Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler

Written by Anne Nelson
Review by John R. Vallely

While book shops and libraries remain choked with works on the Nazis and the military aspects of the Second World War, a surprisingly small number of publications deal with German resistance to Hitler and his henchmen. Those few that do chiefly concentrate on the July 20, 1944, attempted assassination of Hitler by Colonel von Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators. This volume takes up the story of the “Red Orchestra” (Rote Kapelle), a resistance network with a sizeable number of German women serving in important positions. These valiant and, of course, doomed, Germans were outraged at the manner in which their nation’s moral, ethical, and legal traditions had been replaced by National Socialist zeal and blood lust. Where most Germans adopted a “my country, right or wrong” stance, this diverse assortment of women and men transmitted military secrets to Moscow and worked in other ways to undermine Germany’s strategic position and the normal person’s faith in the state. The author insists the Rote Kapelle was not a creature of Soviet Intelligence but rather a courageous group of German patriots. Active mostly for only a short period after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Rote Kapelle’s membership was decimated by 118 arrests, 49 executions, and two suicides. A successful, albeit short-lived, example of a Germany rarely spoken of, the names of Mildred and Arvid Harnack, Lisa Egler-Gervai, Katja Casella, and Greta Lorke Kuckhoff have earned their place in the history of Germany between 1933 and 1945.