A WOMAN IN BERLIN —-“ Misfortune has a greater imagination than we do”. This gripping German film tells the story, primarily through the lens of one woman’s experiences, of the tragic horror that befell hundreds of thousands of women—perhaps as many as a million—in Berlin when the victorious, mercy-shy Soviet Army entered the Third Reich capital in 1945. Revenging the slaughter and rapine visited upon Russia by Hitler’s armies, Stalin and his generals encouraged their death-hardened troops to take what and whom they wanted: the ensuing mass orgy became possibly the greatest spree of sexual assault in history, surpassing even the grotesque ‘Rape of Nanking’ inflicted upon helpless Chinese by the Japanese Army a few years earlier. *
Instead of simply bludgeoning the viewer with a numbers-distancing catalogue of horror, the focus is on a few inhabitants of one building in a single area of the city. Chief attention goes to the resilient chronicler played by the wonderful German leading lady Nina Hoss. Man-up–or Woman-up— and watch this powerful, splendidly done film, despite the off-putting subject matter: if they can survive years of trauma you ought to be able to make it through 131 minutes of drama.
The occupiers and victims are all portrayed with the complexity and variety of behavior and response that such a giant catastrophe entails. Simple displays of humanity, casual acceptance of the unacceptable, attempts to salvage dignity, tactics to fend, psychological and physical collapse into despair and catatonia, resort to black humor for survival and sanity’s sake are all given their due. It’s not an easy movie to witness, but it’s done with consummate skill and care, superb attention to detail, as compassionate as it is unflinching. Hoss is a wonder, and all in the cast do exemplary work.
Directed and written by Max Farberbock, released 2008, it’s based on a memoir by “Anonyma” (later revealed to be journalist/survivor Marta Hillers) that caused such a firestorm of outrage, shame and denial it was banned in Germany for years. The Soviet government (and later, the Russian government, yet today) would not own up to the crimes, which in the wake of Hitler’s atrocities and those of his Japanese ally, were washed under the historical rug. Essentially, the World saying “they asked for it.”
In the cast: Yevgeni Sidikhin (superb), Irm Hermann, Rudiger Vogler, Ulrike Krumbiegel, Rolf Kanies, Jordis Triebel, Roman Gribkov, Julianne Kohler, August Diehl.
* Rape had been part of the conqueror’s code for millennia, but this took on gargantuan proportions. The terror continued well into the occupation, and was later shown to have occurred wholesale along the path of the Soviet juggernaut—in Austria, Poland, Hungary, all across eastern Germany, even including the freed women in concentration camps. Don’t flinch from history, and ponder what’s been happening in the Congo, carried out as you read this.