The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 6

In 1954 there appeared in the USA the work that would make Marta Hillers famous one day: A Woman in Berlin, her anonymous diary from April 20 to June 22, 1945. 1955 followed the British edition, after that, according to the introduction of the German first edition, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and Japanese translations.(1)
Only in 1959 A Woman in Berlin was published in German by the small publishing house Helmut Kossodo (Geneva and Frankfurt/Main), even though the blurb of the Danish edition already mentioned in 1955 a soon-to-be-published German edition under the title Die Summe der Tränen bleibt konstant (The sum of tears is constant).(2) A hitherto unconfirmed legend, aided by the afterword to Max Färberböck’s film, claims the book met with outrage and rejection in Germany. Actually, there is nothing, no document, no review, to suggest an extensive outrage. (Unless the fact that even a successful author like Kurt W. Marek could or would not sell the book to a bigger publishing house – like the obvious Rowohlt – is any indication.) It rather appears as though the book went mostly unnoticed.
For who should review? The leftist press was bothered by the stereotype of the “evil Russian“. (It should be noted, though, that communist-sympathiser Erich Kuby, one of the first authors to use A Woman in Berlin as a source in his book The Russians and Berlin 1945, wrote very approvingly of it – however, he only quoted passages compatible to his political creed. The liberal magazine Spiegel, too, featured a favourable review.)
The right-wing press would have been annoyed by the human depiction of the occupiers as well as the, though not quite voluntary, willingness of German women to sleep with the propagandised Slavic “sub-humans” for protection and food instead of choosing glorified self-sacrifice. The centre? The moderate, conservative, Christian press? They were indignant – similar to „Gerd“ – not over the description of the mass rapes per se, but over the tone in which it was made. Many reviews of and treatises on A Woman in Berlin, even an interview with Hans Magnus Enzensberger, include the argument that the quarrel with “Gerd“ was about not keeping silent on the events. Certainly there were cases in post-war Germany where a husband’s disgust brought on a separation; there were also antiquated notions of the kind, a woman couldn’t be raped against her will – thus accusing the victims, on top of everything else they had gone through, of infidelity. And so many victims kept quiet out of justified or unjustified fear of their partner’s reaction. More often, however, the heavily traumatised women had problems with taking up their conjugal life again and their husbands did not know how to deal with the situation. Therapies were pure fantasy at this point. After all that had happened, these broken relationships appear the most tragic of all.
But the case is very different here. Nobody asked Marta Hillers to keep silent on what had happened to her and the other women she wrote about. Rather, people were bothered by the apparently frivolous jokes (cue Ukrainian woman), by the flippant remarks that overshot the boundaries of good taste. That is the reason for “Gerd“ upbraiding the author for her immoderateness, shamelessness – one has to remember that those jokes that circulated among the raped women as a means of self-protection, as a desperately needed outlet for pent-up fear, hysteria, helpless anger, were presented in the company of people who had not lived through the worst time of the mass rapes and therefore were taken aback. Who expects jokes about rape from a victim of rape? Or knows how to react to them?
The time interval between the events and the publication contributed to the book’s reception. Contrary to modern ideas, 1959 was not a very unusual time to pursue this topic: Throughout the late 40s and the 50s feministic oriented journals had been decrying the rapes by Allied forces that, especially in parts of the Soviet Zone and the former eastern provinces, sometimes continued for years after the war. The movies Weg ohne Umkehr (No Way Back, 1953) and Nacht fiel über Gotenhafen (1959), even Billy Wilder’s sarcastic comedy set in occupied Berlin, A Foreign Affair (1948), contained references to the rapes. In 1951 the novel The Big Rape by former Esquire war correspondent James Wakefield Burke was published, based on the accounts of rape victims and eyewitnesses.
But the gallows’ humour that had helped the women at first to process their abuses seemed awkward and misplaced fourteen years later. It had been a product of its time and its events. Now the time was past, the events were at least suppressed. A “decent woman” could not expect sympathy for vagina jokes.
A political element which the publisher used in his (only?) ad might have contributed to the frosty reception of the book: The fate of the former German capital had once again become critical. Moscow demanded the demilitarisation of Berlin, something the Western allies refused emphatically for obvious reasons. The citizens of West-Berlin’s real danger was that their “island“ would either be “swallowed up“ by the surrounding German Democratic Republic or become the site of new military conflicts. Who would have liked to remember the events of 1945 in a situation like that?
But occasionally and in the knowledge of the new edition’s success, the few existing negative reviews were interpreted wrongly, as seen in the case of Maria Sack’ review in Tagesspiegel of December 6, 1959.

