Every Man Dies Alone

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Every Man Dies Alone
Jeder stirbt für sich allein erstausgabe 1948.jpg
One of earliest German editions, 1948
AuthorHans Fallada
TranslatorMichael Hofmann
CountryWest Germany
PublisherMelville House Publishing
Publication date
Published in English

Every Man Dies Alone or Alone in Berlin (German: Jeder stirbt für sich allein) is a 1947 novel by German author Hans Fallada. It is based on the true story of a working-class husband and wife who, acting alone, became part of the German Resistance. Fallada's book was one of the first anti-Nazi novels to be published by a German after World War II.


Otto and Elise Hampel, a working class couple in Berlin, were not interested in politics, but after Elise Hampel learned that her son[1] had fallen in France, she and her husband began committing acts of civil disobedience. They began writing leaflets on postcards, urging people to resist and overthrow the Nazis. They wrote hundreds of them, leaving them in apartment stairwells and dropping them into mailboxes. Though they knew the law made this a capital crime, they continued this work for well over a year until they were betrayed and arrested.[2] They were tried by Nazi judge Roland Freisler and executed in Plötzensee Prison.

The English translation contains reproductions of actual postcards handwritten by the Hampels[3] in Sütterlin-like block letters in a clumsy hand.[n 1] The uneducated Hampels made spelling mistakes and their language was simple, but their message was strong—enough to terrify those who found the postcards.[2][n 2] Nearly all of them were immediately turned in to police or the Gestapo.[2][5]

Fallada was given the Hampels' Gestapo files by Johannes Becher, a poet,[6] novelist and friend of Fallada's, who returned from exile after the war and became president of the cultural organization established by the Soviet military administration in the Soviet sector.[7] In his job to create a new anti-fascist culture, he went through the Nazi files of executed Resistance fighters and then sought authors who would write these stories according to the new anti-fascist model.[7] He gave the Hampels' files to Fallada in autumn 1945[7] in an effort to help him recover by giving him good subject matter for a book.[2] Fallada, who had many personal problems, including morphine addiction, had been both institutionalized and incarcerated during the Nazi era.[2][6] He did not at first want to write the story, saying he had not fought back and had even cooperated with the Nazis.[8] However, unlike many writers and intellectuals who fled Nazi Germany, Fallada had felt too attached to the German language and culture to leave, despite the fact that he was urged to flee and had been blacklisted by the Nazis.[2][6] As a result, he lived through all years of fear, distrust and danger in the daily life of wartime Berlin[2][8] and the psychological aspect of the Hampels' story intrigued him. He also had an ear for the simple speech of the common worker.[8] A year after receiving the files, in autumn 1946,[7] Fallada wrote Every Man Dies Alone in just 24 days and died a few months later, weeks before the book was published.[2][6]


The story takes place during World War II in 1940 in Berlin. The book conveys the omnipresent fear and suspicion engulfing Germany at the time caused by the constant threat of arrest, imprisonment,[2][3] 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.”[6] 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.[2] 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.[6] They are arrested and brought to trial at the Volksgerichtshof, the Nazi "People's Court", where the infamous Roland Freisler presides. The Quangels are sentenced to death; Otto is soon executed, but Anna dies during an Allied bombing raid, while still on death row.


Three months after its 2009 English release it became a "surprise bestseller" in both the US and UK.[9] It was listed on the official UK Top 50 for all UK publishers, a rare occurrence for such an old book.[9] Hans Fallada's 80-year-old son, Ulrich Ditzen, a retired lawyer, told The Observer he was overwhelmed by the latest sales, "It's a phenomenon."[9] Primo Levi said it is "the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis."[9]


The novel remained untranslated in English until 2009 when it was rediscovered by American publishing house Melville House Publishing and released in the US under the title Every Man Dies Alone,[10] in a translation by Michael Hofmann. Melville House licensed it to Penguin Books in the UK, who used the title Alone in Berlin, following the French translation by André Vandevoorde in 1967, Seul dans Berlin.[11] The US title is close to the original German title, which translates verbatim as "Everyone dies for himself alone".[12]

