A Woman in Berlin has been discussed as an important document about life in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Germany in Second World War. The book is the diary of an anonymous German woman of an upper-middle class background, who, like thousands of other German woman in 1945, is repeatedly sexually assaulted by Russian soldiers.
Suffering is suffering, and the author chronicles it well. But she strikes a delicate balance between depicting the horror of her situation, and also showing a rounded portrait of a fully thinking, acting, surviving woman. She is no mere victim. She is also the agent of her own fate, to an extent, and she exercises that agency when she can. The diary is proof of this, and in numerous instances she shows with great artistry the power that each of us possess as human beings, even in situations where we have little outward control.
And this, in turn, is the promise of art. It enables people to rise above their fortunes, even briefly, even as they depict them. The powerful ending, when the writer begins to type her handwritten diary, in order to provide a record of events, to make people understand, is where private life is transformed into art. It is when one person’s suffering becomes the suffering of us all.