.Princess Marie ("Missie") Vassiltchikov was born in St. Petersburg in the waning days of the Russian Empire. She was the fourth child of a member of the Fourth Duma, Prince Hilarion Vassiltchikov and his wife, the former Princess Lidiya Leonidovna Vyazemskaya. Missie and her beautiful sister Tatiana arrived penniless in wartime Berlin from Lithuania, but - thanks to their fluency in 4 languages and family connections - were able to find employment in the Auswärtiges Amt (AA) the Information Department of the German Foreign Ministry. The AA turned out to be a refuge for aristocrats, most of whom opposed the Nazi regime. Missie was the assistant to Adam von Trott, a brilliant lawyer who was also the great-great-great grandson of John Jay, America's first Chief Justice. Missie kept a quite detailed secret diary during the war which was published only after her death in 1978.
The princess could write! In colorful, idiomatic English. And what a story she had to tell. In her breezy style she describes scenes of horror of the almost nightly (later, both day and night) bombing of Berlin juxtaposed with champagne and oyster brunches with her aristocratic friends (from across Europe and beyond - and they all seemed to be somehow related by blood.) I have yet to read any better descriptions of what it was like to live during the Allied firebombing of Germany (and later, Austria). Here is a typical diary entry - from November 1943 following a bombing raid:
"I decided to go out and try and reach my office, in the hope - wildly optimistic, as it turned out - of jumping into a hot bath as soon as I got there. Clad in slacks, my head muffled in the scarf and wearing a pair of Heinz's fur-line military goggles, I started off. The instant I left the house I was enveloped in smoke and ashes rained down on my head. I could breathe only by holding a handkerchief to my mouth and blessed Heinz for lending me those googles.
At first our Woyrschstrasse did not look too bad; but one block away, at the corner of Luetzowstrasse, all the houses were burnt out. As I continued down Luetzowstrasse the devastation grew worse; many buildings were still burning and I had to keep to the middle of street, which was difficult on account of the numerous wrecked trams. ...At the end of Luetzowstrasse, about four blocks away from the office, the houses on both sides of the street had collapsed and i had to climb over mounds of smoking rubble, leaking water pipes and other wreckage to get to the other side. Until then I had seen very few firemen around, but here some were busily trying to extricate people trapped in the cellars. ...Many cars were weaving their way cautiously through the ruins, blowing their horns wildly. A woman seized my arm and yelled that one of the walls was tottering and we both started to run. ... Then I saw my food shop Krause, or rather what remained of it. Maria had begged me to buy some provisions on the way home, as the one in which her coupons were registered had been destroyed. But poor Krause would be of no help either now."
But something else was going on in and around the Auswärtiges Amt , and we first catch wind of it in Missie's diary entry of August 2, 1943:
"Later I dragged a suitcase over the Potsdam and went to be early...Unfortunately sleep was postponed by the arrival Gottfried Bismarck, Loremarie Schönburger and Count Helldorf...It is all very hush-hush, but Loremarie, who has also moved out to Potsdam, keeps me informed about what I call 'the Conspiracy'. She is feverishly active, trying to bring various opposition elements together, and acts often in a head-strong and imprudent way. Gottfried, however never breathes a word."
This is Missie's first reference to the July 20 plot. Missie's boss, Adam von Trott, and others in the Foreign Ministry were very much involved in the plot. Missie says little about the details in her diary, but she must have been more involved than she lets on - for she reveals the exact date it was to happen. After Operation Valkyrie fails, the diary takes on a somber tone as one by one Missie's friends are arrested. Most of them - including Adam von Trott - are horribly tortured and executed by the Nazis.
It was something of a miracle that Missie herself wasn't arrested. To avoid the fate of her friends she left Berlin for Vienna where she worked as a nurse in the Luftwaffe hospital. Conditions there were awful as rations run low. As the war winds down we see the princess -half-starved - stumbling over dead bodies in the streets of Vienna following yet another bombing raid. The elegant champagne brunches in Berlin are a distant memory.
Footnote: The Berlin Diaries has been translated into Russian (Берлинский дневник 1940—1945) and French - but, as far as I can tell, not German. This is unfortunate, since it is a great read, not to mention an important historical document. I first encountered MarieVassiltchikov's diary through excerpts (in German) in Oliver Lubrich's interesting Berichte aus der Abwurfzone:Ausländer erleben den Bombenkrieg in Deutschland 1939 bis 1945 (2007) (See my review)
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