Foreign Novel Review: Das Siebte Kreuz – The Seventh Cross

I originally bought The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers simply because it was on sale in a bookshop in Vienna. Admittedly, this is usually not a good reason to buy a novel but it turned out I had bought myself a real bargain.  The Seventh Cross is one of the best books I have ever read.  On first reading it, I was blown away by how well Anna Seghers writes and how she manages to make you care so much about the lives of the characters she is depicting.

Written in exile in France in 1938 and first published in English in 1942, The Seventh Cross tells the story of the communist, Georg Heisler, who along with six other inmates manages to escape from Westhofen Concentration Camp.  Fahrenberg, the camp commandant, has seven crosses built where he intends to place each of the escapees as punishment once they have been recaptured.  All the escapees with the exception of Georg are either caught or killed. Only The Seventh Cross remains as a sign both to the prisoners and their Nazi jailors that at least one victim of the Nazis has managed to escape their clutches.

The seventh cross symbolises too that the Nazi regime is neither infallible nor omnipotent.  That as long as the human spirit exists and that there is a sense of fraternity between individuals engendered either by political beliefs (as in the novel) or otherwise, and there are people who continue to embody this spirit and sense of fraternity, there is still hope that the regime will ultimately fail.  Fahrenberg finally comes to that conclusion himself.  With Georg still on the run, towards the end of the novel he consoles himself with the thought that Georg may be dead and that someday his body will be fished out of the Rhine or the Main Rivers.  He then realises this is wishful thinking.  He knows Georg is alive and will remain so.  “For the first time since the escape, Fahrenberg sensed that he was not pursuing an individual whose features he knew, whose strength could be worn down but rather a faceless, incalculable power”.  (”Fahrenberg fühlte zu erstenmal seit der Flucht, daß er nicht hinter einem einzelnen her war, dessen Züge er kannte, dessen Kraft erschöpfbar war, sondern eine gesichtslosen, unabschätzbren Macht.“)

A communist herself, Seghers’ novel is no polemic but is imbued with a great understanding of the human condition and human frailty.  The book depicts with keen insight why people collaborate with such regimes whether it be from rapacious motives such as seeking political power to the more prosaic ones such as just wanting an easy life.

Soon after ascending to power in 1933, the Nazis started killing hundreds of opposition leaders. Every month saw more being killed either through public execution or by being tortured to death in the camps.  During the first wave of arrests and persecutions workers in small towns, known for their communist leanings such as the son-in-law of the local mayor and fellow escapee, Aldinger, went and stayed with their relatives in the country in the hope of remaining out of harm’s way.  In the years following Hitler’s rise to power a whole generation was wiped out to such an extent that by the late 30s those, who had managed to survive, fear there will be no one left to hand their ideals onto.  In addition, thanks to the relentless indoctrination via Hitler Youth, Arbeitsdienst (labour service to help reduce unemployment) and the army, a no man’s land is developing between the mind set of the older and younger generations which makes it hard for any of the previous generation’s experiences to filter through and be passed on.

This fissure between generations is flagged up when Hermann, a communist who later becomes involved in Georg’s escape, sees a young trainee being ordered about and bullied at the factory.  When he tries to comfort the young boy, the boy resents his help and empathy.  Hermann wonders what good can come of the youth when he regards his sense of solidarity as old-fashioned nonsense.  At first, Hermann does not doubt that the youth will become another bully just like the man bullying him or maybe an even worse one.  Hermann’s sense of fraternal responsibility however leads him to conclude that he must aim to take the boy under his wing to stop this from happening.

In the novel this fissure between generations is compared to the fairy-tale where children are brought up by animals only to grow up and tear their own parents to pieces.  This is not too far-fetched a comparison considering children in Nazi Germany were encouraged to denounce their own family members.  In such a society it is no wonder the Fiedlers (also communists who go on to help in Georg’s escape) have decided that they don’t want children whilst living under a regime where any children they had would be indoctrinated and taught how to become good little soldiers for the Nazi state.

The Nazi’s insidious inroad into family life can be seen in how Georg Heisler’s own family react to his escape.  One son is now a SA man.  Another brother, Heini, who was once so close to Georg, is now actively involved in the hunt for him in order to prove to his Nazi buddies that Georg no longer means anything to him.  Heini had joined the SA horrified at the 5 years of unemployment he had had to endure previously.  The least intelligent of the brothers, he’s convinced he’d lose his job if he hadn’t also joined the SA and now dreams of joining the motorised SS. For the last 3 days the family, in particular Heini and the wife of one of the other sons, have been at the mother’s home reminding her that helping Georg will have serious repercussions for the whole family, for all of her sons and her 6 grandchildren.

