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Hans Fallada compromised by inner emigration ?

1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/07/hans-fallada-...

2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/11/alone-in-berl...

3) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/15/alone-under-a...

Via the above links, you can read a really interesting review of "Alone in Berlin" by Helen Dunmore for The Guardian. This review investigates the in-depths of the novel but also deals with the moral attitude one can have under a totalitarian regime.
That review received a comment by a reader that questionned the Fallada's compromission with the regime from may be a "politically correct" point of view but with a lack of knowledge of the Rudolf Ditzen's attempts to escape the prosecutions (and most often he failed, ending in drug addiction turmoils or spells in mental institution).
Fallada's English biographer Pr Jenny Williams also wrote to The Guardian to set the truth right. The whole story can also be read down here.


Elise and Otto HampelElise Otto Hampel.jpg

Rereading: Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin

Written in two months in 1946, Alone in Berlin, Hans Fallada's bestselling account of a working-class couple's resistance to the Nazi regime, poses profound moral questions. Helen Dunmore on a miraculous novel. A preview from tomorrow's Guardian Review.

Hans Fallada wrote Alone In Berlin between September and November 1946, in postwar East Germany. He told his family that he had written "a great novel"; he would die a few months later, weakened by years of addiction to morphine, alcohol and other drugs, before the novel was published as Jeder stirbt für sich allein (Every Man Dies Alone). 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. 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 1942 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: if an action appears to have no effect, in that it is ignored or unnoticed by those to whom it was directed, then can it be considered to have had an effect in itself? And, if so, how is this effect felt and where is it manifested? 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. Even those who have given themselves over to nazism to the extent that they are warders in Plötzenzee prison, supervising prisoners on death row, are still able to do good rather than evil: "They [the warders] had all agreed not to tell the kind, hardworking woman about the death of her husband. They always 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: "What more can you want? We can't do any more than execute the man!"

"What more can you want?" This is the question that haunts all totalitarian societies. 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 Berlin, with 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. 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!" after their only son is killed at the front. However, these two find the will, the means and the courage to 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: "Suddenly sober, he says, 'Perhaps there are already many thinking as we do. Thousands of men must have fallen. Maybe there are already writers like us. But that doesn't matter, Anna! What do we care? It's we who must do it!'"

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: among the criminals who denounce for loot or plot for advantage, among the deliberately blind, the form-fillers, time-servers of the regime or dutiful fulfillers of quotas, whether these are quotas of armaments or heads in baskets. And then, "must", when everything in the Quangels' society tells them that, on the contrary, they must not. All the imperatives are on the other side, but they continue to act on the certainty that the "we" to which they belong cannot do otherwise. 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. Karlemann may be in the SS and "bad rumours were flying about", but Eva knows "Karlemann wouldn't do that sort of thing." But unlike many others, she doesn't attempt to mend her veil of ignorance once it has been ripped across.

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, what he does, what honours and praise he receives – he knows he is nothing. A single punch can turn him into a wailing, gibbering, trembling wretch . . ." The characters surge forward until it seems almost incredible that this novel which brings them to such violent, exquisite life could have been written in less than two months. But perhaps Fallada had been holding it back for a long, long time.

Otto speaks freely for the 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:

"I don't think it's going to go on much longer, your Thousand Year Reich," said Quangel, inclining his sharp bird's head towards the judge.

The attorney shuddered . . .

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: "Eighty-seven."

Hans Fallada was correct: he had written a great book, in circumstances and a space of time which make the achievement almost miraculous. 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 text as powerful as it is down-to-earth.

Helen Dunmore




Alone in Berlin is morally compromised

Helen Dunmore's eulogy for Hans Fallada's novel Alone in Berlin ('What more can you want?', Review, 8 December) reinforces the confused impression that it reflects the actuality of living in, and resisting, the Third Reich. She hints at Fallada's own ambiguous politics, but these need clarification to grasp his true project.

After the Nazis took power Fallada declined to follow other writers into exile, and accepted a commission from Josef Goebbels to write a novel glorifying their rise. Although he found himself unable to meet Goebbels' exacting standards of sycophancy, and got into trouble, he did the same thing when the communists were in power, postwar.

Alone in Berlin was commissioned by Johannes Becher, the cultural supremo of the German Communist party, a ghastly apparatchik who strangled genuine independence of thought and creativity. He gave Fallada the files on the Hampel case and suggested the plot. His miserable influence, and Fallada's moral bankruptcy, explain the tinny-sounding encomium to a socialist future that ends the novel.