It is very painful to see close to 300 pages with the eyes of “a woman in Berlin“. And not just because the subject is so dreadful – much, much more painful is the tone in which this topic is covered.
In endless minuteness, down to the tiniest clinical detail, the author vividly narrates her countless “experiences“ from her point of view. […] The talks with friends about this topic which she herself reports, the repulsive way in which comparisons are drawn, the callous astonishment when somebody else does not want to talk about it, the derogatory remarks on German men… […]
I have spoken to many Berlin women about those days and weeks. Two sisters whom I know well, both in their early twenties at the end of the war, hid, as I know, beneath the body of their third, younger sister who had been killed by shrapnel when fetching water whenever a Russian soldier entered the room for four days during the last days of the war in a cellar in Kreuzberg. I know a woman – she was a girl back then – whose parents tried to protect her. The parents were shot and killed. The daughter today, fifteen years later, is still living in a mental home. The child which she bore after the rape is being looked after by the man who was engaged to her before all that. There is so much more to be said, but one does not need to say more.
For there are not, as the publisher claims, “millions of women who could report similar things” to this book. No, it isn’t like that. Most – no, almost all women are not capable of writing a lewd book about the most terrible events of their lives. And to pretend the attitude of one – provided the book is genuine – is the sentiment of all, is slander.
I do not fight – perhaps it is necessary to say this – for the “honour of the German woman” here. I never believed that the honour of a raped woman suffers in case of a rape. But I wish it was recognised abroad where this book has been bought by hundreds of thousands, that – in spite of this book – “a woman in Berlin” is not so very different from women elsewhere. Exceptions – like the anonymous author – do exist everywhere, too.

Several of Frau Sack’s arguments cannot – even today, even from a perspective not concerned about the image of German women abroad – be dismissed that easily. Marta Hillers was no “model case”, on the contrary, her knowledge of Russian alone opened up opportunities to her that other women did not have. If one compares her experiences with those of many others, one has to realise that she got off comparatively easily, did not suffer the very worst. To expect all women had or should have reacted as “robustly“, even when their abuses were considerably worse, would be just a distortion of the facts as the supposition all women had been destroyed by it. But Marta had never suggested anything like that, had never claimed to be a model case.
“I experience two kinds“, a radio journalist involved in collecting eyewitness accounts of the war generation once told me, “those who don’t talk about it at all, and those who don’t stop talking about it.“ This probably categorises the raped women of 1945 as well. Many of them kept silent for the rest of their lives or spoke no more than what was necessary, left their traumas in the recesses of their minds; others knew how to talk about it or learned to do it when in the 1980s the generation of their daughters and granddaughters began to ask questions. As seen, for example, in Helke Sander’s documentary, there were women who were unable to recall the events even decades later, as well as those who spoke in the same matter-of-fact or flippant way as some victims in A Woman in Berlin, of their rapes by Allied soldiers.
But is it surprising that in 1959 not many women were able to identify with this tone that almost seemed to mock their sufferings? And how might Marta Dietschy have felt seeing those hostile reactions? It had cost her quite an effort to publish her experiences, five years of persuasion by Kurt Marek had been necessary to get her to agree. She had suffered the same as countless other women, and she was not more callous than they; she wrote about fear, disgust, pain, despair, about being helpless and at the mercy of the victors. Her way of dealing with it had been talking about it. Suddenly she was blamed for this, perhaps even by fellow sufferers. After all that had happened fourteen years earlier, the unspoken accusation of having played down the atrocities, of having belittled the shared sufferings, must have been painful.

There were, however, more positive than negative reviews among the few that were written at all. Critics applauded the author’s level-headedness, her clear-eyed observations and her courage – and aside from Maria Sack, nobody seems to have doubted the genuineness of the events described or the need to talk about them.

