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A brief introduction to Elise and Otto Hampel

January 24, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Elise and Otto were working class people living in Hitler’s Berlin, in wartime. Elise’s brother died in the German army invading France. They could find no justification for his death for such a cause, and they became political but had no skills, no allies, no hope of political action in Berlin. They decided to leave postcards of protest around the city, and did so for perhaps two years. Many pictures of their cards survive, including a few in the back of Fallada’s novel, in the appendix. The Gestapo seemed to think there was a large organization at work. They were caught more or less by chance.


A picture of the guillotine on which they died in Plotzensee Prison. The room still contains the hooks for hanging; the guillotine is no longer there, may have been destroyed.  April 8 is the seventieth anniversary of their deaths.


External pictures of the building suggest, but I don’t know, that small trucks could drive right into the building so unloading of prisoners could take place without anyone seeing. A visit might confirm this.

Prominent novelist Hans Fallada barely survived the war inside Germany, seems to have resisted Nazi efforts to co-opt him, became an addict of some kind. In 1946 a friend working in the post-war government, concerned about his health, gave him the Hampel Gestapo file as an effort to get him working, and said, here, write a book about this. Less than two months later it was done. It was not translated into English until a few years ago.  He died just as it was being published in Germany, in 1947.


The book is a very good read, full of the tense paranoia of life in a wartime dictatorship. The chapters about the trial appear completely over the top and unrealistic until you see the surviving film of the insane juror Roland Freisler. The chapters are realism.

Here is Walter Cronkite describing and showing the footage of the rabid Freisler. Bullying is a kind word for his manner in court.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKOCmBXrVY8&bpctr=1359039943  (near the end, the hanging room is shown, the room that also contained the guillotine–until it was damaged, I believe)

There is more footage of Freisler online. The “People’s Court” where he presided was for show trials. There are images online of death sentence documents signed by Freisler.

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