Fiction — print. Translated from German by Michael Hofmann. Melville House, 2009. Originally published 1947. 540 pgs. Purchased.
It took me exactly a month but I finally stopped dragging my heels and finished Part Two of Fallada’s novel entitled “The Gestapo”. Anna and Otto Quangel have begun distributing postcards encouraging Germans to question the authority of the Nazis. This act of civil disobedience threatens the lives of the Quangels and anyone found in possession of a postcard because the Nazis considered this a capital crime tantamount to treason.
At one point in this section of the novel, one of the postcards produced by the Quangels ends up in the hands of a doctor and his nurse, a particularly nerve wracking proposition considering the doctor is hiding his Jewish wife in plain sight as his nurse. Even turning in this postcard to the Gestapo is a terrifying prospect for the doctor. It’s a singular scene but one that really drove home with me; I read it with batted breath.
Unfortunately, I did not experience other moments like this in the rest of this 133-page section. I’ve always found resistance (and rescue) during the Holocaust to be a fascinating topic, but Fallada’s portrayal just does not do it for me. Listening to this book on audio didn’t even help increase my comprehension and interest in the novel. At the halfway point, I have decided to move on to another book and try my hand at something a little more engaging.
Before abandoning the book, I read the section at the end of the book on the true story behind the novel. The Quangels are based on Elise and Otto Hampel, a poorly educated working-class couple in Berlin. After Elise’s brother was killed early in the war, the couple engaged in a nearly three-year propaganda campaign in which they left hundreds of postcards calling for civil disobedience and workplace sabotage throughout the city. Most of the cards were immediately turned over to the Gestapo, but the Hampels’ campaign was so successful that the Gestapo and other Nazi officials assumed they were dealing with a large, sophisticated underground resistance network. Fallada was given the Hampels’ police file after the war and wrote this book in twenty-four days. This section was not included in the audiobook recording I (attempted to) listen to.