Review: The Unfathomable Ascent-How Hitler Came to Power-by Peter Ross Range- Little, Brown and Company (August 11, 2020) 464 pages.
“Hitler pounded out Mein Kampf ” with two fingers on his little typewriter.”
“If twelve or fifteen thousand Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas . . . the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain.”
—Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
“Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him to remain unknown to him. Otherwise, it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence, he imagines false or apparent motives.” 
“When a state turns fascist, it does not only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role – but it means, primarily and above all, that the workers’ organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism”.
Leon Trotsky, What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat
When researching for this review, my first thought was did we need another biography of Hitler?. At the last count, it was estimated that there were nearly twenty thousand biographies, but this book changed my mind. Ross Range’s political biography is an extremely well researched and thought-provoking political analysis of how Hitler came to power.
I want to say that I have been following Ross Range’s work for decades and that this was my area of expertise, but I would be lying. I was drawn to this book by the extremely interesting and important interview with Ross Range by David North on behalf of the World Socialist Website. Significantly, Mr Range agreed to the interview, although he does not share the political views of the World Socialist Website, it is a sign that broad layers of the middle class and, for that matter, the working class are starting to seek answers to today’s problems through learning the lessons of the past.
It has not always been the case that the I.C.F.I. (International Committee of the Fourth International) has promoted, let alone sell, books of this sort on their media platforms. In the past, if a book was important for the development of the movement, it was discussed internally. In my own experience, I can remember one important book being discussed, and that was by Eric Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism. I think this is an important change. The Marxist critique of the 1619 project is a hugely important event, and the collaboration with leading historians of the American revolution and the promotion of their books on Mehring Books is extremely important and groundbreaking.
It is eighty-eight years since Hitler came to power. It would seem the purpose of Ross Range’s book is to learn the lessons of that period to prevent it from happening again.
President Paul von Hindenburg gave Hitler power. During his twelve years as German chancellor, as Peter Swartz eloquently points out, “the Hitler regime committed crimes never previously witnessed by mankind. It smashed the organized labour movement, subjected the country to a totalitarian dictatorship, destroyed Europe in an unprovoked war of aggression, and murdered millions of Jews, Roma and other minorities. January 30, 1933, was a historic turning point. Before then, barbarism and antisemitism had been considered traits of economic and cultural backwardness. In 1933, however, the elite of a country that was highly developed both economically and culturally handed over power to a barbaric anti-Semite whose party relied on the dregs of society.
While predominantly a political biography of Hitler and the rise of German fascism, Ross Range does not shy away from showing the terrible economic crisis that paved the way for Hitler to come to power. As Peter Schwarz again points out, “The source of this crisis lay in the irresolvable contradictions of German and international capitalism. The consequences of World War I and the onset of the global economic crisis in 1929 had ruined broad layers of the working class and middle class. German society was deeply divided; democracy existed only in name. The Weimar Republic survived based on emergency decrees and presidential cabinets as it headed towards a social explosion”.
This book is a very rare breed in that it contains a masterful political analysis of the rise of Hitlerite Fascism. It has an almost novel-like pace which is the hallmark of good narrative-driven historiography. His book is meticulously researched. Ross Range has deep mined and ransacked many German archives, and many of his sources have been translated into English from the German originals, probably for the first time.
Many things separate Ross Range’s work from other historiographies. He does not believe that Hitler’s antisemitism was fully developed during his pre-war Vienna period. In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler said he was stimulated in his hatred of Jews because they were walking around Vienna, saying they were “an apparition in a black caftan and black hair locks”.It is true that Hitler early on had a murderous hatred of Jews.
But as Konrad Heiden points out, Hitler “hated the whole great sphere of human existence which is devoted to the regular transference of energy into product; and he hated the men who had let themselves be caught and crushed in this process of production. All his life, the workers were for him a picture of horror, a dismal gruesome mass, everything which he later said from the speaker’s platform to flatter the manual worker was pure lies”.
