A Stranger In My Own Country – The 1944 Prison Diary
By Hans Fallada
Polity – £20.00
Born Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen in 1893, Hans Fallada took his pen name from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale; yet his overtly grounded, gritty writing, couldn’t be further removed from that of a fairy tale.
A Stranger In My Own Country – The 1944 Prison Diary is a most unsentimental, yet rational account of what it was like to be a German, but not a Nazi, following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. To describe the 218 pages of the actual Prison Diary itself as something of a testimonial thesis to that of inner-strength, not to mention the relentless, dogged belief, that good will indeed overcome evil, could be construed if not considered an arch understatement. Although if one were to read the following – taken from ‘A dispatch from the house of the dead. Afterword’ – how else might these more than revealing memoirs by one of Germany’s most outstanding writers of the 20th century, be charcterised?
”These reminiscences clearly bear the traces of the circumstances in which they were written. Constantly interrupted and laid aside, concealed from the gaze of the prison warders, they were never going to be a work of calm contemplation. They are not serenely detached, but sad, angry and full of hatred; I have suffered too much. They are driven solely by the single-minded resolve that kept me going for twelve years; the resolve to root out every trace of Nazism from this unfortunate German nation, which has brought calamity upon nearly all of Europe through its deluded faith in the crazed ”Fuhrer.” Never again must anything like Nazism be visited upon mankind; these reminiscences which show that everything Hitler did, big or small, was rotten to the core, may hopefully help to prevent that happening.”
The idea of preventing ”everything Hitler did, big or small,” from ever happening again; is just one of the many reasons why I find it so terribly important to read and review books on the vast, dense and cataclysmic subject of Germany during the thirties. Along with the rise and fall of the Nazi Party (along with the consequential trajectory thereof) and the Holocaust.
As the few remaining survivors who attended the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz just last week proclaimed: if we choose to ignore what happened, then Hitler and his insane cronies – herein described as ”an entrenched gangster culture” – will have won. And I for one, will absolutely endeavour to never allow that to happen.
This partially accounts for Fallada’s 1944 Prison Diary being such a very worthy and valuable publication.
Apart from being a terse and at times, eloquent reminder that not ALL Germans subscribed to the ”deluded faith” of ”the crazed Fuhrer;” it has to be noted that the frustrating honesty within the context of the confessional mode of this book’s writing style, didn’t always come easily to a writer, who was at heart, a writer of fiction.
Yet the flip-side is that of an observer/writer, who contained his anger and approached his subject from an altogether different, refreshing, and dare I day it, humanistic persuasion: ”[…] no-one has ever been more lacking in a sense of humour than Mr Hitler and all his hangers-on, right down to the last lackey. To them everything was deadly earnest, and in the end that’s exactly what it all turned out to be – in the most literal sense of the word […]. Was he a ‘Standartenfuhrer? A ‘Rottenfuhrer’? A ‘Scharfuhrer’? I’ve no idea, and to this day I have not wasted mental energy on learning to tell the difference between all these silly uniforms that the new Germany has gone to town on since 1933. I’d like to to die without insignia or decorations of any kind; if I reach a ripe old age, they can put me on display by the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin with a sign saying: ‘This is the only German who never received a medal or decoration, never earned a rank or title, never won a prize and never belonged to a club.’ In this regard I’m doubtless very un-German.”
As was recently mentioned in Modern Language Review: ”This long-awaited publication will… greatly increase our knowledge of an author whose reputation has never been completely eclipsed in Germany, and who is now being rediscovered in Britain, the USA, France and Italy.”
Might I add that this ought hardly be surprising given the total depth, clarity, and the all round weight of humanity with which Fallada so effortlessly wrote. He might not be ”on display by the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin,” but he’s reaching a far, far wider audience, due to his masterful writing currently being read throughout much of the western world.