The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 7

In 1956, Hermann Gross returned from the USA where he had never really managed to gain a foothold. His marriage, too, was at an end. Downcast, he visited old friends in Germany. The stories as to what followed are contradictory; both Hildegard Cornelsen and Hans Haustein claimed to have arranged the contact to Trude Sand. Whatever the circumstances may have been, between the sensitive artist and the capable radio journalist grew, many years after their first meeting in Berlin, a deep affection. They complemented each other; Trude Sand’s optimism and warmth cheered up Hermann Gross in his darker moments, while his calm, considerate nature restrained Trude’s exuberant temperament. After living together for a few years, they married in 1962.
Through an acquaintance a contact to Dr. Karl König came about, the founder of the Camphill Community near Aberdeen, a centre for disabled persons based on Rudolf Steiner’s teachings. One year later, Hermann and Trude Gross moved to Bieldside, Aberdeen. There, Hermann Gross created metal sculptures and stained glass windows for Camphill Hall, the spiritual centre of the movement, taught art and once again found a productive creative period. Trude Gross supported her husband and his work and busied herself with drama therapy, for which her experience with children’s theatre had amply prepared her. She and her husband also travelled widely in their camper van, to France, Spain, Egypt, Finland and the Soviet Union.

Marta Dietschy-Hillers in the meantime continued her journalistic work even after her marriage. Mainly it was her characteristic little anecdotes picked up on the streets and in shops that she published in the local newspapers, but also her photos of Basle scenes. Only in 1969 she entered again into dealings with a publishing house: She edited the memoires of the dancer and choreographer Elisabeth La Roche (admired in vain by young Hermann Hesse who wrote poems and an erotic novella about her) for presentation to Pharos-Verlag. The project had been initiated by an acquaintance of Karl Dietschy, Dr. Christoph Bernoulli, who, after “Lila” La Roche’s death, went over her literary estate. He thought her memoires interesting enough for publication, but when the unedited, almost 500 pages strong manuscript was rejected in April 1969, he was looking for a competent opinion. Marta Dietschy agreed with him and set to work.
Even though Hansrudolf Schwabe, the owner of Pharos-Verlag, considered publishing the now edited manuscript, he finally decided against it for financial reasons. But Marta Dietschy was not discouraged that easily. Elisabeth La Roche’s life had begun to fascinate her, especially her connection to Hermann Hesse. She published chapters on the dancer’s childhood in Basle in the local newspaper; when Hermann Hesse’s work experienced a worldwide renaissance in the early 1970s, she followed it up with the article “Hermann Hesse and Elisabeth“, in which she presented their relationship.
Karl Dietschy died in October 1970. It is not unlikely that his widow was all the more willing to take on new projects. She wrote several radio plays and articles on Hermann Hesse and Elisabeth La Roche, writers E. Marlitt and Johanna Spyri, painter Hans Thoma, dancer Isadora Duncan and composer Dieterich Buxtehude.

Probably stimulated by Lila La Roche’s memoires, Marta Dietschy began to study Hesse’s life and work, the more so as the La Roche estate contained some rare manuscripts and limited editions. Marta Dietschy collected countless newspaper cuttings, visited exhibitions and corresponded with other Hesse enthusiasts. She also undertook the sale of rare Hesse papers from the estate of Elisabeth La Roche and in return gained access to other rarities and unpublished works and so became something of an expert in originals.
When some dedicated Hesse enthusiasts from Calw undertook to arouse interest for the famous son in the hitherto disinterested hometown, the result was the call to the first International Hesse Colloquium. Marta Dietschy-Hillers’ work on Hermann Hesse’s connections to Basle had already been noticed in literary circles, and she was invited to the panel of this first colloquium. On 13th of May 1977 she spoke in Calw on “The European Hermann Hesse“.
An interesting event for Marta was the filming of Fred Haines’ Steppenwolf in Basle that partly took place in the direct vicinity of her apartment.

Marta Dietschy 1979
Marta Dietschy in 1979

Her love for travelling never abated, and even though writing on her mechanical typewriter – always her preferred method of correspondence – became increasingly arduous, she continued to write to her many friends and relatives. Among them were acquaintances both of long standing and repute: Joachim Barckhausen and his second wife who asked Marta to be godmother of their daughter Stephanie; the photographer Marion Schweitzer, a former colleague from Minerva-Verlag; the actresses Bruni Löbel and Alice Franz-Engelbrecht.

Sadly, rather unpleasant reports from here: the approaching Ninety becomes noticeable, the signs of age are approaching, though relatively late: my back hurts, I often feel dizzy, have to lean on my stick, crawl around quite crookedly – but still „Head upright!“. Every workday a stalwart 40-year-old home help comes to the house, cooks a proper meal, keeps the rooms clean! (am almost 10 years older than the pope, after all!) I still love Basle, feel at home in the old city, take part, as best as I am able, in the cultural life – only the visits to the museums have become difficult, don’t dare to go on my own, old as I am!(1)

Following a rib fracture in December 2000 and subsequent increasing need of care, she had been placed in the nursing station of a hospital where she quietly, but always amicably, withdrew into herself by and by. She still observer her ninetieth birthday happily, but after that her interest in this life seems to have ended. Increasingly she refused food and died peacefully on 16 June, 2001. Following her wish she was buried without ceremony, with only the closest relations attending.

The author and journalist Marta Dietschy-Hillers didn’t simply disappear into obscurity after the release of her book. It seems strange that she is only known because of her anonymous diary today. No doubt it is her best, most important and most impressive work. But she was much more than just the “woman in Berlin“ she outlived for almost sixty years.

(1) Dietschy, Marta: Letter to her brother Hans (estate)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“
Part 5
Part 6
Recommendations for further reading and watching

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

In 1954, the work that would make Marta Hillers famous one day was released in the USA: A Woman in Berlin, her anonymous diary from 20 to 22 June, 1945. The British edition followed in 1955, 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 remains 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 a wide-ranged 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 1940s and the 1950s 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 recall 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 6 December, 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.(3)

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 as 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.)(6)

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.(10)

[…] 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.(11)

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.(16)

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.(17)

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.(19))

“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.(21)

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.(22)

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.’(38)

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.(39)

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.(48)

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.(50)

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

The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 5

Another publication of Minerva-Verlag was the youth magazine Ins neue Leben (Into the new life, 1945-1950). Marta wrote several articles for it – under her name as well as anonymously; one might suspect her behind the article on the Moscow Kremlin, for example.
Until issue 14/1948 (July), chief editor was the school reformer and concentration camp survivor Paul Hildebrandt; after that, M. Hillers took over. Paul Hildebrandt died in November of that year.
Ins neue Leben wasn’t simply children’s entertainment. The problems of the times were addressed frankly: Hunger, cold, lack of clothes, shoes and living space, cities in ruins, refugees, the events of the war, sickness; one article specifically listed live ammunition that young readers could still find among the rubble, and warned them to stay away and inform the police at once if they did so. (Newspapers of the time regularly reported children being killed or maimed by playing with live hand grenades.) In the year of the Olympic Games 1948, Ins neue Leben did not ignore the fact that Germany wasn’t allowed to participate, either. Nobody tried to hide the daily troubles of the post-war years, familiar to both readers and writers, behind nice stories. Instead, they encouraged, sought solutions or, at least, offered a platform for the exchange of ideas. Contemporary short stories didn’t feature intact families or intact conditions; their young heroes and heroines responsibly met the challenges in front of them. At the same time, the journal presented interesting facts from all over the world. Emphasis was placed on international understanding, so it isn’t surprising Ins neue Leben was allowed to be sold in all four occupation zones. It took its young readers seriously, which certainly contributed to its success.

Minerva-Verlag existed till 1950; after that, Sinodoru’s trail goes cold. Franz Cornelsen had founded his own publishing house in 1948.
Kurt Marek, after his release from an American POW camp in October of 1945, had become the first employee of Ernst Rowohlt’s re-founded publishing house and begun to write a future bestseller: Gods, Graves and Scholars. Living in Hamburg, he was desirous to learn of the fate of his friends in Berlin. One destination was Hans Hillers’ apartment.

When I returned to Berlin in 1946 in search of lost friends, I revisited the house. I was met on the staircase and showered with a flood of stories about past events. They were forced upon me – not only by men but by women and girls, too – with such a passion to confess that I very nearly reacted as did the author’s friend who returns at the close of her book. […] Six months later I met the author again in another place. Here, from some hints she dropped, I learned of this diary’s existence. When, after another six months had passed, I was permitted to read it, I found described in detail what I already knew from the accounts of others.(1)

Marta Hillers never kept her rapes nor her “prostitution” for protection a secret from her friends. “She didn’t want to suffer everyone to fall on her and preferred to be under the protection of one man“, recalled Bruni Löbel in an interview with the Focus. Matter-of-factly, almost flippantly Marta spoke about the events and about having kept a diary. After Kurt Marek had read her notes and recognised their worth as a contemporary historical document, he urged his friend to publish her diary. But Marta hesitated; “she refused to expose herself to the general public.“(2)
Her self-respect as a woman, however, hadn’t suffered; with humour and, it seems, even a kind of coquetry she told colleagues of dubious „conquests“ she made – or didn’t make: A sleazy post official; a Swiss man who turned out to be a missionary instead of an admirer.
A bureaucratic hurdle that remained for her to take was her denazification by the US occupation authorities. As before, when applying for membership in the writers’ union, she kept her political past for herself, namely her alleged membership in the National Socialists’ women’s organisation. Though this was noticed by the American authorities, a closer examination did not unearth any records, and so the decision was made very quickly in the spring of 1947: “No objection.“(3)

Marta Hillers Herbst 1946 2 Marta Hillers, autumn 1946

In the meantime, the pacifist Hermann Gross, traumatised by the events of the war, led a withdrawn life. After a third and final visit to Paris he emigrated with his wife to the USA.