As David North points out in one of his earlier works, “Herein lies the key to an understanding of Hitler’s demonic obsession with the Jews. In Mein Kampf, Hitler explained how his conversion to antisemitism flowed from his encounters with the labour movement. It was among the workers that Hitler first came into contact with Jews. He then discovered, to his amazement, that many Jews played prominent roles in the labour movement. “The great light dawned on him,” wrote Heiden. “Suddenly, the ‘Jewish question’ became clear. … The labour movement did not repel him because it was led by Jews; the Jews repelled him because they led the labour movement. One thing is certain, Heiden concluded, “It was not Rothschild, the capitalist, but Karl Marx, the Socialist, who kindled Adolf Hitler’s antisemitism.”
In his book 1924, Range quotes historian Othmar Plochinger stating that Hitler only started using antisemitism as a political weapon in Munich. Plochinger believes Hitler’s antisemitism was “the winning horse in the existing political environment.”8
Ross Range does not appear to subscribe to the “great man of history” genre and does not inflate Hitler’s intelligence. However, he does make the point that Hitler learnt from his mistakes. According to Ronald Bleier”, Hitler’s flexibility “was due to a realistic self-appraisal of his extraordinary political, administrative, and rhetorical abilities and his clear understanding of the turbulent politics in which he operated”.
Ross Range shows in the book that everything was not plain sailing for the Nazi leader, and on many occasions, he could have been defeated, and his political career ended.
In a Time Magazine article, he elaborates, “Adolf Hitler did not have to come to power. Indeed, during his 13-year quest for leadership of Germany, he almost failed many times. In the end, however, his astonishing success showed how demagoguery could overcome potentially career-ending challenges—and profoundly change history. A determined strongman, not taken seriously by the elites but enabled by a core of passionate supporters, could bend events his way just as his country went into free-fall. Hitler’s seemingly improbable ascent is an object lesson in the volatility of history.
This is an extremely valuable book, and I highly recommend it. Ross Range proves that Hitler ascent to power was entirely fathomable. It is, however, not without faults. Ross Range says next to nothing on the betrayals of the worker’s movement by Social Democracy and Stalinism. Hindenburg gave political power to a homicidal maniac to save German capitalism from revolution. The monstrous betrayals carried out by Stalinism, and Social democracy paved the way for Hitler to come to power without a single shot being fired.
As David north pointed out in the interview, Ross Range cannot write such a book, but it is down to the Fourth International to write such a book. This new work has to draw heavily on the political writings of the great Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky, whose writings are still prescient for today’s political situation. One such book that does that is Why are they Back.
Speaking of the danger of a fascist movement today in Germany, Christoph Vandreier said, “The fascists are not a mass movement but are a hated minority. However, the ruling elite is once again promoting fascism and right-wing ideology in order to suppress opposition to its militarism and worsening social inequality. That is why an independent movement of the working class is the only way to fight this danger.”
The working class must learn the lessons of this history. As the writer, Bertolt Brecht warned, “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”
1. Peter Ross Range, 1924: The Year That Made Hitler (New York: Little, Brown, 2016), p. 224-225.2 Range, 224-225.
2. Why Are They Back? Historical Falsification, Political Conspiracy and the Return of Fascism in Germany, Christoph Vandreier-Mehring Books.
3. The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (Merit S.) Hardcover – December 1 1970
About the Author
Peter Ross Range is a world-renowned journalist and author of numerous books. In addition to The Unfathomable Ascent: How Hitler Came to Power (Little, Brown and Company, 2020), he is the author of 1924: The Year That Made Hitler (Little, Brown and Company, 2016).
 Despair and Triumph in Hitler’s First Miracle Year: A Review-Essay on Peter Ross Range’s 1924-by Ronald Bleier-http://desip.igc.org/Bleier-Range-Review.html
 Frederick Engels in the The Jewish Question, Abram Leon, The Jewish Question, Pathfinder Press, pp. 234-35
 Referring to Arturo Ui (representing Adolf Hitler), in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941)
Review: The Hitler Conspiracies: The Third Reich and the Paranoid Imagination, by Richard J Evans, Allen Lane, RRP£20, 288 pages.
