Sunday, November 21, 2010

Silent Resistance

The novel “Everyman Dies Alone” was written in 1947 in twenty four days by the prolific but doomed German writer, Hans Fallada. Hans Fallada is the pen name for Rudolf Ditzer who died shortly after the novel was published.

“Everyman Dies Alone” is based on a true story that took place in Berlin in 1941. In 1945 Fallada/Ditzer was given the Gestapo file on a working-class Berlin couple, Otto and Elise Hampel, who began a surreptitious postcard campaign against the Fuhrer when a relative died in the war.

Hans Fallada took the real life events and wrote a compelling story about a non-descript working class couple, Otto and Anna Quangel, who decide to wage a silent war against Hitler when their son is killed at the front. Fallada sums up their unrelenting determination when Anna concludes “No one could risk more than his life. Each according to his strength and abilities, but the main thing was, you fought back.” This is the strength and beauty of this book. It gives the reader a lost insight into the small but meaningful resistance that some Germans took part in against unbeatable odds.

Fallada’s story involves a huge cast of characters that is not easy to follow. Fallada houses many of them in the apartment building where the Quangels live, some of the characters are downright ridiculous and others are just strange. Through the huge cast of characters Fallada seems to be illustrating the incredible level of fear and distrust that permeated the citizens of Berlin at that time. No one could be trusted. Yet, Otto and Anna persevered, writing postcards and silently distributing them week after week.

Reading this novel is difficult as we witness the unrelenting, ferocious cruelties of the Gestapo and the paralyzing fear that took over many citizens of Berlin. However, Fallada redeems himself in the ending chapters of the book. The ending is tragic, but heroic. And most important, it shows that in even the worst of circumstances human decency, determination and courage can prevail.

It has taken sixty years for this novel to be translated into English and appear in the US. It is a story that needs to be told even if it is not an easy or pleasant read.

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