The year is 1940. Berlin. A German working-class couple receives news that their only son has been killed at the front. After the initial shock, they decide to rise against the Nazi regime. Their protest is quiet and non-violent – they distribute leaflets throughout Berlin criticizing Hitler and the Nazi party. It may seem like a small and seemingly insignificant act, but it is something that could cost them their lives if they are ever caught.
The story follows the couple and their acquaintances, as well as the Gestapo investigators who are sent to find them and anyone else who is affected in one way or another by this small act of defiance. Along the way, we are introduced to various characters from Germany of that time and, most importantly, to the pervasive fear that ruled over everyone. No one can be trusted, and no one is safe. It doesn’t matter if you’re just a common citizen, a party member, a loyal citizen, or someone seeking refuge from the authorities. Anyone could become an informant for the government or inadvertently reveal something that could be interpreted as betrayal by the wrong person.
The author accompanies the characters and describes their actions in a relatively straightforward manner, but gradually we get a broader and deeper picture of them and the motives that drive them, as well as the overall atmosphere in Germany under the terrifying rule of the Nazis. As time passes, the book becomes more and more intense, reaching its climax in the most difficult parts just as we get attached to the protagonists. The more this book tensed me, the less I could put it down. I couldn’t cope with this uncertainty that accompanies the end of each chapter, and each time, I promised myself – just one more chapter, and another, and another…
Hans Fallada (or his real name – Rudolf Ditzen) was pursued by the Gestapo himself and was even hospitalized in a mental institution for criminals. The book was written after the war with the encouragement of a friend who held the position of Minister of Culture in East Germany. It’s fascinating to see how things looked from the perspective of someone who was on the other side of the divide. The non-Jewish German side that tried to resist the regime, something we don’t hear about every day because they didn’t manage to do much to change the terrible outcomes of that war.
It’s an excellent book, even if at times it feels somewhat childlike in its writing.
Five leaflets and a pair of doves.
Every Man Dies Alone / Hans Fallada / Melville House