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Berlin Diaries: 1940-1945


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Marie Vassiltchikov, who died in 1978, kept a diary of her work at the German Foreign Ministry and with the underground resistance movement during WW II.


Born of aristocratic Russian parents, Vassiltchikov was 24 when, her family scattered, she fled, penniless, from Lithuania to Berlin. Taking a job with the German Foreign Ministry, this emigree worked closely with underground resisters who launched an abortive plot to kill Hitler. Her secret wartime diary, written in fluent English, is a remarkable document alive with history, passion and truth. Calmly and unflinchingly, she records the moral, physical and political atrocities that unfolded around her. The reader experiences the Allied saturation bombing of Berlin from a German point of view (it only steeled the nation's morale). Her friends included active anti-Nazis as well as SS officers and members of Germany's social elite, many of whom, according to the author, loathed Hitler but were paralyzed by their obedience to authority and fear of reprisals. Transferred to Vienna as a Luftwaffe nurse, Vassiltchikov made a daring escape from the advancing Red Army. Her clear-eyed account of life in wartime Germany is gripping. The author died in England in 1978; her brother, a London businessman, prepared this diary for publication. Photos. (February 26)

"A skillful weaving of history, memoir, and autobiography...full of colorful characters...When she began writing in 1940, Missie, as she was called, was...concerned mainly with beaux and parties....By 1945 she has no more illusions. She has foraged for food....She has smelled the decaying flesh of corpses buried in the bombed ruins of Berlin and Vienna and lost some of her best friends." -- Washington Post Book World

"Neither a set of reflections flor a philippic, but a record ...The best eyewitness account we possess of the bombing of Berlin." -- Gordon A. Craig, The New York Times Book Review "A rare opportunity to see the Second World War from an unusual perspective: the view from Berlin and Vienna, not Washington or London. [The author] has a sharp eye and a witty tongue." -- Cleveland Plain Dealer "A vivid insider's view of Nazi Germany." -- Vanity Fair "One of the most remarkable documents to come out of the war, and nothing will ever quite match its calm and grace in utterly hideous circumstances." -- John Kenneth Galbraith

A Russian emigre princess, Vassiltchikov (1917-78) arrived in Berlin soon after the outbreak of World War II. This secret diary is replete with graphic descriptions of what life was like during those increasingly desperate times when saturation bombings, fire storms, and food shortages became the terrible norm. Of exceptional interest, too, are the entries pertaining to her close ties with those who attempted to assassinate Hitler in the ``July Plot.'' This absorbing personal account of Berlin's Gotterdammerung represents a valauble opportunity to understand World War II from the perspective of Germany's courageous civilian population. Though no less brave than Londoners, Berliners suffered far more. Highly recommended for most libraries. Mark R. Yerburgh, Trinity Coll. Lib., Burlington, Vt.

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