Hans Wolfgang Hillers jumped right into Berlin’s cultural life again. He wrote three comedies set in post-war Berlin, was affiliated with Minerva-Verlag, planned to start his own theatre company and tried to get work at DEFA in the Soviet Zone. One of his plays, Die Töchter des Präsidenten (The President’s Daughters), published 1947 by Rowohlt, features aspects of Berlin life in the summer and autumn of ’45 that sound quite familiar to readers of A Woman in Berlin: The desolate streets nobody dares to enter, an air-raid duty resulting in a love affair and a subsequent shotgun wedding, waiting in line at the pump with a broken handle for hours, and women who talk openly about their rapes. Not surprisingly: The co-author of the play was Marta Hillers under her pseudonym Marta Moyland which she used for all her work in the film business – the screenplays of Die Kuckucks and Sündige Grenze (Illegal Border / The Border of Sin) and her work on Toxi under the director Robert A. Stemmle – as well as for several articles.(4)

Excursion: Marta Hillers on life in post-war Berlin

On the tram

There are many rules on the trams of Berlin. One of them is that children have no claim to a seat. If there are vacant seats – very well; when new adults board the tram, the children have to clear their seat immediately.
Immediately! Yet, when the usual flood of people surges into the 3 on the corner of Potsdamer and Pallasstrasse, a little girl remains seated at the window. That is, window is exaggerated, for the window opening is covered with cardboard, and across the cardboard a poster is pasted with a benevolent dealer on it, promising us to buy our glass, china and other belongings. So: A quite dark seat, even now, in the bright afternoon.
The little girl’s head is lowered. The yellow pigtail points straight up. Her hands lie folded in her lap. All around stand, lean, squeeze the adults: women with grey skin, scrawny men, one with glasses. And this wearer of glasses now speaks: “The child has to clear her seat – immediately!“
Whereupon all around high and deep the chorus start: “Right – indeed – insolent – on our way home from work – kids nowadays – the cheek.“ You know the text. Every word is absolutely correct.
Or is it? The little girl lowers her head even more. She runs her grazed child’s hands across her blue skirt to the hem – involuntarily the scolding chorus follow these hands – to her knee.
Yes, there is just a knee. The second leg is missing, she doesn’t have a second leg anymore; for that the little one does not sit on it in the way of children prove the steel crutches in the corner that now become visible to the sharpened eyes.
Abruptly, the chorus fall silent. Trepidation is spreading. Throats are being cleared. Shyly, the adults look at each other. An old woman heaves a squeaking sigh. Suddenly, almost tangibly, there is something in the air that is missed, demanded, evoked so often: a collective feeling of guilt.(5)
(Schweizer illustrierte Zeitung, 5/1948)

The subletter

She is a divorced woman and neither young nor pretty. But still she makes use of the fact that she lives opposite the “Ami cinema“ (“Amis“ = moniker for Americans). According to her employee’s record book she is a “waitress“; and she does help out every night in the scullery of a restaurant. This gets her a meal and several Marks – too little, for she smokes. So she was looking for some extra income – and thought of her room. A narrow chamber on the first floor, she pays forty Marks monthly rent to her landlady, the elderly widow of an official. This room she now lets during the day and on short term. She doesn’t take money for it, perish the thought! She does it as a favour and for a “packet“, a packet of cigarettes. The widow, who doesn’t miss out on any turning of the key, demands half of it. The other ten Camels she smokes and lives on herself, unless – it happens – the short term ladies demand some of them for themselves. She certainly doesn’t gain wealth this way. She spends most of her time washing, darning, mending in the bare kitchen of the landlady. Her large, worn worker’s hands are never at rest. But her mouth is silent. The widow, too, is silent: secretly, she despises her lodger and is determined to kick her out as soon as the conditions improve…
(Schweizer Illustrierte Zeitung, February 1948. Part of her series “Neue Berufe in Berlin“ [„New Professions in Berlin“])

When Marie Louise Fischer, Hans Hillers’ girlfriend from the Barrandov studios in Prague, managed to get to Berlin after almost two years of slave labour in Czechia, she and Hillers decided to return to their native Rhineland. It is likely that word of his propaganda work for the Nazis had got around and particularly made a job at the DEFA impossible.
Hans Wolfgang Hillers died on April 12, 1952, shortly before his 51th birthday, in Düsseldorf. In her novels, Marie Louise Fischer made many references to her relationship with Hillers and to his circle of friends. Of particular interest in the context of A Woman in Berlin is Fischer’s four-part family saga, the “Weigand-Chronik“, namely its three novels Das Mädchen Senta, Die Ehe der Senta R. and Für immer. Senta whose story spans the years 1911 to 1951. Beside the very atmospheric portrayal of Berlin in those decades, the reader finds familiar things: the Russian restaurant “Medvyed“ (bear) on Wittenbergplatz, the character Baby Marek or the musically gifted Russian major whom Margit Weigand serves as an “officer’s woman“, and his good-natured orderly. This latter episode also deals with the attitude of German husbands. When Margit’s husband learns that his wife had been raped during the war, his first reaction is disbelief: Rape, that “is not like” his wife, it is something that happened to other women, never his own. He is willing to “forgive“ her for what happened – a rash, quickly corrected statement that reveals his mindset all too clearly –, on the condition that she gives up her child from the rape because from now on little David will always remind him of the fact that another man had possessed his wife. When Margit refuses, he reproaches her the rape must have been “a damn fun“.
Many things give the impression that Fischer was influenced by Marta’s narration or her book.

Had what happened back then marked her? Every man would think so, but she knew that women were able to withstand much more pain, humiliation and happiness, death and grief, without breaking to pieces. She felt strong and flexible, a tree whose top you could thrust into the dirt but that would straighten up again to its proud height and stand as though nothing had happened.
She had always looked at her post-war experiences without sentimentality, had weathered through and remembered it that way.
But she had never forgotten it, had not even tried to, because there was nothing she had to be ashamed of.(6)

Not even the infamous rape humour is missing:

“Blimey, what a night!“ the first woman said.
“You can say that again,“ the other agreed, “my legs are still shaking.“ She turned to Margit: “How many have you had tonight?“
Margit did not know what to say.
“It was seven with me, and the last one was the worst,“ said the first, “the guy simply couldn’t finish it. Must’ve thought I was a shunting yard.“ […]
They continued to talk about their nightly adventures with a frankness that rattled Margit. She did not know why, but she did not dare to admit that she herself had not yet experienced anything of the kind. She got the impression that the others wouldn’t admire or envy but simply despise her.(7)

Bruni Löbel gave up residence at Richthofen-Straße 13 during the Soviets’ blockade of West-Berlin in 1948; a painter took over the studio. The blockade, however, was to be the setting of Mrs. Löbel’s first role in a US movie, The Big Lift (1950).
Marta Hillers, in the meantime, left Tempelhof and settled in Berlin-Zehlendorf.

I trudged along as if under a heavy load, the burdensome feeling that Berlin might never rise again, that we would remain rats in the rubble for the rest of our lives. For the first time I entertained the thought of leaving this city, of looking for bread and shelter elsewhere, some place where there’s air and open countryside.(8)

In 1950, the German economy began to recover but did people notice it during those grave “hunger years“? West-Berlin, thanks to its isolated location, recovered even slower.
It is not unlikely that Marta, like others, had enough of hardship and ruins and was looking for a new beginning in a friendlier country where her beloved French was spoken but where, in contrast to France, a German was not automatically met with hate and resentment.
In Basle, Marta Hillers had a good friend: Lili Dietschy-Rueff, who was married to the known goldsmith Karl Albert Dietschy. When Lili Dietschy died in 1952, her widower and her friend developed a closer relationship. Born in 1897, Karl Dietschy was about 14 years older than Marta Hillers and, like her, very interested in the cultural life.
They married in 1955, ten years after the events of Marta’s diary. Is it possible it took her that long till she felt able to enter into a steady, long-term relationship? With a much older man who promised a certain security in regard to sexual demands? It wouldn’t surprise me.

The Dietschys were and are a respected, old-established Basle family, one of the “dynasties“ that shaped science and arts in Switzerland and whose members often intermarried. Despite all Swiss cosmopolitanism an elite circle that the German journalist now entered.
This radical change might have been a welcome break with her former life. As courageous as Marta Hillers had conducted herself up to this point, the statements about her “life after“ are the same as those about Trude Sand, about probably thousands of women: “She hardly ever talked about her time in Berlin.“

(1) Anonymous, 1954, p. 7

(2) Holzer, Kerstin: „Wir wussten es alle“, in: Focus. München: Focus-Magazin-Verlag. 9/2004, p. 46-47.

(3) Bundesarchiv, BArch (ehem. BDC), VBS 243, Hillers, Marta, 26.05.1911

(4) How it came about that Maria von der Osten-Sacken was credited as Toxi’s writer remains unknown. A report of the production by Spiegel still names Marta Moyland as writer (“Die Leute rühren“, in: Der Spiegel, July 23, 1952, p. 28), as does several other press material. Marta Hillers documented the development of the film in a private collection (estate).

(5) The last sentence, of course, refers to the collective feeling of guilt Germans were supposed to display in the minds of the Allies, first of all the US occupation authorities.