There are differences between the contents of the English and the German first edition, to a much greater extent than the differences between the German first edition by Kossodo and the new edition by Eichborn, which Jens Bisky consulted for his question of original or forgery. Some can be explained with the challenges of translation; James Stern liked to leave out terms difficult to translate. (Contrary to Philip Boehm, the excellent translator of the new edition, who not only explained not transferable terms like the familiar and the formal form of address in the German and Russian [“du/Sie”, “ты/Bы“ respectively], but also looked up quotes from literature and songs and even corrected some of the author’s Russian – but managed to translate a few passages completely wrong.(4)) Other passages were clearly altered for the German edition, some of them much to my regret.
Can we conclude from this that somebody other than Marta Hillers had written out the book with the help of her notes? Not necessarily. The author Caitlín R. Kiernan once said, almost none of her stories were identical to earlier versions in a reprint, she rewrote them all.(5) She is probably not the only one. The view, the taste changes with time – every literary work is just a snapshot.
But let us first take a look at the most important of those altered passages.

Under the date 23rd of April is added to the reflections on desertion and heroism:

By nature we women haven’t much appreciation of it, either. We’re sensible, practical, opportunistic. We prefer men alive.
(And yet I wrote the above in my private shorthand, comprehensible to myself alone. We still bow to the laws and threats of our time, although by now the arms of our government cannot reach very far.)

The German and, consequently, the new edition dispensed with such secrecies and simply noted:

We women find it senseless to begin with; that’s just the way we are – reasonable, practical, opportunistic. We prefer our men alive.(7)

A biological fact whose absence one probably only notices when confronted with it, can be found on 24th of April. The note feels genuine; did the author consider it too intimate for the German edition?

Strikes me that all these people dream of having one last good meal – a condemned man’s breakfast. Incidentally, my period has started to the minute.(8)

I think they’re all dreaming of eating their fill one last time, a final meal before the execution.(9)

Massively altered was an entry on 26th of April, after the house was hit:

Was what we had done sensible or not? I don’t know.
It then occurred to me that during the battle with the water I hadn’t given a thought to my own garret. Surely it too must have been affected by the direct hit. At the first lull I dashed upstairs to find the mess I’ve already described.

[…] wondered whether the whole effort had been a smart thing to do. I’m not sure. In any case it was very soldierly. Lieutenant Behn had charged ahead, an assault troop of volunteers followed and everyone risked their lives to secure the endangered position – all under enemy fire. (It clearly wasn’t just about possessions either, about people rescuing their carpets, since practically none of the ones who went along had any more to do with those apartments than I did.) 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. Was our lead mare Fräulein Behn a hero? If she really were a lieutenant she would have definitely been given the Iron Cross. In any case 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.
It’s also typical that while I was slogging through all that water I didn’t give my own apartment a second thought – not until some others mentioned the possibility that it might have been hit. So I flew upstairs and found the dump described.

Once again concerning the period: 27th of April.

I feel feverish. My face is burning. Yesterday my period stopped abruptly.(12)

I feel feverish. My face is burning.(13)

28th of April, after the first night with Anatol:

I figure that that day was Sunday, April 29. But Sunday is such a civilian word, meaningless at the moment. At the front there is no Sunday. Everything is a – no. No, I don’t want to write it, there’s already enough muck in this diary.(14)

I figured out that it was Sunday, 29 April. But Sunday is a word for civilians, at the moment without meaning. There are no Sundays on the front.(15)

An entry on 29th of April was already listed by Jens Bisky as evidence of a possible co-authorship by Kurt Marek. Including the English first edition, there exist three different versions of this particular passage (four if you count the new translation):

In hesitating, extremely cautious terms they point out that their country stands only on the threshold of a great development and that it must be viewed, judged and compared in terms of the future. And I find myself wondering what these men, out of their red cage for the first time in their lives, are going to say about Germany when they get back home again.
One of them, pointing at the furniture surrounding us, insists on seeing culture in its polish, carved wood, and curlicues.

The German first edition says:

Mit zögernden, plötzlich sehr vorsichtigen Argumenten betonen sie, daß ihr Land erst am Beginn einer großen Entwicklung stehe, daß es von seiner Zukunft her gesehen, beurteilt, verglichen werden müsse…
Einer weist auf die Möbel ringsum (Schietkram) und findet darin überlegene Kultur.

