Monday, December 14, 2009

RED ORCHESTRA Plays; No One Listens

(reflection on RED ORCHESTRA: The Story of The Berlin Underground and The Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler, by Anne Nelson, Random House, 2009.)

This chronicle of heroic risks taken to undermine Hitler's regime by a group of artsy - lefty friends and acquaintances, tragic as it is, verges chapter by chapter on black comedy.

The Red Orchestra, a term for a very loose group of Communists who opposed Hitler, fought him with mimeographed sheets of information, plus radio broadcasts of useful information about troop preparations on the Russian border. Gullible Stalin swallows Hitler's assurances that reports of his gathering troop strength on the Russian border for attack (including intelligence from members of the Red Orchestra) were all "foolish rumors" (178). When Stalin's faithful Communists send him intelligence via radio, their equipment is faulty, and no information gets out.

Through it all, there are men and women who disappear, who die in torture, officially suicides in custody or victims of accidents. When the loose circle of friends is finally caught, it's through bungling of Soviet "professionals" (262).

Trying as early as 1933, Ambassador William Dodd couldn't alarm an American journalist who wanted an interview with Hitler because "the facts of perfect order and absence of crime in Germany" made some "well - to - do Americans" eager to try having "a sort of Hitler" in the states (108). Dodd abhorred the Nazis, but he saw favorable press for them in the US, including a favorable view of the Hitler Youth. The "America First" movement made the Roosevelt administration leery of strong anti - Nazi rhetoric or action (124). 22,000 American Nazis rallied at Madison Square Garden in February 1939.

Most foolish of all are the dictators Hitler and Stalin. A German officer writes to Hitler in horror at "atrocities and abuses" in Poland, receiving Hitler's response that "You can't wage war with salvation Army methods" (180). Hitler is shown to be stupid in most things, but right often enough, with an early "string of victories" (240) to appear prescient. He's anything but. Hitler interrupts his invasion of the Soviet Union, postponing it to winter -- obviously a stupid choice -- in order to punish Yogoslavia for its disrespect of Hitler's representatives (193).

I confess that, reading this book over several months, half a chapter here and there, I lost track of who was who. The bravery and futility of it all, along with stupidity at the highest levels -- these are what I take away from the book.

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