(6) Fischer, Marie Louise: Für immer. Senta. Gütersloh: Verlagsgruppe Bertelsmann, s. a., p. 81. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel

(7) ibid, p. 95-96. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel

(8) Anonymous, 2005, p. 195

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“
Part 6
Part 7
Recommendations for further reading and watching

The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“

Update 28 June, 2019: After reading the original diaries, now in the Institute of Contemporary History Munich, I can say a bit more on the subject – go to the end of this post.

To identify the house where a main part of A Woman in Berlin takes place, I have been very lucky to come across a variety of sources, in archives, Marta Hillers’ estate and, not least, in the literature on Hans Wolfgang Hillers. An important book are Bruni Löbel’s memoirs in which she described her relationship with Hillers and the place they lived in in great detail.
Hillers’ attic apartment on the fourth floor of Manfred-von-Richthofen-Straße 13, near Tempelhof Airport and close to Marta Hillers’ former abode no. 31, consisted of three rooms, bathroom and kitchen and a long, narrow corridor. (It is interesting to note that the first edition of A Woman in Berlin reduced the space to two rooms, an attempt to render it unidentifiable.) From the spacious studio room with its large slanting window, a door led to a small balcony with a rusty iron railing, overlooking the courtyards of the complex.
Much has been speculated on the identity of Anonymous’ fiancé “Gerd“. Jens Bisky’s source “Frau S.” believed it to be Hans Wolfgang Hillers. He appears in A Woman in Berlin in the person of Anonymous’ absent colleague, the owner of the attic apartment she takes refuge in after the destruction of her home.

The owner is a former colleague, and I was a frequent guest before he was called up. In keeping with the times, we used to barter with each other: his canned meat from Denmark for my French cognac, my French soap for the stockings he had from Prague. After I was bombed out I managed to get hold of him to tell him the news, and he said I could move in here. Last I heard he was in Vienna with a Wehrmacht censorship unit.(1)

The reference to Vienna isn’t just veiling the identity of the person, but rather a hidden allusion to Hillers’ job at Wien-Film AG till the end of October 1944 when he transferred to Prag-Film AG (both UFA subsidiaries).
Realising this, a discovery Marta makes in the attic apartment takes on a whole new meaning:

I found a letter wedged inside a drawer, addressed to the real tenant. I felt ashamed of reading it, but I read it all the same. A passionate love letter, which I flushed down the toilet.(2)

Jealousy? Or at least some hurting?
A joke, however, is her reference to the “few books“ of Hillers’ substantial library!
Marta was not immune to her cousin’s effect on women, and there is no doubt they entertained a sexual relationship at some point. Whether he was the man in her life in 1945 remains unknown. That there was a man is proven by a letter dated April 6 in which she refers to her “husband”, but it does not appear to have been a happy relationship. Tensions were running high, with each of the partners trying to hurt the other over trifles. One feels reminded of Anonymous’ description of the unbearable tension after the return of her fiancé.

There are several points against the assumption of Hans Wolfgang Hillers being “Gerd”. Hillers was no soldier; in fact, he was stationed in Prague at the time in his capacity as editor at Prag-Film. He was not a war orphan either. The question of marriage does not seem too plausible as Hillers was entertaining at least two romances at that time, an old one with actress Bruni Löbel and a new one with future bestseller writer Marie Louise Fischer, then a student working for Prag-Film. However, these frequent and well-known affairs might have been a factor in the breaking down of the relationship.
Hard to speculate upon is “Gerd’s” reaction to the tales of Anonymous and the widow. Hans Hillers was anything but a prude, yet it is not impossible he would have been taken aback by the way the women joked about their rapes.

Considering Marta Hillers changed details for the publication of her diary as to keep the anonymity of the persons involved, there are also several points speaking for Mrs. S.’s assumption. “Gerd’s“ manner of appearance and of speaking, his self-assuredness and his organisational talent all would fit Hans Hillers. The Markish woods wouldn’t have been an unusual place for Berliners trying to flee the city life, but one is reminded of Hans Hillers’ employment as a teacher for the son of dramatist Georg Kaiser who lived in the Mark. Moreover the question presents itself how Hillers managed to return from Prague when his compatriots there were interned and forced into slave labour? Did he sense the looming danger and trecked homeward, similar to „Gerd’s“ return in A Woman in Berlin? The numerous visitors that invaded the attic apartment after his moving in there could easily be explained with Hans Hillers’ large circle of acquaintances. Even “Gerd’s“ foraging trip to Pomerania did have its pendant in real life, though it happened weeks later and lead Hillers to the Magdeburger Börde (in Saxony-Anhalt), where acquaintances from his communist days, the writers’ couple Joachim Barckhausen and Elfriede Brüning, were living.

In the pattern of interchanging partners in the circle of friends around Marta and Hans Wolfgang Hillers, there emerges another possible candidate for “Gerd”, the painter and sculptor Hermann Gross. He had studied under Picasso in Paris and lived there with his girlfriend Hildegard Friedrichs who also features in A Woman in Berlin. In fact, Gross and Marta Hillers resided in Paris at the same time for about a year. Later on, Gross took over Hans Hillers’ flat in Landsberger Straße 32 and became a friend of the cousins Hillers. Hildegard Friedrichs, though separated by this time from Gross, joined their circle as well. During the Second World War, Gross served as a Luftwaffe Obergefreiter (leading aircraftsman) in a propaganda unit stationed in Paris until near the end of the war when he was hastily transferred to the Eastern front, just like it happened to “Gerd”. Gross, too, was not taken POW but returned to Berlin in some unknown way.
A quiet, gentle and cultivated man by all accounts, it seems very likely that Gross would have reacted strongly to the tales of and jokes about rape that must have been painful for him to hear.
(For Gross’ wartime work, see the paper of his biographer Robin Jackson:

Bruni Löbel described her neighbourhood: The cinema close to the underground station (today Platz der Luftbrücke), opposite the cinema the shop of butcher Netzer (“Hefter” of A Woman in Berlin); a little way up the street from no. 13, on the other side (meaning the other side of the cross street Schulenburgring – no. 13 is situated on the corner of Richthofen-Straße and Schulenburgring), the pub of Buchow (at Richthofen-Straße 17), and a bookshop on the corner opposite of no. 13. Its owner, Mrs. Löbel reports, had a trove of books forbidden by the Nazis hidden in her back room.
Marta, too, writes about the bookseller’s wife and her secret crate of books. Meta Nierendorf owned a gift and book shop in Manfred-von-Richthofen-Straße 14. However, most likely Anonymous’ booksellers are not Frau and Herr Nierendorf. Josef Nierendorf was a gallerist and art dealer; the couple did not live in Richthofen-Straße 13. Quite probably Marta mixed details of two separate couples in her account. She describes the bookseller as ”Bavarian, a gnarled stump of a man“. Bruni Löbel mentions the sales representative Max Werndl and his wife Grete, long-time neighbours from the house’s third floor. Max Werndl is a quite characteristic Bavarian name.
The cinema was the “Korso“ on the corner of Berliner Straße and Kaiserkorso, the little yard in front of it, which served as a temporary cemetery, is a parking lot today. Richthofen-Straße 17, however, has continued a pub.

In case of an air raid alarm, Bruni Löbel wrote, they had to get down five-and-a-half flights of stairs from the attic apartment to the bomb shelter. It was not accessible from inside the house, so they had to leave the building by its front door and run around the corner to the cellar entrance situated at a short distance.

According to Marta:

To get to the basement shelter we have to cross the street to the side entrance, climb down some stairs, then go along a corridor and across a square courtyard […]. Then down some more stairs, through more doors and corridors.(3)

The cellar entrance is indeed around the corner from the front entrance, in Schulenburgring.

In spite of its proximity to Tempelhof Airport, the attic apartment survived the bombings relatively well, Bruni Löbel reported. Only the window panes had been broken by the air pressure, and one night the ceiling cracked when the roof next to the apartment caught fire. Mrs. Löbel had to resort to buckets and umbrella when it was raining.

What’s more, the roof leaks as many of the tiles have been shattered or blown away.(4)

Other veterans of no. 13 besides the Werndls were the baker Karsch who had both his apartment and his shop in the house, and Herr M. of a juice factory, probably Anonymous’ “doctor of chemistry“.

We’re mostly upper and lower middle class, with a sprinkling of workers. I look around and take stock.
First is the baker’s wife, two plump red cheeks swaddled in a lambskin collar. […] The hunchbacked doctor of chemistry from the soft drink company, slumped over in his armchair like a gnome. […] Erna and Henni from the bakery, who are staying with their employer because it was impossible for them to make their way home. […]
[…] the baker who’s gone out to his allotment plot to bury his silver (he’s the only one in the building with a red Class III ticket) […].

Bäckerei Karsch
Marta Hillers (with hat, left) in the bakery Karsch, from her article „Frau Bäckerin – die Seele vom Geschäft“, in: Die neue Gartenlaube, 28/1938

Across from me is an elderly gentleman, a businessman, wrapped in blankets and sweating feverishly. Next to him is his wife, who speaks with a sharp Hamburg ‘s’, and their eighteen-year-old daughter, whom they call Stinchen, with the same ‘s’. […] The scrawny retired postmaster and his wife […]
The engineer from the third floor is also absent, along with his wife and son.(5)

A postmaster B. lived in the house since 1940. There were several “Kaufmann” – which can translate into businessman, merchant or clerk. One remembers Herr Pauli („Industriekaufmann“) and the Hamburg woman’s husband. An electrical engineer and an engineer; one of them possibly the “engineer from the third floor“ who went west with his wife and son.

In the case of the pharmacist’s widow who houses Marta after the hit to the fourth floor, details could have been intermingled. From 1937 to 1940 there was indeed a pharmacy in no. 13 whose owner L. kept being listed as a resident of the house beyond that year. Without more information it remains unknown whether he died between 1943 (the year of the last published street directory of Berlin) and April 1945 or whether the widow actually was the bereaved of a bank accountant who died in 1941.

