Marta Hillers

Marta Hillers

Marta Hillers (1911–2001) was a German journalist and the author of the autobiographical Eine Frau in Berlin (A Woman in Berlin), her diary from 20 April to 22 June 1945 in Berlin during the Battle of Berlin. The book details her experiences as rape victim during the Red Army occupation.

She studied at the Sorbonne, and later traveled extensively throughout Europe. She spoke French and Russian in addition to her native German. In 1945, she found herself in Berlin, and had to accommodate elements of the Red Army as they took control of Berlin.

Marta Hillers' memoirs were first published in 1954 in English, anonymously. The diary was written at first during the fall of Berlin, and it is not known to what extent it had been revised in the years immediately afterwards. One acquaintance, German author Kurt Marek, published the book in the United States.

Hillers married in the 1950s, moved to Switzerland, abandoning journalism, but not before republishing her memoirs in German in 1959. However, this was in French-speaking Geneva, where Hillers had now settled. The memoirs were met with controversy, given the propaganda value at a time of ever greater Cold War tensions. However, the memoirs did not sell well, maybe because it was felt that Hillers' work brought shame on German women, or maybe because it did not strike an emotional chord with readers at the time, or else because the criticism of Russian soldiers was felt to be exaggerated. It is even possible that so many Germans had heard or lived similar stories of horror that they did not want to read it once again.

Marta Hillers was never in the public eye, not agreeing to a new edition in her lifetime, after she was accused of besmirching the honor of German women, or of stirring anti-Communist propaganda.

It was only after Hillers' death in June 2001 at the age of 90 that Eine Frau in Berlin could be published again. It became a bestseller in 2003, given the stronger interest sixty years on in social conditions at the time.

Journalist Jens Bisky of the Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed in 2003 that both Hillers and Marek had connections with the Nazi Party, and had written for minor journals and publications. Marek notes in his afterword that the book is based on a typescript based on handwritten notes, which were in the possession of his wife after his death in 1971, but no comparison of the notes and the published diary was ever carried out. Given that the author herself was an accomplished writer and editor, she may have made major changes to the original notes. Still, the facticity of the mass rapes in Berlin is beyond dispute, since hospital records alone document about 100,000 cases.

In 2008 a 131 minute film based on the diary, Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin, was released. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1035730/

A Woman in Berlin was Marta Hillers' only major work.

Works

  • Eine Frau in Berlin, diary from 20 April to 22 June 1945, Die Andere Bibliothek Band Nr. 221, ISBN 3-8218-4534-1
  • A Woman in Berlin, paperback 320 pages, Virago Press Ltd, ISBN 1-84408-112-5

References

  • Bisky, Jens, "Wenn Jungen Weltgeschichte spielen, haben Mädchen stumme Rollen / Wer war die Anonyma in Berlin? Frauen, Fakten und Fiktionen / Anmerkungen zu einem grossen Bucherfolg dieses Sommers," Süddeutsche Zeitung, 24. Sept. 2003
  • Christian Esch, "Eine belanglose Person? Die Süddeutsche Zeitung enthüllt die Identität der "Anonyma" von Berlin, Enzensberger antwortet," Berliner Zeitung, 25. Sept. 2003
  • Harding, Luke, "Row over naming of rape author" The Observer, 5. Oktober 2003
  • Götz Aly, "Ein Fall für Historiker: Offene Fragen um das Buch Eine Frau in Berlin," Süddeutsche Zeitung, 18. Okt. 2003
  • Kanon, Josef, "My City of Ruins," review in The New York Times, August 14, 2005, book review section p. 12. See also Christoph Gottesmann, Vienna, letter to the editor, New York Times Sunday book review section, Sept. 11, 2005, p. 6.

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