Despite their bullying, the mother is determined to warn Georg of the trap that awaits him, should he return to the family home.  The flat is being watched, the street is sealed off and the Gestapo is lying in wait.  The tentacles of the Nazi state are so ubiquitous, that brothers can’t talk openly in front of each other.  Once Heini leaves, it turns out that Georg’s SA brother isn’t such a fervent Nazi after all.  He confides to their mother that should Georg approach the flat, he’s already ensured that a neighbour will warn Georg to turn away and thereby avoid the trap.  As for Georg’s elder brother, he still would do anything to help Georg regardless of what would happen to him or his family if he only knew what he could do.  When repeatedly asked at his place of work, if he is related to the escapee Georg Heisler, he simply replies, “He is my brother.”

The Nazi’s pervading grip on daily life can also have unintentional ludicrous results.  There is the episode when the landlord of the pub shouts Heil Hitler just a little too loud when Zillich, a Scharführer (SS NCO) at Westhofen concentration camp walks into his pub.  Georg’s friend Paul Röder recalls one occasion when the workforce were asked to listen to a speech by the Führer on the radio after the end of their shift.  Most of the workers, already having a pretty good idea of what the Führer was going to say anyway, just want to go home.  The factory though have closed the gates to keep them in and as a result most of the 1,200 workforce try to escape via a small side entrance with one worker quipping it was like a camel going through the eye of the needle.

It’s clear from the novel that people had a good idea of what was going on in the concentration camps at the time, although the novel was written in a period before the mass extermination camps and the final solution.  When Herman learns of the escapee Wallau’s re-arrest, Hermann imagines Wallau’s bleeding body lying on the floor being kicked and beaten in an attempt to break him down.  When Georg’s friend, Paul Röder, is called in for questioning by the Gestapo, his wife Liesel wonders if they will beat him up until he finally admits where Georg is, and if only then he can come home, and whether life can carry on as before.  It then sinks in that one night in a Gestapo cellar may mean, even if Paul is to return, that nothing will be the same again.

The novel also clearly depicts the strain and uncertainty of living under a police state where no one can trust anyone – in some cases even family members or neighbours– and helping your fellow man or trusting the wrong person can lead not only to your demise but to that of your loved ones.  The fact that people are still willing to risk all to help their friends and former colleagues and comrades makes their courage even more awe-inspiring and this is placed in sharp relief to the oppressive circumstances they find themselves in.

The man who the seventh cross is waiting for is Georg Heisler.  An irresponsible and feckless ladies’ man in his younger days, Georg has become “an indestructible monument” to his fellow inmates in Westhofen thanks to his ability to take any punishment or torture his Nazi captors dole out.  In the camp he soon becomes friends with another highly respected communist, Wallau.  His friendship with Wallau enables Georg to feel for the first time his own worth as a human being.  It’s a friendship for which Georg would be willing to sacrifice everything, and this sense of fraternity with his fellow inmate is such that no Nazi-inspired torture can assail.  The feeling is clearly mutual as Wallau contemplates at what he knows will be his final and fatal interrogation.  “Everything about this young Georg was dear to me. Everything that was dear to me in life, I found again in this young man.” (“Alles an diesem jungen Georg war mir teuer.  Alles, was mir im Leben teuer war, fand ich an diesem Jungen wieder.)“

Both Georg and Wallau embody the kind of human spirit that even a dictatorship as brutal and ruthless as the Nazis cannot annihilate.  When Hermann imagines the rearrested Wallau being beaten and kicked he acknowledges it’s precisely “because something unbreakable dwelled within him” (weil ihm etwas Unzerbrechbares innewohnt.)

Victimised as he is in the camp, Georg knows that only death can free him from the torture and suffering he is enduring.  Georg is only too aware of the terrible power that the Nazis have over his life but ironically this has also made him only too aware of his own power.  “He now knew who he was.” For his former friends, such as Franz, Georg’s act of resistance is a beacon for their own conscience.  Franz admits to his friend Hermann that from an early age he always felt the desire for justice and that ever since his life has only seemed to be peaceful on the surface.  It is this sense of justice that is awakened by Georg’s escape and spurns Franz on to try and assist in Georg’s flight.