Three elderly sisters, all dressmakers, huddled together like a big black pudding.(6)

The dressmaker sisters, too, are not easy to identify. Over the years, several dressmakers or siblings (meaning sisters, an expression peculiar to the Berlin street directory) lived in no. 13. Listed from 1940 to 1943 are a “glove maker“ and a “tailor“ as well as the Siblings S.
A tiny clue presents the first English edition of A Woman in Berlin. In it, the author describes how she – a few days after her own registration at the town hall of Tempelhof – accompanies the Hamburg woman and the widow there, whose turn it is now. The registration in all likelihood proceeded in the alphabetical order of the citizens’ last names.

Went to Bolle’s to use up the pale-blue milk coupons Gerd sent me for Christmas(7), Marta says in her diary. This was probably W. Wichmann, Manfred-von-Richthofen-Straße 15, a shop affiliated with the popular Berlin dairy Bolle.
The house no. 13 is still standing today, a vast building at the corner of Manfred-von-Richthofen-Straße and upper Schulenburgring including two backyards. Its entrance, ornamented in Jugendstil, with its pattern that is repeated in the window panes of the door, probably looks about the same as it did in Marta’s time.

Despite the war, Hans Wolfgang Hillers’ apartment remained the hub of an artists’ circle. A frequent visitor was a young man in uniform, former communist author and friend of Hans Hillers, Kurt W. Marek. In 1942, he published a book on his experiences as a soldier in Norway, Wir hielten Narvik (We held Narvik). Ostensibly, Wir hielten Narvik feigns valiant war propaganda. But not without reason Marek’s courageous editor Hans Zehrer had warned him beforehand that the Nazis might not take too kindly to it. (“Is it a coincidence,” he asked Marek, “that not once do you mention the name Adolf Hitler?” – “No,” replied Marek.) In his diary-like narration, Marek criticises propaganda and buzzwords; fallen comrades aren’t sent off with pathos but with a sober “A shame, he was a good guy”; the soldiers amuse themselves by skiing, singing songs from the “golden 20s” so hated by the Nazis, and wonder what folks back home would say if they knew their “heroism” consisted mainly of sitting in the snow and waiting.
Most likely Kurt Marek and Hans Wolfgang Hillers had become acquainted through their common political interest. While the historian Antony Beevor speculates in his introduction to the new English edition of A Woman in Berlin, Marek and the author might have met through their journalistic work, it’s probably more likely that Hans Hillers introduced them to each other. In 1935 they produced their first joint work, a radio play based on the series of articles written by Marta Hillers and Trude Sand, “Heimat Landstraße“.

Is Trude Sand the real-life “Gisela“, close friend of Anonymous? Many facts point to it. ”Gisela“ had had ambitions to be an actress before she became an editor. Trude Sand, as mentioned before, had had a training as an actress and dancer; in one of her articles she wrote about her time at a drama school, including the instructions in stage make-up that saved “Gisela“. According to a friend of Trude’s, it would have been quite in her character to take in and look after the two young women like “Gisela” did.
Another indication is the faith that “Gisela“ has found but doesn’t have the courage to own up to in front of her friend. (One may presume this is owing to a shared communist past.) In a booklet that Trude Sand published under an alias in 1947, a kind of travel guide to Lake Constance with a story to it, her heroine Susanne writes to her best friend Marta, a journalist living in Berlin(!):

When I lie awake and listen, all the grief of the present and that which had been mirrored in the lake as time went on, rises up before me, but also the certainty that life changes like the colours of the lake, so that one time it lies in bright sunshine (how often was it granted us to see it like this!), another time it seethes and foams, destroys and throws flotsam upon the shore.
It is then that I understand the heavy truth of the word: In everything God works for good with those who love him. It is the right love of God that is rooted in awe of all living things and is nourished by the devotion to all things beautiful and good.(8)

In the summer of 1945, Trude Sand moved to Munich, started to work as an editor for a youth magazine again and took up her old interest in children’s theatre.

When did Marta make way for the apartment’s owner? Her diary ended in June 1945. Hans Wolfgang Hillers had returned to Berlin by July ’45. In all likelihood, it was then that Marta found herself new accommodations in Schulenburgring 5.
In career terms, the planning described in her diary had taken shape. With the licence and the British pounds of Cypriot Sinos Sinodoru (Marta changed him into a Hungarian) the Minerva publishing house was founded in 1945. The publicist Margret Boveri called Sinodoru in her own record of the time around war’s end, Tage des Überlebens (Days of Survival), one of the “most grotesque figures of Berlin’s intellectual life“. He had been banned from Cyprus at the age of sixteen because of his participation in arson at the British governor’s palace.
Under the licence of Minerva-Verlag a Russian primer was published in 1945 for use in schools in the then Soviet Zone. Part 1 was written by “M. Hillers” and illustrated by “H. Friedrichs”. Of the beginnings of this book Marta wrote in her diary:

The Hungarian is always cooking up something new. He heard somewhere that for now the only available paper will go for schoolbooks. So he adds schoolbooks to the publishing programme. He’s guessing there’ll be a great demand for contemporary German primers and Russian grammars; my assignment is to rack my brains about that.(9)

More than one freshly learned Russian word went into the book, bread, herrings, flour and even Anatol’s “singing” cock.


“H. Friedrichs“ was Marta’s acquaintance Hildegard Friedrichs who had married the engineer Franz Cornelsen in 1938. Before his change into a successful publisher (today, the Cornelsen-Verlag is one of the leading publishing houses of schoolbooks in Germany), Franz Cornelsen had been employed at Siemens, last as head of its foreign department. Owing to this is probably the job offer in Russia Soviet authorities made him, as Marta mentions. The Cornelsens lived in the famous “artists’ colony“ in Wilmersdorf where Marta walked to every day from Tempelhof to take part in the planning of their new publishing house.
The Cornelsens, as the facts easily reveal, are “Ilse R.” and her husband in Marta’s book. Here, too, Marta changed details, mainly concerning Hildegard’s multiple rape.

Around 3.30p.m. I set off for Charlottenburg to visit Ilse R., who worked as a fashion photographer and as an editor for a women’s magazine until she married an engineer, a specialist in armaments […].(10)
Ilse got it once in the basement, the other times on the second floor, in an empty apartment where they pushed her inside, using their rifle butts on her back. One of them wanted to keep his rifle with him when he lay down with her. That scared her, so she gestured to him to put his gun aside – which he did.
While Ilse and I discussed the subject, her husband stepped out […]. Her husband is tormenting himself with reproach for staying in the basement and not doing a thing while the Ivans took their pleasure with his wife. During the first rape, down in the basement, he was even within hearing range. It must have been a strange feeling for him.(11)

In reality, a friend of the Cornelsens had deserted during the last days of the war and hid at their place. His service pistol he had deposited in a drawer. When Soviet soldiers entered the apartment, they found the weapon. While they pointed it at Franz Cornelsen’s forehead, they raped Hildegard seven times in his presence.(12)


Update: I’m now in the position to confirm or disprove some of these assumptions. However, Marta’s tactic of interchanging details strikes again, especially since several passages of her book were only added years later, as Yuliya von Saal’s research revealed.

Some passages have made it quite verbatim into the book, but mostly the original diaries contain a very different text; it’s like reading a parallel world Woman in Berlin. Not all names are written out, some only appear in abbreviations; most can be traced. The apothecary’s widow, in the original „Frau Stahmer“ or „Frau St.“, is Mrs Stamer, whose husband is still listed in the Berlin address book of 1943 as a lawyer and notary. The Hamburg woman, based on the US first edition, should be a Mrs Sponner – but this does not necessarily have to be true, thanks to details-shifting. To explain: In the US edition of 1954 Marta accompanies the widow and the woman from Hamburg to the town hall for registration. This fact is present in the original diaries to the extent that she accompanies „Frau St.“ and „Frau Sp.“ there.
„Herr Pauli“ is never identified in the original notes except as Mr „Kl.“ or „K.“; as a subletter, he had no entry in the Berlin street directory. Baker Karsch is very much present in the original diaries and much in the same way he appears in A Woman in Berlin. His assistant, Belgian „Antoine“, was actually the Dutchman Anton…
Trude Sand, my hot candidate for „Gisela“ (the constantly overlooked friend of Anonymous – apparently nobody notices her but me), does not appear at all in the original diaries! A „Karola“ is mentioned, which reminds me of Trude Sand’s booklet Liebe zum Bodensee, published under the alias „Carola“, but that can be a coincidence. The acquaintance Marta visits later in the story, in whose flat the two students of medicine are living, is the „Haverin“, real name Ursula Haver, with whom Marta remained in contact until her death. The talks Marta has with her are basically the same in both the original diaries and in A Woman in Berlin. Her background, however, her ambition to become an actress, her religious conversion etc. is not present in the original notes, and this is where Trude Sand does come in – it *is* her story, it just was added to create the character of „Gisela“.
„Ilse R.“, as expected, is Hildegard Cornelsen. The Hungarian, also unsurprisingly, is „the Greek Sinos“ or „Sinus“ [Sinodoru].
Yuliya von Saal has already written it, „Gerd“ is Hans Wolfgang Hillers, which shakes my faith in Marta a little bit, but it doesn’t really surprise either. I don’t agree with what von Saal calls a breakup between them in the sense of the book. In her original diaries, Marta simply writes about problems, although she finds it nice to come home to someone „where only empty chairs used to wait“. And that is all. The problems were there before, too, as seen in the letter to her brother-in-law. And this relationship, whatever it was at that time, never had a future; HWH had something going with Bruni Löbel and Marie Louise Fischer at the same time, with Elfriede Brüning for a short period, and probably with several others.
Then there are other popular candidates. The major remains the major; she never calls him anything else. 37, half gipsy on his mother’s side; divorced from his doctor wife, he had a 13-year-old daughter and hailed from Stalingrad. The latter fact adds much bitterness to his claim of the „fat“ life at his home.
„Anatol“ is Akim in the original, schoolteacher „Andrej“ is Nikolai, while first (or „sub“, according to translator Philip Boehm) lieutenant „Nicolai“ is first lieutenant Alexei Polkin – the only one to be mentioned by his full name. Possibly it was „Palkin“, a far more common last name and easily mistaken, as „o“ is often pronounced „a“ in Russian. So far, I have been unable to find any record or honourary mention of him in Russian military forums.
„Stepan“ is Stefan, „Petka“ is variously named Petta, Petka or Petja, while litte „Vanya“ is Jaschka in the original.
„Frau Lehmann“ of the book is in part Mrs. Werndl [Grete, known through Bruni Löbel] in the original; the bookseller’s wife part of her book persona is pure fiction. Siegismund also is present in the original diary („Siegesmund“), and „Frau Golz“ is actually Mrs. Gutschow, with whom Marta had lived in Richthofen-Str. 31 as a subletter. „Hilde“ is Marion Hecht, a former and future colleague of Marta’s as well as a life-long friend. Under her married name Schweitzer, she was a well-known photographer and owner of a photo agency and most likely Jens Bisky’s source „Frau S. from Munich“. The story of her brother’s death is actually even more tragic than in the book: He had been released from a Gestapo prison only a few days before he was killed in the street by a shell.
Streets, shops, places are all named; there are also other familiar elements from A Woman in Berlin that were originally assigned to other people – so the puzzle continues.