Hitler Conspiracies is a solid, albeit conservative new book by historian Richard Evans. The book is a product of his work with the Conspiracy and Democracy project. For the past five years, Evans has been the principal investigator on the research project. The Leverhulme Trust funds the project. He has two co-investigators, John Naughton and David Runciman. Evans also employed ten postdoctoral researchers.
As Evans points out “conspiracy theory” can be used in a highly selective way. His new book concentrates on five conspiracy theories connected to the Nazi’s Third Reich. Evans attempts to demolish once and for all time a series of the myths like Hitler’s postwar life in South America, Rudolf Hess’s trip to Britain and three other Nazi theories.
In his introduction, Evans states that the purpose of his book is to demolishes not only past false history but to oppose the growth of current conspiracies which predominantly surround the outbreak of COVID 19. There is indeed a serious problem as the growth of paranoia and pseudoscience as dangerous as the virus itself. Also dangerous is the “fake news” surrounding the US presidential campaign. As Evans writes “The puzzling complexities of politics and society are reduced to a simple formula that everyone can understand. In the internet age, “anyone can put out their views into the public sphere, no matter how bizarre they might be”.
The fact that the myths and conspiracy theories associated with the Nazi’s are still going strong and need a historian of Evans calibre to demolish them after more than 70 years is still a shock to the system. As one writer put it “at times, it is possible to sense the exasperation felt by this eminent historian that he is having to bother devoting energy to dismantling the claims of those whose methods are so much less rigorous than his own”.
Did Hitler Escape the Bunker
One myth or lie associated with the Third Reich is the baseless theory that Adolf Hitler did not commit suicide in Berlin in 1945 but somehow made his escape to South America. “Despite all the evidence to the contrary, more book-length arguments for the survival of Hitler in Argentina have appeared in the 21st century than in the whole of the 55 previous years,” writes Evans.
Perhaps even more strange is the fact that the Stalinists in the former USSR were the first to promulgate this lie after the Second World War.
As a Wikipedia article points out “The myth that Hitler did not commit suicide, but instead escaped with his wife, was first presented to the public by Marshal Georgy Zhukov at a press conference on 9 June 1945, on orders from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. When asked at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 how Hitler had died, Stalin said he was either living “in Spain or Argentina.” In July 1945, British newspapers repeated comments from a Soviet officer that a charred body discovered by the Soviets was “a very poor double.” American newspapers also repeated dubious quotes, such as that of the Russian garrison commandant of Berlin, who claimed that Hitler had “gone into hiding somewhere in Europe.”This disinformation, propagated by Stalin’s government, has been a springboard for various conspiracy theories, despite the official conclusion by Western powers and the consensus of historians that Hitler killed himself on 30 April 1945. It even caused a minor resurgence in Nazism during the Allied occupation of Germany”.
It is not just books that lied about Hitler’s death. As Evans points out between 2015 to 2018, the History Channel showed a three-season television series, Hunting Hitler.
From a historical standpoint, the programme was a tissue of lies from start to finish. No attempt was made to address the irrefutable evidence of Hitler’s death put together by investigators. Their evidence was backed up in a West German court in the 1950s and made available to historians. The series was full of “innuendo, suggestion and invention”. Even more staggering is that this piece of television trash had on average 3m viewers.
As Evans states in the book “The tissue of coincidences and connections they spin is no substitute for facts and a was a “conspiracy without conspirators” .
Why Did Rudolf Hess Fly To Britain
The fact that there is still uncertainty surrounding Rudolf Hess’s flight to Britain in 1941 is still hard to believe. Hess had a few psychological problems but then what Nazi did not. As David Shariatmadari points out “it quickly became clear that here was no great supply of military intelligence but a man beset by delusions and hypochondria, one whose political significance had, in any case, been on the wane for some time. His falling into Allied hands did offer, at a time when to talk of the “madness” of Nazism had become a cliché, the chance to explore the psychological underpinnings of the movement. Perhaps Hess, rather final, self-destructive step and were next seen in the dock at Nuremburg”.