The book was first translated in 1948 into Russian (Иностранная литература, Каждый умирает в одиночку, a second edition on the basis of the uncensored manuscript Один в Берлине 2017) and into Swedish (En mot alla, a second edition on the basis of the uncensored manuscript Ensam i Berlin 2012). Then followed publishing in Dutch (Kroonder, Ieder sterft in eenzaamheid) in 1949, Polish (Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej, Każdy umiera w samotności) in 1950,[13] and Romanian (Editura pentru literatură și artă, Fiecare moare singur) in 1951. In 1954, it was translated into Czech by Kamila Jiroudková (Československý spisovatel, I ve smrti sami)[14] and Norwegian (Aschehoug, Den veien du går alene); a second Norwegian translation (Dinamo forlag, Alle dør alene) came out in 2011. In 1975 an Albanian translation saw the light with the title changed into "We needed to fight differently" (Duhej te luftonim ndryshe, Shtepia Botuese Naim Frasheri). In 1995, the book was translated into Italian (Einaudi Editore, Ognuno muore solo). A second translation came out in France in 2002.[8] In 2010, the Israeli edition (Penn Publishing, "לבד בברלין") and the second Dutch translation, (Cossee, Alleen in Berlijn) were published, both following the title of the French translation.

Screen adaptations[edit]

The earliest adaption was the West German television film Jeder stirbt für sich allein (1962) directed by Falk Harnack which aired on station SFB.[15] In 1970, an East German television miniseries was directed by Hans-Joachim Kasprzik and produced by DEFA. The West German film Jeder stirbt für sich allein was directed by Alfred Vohrer in 1975, released internationally in English as Everyone Dies Alone in 1976;[16] and in 2004, it was produced as a three-part television miniseries in the Czech Republic.[17][18]

In 2012, the film rights were acquired by Vincent Pérez and Stefan Arndt.[9] The film adaptation Alone in Berlin was first screened at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2016.[19] The film starred Emma Thompson as Anna Quangel, Brendan Gleeson as Otto Quangel, and Daniel Brühl as Escherich. The director was Vincent Pérez. The film received a score of 52 on the critical aggregator website Metacritic, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sütterlin was the common German handwriting of the era.[4]
  2. ^ Dennis Johnson of Melville House said on Charlie Rose that the postcards were full of "grammatical mistakes", but they were actually spelling mistakes, as evidenced by the samples in the book. In the largely homogenous German society of that era, uneducated Germans didn't use bad grammar, they just constructed simpler sentences and may not have used correct spelling.


  1. ^ In the novel it is her son. In some film adaptions and translations it is her brother. As well in real life it was her brother.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Charlie Rose (April 14, 2009). "A conversation about German writer Hans Fallada". Charlie Rose. Television interview with Ulrich Ditzen (Fallada's son), Liesl Schillinger of The New York Times and Dennis Johnson of Melville House
  3. ^ a b Benny Bentham (June 1, 2011). "Alone In Berlin, by Hans Fallada". Benny Books. Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  4. ^ "Here you can learn Suetterlin - the 'German handwriting'". Suetterlinschrift.de. Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  5. ^ Johannes Groschupf (April 16, 2011). "Das Ehepaar Hampel allein in Berlin". Die Zeit (in German). Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Liesl Schillinger (February 27, 2009). "Postcards From the Edge". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d Barbara Denscher (March 2, 2011). "Jeder stirbt für sich allein". ORF. Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d Johannes Groschupf (April 16, 2011). "Das Ehepaar Hampel allein in Berlin". Die Zeit (in German). Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e Dalya Alberge (May 23, 2010). "Hans Fallada's anti-Nazi classic becomes surprise UK bestseller". The Observer. Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  10. ^ James Martin (2009-03-03). "Resisting Hitler: This is the First English Translation of an Important Anti-Fascist German Novel". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on 2009-05-06. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
  11. ^ Seul dans Berlin at WorldCat.
  12. ^ Joshua Billings. "Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin". The Oxonian Review. Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  13. ^ Każdy umiera w samotności Worldcat. Retrieved March 8, 2012
  14. ^ Christoph Bartmann (July 18, 2011). "Překvapivý bestseller I ve smrti sami". Literární.cz (in Czech). Archived from the original on 2015-12-08.
  15. ^ "Programm vom Donnerstag, dem 19. Juli 1962". TV Programme (in German). Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  16. ^ Every Man Dies Alone on IMDb
  17. ^ "Dobro a zlo u Dušana Kleina". Hospodářské noviny (in Czech). February 16, 2004. Archived from the original on 2013-12-28.
  18. ^ "I ve smrti sami". Česko-Slovenská filmová databáze (in Czech). Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  19. ^ "Alone In Berlin". imdb.com. Retrieved 2017-07-11.
  20. ^ "Alone In Berlin critic reviews". metacritic.com. Retrieved 2017-07-11.

External links[edit]