(1) Anonymous, 2005, p. 18-19

(2) ibid., p. 19

(3) ibid., p. 22-23

(4) ibid., p. 19

(5) ibid., p. 24-26

(6) ibid., p. 24

(7) ibid., p. 19

(8) Carola [i. e. Sand, Trude]: Liebe zum Bodensee. Stuttgart/Jungingen: Reise- und Verkehrsverlag, 1947, p. 51. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel

(9) Anonymous, 2005, p. 284

(10) ibid., p. 237

(11) ibid., p. 239

(12) Cornelsen, Dirk: Das zertretene Angelspiel. Essen: Klartext-Verlag, 2003, p. 175

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Recommendations for further reading and watching

The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 3

In February 1945 the attic apartment at Richthofen-Straße 13 was reported as being „relatively undamaged“ by actress Bruni Löbel who lived there during her relationship with Hans Wolfgang Hillers and became a lifelong friend of Marta. Shortly after, she left for Prague. Films were still being produced and offered the best of all opportunities for cast and crew to sit out the end of the war far away from beleaguered Berlin: In Prague, Bavaria, or Austria.

Advancing from the South, it was the 8th Guards Army (8-я гвардейская армия) under the command of General Chuikov and the 1st Guards Tank Army (1-я гвардейская танковая армия) that seized Tempelhof Airport on the evening of 26 April; the first units to occupy the city district. Chuikov established his headquarters a stone’s throw away from Manfred-von-Richthofen-Straße 13 in Schulenburgring 2.
It is reasonable to assume that all the „honoured enemies“ who went in and out of the house during the first days and nights belonged to these two units: Anonymous‘ horse grooms, the jaundiced soldier, the three unknown rapists, the unhelpful officers, the Siberian Petka and his buddies, sub lieutenant Anatol from Ukraine (later transferred to Chuikov’s staff), schoolteacher and sergeant Andrei with the icy-blue eyes, sixteen-year-old Vanya, the vicious lieutenant with the pale blond hair and the hiking pole, the Georgian, the persistent baker, saintly Stepan and his friends, the major and his Uzbek and all the many others. Both units had taken part in the battle of Stalingrad which fits Marta’s report, many of „their troops“ had fought at Stalingrad and wore a special medal.
On 29 April, most likely the same troops occupied the near St. Joseph’s hospital. St. Joseph’s served as a reserve military hospital during the war, while the regular military hospital lay to the south, on Metz-Platz. In one of the two hospitals both the major and the sullen lieutenant were treated, while it was probably in the civilian St. Joseph’s that an examination station for raped women was established later on. Two days after the occupation of St. Joseph’s, on 1 May, a fighter plane crashed into the building. The pilot, a nurse and two doctors died.
The pattern of what followed after occupation is consistent in nearly all reports. The first search of Red Army soldiers was for alcohol and watches; later, in the afternoon and evening, the hunt for women and girls began.

People say they like that. Fat means beautiful, the more woman there is, the more her body differs from that of a man.(1)

In reality, the preferred „prey“ of Soviet soldiers were girls and very young women. Gabi Köpp, in 1945 a fifteen-year-old girl trapped without her family in an Eastern Prussian village, wrote in her memoirs of the downright terror used on the captured women to hand over young girls day after day. Ms Köpp, as one of the few girls available, suffered a multitude of brutal rapes.
Russian documents (for example Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Prussian Nights or Vladimir Gelfand’s diary of his time as a Red Army officer in Germany) mention the general preference of young victims as well. Marta Hillers experienced this herself: Faced with the choice between her and the widow, the soldiers usually chose Marta; when however she and her fellow laundresses were „courted“, the soldiers first tried their luck with nineteen-year-old Gerti. Another victim even recalled a systematic classification of the women present according to age, the groups of which were raped in ascending order, starting with the very youngest.(2)
However, there might be some truth in Marta’s reflections on corpulent women. An established presentation of heroines (be it love interest or good mother) in Russian cinema was – apart from politically motivated productions such as the works of Sergei Eisenstein – that of the plump woman. In the generation saga of the film Sibiriada (1979) this image is referred to in the character of Nastya, the buxom and very young „lover of the past“. Even in The Romanovs of 2000 it appears once more in the character of the Tsarina, though typical movie heroines in Russia today are slender like everywhere else.

All of a sudden around ten o’clock we heard some shouting and a Russian voice, ‚Woman, come! Woman, come!‘ A command that’s been all too popular. In a flash all the women disappeared, hiding behind doors, crawling under carts and piles of rubble, squatting to make themselves as small as possible. But after a moment most of them, including me, re-emerged. ‚Surely they’re not going to…? At least not here, in the middle of the street. […]‘(3)

Sadly, the sceptics were mistaken, as there are eyewitness accounts of women and girls indeed being seized in the open street and publicly raped. In these cases, the last inhibition had fallen, the social taboo of public sex, existing in all cultures of the earth.
The easiest target presented, as always, the weak and helpless. Hungarian and Polish women, even female Russian slave labourers became victims as well; a few courageous voices even spoke about sexual assaults on female Red Army soldiers throughout the war.
For those reasons the explanation often pleaded by „later-borns“, of „rape as revenge“, can safely be considered as wrong. Accounts suggest that most Red Army soldiers were not hostile to German women in the literal sense – indifferent, contemptuous, unsympathetic and even gleeful, no doubt about that. But these women and girls were less an object of hate than a rightful booty that had to submit to whatever fate awaited them, that deserved to be taken by force. If there happened to be some element of revenge in it, they served as the means to an end: Revenge on German men, namely German soldiers who were punished and mocked by the rape of „their“ women. Women as „true“ (because equal) enemies never entered the equation – their resistance and cries for help were simply seen as annoying. Some accounts even suggest that the rapes were not looked upon by the perpetrators as something very bad, but at most as basically a not unpleasant peccadillo.

Which fits an aspect often neglected in discussions on the topic: that many of the young soldiers (like their whole generation worldwide, really) had never been told the facts of life. They learned half-truths and correct as well as incorrect „facts“ from more experienced comrades in the barracks tone of a community of men. Could they know what damage they did – in a purely physical sense, leaving the psychological aspect altogether out of it? Did they realise why women and girls died during rapes that went on for hours and were repeated day after day?
The unwillingness or incapacity of officers to prevent assaults makes them doubly guilty on account of their young subordinates. Young men, then just as now, liked to run riot, especially in a group of peers, had not yet developed good judgement nor the courage to swim against the current. Add to that superiors who did not perform their task of being role models, brutalisation by four years of war, the idea of having the right to punish the „bad guys“ by dint of being part of the „good guys“, and not least the freely available alcohol mentioned in every account, and the extent of the assaults is not surprising.
It is estimated that up to two million German women were raped in 1945, many of them multiple times. The most reliable numbers exist for Berlin where, in contrast to rural communities or the war-ravaged eastern provinces, medical facilities were available. According to the records of the two leading hospitals, between 95.000 and 130.000 victims were raped (again, many of them multiple times).
Crimes perpetrated by German troops, whether by SS or Wehrmacht, which Soviet propaganda exploited in the same way that Nazi propaganda exploited crimes perpetrated by the Red Army, were, of course, convenient grounds to stifle any existent scruples in potential rapists.

But perhaps one does not to need to go very far for explanations. Is it unimaginable that most of these crimes happened for a very simple reason: Because the perpetrators could and would do it? Women have become the victims of sexual violence for thousands of years, and to look for particular explanations in a special case in the documented history of mankind seems nonsensical. The question ought to be why sexual assaults happen at all. The respective „disguise“, the trappings and circumstances, is only of superficial significance.