From a political or more precisely geopolitical standpoint, Hess was seeking an alliance with Britain against the threat of Bolshevism. Whether or not he went on his own volition or was sent by Hitler is not important. Hess would have been aware that sections of the British ruling elite had very deep political sympathies with the Hitler regime and shared its deep-seated anti-Semitism and anti-communism.
Protocols of the Elders of Zion
The first conspiracy Evans deals with is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The ‘Protocols’ were an early-20th-century forgery alleging a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Evans has tremendous knowledge of this particular conspiracy theory. Evans is a former Regius professor of history at the University of Cambridge and author of numerous works on Germany, including a three-volume history of the Third Reich.
Evans believes that the Protocols played only a small part in Nazi anti-semitism and states that forgery was “rambling, chaotic and unstructured”. Evans is also correct to point out that anti-semitism was not just confined to Germany, other capitalist governments took advantage of the Protocols to espouse antisemitic prejudices.
What Evans fails to mention in the book that there was massive opposition to the rise of anti-Semitism and Fascism in general. It has been down to the Marxist movement to oppose the rise of anti-semitism where ever it has manifested itself. It is not for nothing that the 19th-century German socialist leader August Bebel called anti-semitism “the socialism of fools”. Babel believed like all Marxist’s that economic and social inequality was the product not of a Jewish conspiracy but the capitalist system.
The principled struggle of the Marxist movement against anti Semitism largely passes Evans by. He is not interested in it. Perhaps, more importantly, is his steadfast refusal to take the field against the modern-day Nazi’s in Germany. Seventy-five years after the collapse of the Third Reich, a party led by apologists for Hitler and out-and-out Nazis is accepted by the ruling elite as a legitimate political development. Evans has written next to nothing on the phenomena.
To ignore this development in his latest book is a mistake at best and a crime at worst. As David North and Johannes Stern point out “the use of the word “conspiracy” in explaining the rise of the AfD is entirely appropriate. The major difference between the AfD and the Nazis of the 1920s and 1930s is that this modern-day fascistic organization is not based on a mass movement. Arising out of a split with the CDU and FDP at the beginning of 2013, a large proportion of AfD members have been recruited directly from the state apparatus—above all from the military, judiciary and police. Most of their personnel were previously members of another establishment party”.
Who Burned Down the Reichstag
Evans position on the fire is pretty clear. He believes the Nazi’s were taken by surprised by the fire and to blame them is a commie plot. He states “For Münzenberg and later Calic and the Luxembourg Committee, conspiracy theories came naturally in a Communist movement that had seen Stalin launch trials of plotters and saboteurs, just as he would soon stage the show trials that portrayed many leading Old Bolsheviks as part of a vast conspiracy to overthrow the Soviet Union. This tradition has long since come to an end, but it has been replaced with a new form of conspiracy theory in the internet age. Hett’s book is permeated by it: the Nazis conspired to burn down the Reichstag, Tobias conspired with ex-SS men to deny it, Krausnick and Mommsen conspired to deny the Nazis’ involvement”.
Evans dismisses the work of Alexander Bahar and Wilfried Kugel who sought to expose the Nazi’s complicity in the fire. The Nazi’s had been in power for less than a month when the fire conveniently broke out. The Reichstag fire was the excuse for persecution of Communist and Social Democratic workers, intellectuals and party leaders that had no parallel.
Krugel and Bahar’s book The Reichstag Fire – How History is Created was the product of meticulous research. Their research had them make the first comprehensive evaluation of the 50,000 pages of the original court, state attorney office and secret police (Gestapo) files that had been locked away in Moscow and East Berlin until 1990. The result is an extraordinary piece of research containing an 800-page document. The authors argue that even the most circumstantial evidence points to the Nazi’s guilt in starting the fire.
