City of Women was important because it looked at the WWII era from two unusual perspectives – at least for us that live here in the US. Firstly it was about life in Berlin during the war where most of the books I have seen tell the war story from the British perspective. Secondly it was different because it talked about the roll women played in the war while the men were off fighting.
Even though the book is about residents of Berlin it is really told from a perspective totally unsympathetic to Hitler. It highlights the things that residents had to do to survive even if they didn’t sympathize with him. For example the apartment buildings would have tenants who were working for the party and watching the activities of their neighbors. Of course these little people were so empowered by this role that they were eager and hungry to find tiny or larger infractions that they could report to the officials to get their lowly neighbors in trouble and sometime even killed.
But it also talks about one woman and her heroic if not always pure actions on behalf on the underground attempts to save what Jews they could from the camps and sure death.
I was privileged to be in the heart of Europe – if not in Germany – in the days following my completion of this book. I think that you find a level of pain and memory related to those days there that is far deeper and more tangible than war memories in the United States. For most of our families the war did contain pain and loss and terror but it was more or less seen as action that took place “over there” while for Europeans living today the stories their families tell are about pain and loss and terror that happened sometimes literally in their front yard. It will still be a long time before the ghosts of Hitler and war go away from the hearts of the people whose families lived the story.