THE DOWNFALL OF BERLIN: ANONYMA. (2008) WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY MAX FARBERBOCH. BASED ON THE MEMOIR, EINE FRAU IN BERLIN: ANONYMA (A WOMAN IN BERLIN: ANONYMOUS) BY MARTA HILLERS. STARRING NINA HOSS, EUJENY SIDIKHIN, JULIANE KOHLER, ROMAN GRIBKOV AND AUGUST DIEHL. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. © This superb but harrowing film is based on the memoirs of a real-life German woman who lived through the end of World War Two, and that turbulent period when Berlin was occupied by the Russians and it was said that up to 100,000 German women were raped by Russian men. The Russian Army was the first triumphant force to reach and overcome Berlin, which by then was being poorly defended by members of the Volksturm, the raggle-taggle ‘People’s Army’ comprising young boys and old men that didn’t stand a chance in hell of standing up against the Russian tanks. Remember Hitler’s last public appearance, an informal ceremony in the garden of the Reichschancellery, presenting the Iron Cross to boys no more than ten or twelve years old? These boys, though they did their best, were all that was standing between a battered Berlin and the might and anger of the Russian Army. They were bound to fail. They had no chance. The author of the memoir remained anonymous for as long as she could, until she was identified as German journalist Marta Hillers. The book was widely read but not by the Germans, who literally couldn’t stomach the thought of their women being made impure by the mass invasion of Russian cocks. Some folks will have you believe that the book is not just a sensationalist book about rape, but the subject of rape certainly comes up in it. In my own opinion, EINE FRAU IN BERLIN is an important book, a book that holds just as much meaning as a war general’s remembrances about the military battles that were fought in World War Two. The women’s battles are just as relevant, just as much so as other wartime experiences, even if these experiences arouse rage, anger, hatred and disgust in the bosom of the German male. Anyway, our heroine-narrator, whose name we don’t know, is in Berlin when the Russians invade, living in an apartment building with a handful of other women, some old, some young, some old men declared unfit for fighting and a few children. The Russian Army make their presence felt quickly, by putting up their flag and sexually violating every available woman they can find. Age is no barrier to them. Our narrator is raped several times by different men, after which she makes a Scarlett O’Hara-type promise to herself, one which she intends to keep. ‘No-one will touch me again without my consent.’ So, how does she intend to keep this promise to herself? She seeks the protection of first one and then two Soviet officers, the handsome dairy farmer Anatole and then the tormented widow, Major Andrej Rybkin, with whom she has a doomed but at least reciprocated love affair. It’s all in return for sex, though, and she receives not only their protection but also food and other hard-to-get supplies. Berlin’s shops have been gutted in the war, but the Soviets have access to food and soap and even goodies, so the women put out for them and they’re- the men, at least- perfectly happy. A fair exchange is no robbery, after all. I wouldn’t judge these poor women for doing what they have to do in order to survive. Their German husbands will do enough of that when they come home from the front, or from manning the death camps, or from wherever they’ve been… What rights do the husbands even have to pass judgement, anyway, after they’ve been away at war for so long? Juliane Kohler, who was absolutely fantastic as Hitler’s missis Eva Braun in the 2004 film DOWNFALL, turns up here as Elke, our anonymous narrator’s friend. “How many times?” queries the narrator. Elke doesn’t even need to ask her friend what she means. “Four times,” she answers, before changing the subject gaily with a forced brightness. Four? Sounds like she got off lightly, considering what went on. Women in those days didn’t have access to birth control, did they, so how did they keep from producing dozens, if not hundreds, of little Russian-fathered babies? Most likely there were hundreds of Russian babies floating around in the post-Third Reich Germany. And, if a woman was raped by more than one Russian soldier, which certainly happened, she mightn’t even know the identity of her own baby’s father. Did their mothers lie to their German fathers about their babies’ origin, and to the babies themselves? And what effects, if any, did that have on the children concerned, because most of those children would never know the men who fathered them…? The Russians were fierce and formidable opponents in war, and, of course, Hitler’s biggest military mistake was to open up a war on two fronts, against the Soviets as well as against the Allies. However, in the film, the Russian soldiers seem amiable, generous and friendly towards the German women, children and old men who treat them civilly. They love to laugh, to love, to live, just like the Germans and the people of other nations. They pray, they dance, they drink like fish, they eat like horses and they adore to sing patriotic songs that venerate their beloved Russia. The people in our anonymous narrator’s apartment building build up a comfortable rapport with their ‘invaders,’ and life takes on even just a tiny semblance of normality. They even laugh and hold raucous parties with their ‘liberators.’ Which were they, the Russians? Were they the conquerors of Berlin, or the liberators? We’re liberating you from your Nazi overlords, they said as they rolled into the German capital in their massive tanks. I suppose the German people who hadn’t supported the Nazi regime were pleased to be ‘liberated.’ Many Germans feared the arrival of the Russians and chose to commit suicide rather than be invaded. A woman in the film tells another what she’d heard from a German soldier; that, when the occupation happens, if the Russians do to the Germans even a fraction of what the Germans did to the Russians in the Russians’ very own country, then God help the Germans. The Nazis initially had horrendous plans for Russia; they wanted to steal her acres and acres of ‘lebensraum’ or ‘living space’ for themselves, an expanding nation, and for a time there were plans to take Russian food and leave Russian people to starve to death. And that’s not even mentioning what the Nazi Einsatzgruppen or death squads did to the country’s Jews. It seems like the Germans had every reason to fear Soviet retribution. Anyway, to sum up, I admire the anonymous narrator’s courage and determination in deciding that she’s going to survive the Russian occupation, whatever way she needs to do it. She even begs her Major lover and protector to stop the rapes of other German women, but his uninterested reply is simply: ‘My men are all healthy.’ When her German fiancé returns from fighting the losing battle against Russia and the Allies, it’s almost certain that he’ll be intolerant of her survival tactics and look down on her as a ‘fallen woman.’ But how hypocritical is that? Don’t tell me that he’s never, whether in the Wehrmacht or the SS, done something during this awful war in order to survive that he’d be ashamed to tell his wife or priest. Needs must when the devil drives, you know. This is an excellent and thought-provoking movie. If you think you’re up to being punched in the kisser with the weight of an extremely turbulent part of history, then watch it. At one hundred and twenty six minutes, it’s a long one but a good one.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thirteen-Stops-Later-Book-ebook/dp/B091J75WNB/