Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Anonyma (4 Stars)

How should we live?

In 1954 a book called "A woman in Berlin" was published in America, written by a German authoress who requested her identity to be kept secret. In it she detailed the events of her life in Berlin from April 20th to June 22nd 1945. The book was moderately successful. When it was published in Germany in 1959 it created a scandal, many people denying that it was true. In 2003 an updated, more detailed version of the events was published. The publisher stated that the authoress had recently died and had requested her identity to remain secret. However, in our information age it's impossible to keep secrets, and it was soon revealed that the anonymous woman was the journalist Marta Hillers, who had lived from May 26th 1911 to June 16th 2001. In 2008 the story was filmed with the lead role played by the formidable German actress Nina Hoss. In the film she has no name, she is merely The Woman.

The Woman was an international journalist who had lived in London, Paris and Moscow, but in the final years of the war she returned to Berlin. She felt it was where she belonged. It's easy for us to condemn the Germans as Nazis, but let's try to forget the decades of political propaganda and put ourselves in her place. She was a patriot who loved her country. In the film she's asked if she's a Fascist. She answers that Fascism is about carrying rods, and she doesn't do that. She supports Adolf Hitler because he's her leader. We see the same attitude in all the people around her. No one is politically motivated, they're just women and old men terrified by the advancing Russians and looking to Hitler for protection.

But the F├╝hrer doesn't protect them. In the last week of April 1945 the Russians enter Berlin and occupy the area where The Woman lives. The Russians are a drunken mob who treat the female population as spoils of war. They rape as many women as they can find, whether they're young, middle-aged or old. The women who resist rape too forcefully are shot. After The Woman has been raped a few times she decides to take her fate into her own hands. Since she can speak Russian, she goes to the Russian troops and asks to speak to their most senior officer. She meets a major called Andrej Rybkin and offers herself to him as his mistress. This gives her protection from rape for the next few weeks. Other women also find means to survive. Throughout the city apartments are used as brothels where they give Russian soldiers sex in exchange for food. The Russians are happy and call Berlin one large brothel. This doesn't give the women complete safety. Russian soldiers occasionally lose control of themselves and kill women, but the others just accept it and carry on prostituting themselves.

The scandal stirred up by the book isn't the mass rape by the Russians, but the way the women of Berlin found it easy to become prostitutes. In the film all the women have sex with Russian soldiers. The only difference is in their choice of how it happens. Either they can be brutally raped and left battered on the floor, or they can offer themselves willingly in exchange for fish and potatoes. Most of the women were married, and their husbands were away fighting in the German army. By the time their husbands came home the Americans had arrived in Berlin and the Russians had to behave themselves. The women denied having been prostitutes. That's why the book was so scandalous. It was something that nobody wanted to admit, at least not in 1959, so soon after the war. When the book was reprinted in 2003 it was different. Many old women who had lived through the period of the Russian occupation of Berlin spoke out and confirmed that the book's reports were accurate.

I decided to watch this film again because it's the 70th anniversary of the Russians conquering Berlin. The Russians consider it to be their greatest ever victory. I see it differently. The events of 1945 are something Russia should be ashamed of. There has never been such an extent of mass rape in all of history. It's estimated that in a period of six months Russian soldiers raped more than two million women. Some estimates are as high as five million, depending on how the numbers are counted. If the same woman was raped a dozen times, is that one rape or twelve? Today Russia is in a state of denial. They don't just claim the numbers are exaggerated, they say it never happened at all. It's true that soldiers from the other armies also committed rape, but it was never on such a mass scale. For instance, it's estimated that 50,000 Russian women were raped by German soldiers in a five year period.

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