While the new edition says:

Mit zögernden, plötzlich sehr vorsichtigen Argumenten betonen sie, daß ihr Land erst am Beginn einer großen Entwicklung stehe, daß es von seiner Zukunft her gesehen, beurteilt, verglichen werden müsse…
Einer weist auf die Möbel ringsum (Stil 1800) und findet darin überlegene Kultur.(18)

(Suddenly cautious, they put forward tentative arguments for why their country is on the verge of a great development, and therefore should be considered, critiqued and compared only from the perspective of the future.
One of the men points to the nineteenth-century style furniture in the room as an example of a superior culture.

“Schietkram“ (“crappy stuff” in the Northern dialect), Bisky argues correctly, is no term used in Berlin but quite common in Hamburg, where Kurt Marek lived for several years.
The Norwegian translation of 1955, which is interesting insofar as its translator appears to have consulted both the English edition and the unpublished German manuscript(20), still includes the thoughts on the “red cage“ left out in the German edition but already the “Schietkram“ (“bare juks“). Were “polish, carved wood, and curlicues“ a pure adaptation of the manuscript for the English translation? Undoubtedly nobody expected the American readers to be able to form a mental image of the reviled German bourgeois Philistines’ furniture by a simple mentioning.

Another too personal description? 1st of May, the morning after the multiple rape by the lieutenant:

I felt wretched and sore and crept around like a lame duck. The widow, realizing immediately the reason why, got down her medicine chest from the loft where she had been hiding it. Without a word she handed me a jar containing vaseline, but her eyes were brimming. I too felt weak and was aware of something rising in my throat. […]
It cannot, it must not be different, for I wish to remain dead and unfeeling so long as I have to be a prey. As a result I’m glad I feel so sore and sick. And yet there I stood blubbering, with the jar of vaseline in my hand, in front of the equally blubbering widow. When we joined Herr Pauli, however, we pulled ourselves together and talked of other things.

I was miserable, sore, barely dragging myself around. The widow got her medicine chest out from the crawl space where she’d hidden it, and gave me a tin with some remnants of Vaseline. […]
It can’t be otherwise, nor should it be; as long as I’m nothing more than a spoil of war I intend to stay dead and numb, without feeling.

6th of May, Elvira:

“[…] She had to take almost all of it herself. The other one was unwell, they let her alone after four times…“(27)

‘[…] She had to bear the brunt of it herself. The other woman wasn’t well.’(28(

A curious alteration was made to the entry on 7th May:

She’s a girl called Elfriede whom the widow knows by name.(29)

It became in later editions:

A girl named Frieda, whom the widow had heard of but never met.(30)

13th of May, balance:

They lie, however, in my opinion, in form and color and in the various rules of the game rather than in the greater or lesser degree of happiness of the many. The little, dull, submissive human being who knows only the existence into which he has been born did not strike me as more unhappy in Moscow, London, or Berlin. He had adjusted himself to the conditions of life in which he found himself. And willingly or occasionally unwillingly he followed the accepted rules of the game. It is at most the world traveler who suffers the conflict of choice, provided of course that his movements are not restricted by having to earn his livelihood.(31)

But from what I can tell these distinctions are mostly ones of form and colouration, of the rules of play, not differences in the greater or lesser fortunes of the common people, which Candide was so concerned about. And the individuals I encountered who were meek, subservient and utterly uninterested in any existence other than the one they were born to didn’t seem any unhappier in Moscow than they did in Paris or Berlin – all of them lived by adjusting their souls to the prevailing conditions.(32)

Perhaps seen as too shocking for the “intact world“ of the late 50s with its innocent children was a remark on 14th of May:

It was dawn when I was next waked up by the chattering of the bread queue. It had already wound its way round half the block, and even now, in the afternoon, it’s still there. A number of women had brought stools along. […] There are quite a few children among them; they must be learning a lot these days. At the pump the widow heard a seven-year-old interrupt a conversation with the following remark: “My mummy was raped, too – on the kitchen table!”(33)

Then this morning at dawn I was wakened by the sound of chattering people queuing for bread. The line wound halfway round the block and it’s still there now, in the afternoon. Many women have brought stools along.(34)

23rd of May:

“Even under Adolf,” muttered one woman, “I never ate such stuff.” Protests from all sides.(37)

One woman muttered in a thick Berlin accent, ‘Never ate the likes of this under Adolf.’
She was challenged on all sides. ‘It’s thanks to your Adolf we’re eating this.’
Embarrassed, the woman said, ‘That’s not how I meant it.’

