Otto and Elise Hampel were a working-class German couple who wrote postcards denouncing Hitler’s government and left them in public places around Berlin during World War II. Professor Philip Nash explains their significance in a combined Man Crush Monday/Woman Crush Wednesday! Episode 415


Buzzkill Bookshelf

Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin

Alone in Berlin takes place during World War II in 1940. It conveys the omnipresent fear and suspicion engulfing Germany at the time caused by the constant threat of arrest, imprisonment, torture, and death. Even those not at risk of any of those punishments could be ostracized and unable to find work.

Escherich, a Gestapo inspector, must find the source of hundreds of postcards encouraging Germans to resist Adolf Hitler and the Nazis with personal messages such as “Mother! The Führer has murdered my son. Mother! The Führer will murder your sons too, he will not stop till he has brought sorrow to every home in the world.” Escherich is under pressure from Obergruppenführer Prall to arrest the source or find himself in dire straits.

Nearly all those who find the cards turn them in to the Gestapo immediately, terrified they themselves will be discovered having them. Eventually, Escherich finds the postcard writer and his wife, who turn out to be a quiet, working-class couple, Otto and Anna Quangel. The Quangels’ acts of civil disobedience were prompted by the loss of their only son, who has been killed in action. They are arrested and brought to trial at the Volksgerichtshof, the Nazi “People’s Court”, where Judge Feisler presides. The Quangels are sentenced to death; Otto is soon executed, but Anna dies during an Allied bombing raid, while still on death row.