Every Man Dies Alone
The postwoman Eva Kluge slowly climbs the steps of 55 Jablonski Strasse. She's tired from her round, but she also has one of those letters in her bag that she hates to deliver, and is about to have to deliver, to the Quangels, on the second floor.
Before that, on the floor below, she has a Party circular for the Persickes. Persicke is some political functionary or other Eva Kluge always gets the titles mixed up. At any rate, she has to remember to call out "Heil Hitler!" at the Persickes' and watch her lip. Which she needs to do anyway, there's not many people to whom Eva Kluge can say what she thinks. Not that she's a political animal, she's just an ordinary woman, but as a woman she's of the view that you don't put children in the world to have them shot. Also, that a home without a man is no good, and for the time being she's got nothing: not her two boys, not a man, not a proper home. So, she has to keep her lip buttoned, and deliver horrible field letters that aren't written but typed, and are signed 'Regimental Adjutant'.
She rings the bell at the Persickes', says "Heil Hitler!" and hands the old drunk his circular. He has his party badge on his lapel, and he asks: 'Well, so what's new?'
She replies: "Haven't you heard the special report? France has capitulated."
Persicke's not content with that. "Come on, Miss, of course I knew that; but to hear you say it, it's like you were selling stale rolls. Say it like it meant something! It's your job to tell everyone who doesn't have a radio, and convince the last of the moaners. The second Blitzkrieg is in the bag now, it's England now! In another three months, the Tommies will be finished, and then we'll see what the Fuhrer has in store for us. Then it'll be the turn of the others to bleed, and we'll be the masters. Come on in, and have a schnapps with us. Amalie, Erna, August, Adolf, Baldur let's be having you. Today we're celebrating, we're not working today. Today we'll wet the news, and in the afternoon we'll go and pay a call on the Jewish lady on the fourth floor, and see if she won't treat us to coffee and cake! I tell you, there'll be no mercy for that bitch any more!"
While Mr. Persicke, ringed by his family launches into increasingly wild vituperative and starts hitting the schnapps, the postie has climbed another flight of stairs and rung the Quangels' bell. She's already holding the letter out in her hand, ready to run off the second she's handed it over. And she's in luck: it's not the woman who answers the door she usually likes to exchange a few pleasantries but the man with the etched, birdlike face, the thin lips, and the cold eyes. He takes the letter out of her hand without a word and pushes the door shut in her face, as if she was a thief, someone you had to be on your guard against.
Eva Kluge shrugs her shoulders and turns to go back downstairs. Some people are like that; in all the time she's delivered mail in the Jablonski Strasse, that man has yet to say a single word to her. Well, let him be, she can't change him, she couldn't even change the man she's married to, who wastes his money sitting in bars and betting on horses, and only ever shows his face at home when he's skint.
At the Persickes' they've left the apartment door open, she can hear the glasses and the rowdy celebrations. The postwoman gently pulls the door shut and carries on downstairs. She thinks the speedy victory over France might actually be good news, because it will have brought the end of the war nearer. And then she'll have her two boys back.
The only fly in the ointment is the uncomfortable realization that people like the Persickes will come out on top. To have the likes of them as masters and always have to mind your p's and q's, that doesn't strike her as right either.
Briefly she thinks of the man with the bird face who she gave the field post letter to, and she thinks of old Mrs. Rosenthal up on the fourth floor, whose husband the Gestapo took away two weeks ago. You had to feel sorry for someone like that. The Rosenthals used to have a little haberdashery shop on Prenzlauer Allee. That was Aryanized, and now the man's disappeared, and he can't be far short of seventy. Those two old people can't have done any harm to anyone, they always allowed credit they did it for Eva Kluge too when she couldn't afford new clothes for the kids and the goods were certainly no dearer or worse in quality than elsewhere. No, Eva Kluge can't get it into her head that a man like Rosenthal is any worse than the Persickes, just by virtue of him being a Jew. And now the old woman is sitting in her flat all alone, and doesn't dare go outside. It's only after dark that she goes and does her shopping with her yellow star, probably she's hungry. No, thinks Eva Kluge, even if we defeat France ten times over, it doesn't mean there's any justice here at home ...
Excerpted from Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada. Copyright © 2009 by Melville House Publishing. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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