In 1936 in Germany the noose of Nazi totalitarianism was tightening around the country.

The power of the Gestapo was growing, not as a police force, but as a brutal tool of Nazi ideology. Within three years, 21,000 “social outcasts” would be imprisoned throughout the Reich. Sachsenhausen concentration camp opened in July of 1936 in Oranienburg 24 km northeast of Berlin, primarily to incarcerate political opponents of the Nazis. That same month, the diarist Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, wrote of his country,

We have… every prospect of losing whatever remains of our freedom of movement, & of thus becoming completely the prisoners of this horde of vicious apes [the Nazis] who three years ago seized power over us.

1936 was also the year in which Hans Fallada published his novel An Old Heart Goes A-Journeying. It is a strange melodramatic book based in the fictitious village of Unsadel, German for “unfair”. It tells the story of the perseverance in the face of great adversity of the orphan Rosemarie Thurke.

When Fallada wrote An Old Heart, he was increasingly coming under suspicion for anti-Nazi attitudes in his writing. If his books were to be published, he must write a form of fiction that, while expressing his utter contempt and disgust for Nazism, carried the message with such subtlety that the less than sophisticated censors would not discern Fallada’s real intent.

It cannot have been a mistake that one of the main characters in An Old Heart, Professor Kittguss, is a scholar of the last book of the New Testament. “The Book of Revelation” was carefully written in symbolic code language to bring encouragement to the persecuted Christian community suffering under Roman tyranny. Fallada too wrote his critique of Nazims in a carefully coded story.

But, reading today Falllada’s story of autocratic rule, imprisonment, lies, violence, incarceration and injustice it is easy to see the finger of criticism pointed directly at the Nazis. It is not hard to see a description of the entire German nation in 1936 when Fallada describes Professor Kittguss of Berlin as a man who

was about to be engulfed in the darkness of the darkest night.

It is difficult to miss the challenge Fallada issues to the German people to work to forestall the approaching catastrophe of Nazism when he writes of Frau Stillfritz confronting old Professor Kittguss demanding he take responsibility for the rescue of the innocent victim Rosemarie Thurke:

“Aha!” interrupted Frau Stillfritz triumphantly, “there we are again. One! One – is just nobody at all, Herr Professor – excuse me for saying so, but you – you – you are the man for the job. You think it all wrong, so you must go along to Paul Schlieker and put it right. Don’t think you can just sit around by the stove and get other folk to do your job – it’s not decent.”

With his clear-eyed view of the power of totalitarian rule, the tool Fallada recommends against oppressive power comes as a bit of a surprise and may sound hopelessly naïve. Near the end of all her ordeals, Rosemarie, who has schemed and battled her way through paralyzing fear, imprisonment, profound personal loss, and vicious abuse, comes to learn the deep lesson that,

Truth was the finest weapon.

Fallada is not a simplistic optimist unaware of the tragedy and suffering of much of the human condition. In “A Word to the Reader” in his later novel Wolf Among Wolves, Fallada warned his readers that his work

deals with sinful, weak, sensual, erring, unstable men, the children of an age disjoined, mad and sick. All in all, it is a book for those who are, in every sense, adult.

Such a dark view of the human condition on the part of the author makes it that much more remarkable that at the end of An Old Heart, Fallada should conclude that Paul Schlieke, the villain of the tale, should have

somehow grasped the fact that a limit is set to the power of evil on this earth, and that in the end the works of evil devour each other.

As Germany stood poised on the edge of an evil apocalypse, it is hard to imagine such a strong assertion of faith in the ultimate triumph of good over evil. But, for all the darkness through which he lived, Fallada held to this faith and sustained his belief in the power of goodness and truth. He is a heartening example of the possibility of holding strong to the light in the midst of terrible darkness.