Otto and Elise Hampel were an ordinary working-class couple in Berlin who resisted Nazism.
When Elise’s brother was killed in 1940, the couple were shocked out of their quiet, apolitical existence into an extraordinary act of defiance. They would leave anonymous postcards attacking Hitler around Berlin, a city paralyzed by terror, facing certain death if they were caught.
The postcards urged people to refuse to cooperate with the Nazis, to refrain from donating money, to refuse military service, and to overthrow Hitler. They were left in mailboxes, in stairwells and on walls.
The time that the Hampels were protesting was not the ideal time for resistance. They started their postcard campaign just after the Nazi victory in France, when Germans were really high on Hitler and the Nazi regime. The Hampels called for the downfall of Hitler, an unpardonable challenge at the time, when Hitler was much more popular than anything else about Nazi Germany. If there were any doubts about what the Nazis were doing, the German people often gave Hitler the benefit of the doubt. Once Germany was in a war, Hitler realized how favorable that would be to him.
Almost all the postcards were delivered to the authorities immediately. Nobody wanted to be caught in possession of such dangerous words. Their campaign lasted for two years before the Hampels were eventually betrayed by their neighbors and arrested.
Because of the sheer number of postcards and the long duration of their distribution, the Gestapo at first thought they were dealing with a larger group of resisters. Doubtless the Nazis were frustrated they were able to evade them for so long.
Otto declared to the Gestapo that he was happy to be able to protest against Hitler and the Third Reich. At trial at the Volksgerichtshof, the Nazi “People’s Court”, the Hampels were convicted of high treason. They were both decapitated on April 8, 1943 in Berlin.
Alone In Berlin (2016), starring Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson is a slightly fictionalized telling of the Hempel’s story.