Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Anne Nelson's "Red Orchestra"

Anne Nelson is an author and playwright, and teaches international media studies at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). She has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including a 2005 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 1989 Livingston Award for international reporting.

Nelson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book and reported the following:
My book is called Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler. I spent nearly ten years researching the book -- and learned that the German resistance to the Nazis was far more pervasive than most people realize. The ragged collection of movements lasted for years – it was not just a “Johnny-come-lately” phenomenon at the end of the war. But in order to write about the German resistance, I had to address the question of how the Nazis consolidated their power.

Page 99 of Red Orchestra falls within a chapter called “The Prague Express,” which discusses how German trade unionists tried to carry on anti-Nazi activities in the early years of the regime. Many German Socialists and Communists fled to Czechoslovakia and ran extensive exile opposition activities from Prague and the border town of Carlsbad. There were many anti-fascists among the railway workers who used the Reichsbahn to smuggle anti-fascist publications into Germany. (They specialized in quirky fake covers for their political pamphlets – my favorite is “Proper Care for Cactus Plants,” for what was surely a prickly subject.)

The page quotes the hapless Social Democrats writing from Prague, protesting “Things can’t go on like this.” Yet the Nazis foil their efforts at every turn. The arrest and persecution of dissidents was bad enough. But they also lulled German workers into giving up their hard-earned unions, until they woke up one day with no one to defend their interests.

The chapter describes the daring activities of John Sieg. Oddly enough, the charismatic Detroit native was one of the leaders of the German workers’ resistance movement. (Sieg, a former Ford auto worker, committed suicide in Gestapo detention rather than betray his friends.)
Read an excerpt from Red Orchestra, and learn more about the book and author at Anne Nelson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue