Inspired by a true story, Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin is the gripping tale of an ordinary man’s determination to defy the tyranny of Nazi rule. This Penguin. Written in two months in , Alone in Berlin, Hans Fallada’s the novel was published as Jeder stirbt für sich allein (Every Man Dies Alone). Every Man Dies Alone. by Hans Fallada, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Melville House; $27). Fallada wrote this novel in.

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At the age of 18 Fallada had narrowly escaped a murder prosecution following the death of a friend in a failed suicide pact, and this led to the first of many incarcerations in psychiatric institutions. Towards the end of his life he was again prosecuted for making drunken threats with a gun against Anna Issel, from whom he had recently been divorced.

In any society Fallada would have struggled, but he had the supreme misfortune to be born at a time when writers who wanted to avoid the attentions of the Gestapo could choose between compromise, silence or exile. Fallada’s choices led at one point to his arrest by the Nazi militia, and at another to close contact with Goebbels.

Every Man Dies Alone

His writing career was unstable and full of paradoxes, just as his life was lived in intimacy with humiliation and terror. The extraordinary texture of Alone in Berlin comes from the way in which everything is observed and represented as if “from below”, from within this dynamic of humiliation and terror, and yet the representation is sharp, exact, ironic, devastating. This is history seen from the backstreets, and from its viewpoint Nazi Germany at war is both intensely rigid and intensely unstable.

A thousand regulations and prohibitions take the place of law, while justice is destroyed by an insistent appeal to the most sordid, cruel and mean-spirited elements in human nature. Hans Fallada based Alone in Berlin on the true case of Elise and Otto Hampel, a working-class couple from Berlin, who began their own campaign against the Nazi regime following Elise’s brother’s death in action in France.

For more than two years the Hampels wrote and secretly distributed postcards within Berlin, urging the German people to realise that Hitler’s war was their death and that there would never be peace under the Nazis. In September they were arrested, tried by a “People’s Court” and executed. After the war, Fallada was given access to Gestapo files concerning the case, with interrogation records as well as examples of the postcards.

The files also contained photographs which appear to have influenced Fallada’s physical descriptions of his fictional couple, Otto and Anna Quangel.

The Hampels did indeed die alone, as they had acted alone. In the novel, Otto and Anna ponder their own isolation and wonder at the reach of their resistance. Have their postcards been picked up and read, or have they all been destroyed or handed in to the police immediately? Have their actions had any effect at all, other than to lead to the destruction of their own lives and of lives which have touched theirs? Fallada’s handling of these questions is very subtle. The moral question is profound: And, if so, how is this effect felt and where is it manifested?


Rereading: Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin

Fallada is preoccupied by the idea of moral choice. Otto and Anna choose to free themselves from acquiescence in the Nazi regime, and later, when both are secretly given phials of cyanide in order to forestall their executioners, they choose, for different reasons, not to use them. They mn sent regards from him. Others, however, have not only lost but have willingly given up their power to make any choice which errs in the direction of humanity. Even when the prosecutor Pinscher encounters a prisoner on his way to the guillotine, he is driven, like a puppet “jigging from one foot to the other in his excitement” to demand further punishment.

The prison governor is forced to remonstrate: We can’t do any more than execute the man! What more can they want than the power to kill, to destroy at will, to possess the fates and futures of their citizens?

But of course they want more. The idea that a convicted criminal may be able to escape into eternity is all but unbearable to the frustrated Pinscher, who is forced to recognise that beyond death there can be no more interrogation and no more punishments.

In fact, no more power. Two other characters, an elderly Jewish woman and a young German woman who has recently lost her baby, understand this and choose death as an escape from their tormentors.

Alone in Berlinwith its emphasis on the solitude in which moral choices are made, and the human loneliness of those who are persecuted, forces the reader back on very difficult questions. What, inside such a solitude and in such a society, would we do ourselves?

Would we resemble the Quangels, or would we resemble those who type out their interrogation records? Fallada shows very clearly how terror, used as a matter of routine, rapidly corrupts individuals, neighbourhoods, cities and a whole nation.

Anna and Otto are very deliberately unglamorous, even unappealing figures. Otto is a tough, mean foreman who works hard and scares his fellow workers into productivity.

alonee His rectitude is as harsh as his hawklike profile. Anna is submissive to him, but it is her words that goad him into action, when she accuses him with “You and your Hitler! However, these two find the will, the means and the courage diws do what few Germans did. They know very well what will happen to them if they are caught and they cope by focusing on the technicalities of postcard production and distribution, and on the hope that what they are doing will make a difference: Thousands of men must have fallen.

Maybe there are already writers like us.

Review: Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada – The Globe and Mail

But that doesn’t matter, Anna! What do we care? It’s we who must do it. These words are the core of the book. The “we” here is the Quangels, but it cannot avoid implicating everyone who reads the sentence. The “we” to which Anna and Otto belong is the “we” to which we, reading, at least aspire to belong.

Or if we don’t, we belong to some other “we” which is all too vividly characterised in the novel: And then, “must”, when everything in the Quangels’ society tells them that, on the contrary, they must not.

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This is not to say that they don’t doubt themselves; they do, reasonably often, but their certainty, like faith, is capable of admitting doubt without collapse. Fallada gives instances of small acts, invisible to others, which may appear to be failures but which create a pattern to subvert the patterns created by nazism.

The Quangels’ is the chief, central act, but there are others. Eva Kluge, a postwoman, gives up her party membership and cuts off all contact with her son Karlemann when she learns that he has showed around in the local pub a photograph of himself murdering a Jewish child. Until this moment she has been able to hide behind euphemisms.

Every Man Dies Alone – Wikipedia

Karlemann may be in the SS and “bad rumours were flying about”, but Eva knows mann wouldn’t do that sort of thing. Alone in Berlin is the work of a dying man and yet nothing could be more full of vitality. Not a single character in it represents a type or fulfils an overt purpose. Everyone is quirky, exact, singular, from the street kids who sling out insults and gang together to defeat an abusive father, to old judge Fromm, reading his Plutarch as the Jewish neighbour whose life he tries to save lies awake in terror.

There is the chaplain who has forgotten about fear because he, like the prisoners, is close to death, and the police inspector, Escherich, whose sojourn in the Gestapo “basements” teaches him that “it doesn’t matter how he looks, mah he does, what honours and praise he receives — he knows he is nothing.

A single punch can fwllada him into a wailing, gibbering, trembling wretch.

But perhaps Fallada had been holding it back for a long, long time. Otto speaks freely for hahs first time when he is in the dock, has pleaded guilty but has to satisfy the judge’s sadism by hearing torrents of abuse before he is sentenced:.

Of course the attorney shudders; he has to, because he is part of the machine, just as the judge has to shriek abuse and the guard has to grab hold of Anna and squeeze her shoulder viciously.

Anna’s free speech is more subtle. When the prosecutor attempts to humiliate her by asking how many men she had slept with before her marriage, this deeply conventional woman responds coolly: Hans Fallada was correct: But it’s the double miracle of translation which gives us Fallada’s novel in English as Alone in Berlin. Michael Hoffman is a fine poet, whose acute ear and eloquent understanding of the transition-points between the two languages make the hams as powerful as it is down-to-earth.

Otto speaks freely for evwry first falada when he is in the dock, has pleaded guilty but has to satisfy the judge’s sadism by hearing torrents of abuse before he is sentenced: Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Loading comments… Trouble loading?