The complex, war-torn diary of a woman living in conquered Berlin at the end of WWII reveals a lot about the realities of the past. A war that closely knits worldwide hatred towards Germany also had a sight that not all paparazzi were ready to uncover! Perhaps for their biased hatred towards German, the world never really considered the real fate of the local citizens, especially the vulnerable towards the end of the war. War that was Hitler’s personal subjugation of ethics caused numerous misfortunes to the German citizens during the war, but what awaited by the end of it was not what the world would prefer.
A professional journalist and editor who died in 2001, the author documents her struggle to survive the closing stages of the war. For eight weeks in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army the anonymous author kept a record of what was happening with her and her fellow residents. ‘A Woman in Berlin’ tells a story of the complex relationship between the hungry citizens and greedy soldiers and the shameful indignities from which women of the surrendered nation always suffer.
Mass Rape and Search of a Sole Wolf-
Originally published in 1953, the diary chronicles the lives of women as millions of Soviet soldiers occupied the bombed Berlin. The Russian troops assaulted millions of women as they fought their way to the German capital, though this was rarely mentioned after the war in Germany and is a taboo subject in Russia even today. The author describing herself as “a pale-faced blonde always dressed in the same winter coat”, paints a vivid picture of her neighbors that fell prey to sexual violence and gang rapes by the Russian troops. She was living in a rented bomb shelter with a fellow widow and other fleeing women. As they await the arrival of the Red Army, they joke “better a Russky on top than a Yank overhead” – rape is preferable to be pulverized by bombs.
She bravely goes outside to find a senior officer to complain about the actions of his men toward the German women. But in return, she was brutally gang-raped in the corridor of her own apartment. She was raped again in the night by other soldiers who came in search of women. The next day, as she was struggling to pass through what happened the day before, an old man enters her apartment and rapes her in the most disgusting and shameful manner possible.
Eventually, the diarist realizes that she needs to find one “wolf” to stave off gang rape by the “male beasts”. Though she manages to flirt with one, she soon realizes that his power means nothing to his fellow comrades. But later she befriends a senior officer with whom she would share her bed and discuss literature and the meaning of life. This wasn’t just a case of the narrator; in fact, all the women were adopting the same strategy of giving their bodies to one officer to keep away from the rest. The relationship between aggressor and victim was becoming less violent, more transactional -and more ambiguous. These women would trade their bodies in exchange for food and other supplies and to avoid being raped by multiple men.
“By no means could it be said that the major is raping me,” she writes. “Am I doing it for bacon, butter, sugar, candles, canned meat? To some extent, I’m sure I am. In addition, I like the major, and the less he wants from me as a man, the more I like him as a person.”
When the diary was published in German in 1959 under the title ‘A Woman in Berlin’, the author’s account of the choices she made to survive was not accepted by many Germans. That was the reason, she refused to allow the book to be republished until after her death. Starting from January and lasting till August of 1945, Germany saw the largest incident of mass rape known in history, where an estimated two million German women were raped by the Soviet Red Army soldiers. On average, every victim was raped seventy times.
The mass rapes in Germany by the Red Army have been a taboo in Russia, even today veterans refuse to acknowledge their deed. The few who chose to speak, however, are totally unrepentant about what they did. “They all lifted their skirts for us and lay on the bed,” said the leader of one tank company. He even went on to boast that “two million of our children were born” in Germany, according to a report by The Guardians.
‘A Women in Berlin’ gives us a great insight into the real-life events that happened across Germany by the end of the war. Russian soldiers were raping girls as young as eight and women as old as eighty. To date, Russia denies accepting it, but through the book, the world did come to know about the truths of war and the aftermath. The wartime crimes are the highest against women and no war in history has gone down without rapes and gang rapes. In the war of men, it’s the women who suffer the most and therefore the book is needed. It shares a story with us that not just signifies the brutalities of war but also how humanity changes the course of it.