Completely missing from the English first edition are the thoughts on the mirror in the bomb shelter, entered on the 26th of May (by the way the author’s 34th birthday):

Still outraged, she waved her soup spoon in the air. ‘Fancy that, a mirror.’
An amazing death, no doubt about it. Presumably the children for whom the basement shelter was designed were supposed to comb their little locks in front of the mirrors each morning after the nightly air raid – a luxury clearly installed back when the raids first started, back when the shelters still offered a measure of comfort as well as confidence.

An extensive description can be found on 29th of May in the English and German first edition, but not in the new editions:

But the Russians have a natural, candid way of doing it. “That’s the way it is – what can you do?” was the reaction of the Moscow police when I went to report my first loss, that of a pocketbook. When I began to enumerate what had been in it – fountain-pen, pen-knife, etc. – the policemen burst out laughing. When I added that it also contained my wrist watch which I’d been meaning to have repaired, their laughter almost turned to tears.(40)

Alteration or faulty translation? 10th of June, at Gisela’s:

I’m also sure she has no more to eat than I have, there are deep shadows under her eyes; but she’s neither bitter, like her two young companions, nor cynical, like me. “We can’t help one another these days,” she said, “but the knowledge that everyone round me is suffering the same hardships keeps me going.”(43)

She doesn’t have any more to eat than I do. She has deep circles under her eyes, but hers are lit up, whereas mine are simply bright. We can’t help each other now. But the simple fact that I’m surrounded by other hungry people keeps me going.(44)

16th of June, Gerd’s return:

One night the three young men joined a group of evacuated Berliners who had decided to make their way home. The last part of the journey Gerd had spent in a freightcar full of rotten potatoes – with the result that by the time he arrived here he smelled exactly like my kitchen.(45)

The three joined a group of Berlin evacuees and marched home with them.(46)

The ending was altered considerably:

And there’s another thing I’ve decided to do: I’ve borrowed the widow’s typewriter and now I’m typing out my three volumes of diary on the white backs of old manuscripts I’ve found here in the garret. Slowly, in order to save my energy. Clearly, and without any abbreviations like “rp.” But with a few additions, things that may occur to me here and there while I’m typing. I’d like Gerd to read it when he comes home. Perhaps it will help us to find the way back to one another.(47)

Does Gerd still think of me?
Maybe we’ll find our way back to each other yet.

Somebody – I presume Kurt Marek – preceded the English first edition with a Shakespeare quote.

“… There have been,
Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now.
And many a man there is, even at this present,
Now, while I speak this, holds his wife by the arm,
That little thinks she has been sluiced in ‘s absence
And his pond fished by his next neighbor, by
Sir Smile, his neighbor…
It is a bawdy planet, that will strike
Where ‘tis predominant, and ‘tis powerful, think it,
From east, west, north, and south. Be it concluded,
No barricado for a belly…”

The Winter’s Tale, Act I(49)

