October 22, 2008 / 4:44 PM / in 10 years

Film opens wounds of German post-war rape victims

BERLIN (Reuters) - A film dealing with the suffering of women raped by Soviet officers after the end of World War Two hits German cinemas this week, winning both praise and criticism for its treatment of a long-ignored and painful issue.

A scene from "Anonyma: Eine Frau in Berlin". REUTERS/Constantin Film/Handout

“A Woman in Berlin” is based on the diary entries of Marta Hillers who was a young woman when Russian soldiers entered Berlin in 1945.

Hillers’ book was shunned by Germans when it was released in the 1950s but it proved a bestseller when it was published again some 50 years later. Hillers died in 2001 at the age of 90.

Weaned on 60 years of guilt and shame for Nazi crimes of past generations, Germans long equated history with pain and directors avoided dramatic treatment of their 20th century past.

But over the past few years, films like director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “The Downfall,” which depicts the final days of Hitler’s life, have brought that era to the big screen.

Actress Nina Hoss, who takes the lead role in “A Woman in Berlin”, said she was shocked by Hillers’ ordeal.

“The more I learned about this story, the more I realized what hell this woman went through,” Hoss told NDR television.

“The way in which she reports her suffering, shows that she is trying to come to terms with her past through suppressing her emotions.”

Director Max Faerberboeck’s film received mixed reviews ahead of its opening in cinemas on Thursday.

“The film treats this chapter of history with kitsch, and is thus far-removed reality,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper said, describing the film as a much too trivial treatment of sensitive events.

Germany’s Rheinzeitung said Faerberboeck had failed to give an accurate account of the women’s suffering, and simply portrayed the victims as generic characters with whom it was impossible to sympathize.

But the Berliner Zeitung praised the film for broaching a subject which far too many people were ill-informed about.

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