According to the review of the book carried out by the World Socialist Website, “The authors have thus succeeded in disproving a hypothesis that even today is still fairly widespread: that the Dutchman Marinus van der Lubbe was the sole perpetrator. They “base their evidence largely on original documents that are stored in public archives, but have not been evaluated up to now… The book contradicts in many ways all of the research reports that have been published so far on the Reichstag fire, based on what the authors say is the first thorough evaluation of all presently available relevant sources. In summary, the authors have succeeded after years of work in presenting a comprehensive chain of circumstantial evidence—albeit one that will only have a conclusive character for those readers who are prepared to take on the intellectual challenge presented by the often highly complex and convoluted aspects of this case of political crime.”
Bahar and Kugel do not believe that the fire was the result of a deranged loner they write: “As incontestable as it is that the Nazis benefited from the Reichstag fire and made skilful use of it in establishing their dictatorship, opinion remains divided as to who committed the deed. The communists accused by the Nazi authorities at the Reichstag Fire Trial in Leipzig were already ruled out in 1933 for obvious reasons: quite apart from the lack of evidence, the suicidal and thus nonsensical nature of such a deed was self-evident, despite Nazi propaganda to the contrary. So did Marinus van der Lubbe, the 75% vision-impaired Dutch radical left-wing communist arrested in the burning Reichstag set the fire on his own? Or were the culprits to be found among the Nazis?”.
As Evans points out, responsibility for the Reichstag Fire is was a constant source of argument between German historians after the Second World War. Evans, in his new book sides with several prominent German historians who deny the guilt of the Nazis.
To conclude, as was said at the beginning of this review, Evans new book is a solid piece of historiography. The lies surrounding the Nazis is a legitimate field of study, and so is for that matter ithe promulgation of fake news and modern-day pseudo myths on social media. It is nonetheless disturbing that Evans has said next to nothing on the rise of modern-day Fascism and its supporters. Maybe the kind people at the World Socialist Website could send him a review copy of Why Are They Back, Historical Falsification, Political Conspiracy, and the Return of Fascism in Germany by Christoph Vandreier. I doubt somehow he will take up the challenge.
 Alexander Bahar, Wilfried Kugel: Der Reichstagbrand – Wie Geschichte gemacht wird (The Reichstag Fire – How History is Created), edition q, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-86124-523-2, 864 pages, price: 68.00 DM
Review: Anti-Nazi Germans. (Marilyn Moos, Enemies of the Nazi State from within the Working Class Movement. Steve Cushion, German Volunteers in the French Resistance) 2020).
The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg-by Klaus Gietinger-(Verso £14.99)
Auschwitz by Sybille Steinbacher (Penguin £6.99, pp168)
Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism-Donald Sassoon- HarperCollins UK 2008
Review: Sophie Scholl and the White Rose by Annette Dumbach & Judd Newborn-One World publisher-ISBN-10: 1786072505.£9.99
“we will not be silent. We are your bad conscience” White Rose Leaflet
“Even the most dull-witted German has had his eyes opened by the terrible bloodbath, which, in the name of the freedom and honour of the German nation, they have unleashed upon Europe and unleash a new each day. The German name will remain forever tarnished unless finally the German youth stands up, pursues both revenge and atonement, smites our tormentors, and founds a new intellectual Europe. Students! The German people look to us! The responsibility is ours: just as the power of the spirit broke the Napoleonic terror in 1813, so too will it break the terror of the National Socialists in 1943.”
White Rose Pamphlet
“To say to the Social Democratic workers: “Cast your leaders aside and join our ‘non-party united front” means to add just one more hollow phrase to a thousand others. We must understand how to tear the workers away from their leaders in reality. But the reality today is the struggle against fascism. … The overwhelming majority of the Social Democratic workers will fight against the fascists, but – for the present at least – only together with their organizations. This stage cannot be skipped”.
