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Red Orchestra
Cover of Red Orchestra
Red Orchestra
The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler
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In this unforgettable book, distinguished author Anne Nelson shares one of the most shocking and inspiring--and least chronicled--stories of domestic resistance to the Nazi regime. The Rote Kapelle, or Red Orchestra, was the Gestapo's name for an intrepid band of German artists, intellectuals, and bureaucrats (almost half of them women) who battled treacherous odds to unveil the brutal secrets of their fascist employers and oppressors.

Based on years of research, featuring new information, and culled from exclusive interviews, Red Orchestra documents this riveting story through the eyes of Greta Kuckhoff, a German working mother. Fighting for an education in 1920s Berlin but frustrated by her country's economic instability and academic sexism, Kuckhoff ventured to America, where she immersed herself in jazz, Walt Disney movies, and the first stirrings of the New Deal. When she returned to her homeland, she watched with anguish as it descended into a totalitarian society that relegated her friends to exile and detention, an environment in which political extremism evoked an extreme response.

Greta and others in her circle were appalled by Nazi anti-Semitism and took action on many fronts to support their Jewish friends and neighbors. As the war raged and Nazi abuses grew in ferocity and reach, resistance was the only possible avenue for Greta and her compatriots. These included Arvid Harnack--the German friend she met in Wisconsin--who collected anti-Nazi intelligence while working for their Economic Ministry; Arvid's wife, Mildred, who emigrated to her husband's native country to become the only American woman executed by Hitler; Harro Schulze-Boysen, the glamorous Luftwaffe intelligence officer who smuggled anti-Nazi information to allies abroad; his wife, Libertas, a social butterfly who coaxed favors from an unsuspecting Göring; John Sieg, a railroad worker from Detroit who publicized Nazi atrocities from a Communist underground printing press; and Greta Kuckhoff's husband, Adam, a theatrical colleague of Brecht's who found employment in Goebbels's propaganda unit in order to undermine the regime.

For many members of the Red Orchestra, these audacious acts of courage resulted in their tragic and untimely end. These unsung individuals are portrayed here with startling and sympathetic power. As suspenseful as a thriller, Red Orchestra is a brilliant account of ordinary yet bold citizens who were willing to sacrifice everything to topple the Third Reich.

From the Hardcover edition.
In this unforgettable book, distinguished author Anne Nelson shares one of the most shocking and inspiring--and least chronicled--stories of domestic resistance to the Nazi regime. The Rote Kapelle, or Red Orchestra, was the Gestapo's name for an intrepid band of German artists, intellectuals, and bureaucrats (almost half of them women) who battled treacherous odds to unveil the brutal secrets of their fascist employers and oppressors.

Based on years of research, featuring new information, and culled from exclusive interviews, Red Orchestra documents this riveting story through the eyes of Greta Kuckhoff, a German working mother. Fighting for an education in 1920s Berlin but frustrated by her country's economic instability and academic sexism, Kuckhoff ventured to America, where she immersed herself in jazz, Walt Disney movies, and the first stirrings of the New Deal. When she returned to her homeland, she watched with anguish as it descended into a totalitarian society that relegated her friends to exile and detention, an environment in which political extremism evoked an extreme response.

Greta and others in her circle were appalled by Nazi anti-Semitism and took action on many fronts to support their Jewish friends and neighbors. As the war raged and Nazi abuses grew in ferocity and reach, resistance was the only possible avenue for Greta and her compatriots. These included Arvid Harnack--the German friend she met in Wisconsin--who collected anti-Nazi intelligence while working for their Economic Ministry; Arvid's wife, Mildred, who emigrated to her husband's native country to become the only American woman executed by Hitler; Harro Schulze-Boysen, the glamorous Luftwaffe intelligence officer who smuggled anti-Nazi information to allies abroad; his wife, Libertas, a social butterfly who coaxed favors from an unsuspecting Göring; John Sieg, a railroad worker from Detroit who publicized Nazi atrocities from a Communist underground printing press; and Greta Kuckhoff's husband, Adam, a theatrical colleague of Brecht's who found employment in Goebbels's propaganda unit in order to undermine the regime.

