A Woman in Berlin -book review by Gregory Farrell

A Woman in Berlin was published in 1953 by an anonymous author. It is the true account of what it was like to be a young educated woman in Berlin at the end of World War II as the Soviet Army made the final assault on the city. She wrote the book as a diary at the time. The anonymous  author was a 34 year old female journalist who was fluent in several languages including Russian.

However none of that mattered in April of 1945. She only had two concerns every second of every day. How to keep warm and how to find something to eat. The book is a fascinating and honest account of what life was like for civilians  in the final eight weeks of the Soviet assault and life after the Soviet troops arrived.  The women feared  the rapes that might come  by the Soviet soldiers. At the same time they feared being killed by the daily bombing raids of American planes before the Soviet soldiers would arrive.  Women consoled themselves with the dark humor that said, “Better a Russian on top than an American overhead.”

In fact, thousands of German women were raped when the Soviet troops arrived. That is the reason the author chose to remain anonymous. By the publication date of 1953 Germans wanted to pretend that this period in their history never happened. Germans were ashamed that the German men in the city had been unable to stop the rapes. In reality there was nothing the old men civilians left in the city could have done to protect the women from thousands of combat soldiers.

The author avoided being raped by purposely finding what she called an “alpha male” among the Soviet troops and making herself his girlfriend.   She made the conscious decision to give herself to the biggest toughest soldier she could find to avoid being raped by multiple others. She was basically allowing herself to be raped by one man to protect her from all the others. As long as she stayed with him she was safe from the others.

The Germans did many things to survive under Soviet occupation. Before the Soviet troops arrived the German civilians had great bonfires in the streets burning anything they could find that might associate any of them with the Nazi Party.  Their fears were not unfounded. When the Soviet troops arrived they systematically searched all apartments. There was a beautiful young woman who lived in the same apartment building as the author. When the troops searched the girl’s apartment they found a picture of her with a German SS officer. The Soviet troops took her away and she was never seen again.

Sometimes the sheer scope and size of World War II makes it hard for us to imagine what it was like for an individual living through it. The Soviet Union alone had 20 million of its people killed in the war.  In Berlin it has been documented that over one hundred thousand women were raped.

This book is fascinating since it focuses on how in a world in chaos one woman in one place was able to survive.

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