Leon Trotsky-For a Workers’ United Front Against Fascism (December 1931)
This book provides the reader with a very thorough and accessible introduction to the life of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement. The struggle of the Scholl family belies the common myth that there was no opposition to the Nazi’s during the Second World War.
The book fails to address the reason why this opposition was so small and disparate. The fact that Hitler was able to rise to power and smash the worker’s movement and the most progressive sections of the middle class was due to the betrayals of Stalinism and Social Democracy who allowed him to come to power without a shot being fired.
This history was to shape the character of the opposition to Hitler. After all, the White Rose movement was a non-violent resistance group comprised of five middle-class students at Munich University. At its heart, brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, their fellow students Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and their professor Kurt Huber.
Despite knowing full well that if caught, they faced instant death, they began distributing leaflets and graffiti. They were caught in 1943 by the Gestapo and, after a brief trial, executed. Sophie Magdalena Scholl was just 21 at the time of her state murder.
It is clear from the history of Scholl and the White Rose movement that it did not have a fully worked-out political agenda that drove its activities, and some of its activities against the fascist regime were dominated by their religious leanings. Scholl was heavily influenced by the theologian Augustine of Hippo. She described that her “soul was hungry”.
Not everything was guided by their religious beliefs. As this statement from a White rose Pamphlet states, “Our current ‘state’ is the dictatorship of evil. We know that already, I hear you object, and we do not need you to reproach us for it yet again. But, I ask you, if you know that, then why don’t you act? Why do you tolerate these rulers gradually robbing you, in public and in private, of one right after another, until one day nothing, absolutely nothing, remains but the machinery of the state, under the command of criminals and drunkards?”They had substantial political opposition to the Nazi dictatorship.
As Tanja B. Spitzer writes, “The White Rose was a small endeavour with large consequences. Together they published and distributed six pamphlets, first typed on a typewriter, then multiplied via mimeograph. At first, they only distributed them via mail, sending them to professors, booksellers, authors, friends and others—going through phone books for addresses and hand-writing each envelope. In the end, they distributed thousands, reaching households all over Germany. Acquiring such large amounts of paper, envelopes, and stamps at a time of strict rationing without raising suspicion was problematic, but the students managed by engaging a wide-ranging network of supporters in cities and towns as far north as Hamburg and as far south as Vienna. These networks were also activated to distribute the pamphlets, attempting to trick the Gestapo into believing the White Rose had locations all across the country”.
They did provide a clear tactic to anyone who wanted to oppose the fascists saying “in their fifth pamphlet. “And now every convinced opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can fight against the present ‘state’ in the most effective way….We cannot provide each man with the blueprint for his acts, we can only suggest them in general terms, and he alone will find the way of achieving this end: Sabotage in armament plants and war industries, sabotage at all gatherings, rallies, public ceremonies, and organizations of the National Socialist Party. Obstruction of the smooth functioning of the war machine….Try to convince all your acquaintances. Of the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of this war; of our spiritual and economic enslavement at the hands of the National Socialists; of the destruction of all moral and religious values; and urge them to passive resistance!”
While it was very difficult for the group to act amid war and being hounded by the Nazi’s secret police, a major weakness of the group is that it did not appeal to the one class that could bring down the hated Nazi dictatorship, and that was the German and international working class. The defeat of the German revolution because of the betrayal of Stalinism and Social Democracy had meant the class consciousness working class in Germany had been thrown back for decades.
It is doubtful that any of the White Rose movement had read any of the great Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky works, which is a shame because even a cursory read of his work would have given the group an entirely different political outlook. As Trotsky writes “When a state turns fascist, it doesn’t only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role – but it means, primarily and above all, that the workers’ organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism. This was precisely the situation facing the White Rose group.
To conclude, this 75th-anniversary edition deserves a wide readership. The story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement contains an important lesson for the international working class and will inspire anyone who has a burning hatred of fascism and all forms of racism. As Sophie Scholl said, “I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best I could do for my nation. I, therefore, do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct.”
