Berlin, Summer 1945

Berlin, summer of 1945 was a nightmare. By June, the majority of the people left in Berlin were women, and the Soviets - in retribution for St. Petersburg among other German atrocities - marched into the city, raped as many women as they could find, including the pregnant ones, and pillaged as many homes, businesses, and other establishments as possible. By then of course, no one was a Nazi (convenient, right?), so everyone was an innocent victim of Hitler's egotistical malfeasance and the Soviets' penchant for plunder. When the Americans and British arrived in the city, a degree of normalcy entered the picture: the rape and pillaging slowed down a bit and the city was divided into zones to governed by the individual Allied forces. Food was brought in, and the process of rebuilding commenced.

Two books that I read recently focus on this eventful summer from two different perspectives: A Woman in Berlin and Joseph Kanon's The Good German.

A Woman in Berlin is a journal kept by an anonymous woman during three weeks at the beginning of the summer 1945 in Berlin, between when the Soviets marched into the city and the Americans and British arrived. Her journal chronicles her efforts to find food, dodge the bombings, and keep as far away from the Soviets as possible, which proved to be difficult. She was a journalist who spent some time in Russia, so she knows a little of the language and uses this to her advantage. It is inevitable that she will be forced into relations with a Russian, so rather than waiting for one of the carousing foot soldiers to choose her, she enters into a relationship with an officer and then a major to create some control over her horrible circumstances. They are not unkind to her, bring her food, and keep the other Soviet men away from her, so her situation is better than many, but it's still deplorable.

The fascination of this journal lies not only in its glimpse into historical events, but also in the way that it is written. This woman is clearly a talented writer and a shrewd observer of humanity. In one fail swoop, we find out about small, human events like the chatter in the bomb shelter and then are led to see a man in the street below wheeling the dead in a cart. In the end, when her boyfriend returns to her and the rape and pillaging stop with the arrival of the other Allied forces, we are forced to understand the true tragedy of her experience: her tactics for survival have made her completely unsuitable to her boyfriend who blames her (and himself) for her relations with the Russians. There is no winner here, no happy resolution, just a series of horrible circumstances and shattered lives. Unfortunately, she provides little insight into what the German mind thinks about the end of the war, and it would have been fascinating had she offered some thoughts about what the average German thought about the end of Nazi rule.

I have to run and put dinner on - rosemary chicken with potatoes..yum - so I'll finish The Good German review tomorrow, if I'm not at the hospital having a baby....


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