RED ORCHESTRA by Anne Nelson


The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler
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Inspiring history of Germans who risked and mostly lost their lives to oppose the Nazis.

Journalist and playwright Nelson (Murder Under Two Flags: The U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Cerro Maravilla Cover-Up, 1986) emphasizes that the famous 1944 bomb plot by disaffected Army officers obscures the existence of substantial, ongoing resistance in the broader population. She tells their story through the eyes of Greta Kuckhoff, a rare survivor whose 1972 memoir of her antifascist activities was mangled by the dogmatic alterations of her East German editor. (Nelson got a look at the original manuscript.) Kuckhoff spent years 1927 to 1929 doing graduate work in economics at the University of Wisconsin, where she befriended several other German students later prominent in the resistance. All returned home to experience the Depression and the spectacular rise of the Nazi Party, which struck many of them as wildly irrational. Opposition was always strongest in Berlin, a vibrant city whose intellectuals and artists thought for themselves and whose millions of factory workers had more leftist sympathies than those in other cities. Kuckhoff and her friends struggled to make a living while meeting and plotting with likeminded comrades. A substantial number joined the civil service or the military and rose to high positions while passing information to the local underground or foreign diplomats. Kuckhoff fell in love with a popular writer and participated in groups dominated by intellectuals. Their sexism shunted her into minor tasks such as typing, which may have saved her life when her husband and most of their friends were caught, tortured and executed in 1942–43. Nelson admits that many resistance activities, such as printing and distributing leaflets, had no noticeable effect on the German war effort, and the Allies ignored a surprising amount of the information dissidents risked their lives to convey. Nonetheless, their courage and sacrifice deserves a permanent place in history books.

A modest but important account of a heroic movement.

Pub Date: April 14th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6000-9
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2009


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