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend the lawless time around war’s end from a modern point of view. Therefore it is not surprising that with the distance of time and against the background of a civilised society, but above all in face of the still existing taboo of criticism of the Soviet army in Russia, few former Red Army soldiers have been willing to remember the mass rapes since the fall of the Iron Curtain – oh, yes, they had heard of a few isolated incidents, but…
Soviet documents and the statements of some respectable voices as well as those of a handful of diehard braggarts who, even forty or fifty years later, boasted openly of the events – among familiar faces these „anecdotes“ are widespread anyway(4) – refute the weak attempt at pretended ignorance. As does Marta’s acquaintance with sub lieutenant Nikolai who broaches the subject very early on. These „amoral occurrences“ were so well known that the officer understandably wondered whether the same had happened to his friendly companion who, apparently fearless and unconcerned, walked the streets of Berlin alongside a Red Army soldier.
While his request to forget all that has happened sounds like the worst of cynicism (for which victim of rape would not have liked to forget if she had but been able to?), it was that very strategy of repression that enabled the victims to live on: In addition to their feelings of shame a not unwarranted reason for the decades-long silence on the mass rapes.
A noticeable fact in any case is that the events of ’45 took all shapes: Complete units that acted correctly as well as complete units that took part in the rapes. The famous love of Red Army soldiers for children in contrast to soldiers who beat children because they refused to tell where their mother had hid herself. Those who raped nine-year-olds, others who, having gone on for hours already, paused in their rape to allow the tortured woman to nurse her baby; Soviet soldiers who escorted a pregnant woman safely to a hospital and checked on her and her new-born daughter in the following days, as well as those who raped pregnant women or women in childbed. Those who ignored the pleas of mothers to rape them instead of their daughters, those who granted those pleas, those who shot mothers trying to protect their daughters, sometimes shooting the girls as well. Officers who looked the other way, officers who took part in the rapes, officers who paid attention that none of their subordinates abstained from rape, as well as those who destroyed alcohol where they could find it, those who prevented rapes with good words or drawn weapons, those who court-martialled and executed rapists.(5)

Marta Hillers wrote about a tiny part of those facets of the mass rapes after her personal experiences. But the main point of her notes are not simply the rapes; it is the keen observation of the behaviour man vs. woman in general. The downfall of the „myth of Man“ on German, the victorious strengthening of this myth on Russian side, the practical considerations of women who have little use for pathos and therefore are able to deal with a fall much better than men. In many ways it is a feminist book.
Yet it goes even farther than that. For the author sums up the real conclusion of her experiences in a single sobering realisation: Homo homini lupus – man is a wolf to man (after Plautus).
She herself did the best she could in a horrible situation. One bright spot in it was the short relationship to her protector, the major, whom she – according to her diary and her statement to a friend– liked very much as a human being and as a man.

Sowjetische Gräber
[…] there is a knee-high mound strewn with greenery, marked with three wooden posts painted bright red and affixed with small handwritten plaques – edged paper under glass. I read three Russian names and the dates of their death: 26 and 27 April, 1945. […]
They’re mass-produced after a pattern, with a white star on top […].

(1) Anonymous, 2005, p. 70

(2) Münch, Ingo von: „Frau, komm!“. Die Massenvergewaltigungen deutscher Frauen und Mädchen 1944/45. Graz: Ares-Verlag, 2009, p. 107

(3) Anonymous, 2005, p. 248

(4) Among others: Interview with Evgenij Sidikhin in Anonyma – Eine Frau in Berlin. Die Dokumentation (ZDF History, 19.10.2008), interview with Aleksandra Kulikova in the making of Anonyma – Eine Frau in Berlin (DVD special features), interview with Max Färberböck (DVD special features), interview with Nina Hoss in Emma, no. 287/2008.

(5) For refusing to obey an order. By May 1945, rapes had been forbidden by at least two decrees.

(6) Anonymous, 2005, p. 169

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Recommendations for further reading and watching

The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 2

In the summer of 1934, Marta Hillers returned from Paris to her homeland, now under National Socialist rule. She went to Berlin, to live with her cousin Hans Wolfgang Hillers and his lover Trude Sand at their flat in Berliner Straße 2, Tempelhof, facing the famous airport. She had first met her cousin about eight years ago when he visited her family in Krefeld, and he had left a lasting impression on the young girl.
Women as a rule adored Hillers, as his numerous affairs testify. There was, however, a darker side to his carefree and charming personality. Confirmed are at least two rapes, one that today would be classified as a date rape, the other one of his niece. The strange thing, and probably a proof of his charisma, is that his victims never seemed to shun his presence for long afterwards. That Hillers‘ said niece would, in 1945, become the victim of rape by Red Army soldiers, makes the fact even more horrible.
Hillers was a well-known, easy-going character in Berlin’s artistic circles, a strange mixture of jovial friend, honest teacher and supporter of young writers, ladies‘ man and rapist, a communist who wrote his most successful play Die Hammelkomödie under the Nazis, despite being spied upon and arrested several times by the Gestapo; he also wrote the screenplays for two Nazi propaganda films and went on to become an editor for the UFA film company.

Trude Sand certainly deserves room in Marta’s story. Born on 9 December, 1905 in Augsburg, she grew up in the Catholic town as the child of Protestant, liberal parents. Her father, the attorney Hermann Sand, had been one of the founding members of the Democratic Party of Augsburg and a declared enemy of monarchy. After leaving school, Trude’s ambition was to become a dancer and an actress; she studied at the theatre of Hanover and went to Berlin with her younger sister Eva who was likewise aiming at an acting career. In Berlin, they met Hans Wolfgang Hillers. Under his influence, the sisters became ardent communists. Considering herself not talented enough for a stage career, Trude started a children’s theatre at the Junge Volksbühne whose manager Hillers was, and finally went on to become a freelance journalist. The practically-minded, cheerful Trude was beloved by all who knew her. Her connection to Hillers, however, made her a subject of observation by the Gestapo.

Marta Hillers and Trude Sand formed a close and enduring friendship. They published a series of articles based on their adventurous tour with truck drivers across Germany, they wrote for the same publications and later became editors for the same youth magazine. In her article „Der Herr von O . . . und seine Mädchen“ („Herr von O . . . and his girls“) in the satirical paper Simplicissimus, Trude Sand depicts their living together with Hans Wolfgang Hillers as a merry ménage à trois.

Despite her acknowledged stay in the Soviet Union, Marta was far more successful than her cousin in keeping her former membership in the Communist Party a secret. In her membership application to the Nazi artists‘ union she mentioned a membership in a youth group of the National Socialists‘ women’s organisation which however, as will be seen, is doubtful. In the winter of ’34/’35 she took her own quarters, only two streets away from Hans Hillers‘ and Trude Sand’s apartment in Hohenzollernkorso 10 (renamed Manfred-von-Richthofen-Straße in 1936). After the success of his Hammelkomödie, Hans Hillers, too, moved to Richthofen-Straße, in an attic apartment at the no. 13.
While Trude Sand went on to become a successful author of three books and continued her beloved work with children, Marta wrote widely for several periodicals. A favourite topic of hers were women’s stories, even to a degree bordering on Women’s Lib (as much as it was possible under the Nazis).

In „The woman gains the victory… even if history does not speak of her“, she expressed herself cuttingly:

History has much to tell of victors. Epic tales are ringing and clashing with their deeds, and their statues, made from iron and stone, survive the centuries. But where do we find the v i c t r e s s ? Hardly in history, at best in legend and myth. As amazons and lance-throwing goddess they are allowed to fight and win after their heart’s content. In the rough reality, however, female victories – with few exceptions – were confined to the home. The „classical“ female victory happened – and happens! – in private. […]
When Socrates once made mincemeat of his colleague, the philosopher Protagoras, it was a great victory, and Plato wrote a book about it. But no book celebrates the victor in the subsequent competition Socrates – X a n t h i p p e. On the contrary – slander was her reward! For it wasn’t about great things, about country and citizens‘ duty, oh no! That was men’s business. It was „just“ about the thousand little things of women’s daily life.(1)

The strong sex was especially made a target of in her „Treatise on male vanity“.

It is said women by nature are vainer than men. Is this true? In some respect, yes, says an experienced psychologist. But a woman’s vanity is of a different kind. She grooms and adorns herself for the sake of the man. The man however cultivates his vanity for his own sake. The vanity of a beautiful woman is like the fragrance of a flower that attracts and intoxicates. The vanity of the lords of creation however… They want to rule. They want to be the first in everything. If humans are vain by nature, male vanity takes the first place. And this in matters both of material and ideational ambitions. According to psychologists. […]
Already in boyhood this heritage becomes apparent. Girls in general are far easier to guide. Early on they show sympathy for their surroundings, are much more open to the beautiful and good than the defiant, egomaniacal and self-absorbed boys who can be checked only with an effort. […]
Like the colourful feathers of the cock the teenage boy wears colourful ties. The pride in the first hairs of the beard! The satisfaction in the deepening voice! How much gentleness and stamina at hair grooming! When a young woman looks into the mirror, she looks at herself with the eyes of her beloved. Will he like me? is her question. A young man however examines himself with the eyes of a novel’s hero. „Here I come!“ That’s his motto.
By far the most devastating form of man’s vanity sets in at advancing age. At an age when the cockscomb inevitably loses its lustre, when the belly begins to curve and bald patch and receding hairline make his face – not older, perish the thought – no, more interesting. It is then that the intellectual vanity emerges, that outgrowth of a pasha-like bossiness that wives love so very much in their clever husbands. It is then that the master of the house insists upon his privileges, prints cards with his title on them and behaves even at home as though he had an entire harem at his disposal.(2)

In A Woman in Berlin she would examine the situation of women and the image of men much more in-depth, and as late as the 1970s she would analyse the feministic tendencies in the works of author E. Marlitt and write about independent women in art and literature.

