, a lawyer and diplomat, who was also her direct superior in the Ministry of Foreing Affairs, and also to Graf Friedrich-Werner von der Schulenburg, an old diplomat who used to be the German ambassador in Soviet Union until 22 June 1941... The description of all events after 20 July 1944 and the orgy of revenge Hitler ordered after the failed putsch are particularly precious
Bottom line, this is a very interesting, well written and very well annotated war time diary. It is a little connected to the bestselling "The past is myself" by Christabel Bielenberg, because "Missie" actually knew the Bielenbergs and mentions them in her diary. "Berlin diaries" are however very different in style and to my personal taste slightly less interesting than Christabel Bielenberg's memories.
Still, I rate this thing five stars without hesitation, because it was a real pleasure to read it and I learned a lot. Enjoy!
on 29 August 2012
This diary is very easy to read. The first entries are very short and not so interesting (I suppose at that time life was still easy and she didn't have much on her mind).
I have found this book interesting for a few reasons:
- Interesting to see how daily life was in Berlin during the war.
- She was hanging out with all the aristocrates. It is interesting to see that for them nationalities were not important...
- She was hanging out with a few people involved in the 20 July 1944 coup.
- Interesting to see that one could be an officer in the Werhrmart and still hate Hitler. A good example is Heinrich Wittgenstein.
- From this book one can see that Hitler was more tolerant of German nationals (who didn't like him) than Stalin was of Soviet dissidents. In other words, a lot of Hitler crimes were turneds against non ethnic germans, whereas a lot of Staline crimes were against Soviet citizens.
It is a pitty that an important part of the diary is missing (around 1942).
Indeed it would have been great to hear about the atmosphere at this time, when Germany looked likely to win.
on 27 July 2014
One of the best Biographies I have ever read. Lending it out to my friends they say exactly the same. I was a German school girl during the war in Kiel and we of course got the wrong messages not knowing what was behind it all. Never got to know the truth till after the war, so it is quite an eye opener, well written, with photos to underline everything. I can wholeheartedly recommend it !!
on 24 February 2015
I thought Missie seemed cold at first because of the factual nature of her diary but I gradually became more and more engrossed. It is simply an amazing document which gives a whole new insight into daily life in the centre of a world turned upside down, where refugees and displaced people were living hand to mouth and sleeping wherever they could find a safe haven. A world of contrasts too, feast or famine at least among the upper classes. The tragedy of human suffering, intelligent thinking human beings at the mercy of such an appalling evil regime just leaves one in despair of the human race. The greatest tragedy is that this is still going on in many parts of the world. I loved this book and could not leave it down. To read it is to become part of her world and to go through all the emotions and reactions in response to the events described. It leaves one feeling exhausted and amazed that Marie managed to survive( even one of the train journeys she experienced was painful enough) and marry an American soldier. The theme of friendship is an important one and was a very strong force for survival. A wonderful book showing a truly strong character who almost always found a way to cope with the most difficult of circumstances and maintained her practise of the Russian orthodox faith amidst bombing raids and extreme discomfort.
on 17 May 2013
Exactly what it says on the cover, not a great literary work or sweeping novel but an intriguing daily account of a relatively privileged existence during the latter half of life in the Third Reich. The author being employed in a department of the German Foreign Ministry, she has access to the lifestyle of the diplomatic circles within Germany, so there is talk of champagne dinners, trips out by car and other luxuries which would not have been available to the population as a whole. There is also reference to the Anti-Nazi resistance, such as it existed, at governmental level, and the feelings of paranoia, fear and also pragmatism that infected anyone remotely connected following the failed attempt to kill Hitler in July of 1944 can be felt in the pages. Towards the end of the diaries the growing tide of panic and the need to flee from the advancing Red Army in country and society on the verge of collapse completely engaged me.
The diaries benefit from very occasional notes and explanations added in later years when they were being written up from the shorthand used at the time, but they do not detract from the fact that this is a factual, day-to-day view of life at the time, written without being coloured by any of the later hindsight of the wider atrocities that existed at the time.
I personally found this engaging and engrossing, having come across it in reference and bibliographies in other works (eg, The Past Is Myself, Christabel Bielenberg) and on reflection would be a book that I would re-visit on future occasions, not one for the charity shop pile or giving away.