Red Orchestra

Title:                  Red Orchestra – The Story of the Berlin Underground

Author:                Anne Nelson

Nelson, Anne (2009). Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler. New York: Random House

LCCN:    2008023465

DD256.4.B47 N45 2009


  • Greta goes to Amerika — Greta and Adam — Berlin — The masses and the media — Things fall apart — The takeover — Denial and compliance — Going to ground — The Prague express — The gentlemen’s club — A faraway country — The dinner party — The birthday party — The inner front — “The new order” — All possible foolish rumors — The road to Barbarossa — Other worlds — “Distress about Germany’s future” — The Antiwelle — Crime and punishment — The survivors — Life in a cold climate — To those born after.


Date Updated:  February 15, 2013


Anne Nelson’s book is a highly engaging book about the painful and well-documented period of WWII. The book follows the fates of a group of friends and acquaintances living in Berlin who support each other’s efforts, no matter how audacious or diminutive, to resist the Nazi takeover of Germany starting in the pre-war 1930s.

Although this is clearly a historical text, the narration reads more like a novel than a history book. Against a backdrop of suspense, we are drawn into the daily world of these underground resisters as they battle against Hitler and the Third Reich. Ms. Nelson’s writing style is both unpretentious and captivating. One develops an intimacy with the real-life characters over the course of the book. The extraordinary collection of photographs that accompany the book (some formal, but many candid) literally bring the reader face-to-face with these courageous people. In the end, one can’t help but to cheer on their anti-fascist actions and grieve their personal losses.

The Red Orchestra operated widely in Europe. Thousands of valuable pieces of information for the Russians flowed in the channel from Bletchley Park, to Lucy and to Foote, to Rado, and so on to Moscow Center. Before Germany invaded in June 1941, details of the German operation Barbaroso invasion plans were relayed. Moscow ignored them, believing that somehow the British were planning false rumors to drive divisions between the Soviet Union and Germany.

However once the invasion began and the Russians recovered enough to put up defenses, Moscow Center began to look closely at the information flowing out of Switzerland, trusting it more and more. As the Germans attacked through Russia toward Stalingrad, Moscow knew every disposition of troops. Hitler made it all the easier; in this phase of
the war, he began to take a personal interest in each decision, making sure
that all reports came to him and that his orders were relate directly to the
field. He used the Enigma transmitting system, of course, and Bletchley Park
caught the messages, decoded them, and relayed them via Lucy to Rado to Center.

In this way, the Soviet Union received advance information that helped them plan the defense of Stalingrad and then the counterattack in the winter of 1942-1943 that resulted in the defeat and capture of massive German armies.

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One Response to Red Orchestra

  1. Anne Nelson says:

    Many thanks for this thoughtful reading of “Red Orchestra.” I’m now researching a sequel set in Occupied Paris. One of the threads I’m pursuing is the story of a printer named Jacques Grou-Radenez. So far what has surfaced is that he worked on the underground paper “Defense de la France,” was a member of the Catholic resistance, and that he was “involved in sending information to London.” If anyone can offer more information about him (or his London contacts) I’d be very grateful.

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