“…first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 Inaugural Address
Fear, in many cases, is a particularly nasty emotion - one capable of causing all sorts of trouble for us, often in the form of deplorable actions executed by otherwise kind, sensible people. In fact, one could say that to live in constant fear is perhaps the worst scenario possible for the human animal. In 1946, the German author Rudolf Ditzen, writing under the pseudonym Hans Fallada, penned an amazing work entitled Every Man Dies Alone (Jeder Stirbt Für Sich Allein) in a mere four weeks, which was published for the first time in English in 2009. Set in 1940s Berlin, the Nazi regime exercised total control of Germany and subjected the entire populace to intense scrutiny and intimidation, resulting in a reign of terror that maintained a ceaseless level of fear over all.
It is within this climate that the reader meets a rather broad spectrum of characters, who contend with this environment in very different ways – there is the sniveling snitch, the common criminal, the grieving parent, the dangerous opportunists, but most are everyday folks who are simply trying to survive the war and the regime with their lives and wits.
Mr. Ditzen found his “inspiration” for this novel in a Gestapo file given to him of a real-life couple, who conducted a campaign of anti-Hitler, anti-Nazi postcards that were anonymously left in various spots all over Berlin, and while this may sound rather small in scale; this was a capital crime at the time. Obviously, since there is a Gestapo file involved, there was not the happiest of endings to this story, but then, I don’t believe it was written for that purpose; rather, Mr. Ditzen paints an astounding and somewhat dizzying picture of what wartime Germany under Hitler and the Nazis was like for the average German.
Through the many short chapters jumping back and forth between characters, Mr. Ditzen creates a story that keeps the reader wanting, nay, needing to continue in order to know what comes of the various characters and their intermingled lives, lives that, to varying degrees, confront their fear in the end.
A concise biographical narrative of Mr. Ditzen is available through the Biography Resource Center database, accessible through the library’s website:
Hans Fallada. (2010). Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from Biography Resource Center database.