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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The defeat of the male sex

Reviewing "A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City--A Diary", by anonymous, Mark M Anderson writes:
The diary covers a remarkable period of German history, from late April to mid-June 1945, when Germany was defeated, Hitler committed suicide and Russian troops occupied Berlin. The lawlessness of the city--its bombed-out buildings without electricity or water, its streets strewn with corpses and torched vehicles--is hard to imagine. The Russian soldiers, who had not seen their wives or girlfriends for years (the Red Army did not give home leave), went on a spree of looting and sexual revelry, raping some 100,000 Berlin women in a few weeks. The author of the diary was raped several times by different soldiers until she decided to preserve herself from random violence by choosing one officer to act as her protector--a decision made by many women, which exposed them later to charges of collaboration with the enemy. Once she finds a cultivated and kindly major, she admits that the intercourse between them is no longer rape. "Am I doing it because I like him or out of a need for love? God forbid!" But when she asks herself if she is doing it for "bacon, butter, sugar," she acknowledges that the relationship gives her food and hence independence. What she experiences from the German men is perhaps just as damaging. When her fiancé finally returns from the front, she finds herself "cold as ice" in his arms and is glad when he is through. "For him I've been spoiled once and for all." After hearing the women's stories of their rapes, he calls them "a bunch of shameless bitches" and goes off with one of his war buddies.

Here we can see the reason this topic remained off-limits for so many years: not so much because the women were ashamed as because the men were doubly humiliated, first for having lost the war on the front, and then for having been unable to protect their wives and daughters at home. Some of the most devastating remarks in this diary concern the emasculation of German men--the "miserable and powerless" civilians who grub for food and stand idly by as the Russians claim their sexual booty; but also the returning soldiers with their "stubbly chins and sunken cheeks" who inspire only pity, "no hope or expectation." "The Nazi world--ruled by men, glorifying the strong man--is beginning to crumble," she remarks; the end of the war marks the "defeat of the male sex."
Anderson's fine piece, reviewing a bunch of books about the most painful period in German history, speaks about the "German suffering and loss during World War II" that, for a variety of reasons, became a taboo topic after the war. Harrowing stuff.

(Link via Arts and Letters Daily.)
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