For many members of the Red Orchestra, these audacious acts of courage resulted in their tragic and untimely end. These unsung individuals are portrayed here with startling and sympathetic power. As suspenseful as a thriller, Red Orchestra is a brilliant account of ordinary yet bold citizens who were willing to sacrifice everything to topple the Third Reich.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One Greta Goes to Amerika
    1927--1929

    One fine indian summer morning in 1927, a slender twenty-six-year-old woman stood on the deck of the President Harding, watching the New York skyline expand to fill the horizon. The Port of New York was crowded with ships, many of them, like hers, arriving from Germany. After a forced hiatus during the Great War, German immigrants were pouring into the United States once again.

    Greta Lorke was not an immigrant; she was a foreign student coming to America for a graduate degree. Although it was the height of the flapper era, Greta was more bluestocking than vamp. She had a slim figure but little sense of style. Her long face, with its high, rounded forehead and searching gray-green eyes, could flicker from stern to wistfully pretty. But Greta, a young feminist, claimed that she wasn't interested in her looks; the important thing was ideas. Looking in the mirror, she commented only that there wasn't "too much to complain about"--then proceeded to complain about her pale freckled complexion and wispy blond hair.

    Greta's attention was focused on her education. For the three children in her working-class family, it had been a struggle to attend high school, much less travel abroad for a graduate degree. Her father, Georg, was a metalworker in Frankfurt an der Oder, a grimy industrial town on the banks of a murky river, due east of Berlin. He worked for Julius Altrichter's firm, the biggest musical instrument factory in Germany. As a little girl, Greta loved to watch her father roll out the sheets of brass to cut into patterns for tubas and flügelhorns, then wander over to adjoining workshops to observe the violin and drum makers.

    Greta's mother, Martha, was a seamstress, the daughter of an illiterate tailor. A highly determined woman, she had taught her father how to write his name. The family had inherited a small sum in the 1870s and used it to buy a tenement house on the outskirts of the city. Greta's parents moved in when they married and rented out rooms to help make ends meet.

    Greta, who was born on December 14, 1902, inherited her mother's work ethic as well as her Catholic conscience. As a young girl, she was fascinated by the flyers for African mission work in the vestibule of their church. She decided to earn enough pocket money to save an African child's pagan soul. She worked for a year running errands and doing odd jobs, then she tied her coins up in a handkerchief and went to the priest with her order.

    "It should be a little black boy, Father," she requested. "And please, no older than me--just about eight. And can he be delivered for Christmas? It should be a surprise for my mother."

    The kindly priest pulled down an atlas and showed Greta the long and arduous journey that would be required to bring her "black boy" from the tropics to Frankfurt an der Oder. The money she had saved,

    he explained, was enough to educate an African child for a year, but not enough to bring him to Germany--if, indeed, he should even want to come. Greta wept in disappointment, but donated her pfennigs anyway.

    Greta's family made sacrifices for the sake of education. Her parents lived frugally to save for their children's tuition at the Oberschule, a necessary prelude to a university education. Quark (a soft white cheese) with linseed oil was a frequent dinner offering. The Lorkes didn't indulge until the holidays, when the family enjoyed meat and fowl, gilded nuts, and lots of singing. Greta's mother sewed blankets and clothing for a Berlin department store to help with tuition, while Greta contributed by polishing shoes and helping her uncle sell religious pictures in his shop.1...
About the Author-
  • Anne Nelson is an author and playwright, and teaches at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including a 2005 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 1989 Livingston Award for international reporting. Her books and articles have been published widely, and her play The Guys has been staged throughout the world. As a war correspondent in El Salvador and Guatemala from 1980 to 1983, Nelson published reports and photography in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. She is a graduate of Yale University and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

    From the Hardcover...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 16, 2009
    In this inspiring account, noted journalist and playwright Nelson documents the wartime journey of Greta Kuckhoff, a young German, and her valiant colleagues who formed a potent resistance to the Hitler regime in its glory days. When Kuckhoff returned home from America in 1929 after university study, she joined with a band of young Communists, leftist Jews and other German antifascists to thwart the rise of Hitler at the risk of torture and death. Nelson explains in telling detail about the Nazis’ tight grip on power after the 1933 Reichstag fire, eliminating all political foes, including Jews and other “non-Aryan” types, yet the Kuckhoffs, Mildred and Avrid Harnack, and other members of the Red Orchestra (Rote Kapelle
    ) fought fascist censorship, slid their people into Nazi ministries, helped Jews to flee and provided the Allies with vital information to aid the war effort. Nelson’s riveting book speaks proudly of Greta, Mildred and all of the nearly three million Germans who resisted Hitler’s iron will, and gives the reader a somber view of hell from the inside.

