Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tattered Remnant #032: Hans Fallada and Otto and Elise Hampel

Postcards With An Edge: Hans Fallada and Otto and Elise Hampel
To read more of the Tattered Remnants series click -->here<-- .

At least you resisted evil. You did not become evil. You and I and the many people here in this building and many, many more in other prisons and the institutions and the thousands in concentration camps—they are all still resisting, today, tomorrow. - Hans Fallada, Every Man Dies Alone


I began this account of the Tattered Remnants with a description of the White Rose movement in Munich--Sophie and Hans Scholl and their many friends who were beheaded by the Gestapo for propagandizing against the Reich.

Just as brave, and in their own ways just as remarkable, were Otto and Elise Hampel, who were also captured and executed by the Gestapo in 1943, this time in Berlin.

Otto and Elise were not university students. They were an early-middle-aged childless couple with very limited educations. Otto, a machinist, was barely literate; Elise, a maid, was even less so.

They lost their faith in the Reich in 1940 when Elise's brother was killed while serving in the Wehrmacht during the invasion of France. Knowing the odds against them, they decided to work against the Nazis in the only way they could: by writing notes urging people to abandon the Party and to end the war.

They, too, spread leaflets, but in a much more modest manner: they hand wrote post cards denouncing Hitler, the Nazi Party, the Gestapo, and the "Winterhilf" (Winter Relief) organization, a fraud that gathered charitable contributions that were diverted to the Nazi leadership.

Except they did so one post card at a time.

As things developed, almost 100% of their postcards were found and turned into the Gestapo. On the other hand, the modesty of their operation worked in their behalf; the German police worked frantically for three years before the Hempels were discovered.

Otto and Elise Hampel were inevitably captured, interrogated, and beheaded, like the White Rose. Yet unlike the Scholl siblings, they acted blindly, with no rooting in any great moral vision or philosophical training. They simply acted because they felt the need to resist.

No universities or schools are named for them. But they and their sacrifice are not forgotten.

HANS FALLADA (Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen) (1893-1947)

The lives of Otto and Elise Hampel are now closely interwoven with that of the German novelist Hans Fallada, birth name Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen, who died in 1947 after writing his final novel about the Hampels.

Fallada, like another Tattered Remnant named Whittaker Chambers, began his adulthood in an act of horror. Trapped in his self-identification as a homosexual, he and his then-best-friend formed a suicide pact. The friend died; Hans survived, to be confined for a period in an asylum.

Fallada in his early days was a successful novelist, having published almost a dozen books before the Nazis came to power. One of his books, What Now, Little Man?, was even made into a Hollywood movie in 1934. As the Nazis rose, he fell out of favor because of his refusal to denounce the Jews; his books were removed from libraries and no longer either sold in Germany nor could they be licensed elsewhere. He spent the majority of the Nazi years writing obscurely harmless childrens' books.

He continued to struggle against alcoholism and, later, a morphine addiction. After assaulting his first wife with a pistol, he was again confined to an asylum; his out of control drinking was seen as the cause of the outburst. Ironically, it probably saved his life from miliary service, which he likely would not have survived.

Over the course of his imprisonment, he feigned near insanity and pretended to his keepers at the asylum that he was writing a paean to the Reich. He was, in fact, writing, in secret, one of the most brilliant fictional analyses of alcoholism ever written, entitled The Drinker.

After the end of the war, an old friend, who had risen to a position in the occupational government in Eastern Germany, discovered the Hampels' files and turned them over to him. He then devoted the last two months of his life to writing a novel on their experience, Jeder stirbt für sich allein, published in the United States as Every Man Dies Alone. That novel was not published in the United States until 2008. Today it is hailed as "the most brilliant novel ever written about resistance to the Nazis." (I will discuss Mr. Fallada's novel at greater length in Part II of this work.)

Fallada died three weeks after he completed it. He never saw it published. However, after a long period of neglect, his collected works were published in the first decade of the 21st Century and he is now recognized as one of Germany's greatest novelists.

The Hans Fallada Prize, a literary prize awarded by the city of Neumünster, was named after the author. He was also honored on a West German postage stamp.

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Keep it clean for gene.