Rowland Bismark's Reviews > A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous
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Sep 13, 2010

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Focusing in particular on the German-Soviet war in the East, this book explores variations in patterns of sexual violence associated with armed forces in Europe during and immediately after World War II subjectively. Besides soldier violence perpetrated against civilian populations, a significant role was also played by irregular forces: most notably, by partisan guerrillas and civilian vigilantes. Ethnic nationalist partisan forces perpetrated especially brutal sexual violence against women and girls of “enemy” nationalities. Likewise, after liberation civilian reprisals were fairly common throughout Europe against so-called “sexual collaborators”—that is, against women excoriated for providing “sexual comfort” to the enemy during the German occupation.

A Woman in Berlin presents itself as the contemporaneous diary of a German woman struggling to survive the fall of Berlin to the Soviets in 1945. Chronological entries starting at 4 pm on Friday 20 April 1945 relate events in the present tense; as we read, we are privy to the diarist’s written stream of consciousness about what she is experiencing.

The form that the book takes has been crucial to the two waves of controversy that it has provoked in Germany; one when it was first published in German in 1959 and another on its republication in 2003. At stake both times has been the link between the book’s truthfulness and its moral import: if true, it is a moral indictment of the Soviets (for raping), of the Nazis (for the national calamity of Germany), of the Woman (for being raped), of German men (for letting her be raped). If untrue, it is anti-Soviet, pro-Nazi propaganda, an assault on the honor of German women and the masculinity of German men (1959) — or anti-Soviet, pro-West propaganda or an assertion of German suffering during the War in which German aggression provoked so much suffering (2003). The provenance of the book — the anonymity and identity of the author and the way in which her diary came to be a book in the first place — have been central to these controversies from the start. The debate has repeated the following logic with relentless fidelity: if the diaries are a naïve transcript of the Woman’s experiences, they are true; if they have been shaped by any conscious intentions, they are false. The literariness of the text has been firmly associated in these debates with its falsity. And if literary, and false, the Diary is motivated by occult ideological investments which it is the task of interpretation to root out; if naïve, and true, it teaches us undiluted lessons, more or less in the form of a direct apercu.

First, a brief restatement of the publication history of the Diary in its English and German language versions. It was first published in the US in English (1954); and subsequently in Britain (1955); and then in German by a Swiss publishing house (1959). The second version was published in German in Germany (2003) and re-translated into English and published in the US (2005) and in Britain (2005). I will call these, collectively, the first version and the second version. The first version was edited and introduced by Kurt M Marek; the second by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.

Both editors have posited that the published Diary constitutes the very transcription of their anonymous author’s contemporaneous diary. In his introduction to the first published version of the book, Marek describes the manuscript — ‘the short pencilled notes … ; the combination of shorthand, longhand and secret code … , the significant abbreviations’ — and assures us of its objective existence: ‘These pages lie before me while I write’. He claims to know the building described as the Woman’s residence almost throughout the diary and vouches for the accuracy of her descriptions of it. And he concludes:
we are faced, then, not with a literary creation whose author has an eye on the public but with a document. … What I have written here should make it amply clear that this book contains the truth and nothing, but the truth

In his introduction to the second published version of the book, published in English in 2005, Enzensberger tells us that the author transcribed the notes described by Marek into ‘121 pages of gray war-issue paper’ and that ‘these pages — authenticated along with the original notebooks by a foremost expert on twentieth century diaries — stand as a shattering indictment and complete our record of the time’. The German language cover of this second version links these claims for veracity to the author’s refusal to disclose her name: it includes a banner announcing that ‘it was the desire of the author that her name remain anonymous. Because of this, speculations about her identity are forbidden’.

Some IDIOTs called this book only just: "Revisionist propaganda", an Apologist for Communists ...... how come...??? This journal was no doubt therapeutic for the author. And maybe more than that, perhaps it was a survival tool, helping to take her temporarily out of her terrible situation, even out of herself perhaps, allowing for a life-saving perspective (i.e. as bad as it is, this too will pass) and even retrospective humour (which was not possible at the moment of action). If you can remember (and a journal makes you thoroughly do so), it means that you have survived, and usually it also means that you expect to continue to do so. The author is incredibly resilient (she was starving and was raped multiple times). Is she able to write because she is resilient? Is she resilient because she has the discipline to write? Or is she writing because she is a journalist and that is what journalists do? Perhaps all three are true.

And yet A Woman In Berlin is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and of woman-kind in particular.

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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by nanto (new) - added it

nanto baca yang versi jerman atau inggris? sudah nonton filmnya? dibandingkan bukunya, gimana filmnya menurut lo?


Rowland Bismark Both (english & German)... filmnya juga bgs kok...

message 3: by nanto (new) - added it

nanto yup filmnya bagus. gue sepakat sama hipotesa soal jika diari ini benar dan soal fungsi diari ini sebagai terapi bagi pengarangnya. terapi itu juga berguna bagi semua pihak. termasuk didalamnya antara jerman dan rusia (uni soviet) dalam memandang tragedi itu. dan sepertinya itu dimulai dari pemeran yang dilakoni dari aktor/aktris rusia dan jerman.

pengungkapan fakta sejarah yang lebih personal (sudut pandang pribadi) pasca-perang dingin/runtuhnya tembok berlin memang banyak bermunculan hal-hal seperti ini. bukan untuk sekedar mencari siapa yang bertanggung jawab kali yah, tp untuk melihat kejadian pahit dari sudut pandang yang lebih berimbang aja kali yah..

