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This never-before-translated masterpiece by a heroic best-selling writer who saw his life crumble when he wouldn't join the Nazi Party is based on a true story. It presents a richly detailed portrait of life in Berlin under the Nazis and tells the sweeping saga of one working-class couple who decide to take a stand when their only son is killed at the front. With nothing but their grief and each other against the awesome power of the Reich, they launch a simple, clandestine resistance campaign that soon has an enraged Gestapo on their trail, and a world of terrified neighbors and cynical snitches ready to turn them in. In the end, it's more than an edge-of-your-seat thriller, more than a moving romance, even more than literature of the highest order. It's a deeply stirring story of two people standing up for what's right, and for each other.
Before WWII , German writer Hans Fallada’s novels were international bestsellers, on a par with those of his countrymen Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse. In America, Hollywood even turned his first big novel, Little Man, What Now? into a major motion picture.
Learning the movie was made by a Jewish producer, however, Hitler decreed Fallada’s work could no longer be sold outside Germany, and the rising Nazis began to pay him closer attention. When he refused to join the Nazi party he was arrested by the Gestapo—who eventually released him, but thereafter regularly summoned him for “discussions” of his work.
However, unlike Mann, Hesse, and others, Fallada refused to flee to safety, even when his British publisher, George Putnam, sent a private boat to rescue him. The pressure took its toll on Fallada, and he resorted increasingly to drugs and alcohol for relief. After Goebbels ordered him to write an anti-Semitic novel, he snapped and found himself imprisoned in an asylum for the “criminally insane”—considered a death sentence under Nazi rule. To forestall the inevitable, he pretended to write the assignment for Goebbels, while actually composing three encrypted books—including his tour de force novel The Drinker—in such dense code that they were not deciphered until long after his death.
Fallada outlasted the Reich and was freed at war’s end. But he was a shattered man. To help him recover by putting him to work, Fallada’s publisher gave him the Gestapo file of a simple, working-class couple who had resisted the Nazis. Inspired, Fallada completed Every Man Dies Alone in just twenty-four days.
He died in February 1947, just weeks before the book’s publication.
Chapter One Some Bad News
The postwoman Eva Kluge slowly climbs the steps of 55 Jablonski Strasse. She’s tired from her round, but she also has one of those letters in her bag that she hates to deliver, and is about to have to deliver, to the Quangels, on the second floor. Before that, on the floor below, she has a Party circular for the Persickes. Persicke is some political functionary or other — Eva Kluge always gets the titles mixed up. At any rate, she has to remember to call out “Heil Hitler!” at the Persickes’ and watch her lip. Which she needs to do anyway, there’s not many people to whom Eva Kluge can say what she thinks. Not that she’s a political animal, she’s just an ordinary woman, but as a woman she’s of the view that you don’t put children in the world to have them shot. Also, that a home without a man is no good, and for the time being she’s got nothing: not her two boys, not a man, not a proper home. So, she has to keep her lip buttoned, and deliver horrible field letters that aren’t written but typed, and are signed ‘Regimental Adjutant’. She rings the bell at the Persickes’, says “Heil Hitler!” and hands the old drunk his circular. He has his party badge on his lapel, and he asks: ‘Well, so what’s new?’ She replies: “Haven’t you heard the special report? France has capitulated.” Persicke’s not content with that. “Come on, Miss, of course I knew that; but to hear you say it, it’s like you were selling stale rolls. Say it like it meant something! It’s your job to tell everyone who doesn’t have a radio, and convince the last of the moaners. The second Blitzkrieg is in the bag now, it’s England now! In another three months, the Tommies will be finished, and then we’ll see what the Fuhrer has in store for us. Then it’ll be the turn of the others to bleed, and we’ll be the masters. Come on in, and have a schnapps with us. Amalie, Erna, August, Adolf, Baldur — let’s be having you. Today we’re celebrating, we’re not working today. Today we’ll wet the news, and in the afternoon we’ll go and pay a call on the Jewish lady on the fourth floor, and see if she won’t treat us to coffee and cake! I tell you, there’ll be no mercy for that bitch any more!” While Mr. Persicke, ringed by his family launches into increasingly wild vituperative and starts hitting the schnapps, the postie has climbed another flight of stairs and rung the Quangels’ bell. She’s already holding the letter out in her hand, ready to run off the second she’s handed it over. And she’s in luck: it’s not the woman who answers the door — she usually likes to exchange a few pleasantries — but the man with the etched, birdlike face, the thin lips, and the cold eyes. He takes the letter out of her hand without a word and pushes the door shut in her face, as if she was a thief, someone you had to be on your guard against. Eva Kluge shrugs her shoulders and turns to go back downstairs. Some people are like that; in all the time she’s delivered mail in the Jablonski Strasse, that man has yet to say a single word to her. Well, let him be, she can’t change him, she couldn’t even change the man she’s married to, who wastes his money sitting in bars and betting on horses, and only ever shows his face at home when he’s skint. At the Persickes’ they’ve left the apartment door open, she can hear the glasses and the rowdy celebrations. The postwoman gently pulls the door shut and carries on downstairs. She thinks the speedy victory over France might actually be good news, because it will have brought the end of the war nearer. And then she’ll have her two boys back. The only fly in the ointment