For eight weeks in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army, a young woman kept a daily record of life in her apartment building and among its residents. The anonymous author depicts her fellow Berliners in all their humanity and their cravenness, corrupted first by hunger and then by the Russians. A Woman in Berlin tells of the complex relationship between civilians and an occupying army and the shameful indignities to which women in a conquered city are always subject–the mass rape suffered by all, regardless of age or infirmity. Anonymous Woman Berlin Diary
Read the story of Marta Hillers and see her passport. It is the diary of a German woman from 20 April to 22 June 1945, during and after the Battle of Berlin. The book details the author’s being raped and choosing to take a Soviet officer as a protector during the Red Army occupation.
The book was first published in English in 1954 in the United States. When it was published in Germany in 1959, the author was accused of “besmirching the honor of German women.” Hillers refused to have another edition published in her lifetime. Having married and moved to Switzerland, Hillers left journalism and did not publish another major work. She died in 2001.
A new edition of her book was published posthumously in Germany in 2003, again anonymously. It met wide critical acclaim and was weeks on the bestseller list. A controversy broke out when a literary editor revealed the author as Hillers. No one else has been suggested. New English editions were published in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2005 and seven other languages. The book was adapted as a film and was released first in 2008 in Germany and Poland. In the United States, it is known as A Woman in Berlin. Anonymous Woman Berlin Diary
In the early hours of 16 April 1945, civilians in the eastern quarters of Berlin were awoken by a rumble of distant rolling thunder. The vibrations were so strong that telephones began to ring on their own, and pictures fell from their hooks. Women emerged slowly from their apartments and exchanged meaningful looks with neighbors. They hardly needed to speak. The long-awaited Soviet offensive had at last begun sixty miles to their east.
One and a half million Red Army soldiers of Marshal Zhukov’s First Belorussian Front were bursting out from the bridgeheads on the west bank of the River Oder. Facing them were the desperate scrapings of the embattled Third Reich: mainly boys from the Hitler Youth, older men from the Volkssturm, groups of cadets from Luftwaffe military schools, and a stiffening of veterans and SS. They had little ammunition, hardly any shells for their artillery, and insufficient fuel for their few remaining armored vehicles. Yet Goebbels, the Reich commissar for the defense of Berlin and minister of propaganda, had declared that the line of the Oder was a wall on which the Asiatic hordes’ would smash themselves. Surrender was out of the question. Himmler had just issued orders that any German male found in a house displaying a white flag be shot. The propaganda ministry organized graffiti squads, dressed as ordinary Germans, to paint slogans such as: ‘We will never surrender!’ and ‘Protect our women and children from the Red beasts!’ Anonymous Woman Berlin Diary
This diary, written by a 34-year-old journalist, begins on Friday, 20 April, four days after the opening bombardment. It was Hitler’s birthday. Nazi flags were raised over ruined edifices in the city center, where US Air Force Flying Fortresses by day and RAF Lancasters by night had destroyed 90 percent of the buildings. Signs erected in Hitler’s honor proclaimed: ‘The Fighting City of Berlin Greets the Führer.’ Even Hitler’s military staff had no idea how close the fighting was. Soviet tank armies had now smashed their way through the German defenses and started to encircle the city. The first shells from long-range artillery would land in the city’s northern suburbs that evening. Anonymous Woman Berlin Diary
The diary, which filled two exercise books and a clothbound notebook, continues for just over two months until 22 June. This period covers the bombardment, the brief streetfighting in most districts, Hitler’s suicide on 30 April, the surrender of the last pockets of resistance on 2 May, and the city’s occupation by the conquerors.