The Red Orchestra

“The Red Orchestra” was what German counter-espionage (Gestapo etc.) called what was a rather widespread anti-Nazi underground.  I recently finished an excellent history by Anne Nelson of die Rote Kapelle (to use the German-language term):  Red Orchestra:  The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler.

What’s particularly interesting is that this loosely-knit group didn’t consist of just “reds” in the political sense:  yes there were German communists, but also “half-Jews”, Social Democrats, Catholics, Lutherans (including relatives of Dietrich Bonhoeffer), aristocrats and conservatives– all more and more appalled as the Hitler regime went from brutalizing labor activists and communists to degrading and killing Jews, burning books and suppressing any independent voices.  And then the massive atrocities in Russia and Poland, which Orchestra members desperately tried to publicize.  Anne Nelson focuses on a few key individuals and how they extended their circle; and she makes them all come alive.

Reading this helped me realize it isn’t true that very few Germans tried to resist the Nazis; not enough did of course, but her account makes one wonder if he or she would have dared to do anything against such a massive terror apparatus.

After the war:  the East Germans and Russians first almost ignored these people, then tried to depict them all as orthodox, party-line communists.  And our side?  American and British “intelligence” (duh) tended to accept that they were indeed a bunch of “reds”, and protected some of their worst persecutors from facing justice at Nuremberg.

From spy novelist Alan Furst’s blurb on the dust jacket:  “Anne Nelson’s Red Orchestra, superbly researched and sharply written, is about the real, very brave people who made up this network– who they were, what they did, and the price they paid for their resistance to tyranny in Europe’s darkest hour.”


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