In 1946, Germany lay in ruins and everything was scarce – including paper to print books. After over a decade of censorship and lack of literary freedom, German writers who felt muzzled during the Nazi era could finally speak up again.
One of the first important postwar books published in Germany was Luise Rinser’s Prison Journal. In snippets from her secret diary, she showed the life of women in a Nazi prison in 1944 and 1945. I read this little book in one day, swept up in the immediate feel of the diary entries and the conditions Rinser and the other women lived under. Rinser was a “political,” imprisoned for making comments that “undermined the war effort.” A friend had betrayed her (some friend!). Through connections, she slowed her case, and the end of the war was probably the only thing that saved her from being tried and executed for treason.
The book made waves after the war, but Rinser downplayed its importance in light of the bigger atrocities committed in the death camps. Compared to that, her tail of filth, hunger, fear and humiliation seemed almost mild.
Ironically, in a biography written after her death, it was revealed that Rinser had been an early Nazi enthusiast, a detail she never admitted in her lifetime.