Review: Alone in Berlin-Hans Fallada. Translated by Michael Hoffman. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2009. RRP £9.99 paperback.
“As it was, we all acted alone, we were caught alone, and every one of us will have to die alone. But that does not mean that we are alone. It doesn’t matter if one man fights or ten thousand; if the one man sees he has no option but to fight, then he will fight, whether he has others on his side or not,” ”
“He who thinks of renouncing “physical” struggle must renounce all struggle, for the spirit does not live without the flesh.”
― Leon Trotsky, Fascism: What It Is and How to Fight It
Hans Fallada’s excellent novel is set in Berlin of the 1940s. Despite being a fictional account of a German family, the book is based on the life of Otto and Elise Hampel. Fallada, whose real name was Rudolf Ditzen, was born in 1893 in Greifswald, Germany.
To say he had a strange life would be an understatement. At the tender age of 18,he killed a friend in a duel and, according to James Buchan, spent “much of his career in psychiatric hospitals and drying-out clinics or in prison for thieving and embezzlement to support his morphine habit. In between, he worked on the land, wrote a couple of novels and held down jobs for a period on newspapers. Then, in 1944, he shot at his wife in a quarrel and was confined again to a psychiatric hospital.”
After this shocking episode in 1947, Aufbau-Verlag Jeder stirbt fuer sich allein (“Each dies only for himself”) was published in Berlin. In many ways, this was a groundbreaking working work in that it was one of the first accounts of resistance to Nazi rule. Unfortunately, tragically Fallada died of a heart attack that same year.
The new English translation of Fallada’s novel joins a growing number of recent books that have shown that there was a small but significant opposition to the Nazi regime. Fallada’s book counters the lie that there was no opposition to Hitler and that all Germans supported the regime. As Bernd Reinhardt correctly points out, “Fallada’s nuanced picture of daily life in the Third Reich shows the falsity of the thesis of Daniel Goldhagen and his supporters, holding that all Germans uniformly supported Hitler and the extermination of the Jews. The latest remake of Alone in Berlin (directed by Swiss actor Vincent Pérez) also rejects a collective guilt thesis. “I wanted to present this omnipresent fear. It was so thick you could cut it with a knife”, the director said”.
Fallada’s book has sold extremely well for a book written over half a century ago. The book’s basic premise is that it follows the life of the Quangel family, who placed tiny handwritten postcards on stairs and hallways. Mr and Mrs Quangel distributed more than 200 such protest postcards in Berlin in 1940 following the death of their son at the front. This was done at a huge risk to them and their family. Anyone caught with the postcards would be executed. It is doubtful whether the English writer George Orwell knew of this book, but there are similarities between it and 1984.
According to Wikipedia, “Three months after its 2009 English release, it became a “surprise bestseller” in both the US and UK. It was listed on the official UK Top 50 for all UK publishers, a rare occurrence for such an old book. Hans Fallada’s 80-year-old son, Ulrich Ditzen, a retired lawyer, told The Observer he was overwhelmed by the latest sales, “It is a phenomenon.” Primo Levi said it is “the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis.”
It has now been translated into 30 languages. One reason for the book’s success is the fact that the issues it addresses are contemporary ones. The struggle for social equality is very much a modern-day concern. With social inequality at its highest since the 1920s, many people are looking for answers to combat capitalism.
This English translation of the book appeared at the height of the new movement of far-right groups such as the National Front in France and Pegida and Alternative for Germany. State violence increasingly dominates everyday life. People need to know the history of the Quangels and other struggles against the Nazi’s.
To conclude, while this an important book Fallada had no real perspective to counter fascism in Germany. He was no Marxist, and it is unclear whether he ever read Leon Trotsky on Germany because if he had, he would have probably produced a different book. As Trotsky said, “Fascism is nothing but capitalist reaction; from the point of view of the proletariat, the difference between the types of reaction is meaningless”.