Physically though Georg hasn’t fared so well.  He’s clearly aged; he’s started to go grey and has at least 5 teeth missing.  According to an eyewitness he also has a rip on one side of mouth, which looked as if “someone had tried to make the corner of the mouth reach his left ear.”

One of the first things that strikes Georg on his escape is that whilst he has been enduring the hell of a Nazi concentration camp, everyday life for everyone else seems to have been going on regardless – apart of course for families such as the Jewish family in the Miquelstraße forced to move out of their home or the Katzensteins forced to decamp from their shop.  And in order for those outside the camp to live these everyday lives, they have to normalise what is happening around them including the camps.

When the camp is first built, there is a definite unease among the local population.  One local heard openly criticising the camp is soon hauled off to stay there a few weeks.  Not surprisingly on his release he comes back a changed man refusing to speak of his experiences and soon leaves to go into exile in Holland.  When one woman publicly cries at the state of the prisoners being taken through her village, she is taken before her nephew, the mayor, and is left in no doubt that such a public display of sympathy for enemies of the state could not only have grave implications for herself but also for her children.  As the local population are unable to do anything about the camp built in their midst, they soon adapt to it and even profit from the extra business opportunities it provides to the local community.  For the youth, in particular, its existence is a matter of course having grown up with it from an early age.

The pincer like grip of fear that the Nazi state has on the populace is clearly depicted in the novel.  Alfons Mettenheimer, the father of one of Georg’s former conquests, Ellie, who is also the mother of Georg’s child, receives a summons from the Gestapo.  At once his life is turned upside down.  He immediately feels isolated from his fellow citizens, and feels imprisoned in a frail body that he knows could be tortured under any pretext.  What seems to frighten him most though about his interrogator is how normal he is – a run-of-the-mill bureaucrat who is nonetheless omnipotent.  Following his interrogation both he and his daughter are followed by policemen who are indifferent to the work they are carrying out.  Ellie is arrested by the Gestapo as well as a would-be lover who they mistakenly assume is Georg.  As a result, this would-be lover is beaten up within an inch of his life.  On her release from the Gestapo, Ellie is given notice to quit by her landlady, who like most Germans at this time understandably wants to have as little to do as possible with the secret police.

The difficulty of resisting in Nazi Germany is made clear when Mettenheimer explains to his daughter why they are lost if Georg should turn up.  “Don’t you understand?  Just imagine, he comes, I give him a sign, a warning.  What then happens to me, to us?  And imagine, he comes.  I see him coming but I don’t give him a sign.  He’s not my son after all, a stranger, worse than a stranger.  So I don’t make a sign.  He’s nabbed.  Can you do that?”  This is the crux of the problem which must have faced many a German – that living under a terror state means even by doing nothing you are implicated in its crimes.  Under such a state any perceived act of resistance can have serious repercussions.  By the time of Georg’s escape the Nazis had enacted new laws with dire penalties for helping perceived enemies of the state.  As a result of Wallau’s attempted escape, his wife, sister, daughter and son-in-law are arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting in his escape, his mother is shipped off to an old people’s home and his sons sent to a reformatory for indoctrination.

However despite everything simple acts of resistance still exist.  When questioned by police, the young Fritz Helwig denies that the jacket that the police have found is his.  This is despite the fact he knows full well it is his jacket, the one stolen by Georg while on the run.  However, by lying to the police, he helps put the police off Georg’s trail.  There are also more overt acts of resistance such as Wallau’s refusal to speak at what he knows will be his final interrogation.  Resistance of a passive if touching kind can be seen by Mettenheimer’s fellow workers when Mettenheimer inadvertently sees a wanted poster of Georg Heisler in a discarded newspaper.  He now realises that everyone knows about Georg’s escape. Apart from his Nazi co-worker Stimbert, the faces of the others are etched with grief and reverence.  “He was not stranded in hell – he was still a man among men.  (“Er war nicht in die Hölle verschlagen – er war noch immer ein Mensch unter Menschen.”)

However simple acts of resistance can have serious consequences.  After having lied and denied that the jacket is his, Fritz is called in again by the police. Fritz not surprisingly is worried.  If they have now caught the escaped prisoner, he might admit that it was his jacket that he stole.  Fritz will then be caught out in his lie.  Just as when Mettenheimer was summoned by the Gestapo, Fritz too feels alone in the world.  He can’t confide in his parents or in his friends or in the SA sergeant that he normally would trust unquestioningly.  This is the insidiousness of a police state where no one can fully trust another and one feels isolated and powerless.  But his simple act of resistance has also caused a shift in Fritz’s perspective – now he feels he would no longer follow orders unthinkingly as he would have done just a week before.

