It’s been quite a week on the impeachment front — a 9-hour-plus, bitterly contentious hearing before the House Judiciary Committee that focused (or attempted to, anyway) on evidence of President Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors, followed just 14 hours later with the high-stakes rollout of two articles of impeachment. The case against Trump could get a committee vote by Thursday, with the full House voting before Christmas.
With all this momentous news, naturally I’ve been thinking about a not-well-enough-known German-language novel from 1947, written by an author who was days away from succumbing to morphine addiction and the craziness of having barely survived Nazi rule. Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone is a fictionalized account of a real story — an obscure Berlin factory worker and his wife who, after a family member is killed in combat in the early months of World War II, turns against Adolf Hitler with a zeal both foolhardy and brave beyond modern comprehension.
In 1940, Otto Hampel began writing postcards that attacked both the Fuhrer and his totalitarian regime, scrawling the words “worker murderer” across Hitler’s face or asking fellow citizens to “Wake up!” to the evil of their government. Over two years, Hampel covertly dropped more than 200 of these postcards in busy stairwells or other public places, in the hopes that everyday people would read them and rise up against the Third Reich. The reality, though, was that most of the cards were immediately turned over to the Gestapo by terrified citizens. After confounding authorities for two years, the Hampels were arrested and executed by the guillotine.
It’s hard to imagine deeper existential questions than the ones posed by Every Man Dies Alone. Did writing the truth about Hitler doom Otto, or did it set him free? Were he and his wife, who helped deliver the messages, heroes or reckless fools? (Consider the fact that few people — possibly no one — responded positively to the postcards.) In real life, Otto Hampel told his Nazi captors that — even as he awaited the guillotine — he was “happy” with what he did.
Flash forward nearly eight long decades to Donald Trump’s America, and it’s impossible not to hear the echoing footsteps of Otto Hampel. Postcards of truth are dropping everywhere. You could find them in a House hearing room where dedicated public servants like former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman said Trump’s abuses of power, in threatening to extort Ukraine for political gain, offended the very values that caused their immigrant families to come to America. Or in Monday’s report from the Department of Justice’s inspector general on the origins of the Trump-Russia prove which screamed the obvious, that of course the FBI was right to probe why Vladimir Putin was meddling in our election and what Team Trump knew.