A Woman in Berlin
A Woman in Berlin (German: Eine Frau in Berlin) (1959/2003) is an anonymous memoir by a German woman (reputed in 2003 to be journalist Marta Hillers). It covers the weeks from 20 April to 22 June 1945, during the liberation of Berlin and its occupation by the Red Army. The writer describes the widespread rapes by Soviet soldiers, including her own, and the women's pragmatic approach to survival, often taking Soviet officers for protection. It was published first in English in 1954 in the United States. When published in German in 1953, the book was either "ignored or reviled" in Germany, as people reacted negatively to the portrayal of their women as victims. The author refused to have another edition published in her lifetime.
In 2003, two years after Hillers' death, a new edition of the book was published in Germany, again anonymously. It met with wide critical acclaim and was on bestseller lists for more than 19 weeks. Jens Bisky (a German literary editor) identified the anonymous author that year as German journalist Marta Hillers, who had died in 2001. This revelation caused a literary controversy, and questions of the book's authenticity were explored. The book was published again in English in 2005 in editions in the United Kingdom and the United States. It has been translated into seven other languages.
The memoir describes a woman journalist's personal experiences during the occupation of Berlin by the Soviets at the end of World War II. She describes being gang-raped by Russian soldiers and deciding to seek protection by forming a relationship with a Soviet officer; other women made similar decisions. The author described it as "sleeping for food." Conditions in the city were cruel, as women had no other protection against assaults by soldiers. Janet Halley noted Hillers' work challenged thinking about rape, as she sometimes suggested it was not the worst thing in the context of the war's destruction of her entire world.
Hillers showed her manuscript to friends, and author Kurt Marek (C. W. Ceram) arranged for the book's translation into English and publication in the United States in 1954. Hillers married and moved from Germany to Geneva, Switzerland in the 1950s. She first had her book published in German in 1959 by the Swiss firm, Helmut Kossodo. Both editions were published anonymously, at her request. Her memoir was the only book she published.
Hillers' work was either "ignored or reviled" in Germany in 1959. It was too early to examine German suffering, and some readers were horrified at the pragmatism of German women taking Soviet officers for protection. "Accused of besmirching the honour of German women," Hillers refused to have the book republished in her lifetime.
After Hillers died in 2001, the book was republished in 2003, again anonymously, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, a noted poet and essayist. The book won wide critical acclaim that year. It was noted for "its dry, laconic tone and lack of self-pity. 'The writer is too reflective, too candid, too worldly for that,' one reviewer said." Harding noted that the author wrote: "I laugh right in the middle of all this awfulness. What should I do? After all, I am alive, everything will pass!"
The memoir was a bestseller for more than 19 weeks in Germany. Since the late 20th century, German writers and historians have explored the people's suffering during World War II. Gunter Grass published Crabwalk, about thousands of fatalities when a refugee ship was sunk by a Russian submarine, and W.G. Sebald published On the Natural History of Destruction, reflecting on the estimated 600,000 civilian deaths due to Allied bombing of German cities.
A Woman in Berlin was published again in English in 2005, with an introduction by Antony Beevor, a prominent British historian who has published on the Battle of Berlin. He has described it as "the most powerful personal account to come out of World War II."
Identity and authenticity
In September 2003, Jens Bisky (a German literary editor) identified the anonymous author as journalist Marta Hillers, who had died in 2001. Revelation of Hillers' identity brought controversy in the literary world. Her publisher Enzensberger was angry that her privacy had been invaded. He did not accede to requests by journalists to review the writer's original diary materials. Writing in the Berliner Zeitung, Christian Esch said that if the work was to be fully accepted as authentic, people had to be able to examine the diaries. He said the book's text indicated that changes were made between the initial handwritten diaries and the typed manuscript. It had been translated into English and published for the first time nearly a decade after the events, in 1954 in English and in 1959 in German. He noted there were minor discrepancies between editions.
Prior to republication of the diary in 2003, Enzensberger had hired Walter Kempowski, an expert on diaries of the period, to examine Hillers' "original notes and typescript"; he declared them authentic. After questions from journalists, Enzensberger released Kempowski's report in January 2004. Kempowski had noted that the author's version of events was supported by numerous other sources. He noted that Hillers had added material to the typescript and the published book that were not found in the diary, but editors and critics agree this is a normal part of the revision and editing process.
Antony Beevor, a British historian who wrote a 2002 work on the Battle of Berlin, affirmed his belief in the book's authenticity when it was published in English in 2005. He said it conformed to his detailed knowledge of the period and other primary sources he has used. Beevor wrote the introduction to the new 2005 English edition of the book.
A film adaptation of the book was made in 2008, directed by Max Färberböck and starring Nina Hoss as the anonymous Woman. Its title in Germany was Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin. It was released in the US as A Woman in Berlin.
- Enzensberger, Hans Magnus (2005). A Woman in Berlin. New York, NY: Hannelore Marek. Foreword. ISBN 978-0-312-42611-8.
- Beevor, Antony (2005), "Introduction", in Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin, p. xvi
- Luke Harding (2003-10-05). "Row over naming of rape author". The Observer. Retrieved 2014-09-08.
- Halley, Janet (2008). "Rape in Berlin: Reconsidering the Criminalisation of Rape in the International Law of Armed Conflict. Chapter: A Reading A Woman in Berlin, Reading Rape". Melbourne Journal of International Law 9 (1): 78.
- Beevor, Antony (25 September 2005). "Letter to the editor: A Woman in Berlin". New York Times.
- Christian Esch (2003). Eine belanglose Person? (A Trivial person?), Berliner Zeitung, 25 September 2003.[dead link]
- Güntner, Joachim (19 January 2004). "Eine Frau in Berlin". Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
- Beevor, Antony (2002). The Fall of Berlin 1945.
- Kempowski, Walter (20 January 2004). "Unchanging Tone: No Doubt about "A Woman in Berlin"". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
- Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin (English title: A Woman in Berlin), entry in the British Film Institute database, retrieved 15 June 2010