Hans Fallada achieved fame in the Weimar Republic with his classic novel of petite bourgeois economic despair - Kleiner Mann, was nun? - which was made into a Hollywood feature film. He excelled at depicting the struggles and dreams of the "little man" - the shopkeepers, clerks, and beat cops who later formed the backbone of the the Nazi movement. With Jeder stirbt für sich allein (1947) Fallada shows what became of these people under the Hitler dictatorship, and it is a gripping, nightmarish thriller of a novel. English readers are indeed fortunate that one of our best translators of German fiction - Michael Hofmann - released the English version (Every Man Dies Alone) earlier this year.
Jeder stirbt für sich allein is the story of a middle-age, taciturn factory worker and his wife, Otto and Anna Quangel, who summon the courage to commit an act of civil disobediance against the Nazi regime in wartime Berlin. The couple had never been politically active, nor had they thought much about what was happening to Germany under Hitler. They simply wanted to live their lives and be left alone in a kind of proletarian inner emigration. Things change whey they receive word that their son has been killed fighting in the east and Anna lashes out at her husband for his passivity: "Das habt ihr angerichtet mit euerm elenden Krieg, du und dein Führer!" (You did this with your miserable war - you and your Führer!) Otto comes to the realization that if he continues to remain passive he would be, in fact, complicit in the crimiminal enterprise of the regime, so he dreams up a very simple act of subversion: together with Anna he writes postcards with anti-Nazi messages and leaves them around Berlin. He believes that whoever reads these messages will be forced to reflect on what is happening, and then themselves take some kind of subversive action.