Alone in Berlin

Otto and Elise Hampel were an ordinary German couple living in Berlin during the Second World War. History may never have thought to record their names had it not been for their outstanding act of resistance against the Nazi Regime in the early 1940s.

After the death of Elise’s brother during the invasion of France they began to write postcards, denouncing Hitler and encouraging resistance against his regime. Over the course of two years they dropped over 200 postcards around the city with slogans such as “Free Press! Why suffer war and death for the Hitler plutocracy?” and “Hitler’s war is the worker’s death!”.

To be seen carrying such material could mean a death sentence and the majority of the postcards once found were handed in to the authorities. Yet this does not mean they didn’t have an impact on those who read them. The Gestapo hunted them down in a deadly game of cat and mouse as they sought to end this written resistance. Due to the extensive and widespread locations of the postcards, the Gestapo assumed that they were dealing with an organisation rather than two people. For as a factory worker and domestic servant respectively, Otto and Elise were not prime candidates for rebellion but for two years that’s exactly what they did. Tragically they were caught in 1943, but Otto said that he was happy to have rebelled –and they remained defiant as they were executed at Plötzensee Prison.

Their story was captured in the novel Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada who wrote their story (with some fictional amendments) after viewing their Gestapo file. It has recently been brought to life on screen, with powerful performances by Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson. The Hampel’s story shows us is that ordinary people can do the most extraordinary things when they’re fighting oppression.


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