This 1947 novel from Hans Fallada celebrates the spirit of individuals who campaign against unjust regimes. In this case the Nazi regime of Germany of the 30s and 40s is central to the story. As in most totalitarian countries, free speech is restricted and any action which attacks the legitimacy of the state is treated harshly. It is a brave man or woman, then, who acts against the prevailing mood or who dares to criticise.
Otto and Anna are an ‘ordinary’ couple who decide to do something extraordinary after they receive news of the death of their son who was fighting in the German army. The futility of his death affects them both, especially as they are not Nazi supporters. Otto decides to share his views about the dangerous course Germany is taking. His dangerous opinion of Hitler is also shared. He writes postcards and leaves them in public places in the hope that they will be shared. Doubts held privately might grow if people see that there are others who think and feel the same.
The novel is built around this simple idea. The police react immediately, any opposition must be crushed! Otto and Anna continue their work despite knowing that their crime is a capital offence. Many people who pick up the postcards are immediately scared that by even holding them, they are implicated in such a controversial activity; most immediately report the matter to the authorities.
It is a sign of the skill of the writer that, despite knowing that things must end badly, we hope that Otto and Anna will prevail. Yet this is a story of the brave who dare to act in times when most people did not. ‘For evil to flourish it only requires good men to do nothing’ as Simon Wiesenthal once said, maybe quoting Burke, the origins are unclear.
‘Alone in Berlin’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?