It was a lucky or fateful find that, a year after the publication of my biography of Marta Dietschy-Hillers, put into my hands a professionally corrected copy of the 1959 edition of Eine Frau in Berlin. And not just that: Enclosed was the photocopy of a typewritten list of corrections, supplemented by further handwritten corrections in red pen.
Those corrections contain all deviations between the first edition of 1959 and the new edition of 2003; they contain even more that were not incorporated. The handwriting was the proof-reader’s; and just like a classical sleuth I had the opportunity of comparing the typewritten corrections with Marta’s typewriter, since her generous nephew had presented me with it on a visit. There is something to be said for detective stories – the damaged f and the askew r indeed revealed that these corrections had been written on Marta’s typewriter, that I, in short, had a copy of her own corrections in my possession. Even the alteration of “Schietkram“ to “Stil 1880“ was there. But that wasn’t all. Another photocopy was enclosed, the typewritten introduction by C. W. Ceram that never made it into the German first edition.
What I had before me was plain: The preparations for a new edition. When they were made remains unknown. Jens Bisky’s assumption Eichborn-Verlag or Hannelore Marek had altered the original text for the new edition is very much invalidated by this find; however, the altered ending was not part of Marta’s typewritten corrections but appeared in the proof-reader’s. Depending on when the handwritten alterations were made, this might be the only main alteration made without the author’s consent.
But what about the alleged co-authorship of Kurt Marek?
Even as Marta Hillers’ biographer I can’t pretend to be an expert. I have neither seen the original diary nor the typescript based on it, I wasn’t present when she wrote both, and I can just conjecture like everybody else. But I have studied Marta Hillers’ writings and correspondences extensively and have read Wir hielten Narvik that is likewise based on a diary, later rewritten by Kurt Marek to form a narrative report based on personal experience.
Actually the style of some passages suggests Marek might have made some contributions to the final draft of Marta’s book. Most passages, however, resound unmistakably with Marta’s voice. (I found this opinion confirmed independently by persons who knew her.)
Marta Hillers was an astute observer of her surroundings, having published curious little episodes of everyday life since the beginning of her journalistic career, and she was a well-read, culturally interested woman. Both by nature had to leave their mark on the manuscript. Of course she did not write out her diary while the events in it were taking place, there was, as any reader can realise, neither time nor leisure for that. Only later she would have put her notes into a narrative – whether for “Gerd“ or not –, she would recall and add details. A completely logical procedure.
And Kurt Marek would, when he had convinced Marta to publish her diary, have taken a look at the typescript and the original notes (in his fore-/afterword he mentioned explicitly that the diary was in his possession at the time of writing) and realized as an editor and a bestselling author that it required a more narrative approach in some places. Is it inconceivable that Kurt Marek rewrote some passages in the light of these considerations? He had known Marta for fifteen years, he knew her manners of expression, he had heard the tales of her experiences from her own mouth, and her notes were at his disposal. Would A Woman in Berlin in this case be less Marta’s? Hardly. One finds her everywhere, in the scribblings and additions in the margins, in incomplete sentences and insertions (Marek did not like missing nominatives, ellipses, parentheses), in lyrical wording and some distinctive expressions, in the matter-of-fact contemplations that are so characteristic of her style.
The style of other sentences resembles conspicuously Marek’s depictions in Wir hielten Narvik, the exaggerated flippancy, the Berlin dialect (the latter, of course, not existent in the English edition). How extensive Marek’s contribution to the final manuscript really is, I can’t say. But even if Kurt Marek had written out the entire book, it would still be based on the original notes and original experiences, written down by Marta Hillers and related orally. It is Marta’s story. The question of authenticity concerns the form at best, not the contents. There can be no talk of forgery like in the case of the Hitler diaries.

There is, however, one thing that strikes me as worth mentioning: What nobody seems to have considered in the previous discussions on original or forgery is the fact that the author was still living for a long time after publication. In all accusations and all speeches for the defence, even during feminist attempts to save her honour, the person Marta Dietschy-Hillers obviously was never judged important or interested enough to attend to her book herself. She was not the person to have kept quiet if she had not liked what another had made of her story, especially a friend of long standing.
Of course we do not know what she thought of her book decades later when Hannelore Marek told her of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s plan. Did she consider it a folly of her youth that was best kept out of sight? A thing of the past that had nothing to do with her life now? Or did she indeed fear new persecutions and refused a new edition for that reason? But at least in 1954 and still in 1959 she must have been convinced of the book’s quality, else it would never have been published.
Its quality is evident even today: The book is worded richly and remarkably modern; its sixty years have hardly left any trace. How it should be considered as a historic or literary document is something people may (and will!) be of different opinion on. I myself see it mainly as a personal document whose fascination is heightened rather than lessened by the knowledge of its background. The author had changed details but in a way that still allows their correct identification, if one knows what to look for.
As though Enzensberger’s request had served to remind Marta Dietschy of the existence of her book, she added a clause to her will in November 1986:

I leave all copyrights belonging to me, especially the rights to my anonymous work “A Woman in Berlin / Diary“, including the rights to all translations, to Frau Hannelore Marek […].
I point out that I have not received any royalties from the copyright of “A Woman in Berlin“ for more than fifteen years, so it is unlikely to be of great value.

That the worthless book would become an international bestseller twenty years later was something its author had obviously not expected!