In May of 1936, her mother was confined to a mental hospital on grounds of beginning delusions when she shouted invectives against the Nazis from her window. Her condition worsened over the years until, on 25 June, 1941, Nella Hillers died unexpectedly. The official cause of death was heart failure. Whether this was true or whether she became a victim of the Nazis‘ policy of euthanasia remains unknown.

Marta had published regime-friendly texts by this time. As writing articles didn’t earn her enough money for a living, she took on a job as a secretary in the editorial office of the journal Freude und Arbeit (Joy and Work) from February 1940 to March 1941. In April 1941 she started working as an editor for the National Socialist youth magazine Hilf mit. Again, the friends Marta and Trude seem to have worked in tandem, as Trude Sand published articles in Hilf mit and was named as an editor of it in 1942.
It is doubtful, though, that they ever became convinced Nazis. They adapted, certainly. They were no rebels. If judging by the circle of friends around Hans Wolfgang Hillers, it appears Marta Hillers and Trude Sand belonged to those who played to the powers in public and scoffed at them in private. In the eyes of their former comrades they were traitors, defectors, but they themselves never felt beholden or even belonging to the Nazis. They accepted the way things were, wrote in the style of the times and kept their thoughts to themselves.

Was I for… or against? What’s clear is that I was there, that I breathed what was in the air, and it affected all of us even if we didn’t want it to.(3)

Marta Hillers 1941

(1) Hillers, Martha: „Die Frau erringt den Sieg… auch wenn die Weltgeschichte nicht von ihr erzählt“, in: Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, 9 August, 1936. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel

(2) „Traktat über das männliche Geltungsbedürfnis“, unknown publication. From the author’s estate. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel

(3) Anonymous, 2005, p. 197

Part 1
Part 3
Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Recommendations for further reading and watching

The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 1

Marta Hillers was born in Krefeld on 26 May, 1911 as the eldest child of Johannes and Petronella Hillers. Krefeld then was an upwardly mobile city with a strong tradition of silk and velvet production; Johannes Hillers had worked his way up from simple weaver to managing director. The couple’s second daughter Erna and son Hans completed the family.
The First World War put an end to Krefeld’s rise, and Nella Hillers and her children, too, were confronted with changes when Johannes Hillers was conscripted into the German army in 1916. On 9 September of the same year he was reported missing in action at Verdun. He was 32 years old.
Nella Hillers took on a job to earn a living for her family, but when she fell ill they became dependent on state support. Shortly before the end of the war Nella Hillers took her children to her home village of Alpen which, as a rural community, provided a steadier food supply than the industrial Krefeld.

Marta Hillers in 1945 was no stranger to enemy occupation. Her earliest published article „Kriegskind“ („War Child“) was a piece on her childhood and youth during WW1 and the post-war Belgian occupation of Krefeld.
On the night of 8 November, 1918 the November Revolution reached Krefeld. Insurgent soldiers freed prisoners all over town and, following the Kaiser’s abdication and the appointment of Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert as Chancellor, set up a revolutionary council. Aside from the change in leadership, the administrative body remained intact. Even the revolutionaries were keen to preserve order with view to the coming difficulties of supplying the population with food, abandoning war for peace economy, demilitarisation, and taking care of soldiers either returning to or passing through Krefeld. Security personnel from the free labour unions supported the police in keeping order.
But hardly four weeks later, on 7 December, the short interlude ended with the arrival of the first Belgian troops who ordered the dissolution of the revolutionary council. For ten days after the beginning of the occupation, the Belgian officials kept citizens of Krefeld and members of the former council hostage to guarantee obedience to their decrees.
Those decrees included the disruption of all connections across the Rhine, clocks had to be switched to Belgian time, taking photos was forbidden, letters written in the German cursive were not to be conveyed, a curfew was in force, petitions had to be written in French, gatherings needed approval, all publications had to pass censorship, the ringing of church bells was controlled by headquarters, every citizen had to carry an identity card stamped by occupation authorities and needed a licence to leave the city or the district. Jurisdiction was in Belgian hands. Quite ordinary decrees under an occupation, to be sure; but the decree to lift one’s hat in front of Belgian flags gives the appearance of having been borrowed from Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell.
On 11 December, further 4000 troops reached the city. Officers and later ordinary soldiers, too, were billeted in citizens‘ homes.

Then came the Belgians; they showed us chocolate and white bread, but we weren’t allowed into their barracks because they touched children. Secretly, we collected the tips of their „Roi d’Albert“ cigarettes, dried the tobacco and sold it to young men. In 1921, a wartime comrade of our father visited us and said he had stood on a hill at Verdun, Johannes had been shot in the thigh and taken prisoner by the French who dragged him into one of their shelters, and then German artillery had flattened the shelter. „German bullets!“ Mother screamed.(1)

Aside from the occupation, it was mainly the economic situation that made things difficult for the people of Krefeld in post-war years. Food was in short supply, coal hard to come by, the prices of electricity, gas, water and raw material went up. Living space was sparse, owing not least to requisitions by the occupation authorities. The black market thrived. High unemployment led to low wages which in turn brought on strikes. Inflation went beyond all scope. Again and again violent tumults broke out in the early 1920s, shops were plundered, and sometimes armed forces had to step in to restore peace.

Marta with three of her cousins

What must it have been like to grow up in tumultuous times like these? Certainly there was some „everyday life“ even amidst political change, amidst poverty, inflation and tumults. Not without reason Marta Hillers would, twenty years later, describe a similar everyday life amidst chaos in her diary. An anchor of stability seems to have been her pious grandmother Petronella Daniels, whom Marta mentions lovingly several times.
Her family being poor, one would assume only Marta’s brother would have been allowed a higher education under those circumstances. (As a rule, children at that time finished school with 14 to enter an apprenticeship.) However, all three Hillers siblings managed to get a scholarship. In 1925 Marta entered the local girls‘ secondary school. She did well in the language classes (German, English, French, Latin) and in physical education; not so much in the natural sciences, and Singing was by far her worst subject.

I’ve always had a knack for languages(2), she later remarked in her diary, and, dryly:
Gerti and our fellow launderer – both with perfect pitch – sang along.(3)

Belgian occupation ended in January of 1926, accompanied by celebrations and the return of expellees. In March, President von Hindenburg visited the Rhineland that had finally returned to Germany.

Marta (middle) with two friends

[…] we were fifteen or sixteen, wore wine-red school berets […]. In the middle of the school year our history teacher had a stroke and was replaced with someone who had just finished her training, a snub-nosed novice who exploded into our class. She brazenly contradicted our patriotic history book by calling Frederick the Great an adventurer, a gambler, and praised Friedrich Ebert, the Social Democrat whom our former teacher had enjoyed deriding as a mere ’saddler’s apprentice‘. After making these audacious declarations she would flash her black eyes, lift her hands and appeal to us, ‚Girls, you better go and change the world. It needs it!‘ […]
By chance elections to the Reichstag were being held then. The ten or fifteen largest parties convened assemblies every evening, and we would march over in little groups, spurred on by our teacher. We worked our way from the National Socialists through the Centrists and the Democrats to the Social Democrats and Communists, raising our arms in the Hitler salute with the Nazis and letting ourselves be addressed as ‚comrade‘ by the Communists.(4)

It would have been the elections on 20 May, 1928. On her visits to the various assemblies Marta Hillers developed sympathies for the catch phrases of the Communist Party, promising a better, more just world without rich and poor – the „bright beacon“ to young Marta. On the grounds of communist and anti-religious activities she was expelled from school in 1930.
Looking at her later works, it seems very likely that apart from the poverty her family lived in another reason contributed to Marta’s change of sides from the bourgeois to the proletarian camp: The demand for Womens’ Lib which was an important part of the communist party platform. (As was the abolition of the „shame“ or „murder paragraph“ 218, criminalising abortion, of which Marta Hillers as one of the notoriously merry Rhineland women would perhaps one day be affected, too?)
After her expulsion Marta started working as a minor secretary at the Regis Company in Krefeld and kept promoting the Communist Party in her spare time. At the end of March 1931 she left the Catholic Church, the loss of faith mentioned in her diary. Only many decades later she would philosophise wisely, „even the secularised person“ demanded „their temple and their offerings“ – in other forms.(5)
In the summer of 1931 Marta Hillers worked for DEROP (German trading company for Russian oil products) in Düsseldorf and did party work as a women’s instructor in the Communist Party’s branch in Benrath as well as a writer for the German and Russian party press. Finally, she embarked on a new adventure: Her next stop in September ’31 was Moscow. The Soviet photo agency Soyusphoto (Союзфото) had been looking for a German-speaking employee.

Moskau Haus der Kuenstler ret
Marta Hillers (left) in the „House of artists“, Moscow

What seemed so bright a beacon about the idol Soviet Union? A perusal of those international communist newspapers and magazines Soyusphoto supplied with pictures answers the question. Each issue compared the paradisiacal life of Soviet citizens with the misery of workers in capitalistic states. In fact the Soviet Union was often groundbreaking especially in the field of medicine. But of course life there wasn’t as bright as communist papers wanted it to be.
Many German communists, having believed in the truth of their party press, were shocked and aghast upon being confronted with the real life in the Soviet Union. It wasn’t just the poverty that appalled them, but even more so the lies of their own people who had glorified everything in their reports.
The justifications for it were as manifold as they were simple: Reality wouldn’t improve upon being reported as bleak as it was; on the contrary, if it was reported in the way it should be, this might encourage investors to bring money to the young Soviet Union. With this, a state that up to now only existed in visions of the future could actually be created. Negative press, however, could only damage the cause, present communism in a bad light and prevent the world revolution.
The same pattern of thought Marta still encountered more than twenty years later, when debating Red Army soldiers were of the opinion the modern Soviet Union should only be judged by its better and great future…
Can anyone blame those who believed only too willingly in a real existing better world? Not a small part of the communists of those years were idealists, not revolutionaries for revolution’s sake; believers, if one will, who were looking for „their temple and their offerings“ in this form.
Probably young Marta Hillers belonged to those world changers as well. But she, too, was disillusioned by her personal experiences in the would-be workers‘ and peasants‘ paradise.

