Every Man Dies Alone
One of earliest German editions, 1948
|Publisher||Melville House Publishing|
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. They were eventually discovered, denounced, arrested, tried and executed. 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 brother (portrayed as a son in the novel) 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. 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 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.[n 2] Nearly all of them were immediately turned in to police or the Gestapo.
Fallada was given the Hampels' Gestapo files by Johannes Becher, a poet, 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. 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. He gave the Hampels' files to Fallada in autumn 1945 in an effort to help him recover by giving him good subject matter for a book. Fallada, who had many personal problems, including morphine addiction, had been both institutionalized and incarcerated during the Nazi era. He did not at first want to write the story, saying he had not fought back and had even cooperated with the Nazis. 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. As a result, he lived through all years of fear, distrust and danger in the daily life of wartime Berlin and the psychological aspect of the Hampels' story intrigued him. He also had an ear for the simple speech of the common worker. A year after receiving the files, in autumn 1946, Fallada wrote Every Man Dies Alone in just 24 days and died a few months later, weeks before the book was published.
The story takes place in Berlin during World War II, with Germany firmly under Nazi terror. The book conveys the level of fear and suspicion engulfing Germany at the time because of the constant Nazi threat of arrest, imprisonment, torture and death. Even if one were not subjected to any of these, one could find oneself 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 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  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's a phenomenon." Primo Levi said it is "the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis."
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, 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. The US title is close to the original German title, which translates verbatim as "Everyone dies for himself alone".
The book was first translated in 1948 into Russian (Иностранная литература, Каждый умирает в одиночку) and into Swedish (En mot alla, a second edition on the basis of the uncensored manuscript Ensam i Berlin 2012). Then followed publishing in Polish (Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej, Każdy umiera w samotności) in 1950, 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) and Norwegian (Aschehoug, Den veien du går alene); a second Norwegian translation (Dinamo forlag, Alle dør alene) came out in 2011. In 1995, the book was translated into Italian (Einaudi Editore, Ognuno muore solo). A second translation came out in France in 2002. In 2010, the Israeli edition (Proza, "לבד בברלין") and the Dutch translation, (Cossee, Alleen in Berlijn) were published, both following the title of the French translation.
The earliest adaption was the West German television film Jeder stirbt für sich allein (1962) directed by Falk Harnack which aired on station SFB. 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; and in 2004, it was produced as a three-part television miniseries in the Czech Republic.
- List of fiction set in Berlin
- Jeder stirbt für sich allein (1970), East German miniseries adapted from Fallada's book
- List of Germans who resisted Nazism
- Sütterlin was the common German handwriting of the era.
- 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.
- Charlie Rose, "A conversation about German writer Hans Fallada" Charlie Rose (talk show). Television interview with Ulrich Ditzen (Fallada's son), Liesl Schillinger of The New York Times and Dennis Johnson of Melville House (April 14, 2009). Retrieved March 6, 2012
- Alone in Berlin, by Hans Fallada with photos of postcards Benny Books (blog). (June 1, 2011). Retrieved March 6, 2012
- "Here you can learn Suetterlin - the 'German handwriting'" Suetterlinschrift.de Retrieved March 6, 2012
- Johannes Groschupf, "Das Ehepaar Hampel allein in Berlin" Die Zeit (April 16, 2011). Retrieved March 8, 2012 (German)
- Liesl Schillinger, "Postcards From the Edge" The New York Times (February 27, 2009). Retrieved March 6, 2012
- Barbara Denscher. "Jeder stirbt für sich allein" ORF (March 2, 2011). Retrieved March 7, 2012 (German)
- Dalya Alberge, "Hans Fallada's anti-Nazi classic becomes surprise UK bestseller" The Observer (May 23, 2010). Retrieved March 6, 2012
- Martin, James (2009-03-03). Resisting Hitler: This is the First English Translation of an Important Anti-Fascist German Novel The New York Observer. Retrieved 2009-03-12
- Seul dans Berlin at WorldCat.
- Joshua Billings, "Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin" The Oxonian Review
- Każdy umiera w samotności Worldcat. Retrieved March 8, 2012
- Christoph Bartmann, "Překvapivý bestseller I ve smrti sami" Literární.cz Retrieved March 8, 2012 (Czech)
- "Programm vom Donnerstag, dem 19. Juli 1962" TV Programme. Retrieved March 4, 2012 (German)
- "Mein Vater Erwin Geschonneck" Geschonneck.com Retrieved March 4, 2012 (German)
- Every Man Dies Alone at the Internet Movie Database
- "Dobro a zlo u Dušana Kleina" Hospodářské Noviny (February 16, 2004). Retrieved March 4, 2012 (Czech)
- "I ve smrti sami (TV film)" Česko-Slovenská filmová databáze. Retrieved March 6, 2012 (Czech)
- US edition: Every Man Dies Alone listing, reviews, video clips Melville House Publishing website
- UK edition: Alone in Berlin listing Penguin Books website
- Review, plus excerpts from and links to major reviews complete review
- Complete list of characters in Every Man Dies Alone Retrieved March 6, 2012