Since this post was first published, I have done more extensive research into the different editions and translations of A Woman in Berlin. The matter turned out to be far more complex than I’d first thought. I had already managed to get my hands on a list of corrections done by Marta Dietschy-Hillers herself as well as by a professional editor that covered the deviations between the German first edition of 1959 and the new edition of 2003. I was also blessed in finding the only translator of the first edition still alive, Mrs. Letizia Fuchs-Vidotto, who once translated Eine Frau in Berlin into Italian. A very lovely lady, she remembered quite clearly the typewritten folder with typing errors she worked from, which is an important clue. The German first edition, if one recalls, had not been published in book form at this point.
The 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2 also brought with it the usual flood of new publications, among them Matthias Sträßner’s “Erzähl mir vom Krieg!” – Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, Ursula von Kardorff, Margret Boveri und Anonyma: Wie vier Journalistinnen 1945 ihre Berliner Tagebücher schreiben. Mr. Sträßner had compared the American and German first edition and offered some theories of his own as to the deviations, some of which made a lot of sense. Inspired by this, I went a step further and compared all first editions in my possession, with the exception of the Japanese and the Finnish translation, simply because I do not speak the languages.
The deviations were quite stunning. I detected five “phases” of the typescript that can be explained simply and logically. In short, readers of the Swedish, Dutch and Italian translation got the benefit of the most extensive phase. Those translations were done from what I call the complete or uncut typescript, all other editions have been edited for various reasons.
Scholars and interested readers can find my list of deviations in the pdf attached to this post. In this English translation I have omitted the deviations between the German editions of 1959 and 2003 (which, of course, influenced the new English translation in turn). Scholars can find them in the extended second edition of my biography Mehr als Anonyma – Marta Dietschy-Hillers und ihr Kreis. Read the comparison here:


(1) The Spanish translation published in Argentina could not be verified up to this point. Perhaps it was published under a different title and therefore cannot be traced without more information.

(2) Men nu – ti år efter – er historien udkommet i bogform, først i England – og det er efter den engelske udgave, at denne danske oversættelse ved Henning Kehler er foretaget – dernæst på tysk, hvor bogens titel er blevet „Tårernes sum er konstant“. (Anonym: En kvinde i Berlin. København: Thorkild Becks Forlag, 1955, blurb)

(3) Sack, Maria: „Schlechter Dienst an der Berlinerin“, in: Der Tagesspiegel, December 6, 1959. Berlin: Verlag Der Tagesspiegel, p. 35. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel

(4) Boehm:
I’m just about to give up for the day, am already knocking on our door, when I see a man with stars coming out of an apartment across the street (the former tenant having managed to escape just in time). (Anonymous, 2005, p. 85)
I was just about to give up for the day, was already knocking at the widow’s door, when suddenly the door of the apartment opposite opened. (Anonymous, 1954, p. 88)

Stern is right: The author is talking of an apartment in the same house.

This is propably how the Teutons acted when they sacked Rome, snatching the perfumed Roman ladies, with their pedicures and manicures and artificial curls. Being conquered means having salt rubbed in your wounds. (Anonymous, 2005, p. 99)
I imagine that the Teutons behaved in very much the same way when they invaded Rome and grabbed the perfumed, coiffed, mani- and pedicured conquered Roman ladies. And no doubt the act of conquering has on man much the same effect as paprika has on meat. (Anonymous, 1954, p. 105)

Both translators have their difficulties with this passage, it seems, though Stern comes closer to the author’s meaning: the ‚conquered‘ part, she says, is the seasoning of the dish – the “paprika on the meat”. Put plainly, rape is even more fun when the victim belongs to a conquered nation.

Assuming everyone is doing the same thing – and they are – Mein Kampf will go back to being a rare book, a collector’s item. (Anonymous, 2005, p. 155)
If everyone’s doing this – and I suspect they are – Adolf’s Mein Kampf will one day become a collector’s item. (Anonymous, 1954, p. 167)

Stern’s translation is the more correct one.

(5) A writer has two choices (both valid): 1) leave an artifact to show who she was at the time Story X was written, or 2) try to make Story X a better story, utilizing skills she’s honed over the years. I’m a sucker for – nay, a slave to – option number two, which means you’ll rarely find identical versions of my stories in different publications. (

(6) Anonymous, 1954, p. 37

(7) Anonymous, 2005, p. 39

(8) Anonymous, 1954, p. 43

(9) Anonymous, 2005, p. 44

(10) Anonymous, 1954, p. 54-55

(11) Anonymous, 2005, p. 56

(12) Anonymous, 1954, p. 78

(13) Anonymous, 2005, p. 76

(14) Anonymous, 1954, p. 97

(15) Anonymous, 2005, p. 92

(16) Anonymous, 1954, p. 109

(17) Anonyma: Eine Frau in Berlin. Geneva: Kossodo, 1959, p. 98

(18) Anonyma: Eine Frau in Berlin. Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn-Verlag, 2003, p. 94

(19) Anonymous, 2005, p. 102

(20) Anonym: Kvinne i Berlin. Oslo: Aschehoug, 1955, p. 103 and p. 200. The song title was taken from the English translation by Stern (“Oh, stay and linger, my beloved“, maybe Rachmaninoff’s “О нет, молю, не уходи“), while the Goethe quote “Warte nur, balde…“, translated in the American edition, appears in the original German.

