Their resistance efforts, although nail-bitingly tense, amounted mainly to pamphleteering rather than active sabotage of the war effort. “War Starvation Lies Gestapo. How much longer?” one of their stickers read. Schulze-Boysen wrote a six-page essay on the problems faced by Napoleon in Russia, making clear the parallels to Hitler’s plans. The essay was shrunk to postcard size by a photographer friend and distributed around Berlin and beyond.
This is a remarkable story, powerfully told, of love and courage and of the balance in the relationship between a couple. Ohler writes compelling non-fiction, even if, as he confesses, what he really wants to do in life is write novels or make movies. Perhaps this remark left me wondering at times whether the line between fact and faction might have been crossed. There has been criticism of his acclaimed but controversial account of the propensity of senior Nazis to blitz their way into mass killing and other horrors assisted by high- octane narcotics.
This is a book that will appeal to anyone who relishes Ben Macintyre’s tales of wartime espionage and cryptic codes, underpinned by terrifying risk, desperate courage, and double dealing. For more fastidious tastes, Ohler’s prose may seem somewhat lurid and his narration too loosely novelistic: assumptions are made that a more cautiously academic approach might have baulked at, Christian names are liberally used and gratuitously gruesome details lingered over (the final pages are stomach-churningly horrible). Moving at a cracking pace through a succession of snapshot cross-cut chapters, it is ripe for transformation into a film or television series.