A Woman in Berlin

In the last days of the Third Reich, Russian soldiers’ systematic rape of German women was never a secret.

In the last days of the Third Reich, Russian soldiers’ systematic rape of German women was never a secret. But when an anonymous diary by one of their victims was published in the 1950s, it was met with outrage, attacked by critics and pushed aside — evidence not only of Communist occupation in the East but of the shame associated with women speaking about sexual abuse.

Earlier in the war, that victim — a young German journalist — had returned to Berlin to see what she believed would be her country realizing its great destiny. Instead, she found herself hiding in cellars, raped repeatedly by soldiers — many of whom reminded her wryly of the great brutality their families have suffered at the hands of German men. To protect herself from their brutality, she established a standing sexual exchange with one sad, conflicted major named Andrej, whose own wife was brutalized and killed by German troops.

The diary was not republished until 2003, after the now-identified woman’s death. German director Max Frberbck adapted it into a film, A Woman in Berlin. Frberbck carefully avoids sensationalizing victim and perpetrator, instead settling on a bleak, morally confusing picture.

The woman (Nina Hoss) narrates with diary entries read aloud. Often undecipherable scenes move quickly between hushed cellars thick with terror and the rubble-filled streets where Russian soldiers aimlessly alternate between arbitrary violence and boisterous celebration. We hear scurrying in the cellar and then screams when a soldier comes for a visit.

The stunningly beautiful, educated writer now maintains her dignity by negotiating the terms of her rape. Andrej mourns the loss of his wife while sleeping with a woman whose fiancé is a Nazi soldier. They and others like them sit around a table in a torn-apart apartment and laugh together in weird moments of near-normalcy. When the woman runs into an old friend, she asks her not if she had been brutalized, but simply, “How often?” Sparing no frankness in conveying the brutality, Frberbck’s ever-evolving, quirky characters convey the total moral upset of war — and the ambiguity that results, in this case, as victims and perpetrators, whose own families are victims at home, navigate this standstill in time.

Wild and Scenic Film Festival

Sat., Jan. 30, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
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About The Author

Erika Prins

Erika Prins is an intern with The Inlander.