Fritz finally confides in the gardener, Gültscher. Gültscher thinks of his own sons, who he feels belong half to him, half to the State.  At home he’s their dad, outside the home they wear their uniforms and shout Heil.  He wonders if he did everything in his power to stir up resistance in them.  He admits he didn’t because it would have meant the break up of his family – prison – sacrificing his sons.  He would have had to choose and that was the breaking point, not just for him but presumably for many of his compatriots.  The question is how to get past this breaking point though he admits some have managed to do so.  He feels guilty advising Fritz.  It is after all much easier when it’s someone else’s son.

Paul Röder likewise resists the regime by helping his childhood friend, Georg, unquestioningly, not really understanding the situation nor interested in the politics. As Georg’s childhood friend, for Paul it goes without saying that he should help him.  Georg then gives Paul the name of two former comrades – Schenk and Sauer – that might be able to help him.  From this point on, all three men, Georg, Schenk and Sauer are in Paul Röder’s hands.  Schenk however has already been arrested, denounced by a neighbour for listing to an illegal radio station and ironically is now himself in Westhofen concentration camp.

The sense of distrust and paranoia that a police state creates among its citizens helps to stymie what resistance there is by isolating individuals from their fellow citizens.  This is epitomised in the scene between Röder and Sauer.  Röder is sent by Georg to Sauer, as he is one of the two men that can be trusted to help him.  Neither man has met each other before, and both men are understandably nervous when they meet.  Sauer is immediately suspicious: “Unknown visitors at unusual times could mean anything.  Just don’t know anything.  Just don’t know anyone.  Don’t let yourself get caught out.”  Given the regime they are living under, they have to hedge their bets and are unable to speak openly to each other. Röder hints to Sauer that he has a message from Georg.  Sauer, fearing he is being set up, refuses to admit that he understands the message.  Instead Sauer immediately begins to fear he is under suspicion and being watched and that Röder is a stoolpigeon.  Röder just assumes that Sauer doesn’t help out of fear.

As soon as Röder leaves though, thoughts flash through Sauer’s mind as to whether he has acted correctly; what will Röder’s report of him be like; that he probably wasn’t the only one being questioned; how have they linked him to Georg; whether he should flee; whether by fleeing he endangers others.  He shudders at the thought that it might not have been a trick of the Gestapo’s after all and that Röder might really have been sent by Georg.  He consoles himself that in all honesty he could not have acted differently.  After all, he had no proof that Röder wasn’t a stoolpigeon and at the slightest doubt for his own safety he had to send him away.  Thus the fear that a police state creates among the populace impedes individuals from banding together and resisting thereby enabling the state to continue in its repression.

With Sauer and Schenk proving dead ends, Paul has to consider which one of his workmates he could ask for help.  Some of his workmates he feels he can’t ask, though he suspects they could help him, because ironically he knows they won’t trust him. He acknowledges they would have been right to do so as until now he had kept out of such matters, solely concerned with putting food on the table for his wife Liesel and their children. Now with the arrival of Georg things have begun to shift.  As with Franz, Georg has caused a change in Paul.  Georg has got Paul thinking, asking him why he thinks the State puts food on his table; allows him to work an 8-hour day instead of 12, provides holidays and trips.  He points out that they haven’t done this out of the goodness of their heart or from philanthropy.  The price Paul has had to pay is fear – fear that he wouldn’t have any of this if it weren’t for them – as well as the blood and imprisonment of people similar to him and Paul.

At first, Paul considers asking Heidrich, a former injured war veteran, for help.  Heidrich had returned to Germany after the war fully intending to change the country.  However the interwar years have made him a shadow of his former self thanks to unemployment, hunger, family demands and the gradual crumbling away of all rights, and last but not lest the Nazi’s ascension to power in 1933. By this time Heidrich’s self-belief had been completely extinguished.   It becomes clear to Paul that such a man would no longer want to risk anything but would simply want to keep his head down.

Paul’s conundrum is that on the one hand there are those who would betray him while those who wouldn’t have managed to conceal themselves only too well.  It is then he finally hits upon Fiedler.  He had noticed that Fielder had a glint of triumph in his eyes when the workforce tried to get out of listening to the Führer’s speech at the factory and Paul suspects he’s just the man to help him.