Rowland Bismark Well, mengenai pengungkapan fakta sejarah yang lebih personal memang bukan pekerjaan mudah, krn dari awal pendekatan penulisannya bersifat subjektivisme... bisa her-story or his-story...

But one thing for sure:
We live in a world in which rape is a terrible wrong and rape’s badness can be deployed in an alarming number of ways to advance contested ends, ends which one might well want to resist. The badness of rape can be a reason to start a war; can be a reason to fight harder in a war; can be a reason to rape someone. It is possible to charge and convict people of rape who have not raped; it is possible to use the badness of rape to protect accusing women from political or moral scrutiny. The superior badness of rape can background other bad things: to import the idea that ‘rape is a fate worse than death’ into the setting of armed conflict.

Beberapa tambahan literatur mungkin bisa memperjelas sistematika motivasi penulisan buku ini seperti, misalnya:
Karen Engle, ‘Feminism and Its (Dis)Contents: Criminalizing Wartime Rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina’ (2005) 99 American Journal of International Law

Karen Engle, ‘Liberal Internationalism, Feminism, and the Suppression of Critique: Contemporary Approaches to Global Order in the United States’ (2005) Harvard International Law Journal;

Dianne Otto, ‘A Sign of “Weakness”?: Disrupting Gender Certainties in the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325’ (2006) 13 Michigan Journal of Gender and Law;

Vesna Nicolič-Ristanovič (ed), Women, Violence and War: Wartime Victimization of Refugees in the Balkans (Borislav Radović trans, 2000 ed) [trans of: Žene, nasilje i rat];

R Charli Carpenter, ‘Surfacing Children: Limitations of Genocidal Rape Discourse’ (2000) Human Rights Quarterly;

Katherine M Franke, ‘Putting Sex to Work’ (1998) Denver University Law Review 1139;

Vesna Kesic, ‘A Response to Catherine MacKinnon’s Article’ (1994) Hastings Women’s Law Journal 267.

"Gue memang sangat tergoda untuk membahas ini secara lebih ilmiah & konkret, tapi nanti terlalu serius ahh utk forum Goodreads..."

Sory my language, campur-sari mas...

message 5: by nanto (new) - added it

nanto gak papa. gue juga nyelip pake bahasa daerah kok :p

karena berangkatnya dari film, gue malah ngeliat konteks penerbitan kembali buku ini lebih pada soal pemerkosaan dan perang. tema utamanya memang soal itu, tp gue lebih ngelihat dalam konteks pengungkapan cerita yang selama ini terpendam karena ketegangan Perang Dingin. Pasca-runtuhnya tembok berlin, ada semacam pengungkapan hal-hal yang selama ini terbentur persoalan ideologis. dalam perang memang lebih mengutamakan hal-hal we vs them dan komunal. tp pascaketegangan itu lepas, muncul suara yang lebih personal/libertarian.

di eropa tengah dan timur muncul film ttg revolusi di hungaria yang mencoba mendefinisikan sendiri sosialisme mereka yang waktu itu malah diberangus oleh Moskow, di polandia ada upaya pengungkapan pembataian pasukan polandia sama pasukan rusia di Katyn(?). terakhir juga gue nonton film ttg Leningrad yang tokoh utamanya wartawan inggris yang merupakan anak jenderal tsar yang malah memilih tetep di kota yang dikepung nazi itu meski dia terancam diburu sebagai musuh revolusi.

kembali ke buku ini, gue sepakat sama kutipan di review di NYTimes ini, yang bilang, "of a society so traumatized by guilt, and the opprobrium of the outside world, that it was unable to acknowledge its own suffering"

oh iya, untuk buku ttg penderitaan jerman itu sendiri antara lain adalah bombardemen sekutu atas kota2 industri jerman yang tidak sepenuhnya bisa dikatakan bisa diterima dalam kode etik perang. artinya garis-garis identitas yang tidak hitam putih itu bermunculan pasca-perang dingin.

gue salut saja sama Hillers yang termasuk pendukung nazi tp dalam diari dia ini penceritaannya mampu masuk ke dalam banyak perspektif. di filmnya terasa banget nuansa dari korban, tentara rusia, prajurit jerman. jauh dari nasionalisme chauvinistik yang biasanya ada di orang nazi, mungkin latarbelakang dia yang wartawan dengan kemampuan bahasa dan perjalanan yang banyak itu mampu membuat dia seperti itu.

suara personal seperti ini jarang bisa muncul saat konflik sedang naik, karena we-them feelling biasanya sedang dibangun. kalaupun ada, biasanya beban propagandanya tinggi banget.

message 6: by Rowland (last edited Sep 13, 2010 10:37AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rowland Bismark Well perang & sgala atributnya memang menimbulkan efek negatif yg jauh lebih banyak dibanding efek positifnya... politik jurnalistik, psikis nasionalisme termasuk salah satunya... Perihal objektivisme jurnalistik menjadi begitu rancu (berada pada titik terendah dlm segi pemberitaan) untuk kasus Perang Balkan jilid I (Kroasia-Serbia-Bosnia) dan jilid II (Serbia vs NaTO) or tambahan lagi; dimana pers Barat pada saat terjadi genocide di Chechnya... untuk kawasan asia waaaah lebih banyak lagi variannya...

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