Self realizes this book is not exactly Christmas fare. Neither was Ship of Ghosts, which she finished reading yesterday (She was so affected that she couldn’t sleep after putting it down. After this, she will stick to mysteries).
The Introduction to A Woman in Berlin, by Antony Beevor, divulges a grim fact: twelve women in the narrator’s building, including the narrator herself, were raped. Multiply that by the number of apartment buildings in Berlin, and the number of rape victims was likely well over 100,000. It is important to underscore the scale of the atrocity. Also, this was happening not just in Berlin, but all over Germany as the Soviets became occupiers.
The narrator accepted a position of responsibility, which put her directly in harm’s way when the Soviet troops entered the city. She was keeping a journal to be able to share with her boyfriend, Gerd, “if he comes back.” (Self thinking: Woman, that is the worst idea. No boyfriend wants to hear about his girlfriend’s rape. No boyfriend can stand to hear it. Self would like to direct you to a Leonard Michaels short story about a young college student who tells her boyfriend about her rape. It’s a terrific short story that will destroy you. Oh, but that story was written 30 years after the events of this book. Onward!)
We followed orders blindly, without looking to save our skins. Except that there will be no books or songs to celebrate this deed, and no one will receive the Iron Cross. Still, I now know one thing: in the heat of battle, in the thick of the action, you don’t think — you don’t even feel afraid because you’re so distracted and absorbed.
Were we brave? Most people would probably say we were . . . I have to rethink my ideas about heroism and courage under fire. It’s only half as bad as I thought. Once you’ve taken the first step, you just keep charging ahead.