Book Review: A Woman in Berlin

This past week, I read A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in a Conquered City. It was hard to get through, not because of the writing which I loved considering the material, but just with how emotional the book was. The novel is the diary of a woman who recorded daily life during the Russian occupation of Berlin during the second World War.

For years, the book was published without credit, since its author feared what could become of her if it was known that she had in fact written it. It is presumed that the diary actually was of German journalist, Marta Hillers.

The diary largely chronicles the brutality and atrocities that can and do occur during wartime. The author descriptively records the multiple rapes she suffered at the hands of the Red Army, the murders, the suicides and the bombings that prevailed in Berlin following Hitler’s fall from power. She raises the question, is it really the more humane thing to do to leave women and children behind while men fight in wars? Without protection, women do become the booty of war (pun intended) and they die, along with the children.

The author is admirable because instead of making herself the victim, which she no doubt is, she rises above that. She uses her mind and her body to keep herself safe and to ensure that she can get food to feed herself and in turn the people that she lives with. Her bravery and courageousness that echoes in her writing is just unbelievable as when she was writing this, there was no end in sight for her. This was her life.

The book moves pretty quickly and what I enjoyed most about it was the author’s writing style. Though written in the 1940’s, the book had a more modern feel to the way it was written, completely pulling me into her story and the story of those she lived with.

Score: 4 out of 5

Book Information: A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in a Conquered City is available for purchase with ISBN 0312426119 via Picador. This version was originally published in July 2006.

If you’re interested, there was even a movie made of this book not too long ago:

A Review of War-Revolution-Weimar: On Ida Katherine Rigby’s Exhibition and Catalog Essays

weimarBeginning with Max Pechstein’s cover illustration for the Novembergruppe’s book, Rigby sets a clear tone for her catalog. Portrayed is an able bodied man, shirtless and with flames erupting from his chest. Above his head reads “AN ALLE KUNSTLER” which when translated means “to all artists” and served as a message to the German Expressionists. From the fiery introduction, Rigby transitions smoothly into the War Period where she focuses on the attitudes that created art.

The War Period

Rigby states how many German soldiers emerged from World War I as vehement opponents to war. With brief yet concise explanations, Rigby juxtaposes the historical influences of the period along with dark depictions of a post-war culture, shedding further light on the mind state of artists who were working during this period. Otto Dix and Christian Rohlfs are among the largest contributors to this section.

Political Posters

What is the most interesting section of this catalog is the fourth segment which covers political posters during the Revolution. The now socialist government moved to allign itself with the Expressionists. They had hoped that this group of artists would ignite in the workers the same spirit that had caused them to revolt in the first place. What was inevitably created were posters with blatant political satire that were rich in harsh imagery and color, unlike what the infamous Daumier had been doing during the French Revolution two hundred years before.

The Weimar Art Period

The Weimar Republic refers to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany. The culture of this government lasted from 1919 to 1933 when Hitler and the Nazis party rose to power. It is during this period that the aforementioned political posters would flourish, the beginning to Bauhaus would be introduced to the world and Germany would be viewed as an intellectual center. Otto Dix is most assocaited with this period as he was very prolific during these years. Rigby includes many of his poster throughout th book and especially in conjunction with the Weimar Period.

Overall, Rigby compiled a clear exhibition and accompanying catalog. It is both intriguing and concise at the same time which allows for the reader to take time while studying the images that she has chosen to portray along with her essays. Its a different look at Germany, as the Weimar period is not often covered in-depth as it is here.

War-Revolution-Weimar by Ida Katherine Rigby is available through the Sa Diego State University Press with ISBN 0916304620.