Fiedler is taken aback when approached by Paul having thought he had well and truly blended into the background.  He realises he has taken so much care to ensure that he remains inconspicuous that there was now nothing for him to be conspicuous for.  It had all been extinguished.  Or at least that’s what he thought.  Now asked for his help by Röder, who, he concludes, must have noticed something in him in the first place, he hopes that some of his former gumption still remains. Fiedler agrees to help despite having no connections any more to former comrades and the communist leadership.

Fiedler puts Georg up at Doctor Kreß’ house.  Kreß had previously told Fiedler to bide his time and only come to him when he has something for him that is worth him risking his life for.  This is clearly the moment.  Kreß steps up to the plate and chastises himself when he catches himself wondering how long Georg will remain hiding in his house.  He concludes that he would even keep Georg’s corpse in his house if he needs to.

In the meantime Sauer, tortured by doubts as to whether he did the right thing or not, meets up with Hermann at an emergency meeting place.  Sauer describes his unexpected visitor.  The description leaves Hermann in no doubt that the description is the same as that which he received from Franz of Paul Röder.  Hermann knows Reinhardt who works at the same factory as Röder, and can be trusted to help Georg.  Reinhardt had distanced himself from the party in the years leading up to Hitler ascent to power.  Hermann questions whether it is right to place so much at stake on one single individual.  Is it just to risk one human being for the sake of another? And if so, under what conditions is it permitted?  Hermann weighs up the matter and decides not only is it permissible but also necessary.

Accordingly, Hermann contacts Reinhardt to approach Paul to see if he is indeed hiding Georg.  Given the situation, Reinhardt feels it’s unwise to approach Paul directly and decides to enlist someone else to sound out Paul.  Fortunately for Reinhardt that someone is Fiedler who is of course the middleman, engaged by Paul, to assist in Georg’s escape

The importance of resistance and of those who resist is one of the main themes in the novel.  Just by going to see Paul Röder’s wife, in an attempt to get a message back to her husband, Frau Fiedler feels she is back to her former life as a communist activist, that she is now doing something and that anything is possible.  She feels that something might happen anytime soon as by acting, actually doing something, she is able to hasten the process.  She admits it’s also possible that Fiedler could be destroyed but she notes: “Only in times where nothing is possible is life like a shadow. But times where everything is possible encompasses quite simply all life and destruction.” Reinhardt too now feels that by helping Georg, he is putting into practice everything he formerly fought for and believed in.

And despite the fact that the escape of the seven inmates has serious repercussions for the rest of the prisoners, they nonetheless feel that a part of them has escaped along with the escapees, and that something significant has occurred.  Until that point many of the prisoners felt that the enemy was omnipotent.  But as the novel points out, if you claim to be all-powerful, you aren’t allowed to make mistakes.  Therefore if even such a small incident as this escape succeeds, cracks start to appear in the regime’s veneer of infallibility.  However, this glimmer of hope begins to fade as one by one the prisoners are brought back or killed while on the run.  For the prisoners the breaking point is almost reached when word gets round the camp that Wallau has been captured.  For the prisoners, seeing Wallau being brought back into the camp is likened to the fall of Barcelona or Franco’s entry into Madrid.  They now feel they are maybe all lost after all.

Hand in hand with resistance is collaboration, and Seghers understands only too well that while some peoples’ motives might stem from greed, lust for power or just pure vindictiveness, that under a totalitarian state there’s a lot of grey.  Bachmann is a case in point.  Previously arrested himself and then suddenly let out early, he is the one who betrays Wallau to the Gestapo, presumably his collaboration the price he had to pay to keep out of prison.  Bachmann can’t live with his guilt and hangs himself soon afterwards.  His wretched wife only lamenting he hadn’t done it before he’d talked to the police.  Police Inspector Overkamp is only too aware that once he has left the camp, the escapees will be killed.  However as a patriot and a war veteran, he believes in working against the enemies of order and believes that this is what he is doing.  Things only become less clear for him when he starts to think about who exactly he is now working for.

Zillich is one of the Scharführers at Westhofen. Jaded after returning from the front at the end of WW1, he returns to his farm, which fails and is forced to move in with his parents-in-law.  A chance encounter with an old army comrade leads him to join the SA, which starts to give him some status among the other villagers.  Now he is no longer a nobody but somebody.  Even when he’s arrested, things are looking up.  Prison conditions turn out to be better than at home and his return to the village is a cause of celebration by his SA comrades.

