This is a pretty extraordinary book. It's actually a journal. The actual author is known but to a few people, and the book was only published after her death, at her own request. We don't even have a pseudonym or anything to refer to her as, and only know spotty things about her background.We know she was a journalist and editor before and after the war, and that she had done a lot of traveling. She had even been to Russia and had managed to pick up a little of the language, this would be a godsend several times in the coming weeks.
We know that she is living by herself in an apartment building in Berlin during World War II, and that she is still living there when the Russians come into the city on the heels of Hitler's suicide and the unraveling of the Nazis. Our author knows that the Russians coming to town is not necessarily good news. While the Nazis wouldn't be in control any longer, the reputation of many of the Russians are preceding them. There was a lot of discussion about how the Russians were raping, looting and pillaging their way west; while some people hoped it was just propaganda there were enough facts and witnesses to testify to the fact that these were not all fabricated lies.
Our author begins keeping her journal on April 20th 1945, and goes through June 22nd. She records the hunger, the bombs, the fear. The Russians invading, ransacking empty and occupied apartments, taking whatever they wanted including women. Old women, young women, sick women, and little girls, no one was immune. Husbands and wives squirreled their daughters away in false ceilings, hidden rooms or anywhere they could think of to keep them safe and away.
There are so many things to struggle through that the book presents:
-Rape as a weapon of war
-Rape as retribution
-Moral scruples vs survival
-How to keep your humanity in a world gone mad
I know that this sounds horrible and depressing and maddening. The only thing that kept me from being miserable reading this book is twofold:
1) The story of these people deserves recognition.In a lot of wartime stories you don't hear much about the people who are left behind to fend for themselves while the battles rage on in distant theaters. By best estimates (the true number isn't known) 100,000 women were raped in Berlin during this time. And some victims were raped multiple times.
2) Our writer writes with such composure and calmness. These terrible things are happening to her, the journal itself could get her in major trouble if it were found but she never falls into self-pity or complaining, even at the darkest moments.
It feels weird to rate this book, especially because it's basically a journal. But it's an incredibly worthwhile read. It's short, it goes fast but it does pack a heavy hit. Though it never is explicit or overly graphic.