Dunmore, who has written brilliantly about life under Stalin, applies the term "totalitarian" to highlight the courage of those resisting Hitler. But Nazi Germany was not the USSR. When Fallada's novel opens in 1940 the regime was riding a tide of popularity. The resistance he describes was indeed quixotic, but not for the reasons Dunmore thinks. By this time the majority of Germans had willingly embraced the idea of the racial "people's community" and were benefiting from a rapacious empire.

Fallada offered Germans an alibi for their complicity in nazism. When there are real heroes to extol such as the Baum Group and the Scholl family, we don't need this deeply compromised, third-rate novel by a second-rate writer.

David Cesarani



Alone under a dictatorship

As Hans Fallada's English biographer I would like to point out that it is simply not true that he "accepted a commission from Goebbels to write a novel glorifying" the rise of the Nazi party (Alone in Berlin is morally compromised, Letters, 11 January). Fallada's decision to stay in Germany did, of course, entail compromises, including altering the end of Iron Gustav in 1938 at Goebbels's behest. He paid for that decision with bouts of depression, a series of nervous breakdowns, a spell in a psychiatric prison and an early death in February 1947.

Fallada was neither a Nazi nor a c ommunist but a chronicler of the lives of ordinary men and women in a turbulent period of German history.

The point made in Alone in Berlin is the importance of every act of resistance to tyranny, whether by groups or individuals. Fallada was all too aware of his own inability to go beyond individual acts of resistance. In his last letter to his mother he wrote: "I know I'm weak, but not bad, never bad. But that's no excuse. It's poor enough at fifty-three to have become nothing more than a weak man, to have learned so little from my mistakes." This awareness is Fallada's saving grace and what prevents him or Alone in Berlin from being "morally compromised".

Professor Jenny Williams

Dublin City University

• Thankfully most of us do not need a university professor to decide whether an author's work is third-rate; we make up our minds after reading the book. For me the strength of Fallada's book is its portrayal of the moral decay which takes hold within an authoritarian state; and the strength of character a minority of individuals possess when they decide to resist. Fallada's novel does not centre on organised resistance but small individual acts of opposition to nazism, which nevertheless – if exposed – could result in the perpetrators' death. That his heroes were ordinary working-class people, for me, made the book all the better.

David Cesarani's suggestion that Alone in Berlin offered Germans an alibi for their complicity in nazism is not only wrong but cruel; tens of thousands of Germans like Otto and Elise Hampel, whose story the book is loosely based on, carried out countless small acts of resistance, often paying with their lives or with long terms of imprisonment. Theirs is a story which often went untold outside Germany. Reading David's letter, I do wonder if the reason for this is because these were mainly working-class people, whereas the Nazis' core support base were the lower middle class and the middle-class professions.

Mick Hall

Grays, Essex

• David Cesarani is right: Hans Fallada was morally compromised. He didn't leave Germany as many other great German writers did. He tried to live within the Nazi system. But I wonder whether even Klaus Mann could have written Alone in Berlin: simply because he wasn't there. Fallada writes from the inside; he knows that filthy, dangerous world of Nazi Germany very well. And yes, he wasn't a hero like the Scholl siblings or the members of the Baum group. But should we only value books written by authors of undoubted moral purity?

Surely the book must speak for itself and be judged on how well it conveys the reality of people's lives at a time when things went very well, as Cesarani rightly says, for those who weren't Jews, or mentally ill, or socialists, or just didn't step out of line. But what Fallada portrays is a couple of little people standing up, ineffectually, against a system that crushes them mercilessly, as it crushed the Baum group, as it crushed Hans and Sophie Scholl. He portrays the reality of Nazi terror, and, as Helen Dunmore rightly says (Rereading, Saturday review, 8 January), shows the terrible isolation of those who acted "when everything in the Quangels' society tells them that … they must not".

Leslie Wilson

Reading, Berkshire

• David Cesarani's response to Helen Dunmore was a useful contribution to the debate. But I feel he lost objectivity in describing Alone in Berlin as "third-rate novel by a second-rate writer". I am rather enjoying it. Whether this will diminish when I reach "the tinny-sounding encomium to a socialist future that ends the novel" remains to be seen.

John Hunter




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