All In Eight Weeks
I'm not fond of reading in German. I can but when I'm reading for pleasure I want it to actually be a pleasure and not an exercise in figuring out what that particular turn of phrase means. That's the worst part of learning a foreign language to me - learning all the idioms.
But after reading A Woman in Berlin in English I wanted to read it in original language so I bummed the book from B's physiotherapist and read it. I was so absorbed with the book in English that I felt the need to read it as the author originally wrote it. The English translation is, to me, very good but somehow reading it in German gave me a bit more immediacy.
The author of A Woman in Berlin is anonymous except to just a couple people responsible for the publishing of her diary. This diary, starting just as the Russian troops move into Berlin at the end of World War II ends just two months later and yet it feels as if much more time has passed. In the diary, written to clear her mind of the daily events that would threaten to drive anyone mad, she writes of hiding from the allied bombs, rape - sometimes gang rape - at the hands of Russian soldiers, lack of food, water, electricity, money and the uncertainty of her future.
It would be easy to, especially after the debacles of A Million Little Pieces and more recently the revelation that the Holocaust love story of the Rosenblats was made up, to suspect that this diary may be contrived. One may believe that it's too well written to be dashed off with pencil stubs by candlelight in notebooks she found in her borrowed apartment until one reads that the author was a professional journalist. Another compelling reason to believe in the authenticity of the diary is that it reads like an actual diary - one written as the events are happening. There is little reflection and no real chance to put events into perspective because she has not had the opportunity to sit and put things into perspective. She writes of rape but doesn't dwell on the horror of it, though surely that was to come later. She talks of her hunger but spends more time working on ways to get food than lamenting about her lack of it. Survival for another day is paramount in that time and place and the future doesn't extend to much more than the next week.
It was first published in the 1950s and not in German until a few years later and then was not well received. Germany wasn't ready to yet talk about what happened during the war - their guilt and shame. Hundreds of thousands of rapes took place and speaking the truth of what happened wasn't done for decades - the shame and horror was too great. This diary speaks the truth of what the author experienced before there was as much shame attached to the events.
What the diary also does is allows us to now look at events of the war that have been pushed aside and even forgotten. That those on the good side weren't always good and those on the bad side weren't always bad and that atrocities occurred on both sides. Perhaps we can now speak about them instead of ignoring and forgetting that they occurred.
I've had the opportunity since living in Germany to speak to some men but mostly to women who lived through those times. I had a neighbor who was forced from her home in what was then Germany but what now is Poland to refugee west. On that march west she and her sister and her mother were subjected to rape and beatings from Russian troops on a daily basis - her sister and her mother died from it. Another neighbor of mine, now in her 90s, has spoken to me of how Magdeburg was after it was bombed and how they were happy to find dandelions to eat.
They're not pleasant stories. They're interesting but certainly not entertaining. And in this world were there are conflicts in the middle east and Africa and central Asia we can imagine some of those people are enduring some of the same hardships that the author of A Woman in Berlin endured. But if there's one inspirational thought to keep it's that the author did endure - she lived she was in her 90s. Somehow people can be subjected to the worst there is to offer and still survive.