January 7 2010
"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak brings to life the everyday struggles of a typical and essentially apolitical German working class family in the late 1930s and early 1940s. While loosely based on the author's grandmother's experiences, it is fiction. "Red Orchestra - The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler" by Anne Nelson reveals the stories behind one, and at times, more than one, antifascist group functioning in Germany during WWII. Anne Nelson did extraordinary research here for this nonfiction drama.
The book thief conducts her "hobby" wherever she can, a graveyard, even the fascist mayor's library. But she has help as the main viewpoint character with the narration. The author creatively and dauntingly uses none other than the Grim Reaper himself. You see, fascism and war need the collecting of souls. He has a busy and exhausting job.
|Arvid Harnack |
Readers will have particular interest in two Americans. The aforementioned Mildred Fish Harnack would become the only American woman to be executed for her role in the resistance. She was born in Milwaukee, an academician with a love of literature and languages. She played a direct role in the resistance including meetings with Soviet agents and direct contact with the U.S. Embassy. John Sieg was an automobile worker and writer born in Detroit. He migrated to Germany, joined the Communist Party there in 1929 and worked as a railroad employee. Sieg would hold up troop transport and munitions trains for hours unbeknownst to his bosses.
Concerning the book's title, The Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra) was so labeled by the Nazis for their radio transmissions to the Soviets from inside Berlin. Wald Kapelle (Orchestra of the Woods) was another resistance group doing the same from occupied Europe to Britain.
Greta Kuckhoff was one of the few Berlin resisters to survive. After the war, she was stunned at the American's approach to the Nazis when they were recruited for intelligence work as the Cold War ensued. Unbelievably, the West German legal system actually upheld the convictions of Germans during the war for resistance activities. Greta Kuckhoff joined the East German Communist Party. By 1950, she was head of the German Democratic Republic (East German) Central Bank.