Monday, March 1, 2010

Innocence Lost

A Woman in Berlin is a harrowing, sparse account of a woman's experience surviving in Soviet-occupied Berlin at the end of World War II. Its themes of rape, despair and abandonment were taboo once the war was over and the women in the book silenced. The author of A Woman in Berlin published her account anonymously in the 1950s to widespread condemnation in Germany and in 2003, it was republished--still anonymously.

Today, the subject is more easily broached, but because of the passage of time, many of those who could have spoken out have died. One woman, Gabriella Koepp, however, has come forward and recently published a book under her own name entitled, Why Did I Have to Be a Girl? In it, she details her escape, as a 15 year-old, from her German hometown in Pomerania (now Poland). Due to a railroad miscalculation, she ended up heading south into Soviet-held territory rather than north towards safety. Once there, Koepp was raped repeatedly by Soviet soldiers over a 14-day period and now, at 80, she still has not gotten over the trauma.

Because of the brutality of the Nazi era, it can be difficult to accept Germans both as perpetrators and victims during the Nazi era. Stories like Koepp's are essential because by inverting traditional narratives, they remind us how complex and messy historical truths truly are. For the full story, click here.

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