A Woman in Berlin

Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary

Anonymous; Translated by Philip Boehm

Metropolitan Books

From A Woman in Berlin:
Friday, 11 pm, by the light of an oil lamp, my notebook on my knees. Around 10 pm there was a series of bombs. The siren started right in screaming. Apparently it has to be worked by hand now. No light. Running downstairs in the dark, we slip and stumble. Finally we're in our cellar, behind an iron door that weighs a hundred pounds. The official term is air-raid shelter. We call it cave, underworld, catacomb of fear.

It's the usual cellar people on the usual cellar chairs, which range from kitchen stools to brocaded armchairs. First is the baker's wife, two plump red cheeks peeking over a lambskin collar. Frau Lehmann whose husband is missing in the east, a pillow-like woman with her sleeping infant on her arm and four-year-old Lutz on her lap, his shoelaces dangling. The young man in gray trousers and horn-rimmed glasses who on closer inspection turns out to be a young woman. Three elderly sisters, dressmakers, huddled together like a big black pudding. The bookselling husband and wife who lived in Paris and often speak French to each other in low voices . . . Then the caretaker's family, consisting of mother, two daughters, and a fatherless grandson. The landlord's housekeeper, who is carrying an aging fox terrier in defiance of all air-raid regulations. And then there's me-a pale-faced blonde always dressed in the same winter coat, which by chance I managed to save, who was employed in a publishing house until it closed last week and sent the employees on leave "until further notice."