I simply wouldn’t want to live in Moscow. What oppressed me most there was the relentless ideological schooling, the fact that people were not allowed to travel freely, and the absolute lack of any erotic aura. The way of life just wouldn’t suit me.(6)

Not without reason she would write about her renunciation of starry-eyed idealism after just another disillusionment in her diary.
For now, though, the young woman lived happily in the present. Up to May 1933 she travelled widely through „European Russia“, Poland, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Sicily. Although she had applied for membership in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in November 1931, she didn’t wait for confirmation. In the company of an employee at the French embassy in Moscow she left the Soviet Union, went to Paris and got her certificate of access to higher education. Following this, she studied history and art history at the Sorbonne until July 1934.

(1) Hillers, Marta: „Kriegskind“, in: Die Weltbühne, Vol. 28 (1932), No. 40. Berlin: Verlag der Weltbühne, p. 505-506. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel

(2) Anonymous: A Woman in Berlin. London: Virago Press (an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group), 2005, p. 64

(3) ibid., p. 266

(4) ibid., p. 165

(5) Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt: Bestand PA 1009a B (Aus dem Nachlass von Marta Dietschy-Hillers. Korrespondenzen betreffend Elisabeth La Roche (1976-1965) und Hermann Hesse (1877-1962))

(6) Anonymous, 2005, p. 205

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Recommendations for further reading and watching

The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Introduction

When I started reading the German original of A Woman in Berlin in the autumn of 2011, I had no idea my fascination with its author would culminate in the publishing of her biography almost two years later. In that time I managed to track down her next of kin, consulted archives from Basle to Bremen and even as far as Moscow, found with no little surprise many famous names among her friends and acquaintances and realised that lot of literature existed that filled in the blanks in the author’s story.
During my research I also realised that A Woman in Berlin was as popular, if not more so, abroad as it was in Germany. The rape of German and – often neglected or forgotten in the discussion – Austrian women and girls by Allied forces has always been known in their countries. Especially the brutality of Red Army soldiers had become a kind of national trauma following the arrival and settlement of refugees from the former German provinces of Eastern Prussia, Silesia and Pomerania. Academic research into it, however, did not start until the fall of the Iron Curtain; and only in recent years has it become a topic in geriatric care as long-buried traumas started to emerge in a generation now well into their eighties and nineties.
Those facts, of course, are virtually unknown in other countries except among historians. History lessons in school stop at the capitulation of Nazi Germany – they do so in Germany, too. A Woman in Berlin therefore has become the primary voice of the ignored events of 1945 and a poignant reminder of the price of war.
I always felt A Woman in Berlin should be of special interest in the states of the former Soviet Union, not as an accusation (as certain nationalists there seem to think) but as a more lively, more human depiction of the battle of Berlin and its hero-villains than Soviet history books with their strict exclusive adherence to military action can convey.
I have frequently been asked about an English translation of Marta Hillers’ biography. A literal translation, I think, would be of no great use abroad. Many persons discussed in it are unknown outside of Germany, and many events would require lengthy explanations. For example, the dramatist Hans Wolfgang Hillers (a cousin once removed from Marta Hillers) is a major character in the biography as he features quite prominently in the literature of his time and was named as a possible candidate for the real-life “Gerd” of A Woman in Berlin. All this means very little abroad since none of the literature interested persons could consult for further reading has ever been translated. I realised that a different approach was needed in conveying Marta Hillers’ story to the international public. A sad effect of this was losing the “voice” of some of the principle characters whom I quoted from their works.

Questions have been asked about the authenticity of A Woman in Berlin almost from the start. A major point in researching its author’s life therefore became establishing the truth of the events and the identity of the persons mentioned. What I found was a puzzle. The persons existed; some of them were actually quite easy to identify once I knew more about Marta Hillers’ life and the neighbourhood she lived in in 1945. But in order to keep their anonymity intact she had changed facts. Again taking as an example her cousin Hans Wolfgang Hillers: He features as the nameless colleague in whose apartment she finds refuge after the bombing of her house. Not a lie as such – he was a fellow writer, editor and journalist. She even took details of one person and exchanged them for the details of another. So the facts as such are true, but not always in connection with the people they are ascribed to. As for herself, Marta Hillers described herself as a “pale blonde”. In reality, she was dark-haired. Not so surprising if one recalls that she tried to remain anonymous!
To understand the reality behind A Woman in Berlin, it is therefore necessary to keep in mind that details in the description vary from the actual events. I’ve dedicated a post to the persons of the book and their real-life counterparts, if identifiable, as well as to the neighbourhood. A chapter I was very keen to keep in my English series of posts is a comparison of the first edition of A Woman in Berlin and the new edition. The first English translation of 1954 by James Stern (who wrote a book of his own on his experiences in post-war Germany, The Hidden Damage) features passages not contained in the first German edition of 1959 and, subsequently, in any of the new editions since 2003. English readers will find how both translations differ from each other in the same passages, as well.
I will include a post on further reading (and watching) of material available in English or with English subtitles.
Of course any reader may feel free to quote from here – please be so polite as to mention your source.

”Why are you interested in this?” A question, asked in countless varieties. Certainly a justified question, from the point of view of the person asking. Yet to find an answer wasn’t always easy for me.
But: Who had not been interested, who hadn’t wondered when reading her insightful, at times witty and remarkably optimistic diary of 20 April to 22 June, 1945, who this „woman in Berlin“ might have been – and what had happened after? What happened after she left the reader in the middle of a Berlin about to be quartered and divided, in the middle of ruins and hunger, insecurity about personal as well as national future and a tentative new beginning?
A few glimpses into the „afterward“ she offered through the notes later added to her diary, always concerning other persons than herself. She mentions Americans in her city district.
What happened after?
On 16 June, 2001 Marta Dietschy-Hillers died in Basle at the age of 90 years. Probably no one except relatives and friends and perhaps some dignitaries of the town took notice of it. And why should they? Who after all remembered the name of an unimportant journalist who had published several articles in German and Swiss papers and a booklet since the 1930s?
All this changed, however, when her friend and executor of her literary estate Hannelore Marek, the widow of bestseller author Kurt W. Marek (C. W. Ceram), contacted the publisher Hans Magnus Enzensberger after Marta’s death. In 1985, after the founding of his publishing house, Enzensberger had tried to find the author of a book published anonymously 26 years ago under the title Eine Frau in Berlin. As Kurt Marek had written an introduction to its American first edition in 1954 (not included in the new English edition of 2005) in which he explained his role in the publishing of the diary, Enzensberger tried his luck at Hannelore Marek’s. Mrs. Marek did indeed know the author but had to report to Enzensberger that she refused a new edition of her book during her lifetime.
Now, after the author’s death, Hannelore Marek agreed to the republishing of Eine Frau in Berlin. With a few changes from the original text the new edition was published in 2003 and became an instant bestseller. Translation into, as of now, 30 languages followed. The director Max Färberböck adapted the story for a movie that has little in common with the book but by way of its Russian actors generated some interest in their homeland where criticism of the Red Army is still a social and political taboo. German, English and French language adaptation for the theatre followed.
Already in the year of the book’s success 2003, journalist Jens Bisky of the Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed the name of its author as well as details on her life and threw doubt on the book’s authenticity. What followed was a heated media debate on Bisky’s arguments. An examination of the book manuscript and the original diary that formed the basis of it by renowned expert Walter Kempowski did not yield any final results; however, he judged the diary, at least, to be genuine.
That was how things still stood in 2011.
When I read Eine Frau in Berlin, the storm had abated, an article on Wikipedia existed, and presumptions were accepted as facts. Without having read Mr. Bisky’s article (I had heard too many negative things about it and tried to avoid it for a long time), I started my own research.
On a mild January day in 2012 I stood at Marta’s grave for the first time. I had no idea what the future held in store for me; at this point my interest in the author was purely personal. Yet as time progressed and the amount of information I gathered grew larger and larger, I realized that no one had come this far before. No one had even bothered to. People were content with going with what they could find on Wikipedia and spin their own ideas as to the rest. Marta’s life was either going to remain a mystery or becoming a fantasy, distorted by false information and half-investigated facts. And I would be the only one to know better. It was at this point that I decided to do something about it.

Who was this mysterious Marta Hillers beyond her “conversation with herself in writing”? She spent more years not being the “woman in Berlin” than she did being it, and it seems strange that everyone tries to fix her on that short moment in her life. A lot of things have been written about A Woman in Berlin and Marta Dietschy-Hillers has always been seen and judged in that context alone. A disservice. Can you equate a woman who reached the ripe age of 90 with the 34-year-old who recorded her experiences in a diary? With the 23-year-young and already widely travelled journalist who adopted the tone of Nazi Germany because there wasn’t any other tone except abroad or in some underground movement?
Marta Hillers certainly did not define herself as the victim of multiple rape who finally “tamed one of the wolves” to keep the rest of the pack away, though I do not doubt that the events stayed with her to the end. She was a cultured and well-informed woman who valued the exchange of ideas, who was quick in finding contact. People who had known her described her to me as charming, as refined, as quite a character, even as “cool”. A person one would have loved to meet – and whose fascinating story one would love to know.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Recommendations for further reading and watching