Berlin Diaries

Berlin Underground, 1938-1945
Battleground Berlin

Ruth Andreas-Friedrich

translated from the German
Paragon House 1989, 1990
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
During World War II, Ruth Andreas-Friedrich was part of an informal Berlin resistance group, made up of journalists, doctors, and other professionals. Counterfeiting papers, working the black market, and sharing accommodation, they helped to hide, feed, and clothe Jews and other "illegals", while surviving bombing raids and avoiding the Gestapo. They also tried to obtain clemency for prisoners through sympathetic officials. And they followed the course of the war at a distance, in secret on British radio, filtered through Nazi propaganda, and through word of mouth.

Andreas-Friedrich's diaries in Berlin Underground offer a vivid portrait of this life, from 1938 through to the end of the war. They convey the claustrophobia of life under a totalitarian regime, but also the ongoing normalcy of everyday life and the limitations on resistance. (The most aggressive act of her group was a theft from a police station during an air raid.)

"Haven't people learned from eleven years' experience of the Gestapo to hold their tongues? True, silence won't bring any overthrow. That's the tragic part of our plight. If we talk, plan, and recruit allies, we are hanged; among ten people there is always one who is treacherous or loose-mouthed. Yet if we are silent, and only vent our indignation within our own four walls, then we still keep the Nazis. The dilemma remains the same." [June 26, 1944]
The result is engrossing reading, mixing engaging personal stories and insightful general observations.

In many ways more interesting than the earlier volume, Battleground Berlin picks up the story with the fall of Berlin to the Russians. This brought new dangers: mass rape, lawless appropriation of goods by both Russians and Germans, unpredictable decrees, and the struggle to survive freezing winters without power. When order returned there were still the problems of dealing with multiple currencies, black markets, speculation, and slender rations — and the early tensions and conflicts of the Cold War, in which Berlin was right on the front line.

"The areas around the Allied officers' mess halls abound with trophy hunters. Catch, they think, and take home the cans that have been thrown away, to scrape them out, lick them clean or wash the remains with water into their soup. Catch! If you are hungry enough it doesn't disgust you. In the years since the war, thousands who "once knew better days" have ceased feeling disgusted." [September 11, 1946]
The revival of politics saw a successful fight to save the Berlin Social Democratic Party from forced merger with the Communist Party, but also the splintering of Andreas-Friedrich's circle of friends, previously united by opposition to Nazism. Unable to work as a newspaper editor when only essentials were being brought in by the Berlin Airlift, Andreas-Friedrich left Berlin in December 1948.

Note: Andreas-Friedrich's group was named the "Uncle Emil" group, after their codeword system. My mother's parents were part of a similar "Uncle Ernst" group, which is mentioned in the introductory note to Berlin Underground.

February 2003

External links:
Berlin Underground, 1938-1945
- buy from or
Battleground Berlin: Diaries 1945-1948
- buy from or
Related reviews:
- more German literature
- books about Germany + German history
- books about World War II
- more diaries + autobiography
%T Berlin Underground, 1938-1945
%Y Berlin Diaries
%A Andreas-Friedrich, Ruth
%M German
%F Mussey, Barrows
%I Paragon House
%D 1989 [1947]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1557781591
%P 312pp

%T Battleground Berlin
%S Diaries 1945-1948
%Y Berlin Diaries
%A Andreas-Friedrich, Ruth
%M German
%F Boerresen, Anna
%I Paragon House
%D 1990
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1557781915
%P 261pp