(21) Anonymous, 1954, p. 120-121

(22) Anonymous, 2005, p. 114

(23) Anonymous, 1954, p. 132

(24) Anonymous, 2005, p. 124-125

(25) Anonymous, 1954, p. 165

(26) Anonymous, 2005, p. 152

(27) Anonymous, 1954, p. 175

(28) Anonymous, 2005, p. 162

(29) Anonymous, 1954, p. 179

(30) Anonymous, 2005, p. 166

(31) Anonymous, 1954, p. 220

(32) Anonymous, 2005, p. 205

(33) Anonymous, 1954, p. 222

(34) Anonymous, 2005, p. 207

(35) Anonymous, 1954, p. 238

(36) Anonymous, 2005, p. 221

(37) Anonymous, 1954, p. 262

(38) Anonymous, 2005, p. 245

(39) ibid., p. 257

(40) Anonymous, 1954, p. 279-280

(41) ibid., p. 295

(42) Anonymous, 2005, p. 282

(43) Anonymous, 1954, p. 307

(44) Anonymous, 2005, p. 294

(45) Anonymous, 1954, p. 315

(46) Anonymous, 2005, p. 304

(47) Anonymous, 1954, p. 319

(48) Anonymous, 2005, p. 308

(49) Anonymous, 1954, p. 11

(50) Dietschy-Hillers, Marta: Addendum to the will of November 16, 1977 (estate). Translation: Clarissa Schnabel

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“
Part 5
Part 7
Recommendations for further reading and watching


12 Kommentare

  1. Thank you so much for writing this post. I was really gripped by a Woman in Berlin and liked it very much. I can read German but with some effort so I’m glad you wrote this thing in English up. I really wanted to find out who the read author was and I’m real excited that her identity is known.

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    • Glad you liked the blog series. Yes, Marta’s story did and still does fascinate me, too, and I’m constantly amazed by the interest it generates worldwide. The research for the biography was a wonderful experience, especially meeting her family and gaining access to her personal papers!
      In fact, the research isn’t over yet – Saturday last, for example, I visited the translator of the first Italian edition of A Woman in Berlin 1957 (therefore two years before the German edition was published). That was really interesting.

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  2. I think what touched me most about Hillers diary is that she seemed to have a very good ability of dealing with stress. Very few people in the 20th century had to deal with going through such profound changes in so short a time. Admittedly there are people living without security and prosperity all over the place but few of them are able to compare a strong sense of security and prosperity in one moment then have it all taken away from them in a very short amount of time. With her diary you can see her struggling to cope with it all and I think she did quite an admirable job.

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    • Yes, I think she did. On the one hand, it’s certainly a generation thing – if you look at European and especially German history, people back then were experiencing war on an almost regular basis: 1939-45, before that 1914-18, before that 1870-71 and 1865-66 and even further back… I’m certain it influenced people and their outlook on life enormously. On the other hand, Marta Hillers was a very resilient person even for her generation. From all I’ve learned about her, I think she possessed the ability to focus on the present and not dwell on the past. So when that particular time of her life was over, she didn’t really look back. There have been a lot of cases where the events of ’45 were simply suppressed and re-surfaced later on, but I truly doubt that was the case with her. It is something I admire, because not many people are capable of doing it. (I know I wouldn’t be.)

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  3. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Introduction | Clarissa Schnabel

  4. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Recommendations for further reading and watching | Clarissa Schnabel

  5. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 7 | Clarissa Schnabel

  6. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 5 | Clarissa Schnabel

  7. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 2 | Clarissa Schnabel

  8. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 3 | Clarissa Schnabel

  9. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“ | Clarissa Schnabel

  10. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 1 | Clarissa Schnabel

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