Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
The novel is set in Berlin in the early 1940s. It is a time of great suspicion and fear for ordinary people. Bullies, petty criminals and psychopaths are given positions of power solely because they are loyal Nazi Party members. People spy on their neighbours and denounce them to the Gestapo. Overt opposition is punished brutally and anyone not supporting the Party is suspect and liable to imprisonment on the pettiest of charges.
Yet there are many decent people who don’t hate others, believe in justice and just want to get on with their lives. How can you oppose such a brutal regime with its fanatical supporters? Otto Quangel tries to in his own quiet away. He is a craftsman carpenter who is foreman in a joinery factory. Prior to the war the workers produced furniture but now they make coffins for the growing numbers of German dead. His son is killed in action and Quangel lives quietly with his wife in a small flat. His way to fight the Nazis is to produce at least two anonymous postcards every weekend and leave them in offices or blocks of flats where they might be found by Berliners. Their message is always to condemn the war and state that Hitler is lying to the German people. If he is discovered he knows he will be executed for treason and his wife, Anna, with him. He hopes that people will read the cards and maybe think for a while what their content means. He knows he is sowing dissent and that his actions will anger and frighten the authorities.
Most postcards are handed quickly to the police and their finders often become suspects themselves. A police inspector is given the task of tracking down this threat to the Fuhrer. To placate his angered superiors he invents or distorts evidence. Innocent people are accused and some are tortured and killed. The inspector himself angers his bosses and is savagely beaten for failing to catch the real culprit.
The inspector painstakingly pursues his investigations and Quangel makes mistakes. He is spied on by petty officials and he and his family are betrayed by relatives who are tricked and tortured into implicating each other. Otto and Anna are arrested and put on trial. The outcome? That is for the reader to find out.
Otto and Anna are ordinary working people who seek to maintain some dignity and decency and stability in a world that is destroying itself around them. They are the kind of people who suffer the most in war. The novel is a story of their modesty and courage as they take on the might of a totalitarian state where few people can be trusted any more.
How would you react if you detested the way your country had been taken over by extremists, where the rule of law is subject to the whims of fanatics, where the Party cannot be wrong and even the mildest opposition is punishable by death? Would you report your neighbours to the police if they dared to speak out of turn? That might be the most comfortable thing to do in the short term but would you be able to live with your conscience? Is this how Britain might have been if it had been successfully invaded in 1940? Would you have Otto and Anna’s spirit?
The book made me ask myself these questions. Based on actual events it was written by a German who lived through this period and, despite his views, survived the war. Some of the torture scenes are too graphic for those of a nervous disposition but the real horror is that events like this were commonplace at the time.
A thoughtful read which will make you uncomfortable but grateful for the way of life in this country for all its faults. Highly recommended.
MIKE YOUNG SHIPLEY READING GROUP
17 10 11
This was a very striking book, evoking the daily horror of life under Nazi rule in Germany and how it affected ordinary, innocent people. Rather shocking. The characters were brought to life quite well. Marks out of 10 were:
9, 8, 10, 9, 8, 10, 9
Burley Readers Group