On the other hand, some people’s motives are just self-serving.  Aldinger is a former mayor.  His political rival Wurz manages to get Aldinger sent to a concentration camp purely in order to remove him from the mayoral race of what is essentially a large village.  Wurz therefore alerts the authorities to the fact that Aldinger’s trade unionist son-in-law is staying with him.  What Wurz assumes will be a short stay in prison leads to Aldinger’s permanent imprisonment until the latter manages to make good his escape.

Aldinger, who seems to have lost his mind while in prison, manages to make his escape not through cunning but through sheer luck.  His adversary, Wurz, shows his true colours when he hears of Aldinger’s escape.  Fearing revenge, he hides himself away indoors and surrounds the village and in particular his farmstead with sentries.

Aldinger however dies within sight of his village.  Aldinger’s escape and death has an immediate impact on his fellow villagers though.  Laid to rest in his own house, the mourners refrain from shouting Heil Hitler or raising their arm in a Hitler salute but return to the old ways of showing respect by simply removing their hats.  The SA sentries who would have happily beaten him to death had they caught him, this time return to their fields with a clear conscience.  Aldinger’s death also leads to open scorn for Wurz with the villagers no longer afraid of possible repercussions.  Aldinger’s death has led them to ask themselves how come a man such as Wurz is in power in the first place.  Aldinger’s escape and Wurz’s pitiful reaction to the escape by literally shitting himself while in hiding at home has stripped Wurz of any aura of power he once had.  If Aldinger’s escape ultimately failed, it has at least proved one thing – that simply by resisting, cracks in the regime will begin to appear.

Fear is another theme of the novel.  The fear for oneself, the fear of what may happen to others, the fear of resisting, the fear of reprisals. In Zillich, it’s a pathological fear of people or human company that has led him to do the most terrible things.  Fear is also very human.  Georg is reassured when he realises Kreß, who is hiding him, is scared.  “He poured, whereby his hand shook a little, so that it spilt. It was precisely this shaky pouring which completely reassured Georg. A decent man, it has cost him a great deal to put me up.  He has put me up nonetheless.”

Power is another theme in the novel. What people do for power – Wurz imprisoning Aldinger so he can be a mayor of what is essentially an enlarged village is one of the more pathetic examples.  But there are also the power struggles among those who are in power and the price paid by the powerless.  Wallau’s death creates a power vacuum in the camp as the various members of the SS try to hold on to power or grab it for themselves via the medium of the slow and tortuous deaths of the remaining escapees left alive – Pelzer, Albert and Füllgrabe.  Uhlenhaut wants to prove he is the next Zillich, Zillich wants to prove he’s still Zillich and Fahrenberg wants to prove that he’s still in charge.  With Georg’s capture still proving elusive, voices of dissent among those in charge are beginning to grow with the belief that Fahrenberg and his clique need to be replaced.  Not of course because they want the hell of the camp to come to an end but that order in this hell needs to be re-established.  Ironically the least powerful of them all, Georg, an escapee on the run, is the catalyst for change within the power structure of the camp, the symbol of the Nazi regime in the novel, thereby underlining why resistance is so vital.

And there are two things that the Nazi regime is powerless against –  the human spirit and a sense of fraternity. When Georg hears of Paul Röder’s arrest he realises that Paul would never betray him even though he knows that much stronger, much more determined, more politically-committed men than Paul have succumbed to Nazi interrogation techniques.  Men such as Melzer who had been considered a brave young man.  For three days he had said nothing to his Nazi torturers and then on the fourth day was paraded round his factory denouncing all those he suspected of being under suspicion.  How would Paul be able to resist?  Because the fraternal bonds between him and Georg are at heart unassailable.

Paul’s simplicity proves more of a match for the Gestapo than all the training in resisting interrogation techniques that Georg’s more politically savvy colleagues have undergone.  Paul realises the Gestapo are not omniscient and that they only know what you tell them.  As Paul says to his wife Liesel.  “I do wonder why people tell them so much.  And why?  Because they think that they do indeed know everything.”

The sense of unbroken comradeship is the net that finally surrounds Georg and prevents him from being recaptured.  Fellow comrades willing to risk their lives in order to help him, the network of seamen and harbour workers willing to ship wanted men out of the country and comrades providing money for these men from contributions to the local committee.

The final sentence sums up the message of the novel  “All of us felt how profoundly and terribly the external powers are able to encroach to one’s very core, but we also felt that at our core was something that was unassailable and inviolable”.  This novel is a wonderful testament to that spirit.

© Maureen Younger and www.maureenyounger.com, [2013-2017]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Maureen Younger and  www.maureenyounger.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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