  • Kirkus

    February 15, 2009
    Inspiring history of Germans who risked and mostly lost their lives to oppose the Nazis.

    Journalist and playwright Nelson (Murder Under Two Flags: The U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Cerro Maravilla Cover-Up, 1986) emphasizes that the famous 1944 bomb plot by disaffected Army officers obscures the existence of substantial, ongoing resistance in the broader population. She tells their story through the eyes of Greta Kuckhoff, a rare survivor whose 1972 memoir of her antifascist activities was mangled by the dogmatic alterations of her East German editor. (Nelson got a look at the original manuscript.) Kuckhoff spent years 1927 to 1929 doing graduate work in economics at the University of Wisconsin, where she befriended several other German students later prominent in the resistance. All returned home to experience the Depression and the spectacular rise of the Nazi Party, which struck many of them as wildly irrational. Opposition was always strongest in Berlin, a vibrant city whose intellectuals and artists thought for themselves and whose millions of factory workers had more leftist sympathies than those in other cities. Kuckhoff and her friends struggled to make a living while meeting and plotting with likeminded comrades. A substantial number joined the civil service or the military and rose to high positions while passing information to the local underground or foreign diplomats. Kuckhoff fell in love with a popular writer and participated in groups dominated by intellectuals. Their sexism shunted her into minor tasks such as typing, which may have saved her life when her husband and most of their friends were caught, tortured and executed in 1942–43. Nelson admits that many resistance activities, such as printing and distributing leaflets, had no noticeable effect on the German war effort, and the Allies ignored a surprising amount of the information dissidents risked their lives to convey. Nonetheless, their courage and sacrifice deserves a permanent place in history books.

    A modest but important account of a heroic movement.

    (COPYRIGHT (2009) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    February 15, 2009
    Tom Cruise is currently starring in "Valkyrie", which tells the story of the June 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler, certainly exciting stuff and probably worth the price of admission. But Nelson has a tale to tell herself, and she does it quite well. The Red Orchestra was a group of intellectuals, artists, and even German military officers who gathered secretly in Berlin during the Nazi era and sought to oppose Hitler and his henchmen through the distribution of leaflets, newsletters, and other forms of stealthy communication. Although many members of this clandestine group were sympathetic to the Soviet Union, they were all united in their disgust and horror of what had become of Germany as the Nazis slowly tightened their control over all aspects of German life. Led by Greta Kuckhoff and her husband, Adam, the small group of resisters was eventually discovered; many were either imprisoned or executed. Despite its tragic demise, the Red Orchestra represents yet another relatively unknown aspect of the German resistance, which, as the archives are now starting to reveal, was much more extensive and organized than originally thought. Recommended for most collections.Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames

    Copyright 2009 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    February 15, 2009
    Hitler and the Nazi Party never achieved total political and social control over Germany. Even after the onset of World War II, a few brave voices continued clandestine but active opposition. The best known were the group of military and religious figures led by Klaus von Stauffenburg and the White Rose organization centered around university students and siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl. Nelson, a playwright and foreign correspondent, has examined the personalities and activities of another tiny and courageous group. Dubbed the Red Orchestra by the Gestapo and led by young Germans and German American members, the group was remarkably successful at serving in government positions while gathering intelligence, disseminating anti-Nazi information, and saving the lives of Jews. Nelson effectively conveys the sense of determination and tension that characterized members, particularly as the Gestapo closed in on them. A large percentage of the group was captured and executed. Nelson plays down the pro-Soviet views of many members, but this is still a worthy tribute to their courage and dedication.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2009, American Library Association.)

  • Alan Furst, author of The Spies of Warsaw "The Red Orchestra was the great classic spy network of the 1930s and World War II. 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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The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler
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