Nowadays Hans Fallada’s novel Every Man Dies Alone (1947) , a true story of quiet back-room rebellion of a middle – aged couple against the Nazi regime, seems to be included more often than before in canonical lists of German literature.
It is one of those books that was written not solely for the sake of the story but also as an early attempt to show the World and especially the Germans themselves, that there had been a few decent people left in Nazi – ruled Germany. While the story is closely based on true events ( my edition includes pictures and official documents ), a few details are too contrived to be anything else than post-war redemptive propaganda: a fellow prisoner in a Gestapo prison, one of the last decent and kind men left, is a music conductor whistling a whole range of high Art tunes : Beethoven, Bach and other examples of high German culture. This symbolic feature is respected by both his fellow inmates and prison guards.
I belong to those who in trying to understand what happened in Germany between 1933 and 1945, refuses to separate the Germans from the Nazi’s.To me, with a grandfather executed by Wehrmacht soldiers, it was the same people. Nazism was the rule of the Bully and a mass that let the Bully rule.
The book’s main achievement, beside the merit of a well told story, is without doubt the recreation of the atmosphere of oppression and fear that permeates daily life in Berlin during the darker years of Nazi rule. Fallada narrates the story of the little people and I must confess that the description of how the Nazi rule of law works is often chilling and gives the reader a good idea of how daily life is lived in a Police state, be it under the Nazi’s, Stalin’s Russia or nowadays in the Arabic countries under the rule of an extremist Mullah.
Every Man Dies Alone is a book well worth reading. It is a gripping and well structured story . At moments however it feels a bit like the narrative is stretched too much or diverting away too far from the main story line, but at the end all the threads come back into a single horrible knot.
With a last page turned, you remain with a few deep questions : What for instance is the physiology of these acts of resistance. Why do people rebel ? How much bravery goes into it and most of all, is it worth doing it against a much stronger opponent?
The fact that the story is still read and praised is an answer by itself.