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The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers

The Seventh Cross

by Anna Seghers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 5 of 5
A brilliantly written escape novel, written while the Nazis were in power and one of the only depictions of a concentration camp to be seen in the midst of war. The Seventh Cross was an international bestseller in 1942, but it hasn’t been in print in the UK since".

That blurb is a story in itself, eh? Anna Seghers was a significant author of novels and short stories in pre-war Germany, but as a Communist of Jewish descent she fled with her husband and children to Mexico. This novel was published there and it became a movie starring Spencer Tracy in 1944.

At this distance it looks like a woeful movie, disappointing because it fails to capture the nuances of the book. Yes, The Seventh Cross is an escape novel, but it’s also more than that, it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of surveillance and the way distrust sabotages the sense of community which binds us together as human.

The seventh cross of the title, is the last of seven erected for the purpose of executing the escapees from the (fictional) Westhofen Concentration Camp. The inmates of the camp are political prisoners – dissident communists and unionists and people who’ve spoken out against the Nazi regime. The commandant of the camp is unhinged by the mass breakout: his petty ambitions are on the line and so he butchers these seven plane trees to prepare a cross for each escapee – as a warning to the rest of the camp and a signal to his superiors that this escape will not go unpunished. The allusions to the crucifixion of Christ are an overt reminder that many of the Nazi perpetrators of evil were Christians.

The novel follows the pursuit of the seventh man, George Heisler. One by the others are recaptured and subjected to interrogation by Fahrenberg to find out how the escape was planned. Segher’s great strength in this novel is her sense of restraint: the rather matter-of-fact way she exposes their brutality makes it all the more horrific because it is so routine. The recaptured prisoners know what is coming, and hope only to survive without giving out information until their inevitable death…

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/06/19/the-seventh-cross-by-anna-seghers-translated... ( )
  anzlitlovers | Jun 19, 2018 |
Without doubt one of the main issues that often causes concerns when talking about the 2WW is just how much information the everyday German populace received or knew about what the Nazi party were involved in on a day to day basis. Here of course we are referring to genocide and the manipulation and control of not only the German people but those in neighbouring countries which soon fell under the control of jack booted terrorists and in particular the annihilation of groups who did not conform to the Nazi Aryan ideology. So digging deep within the storyline of The Seventh Cross we are almost exclusively given a glimpse into the thinking of the everyday German at that time and in particular their knowledge or lack of just what was happening on a daily basis. Did they know of the existence of concentration camps in the years immediately before war broke out? And if they did know were they supportive? Did they condone what was going on? Were they prepared to help individuals who were incarcerated and brutally beaten for merely condoning a particular belief?

Anna Seghers book is of particular significance as it a product of its time. It paints a picture of a country in change/turmoil but most importantly it is written from someone who actually lived through the rise of Nazism, the emergence of an elitist SS, the indoctrination of the very young into the Hitler Youth, the brown uniforms and fascist beliefs held by the SA whose official role was to protect party meetings, march in Nazi rallies and physically assault and intimidate political opponents. 7 men imprisoned in the fictitious Westhofen camp have escaped. George Heisler, a communist, is the main character and the story follows him negotiating the outlying countryside and taking shelter with those who were prepared to risk the wrath and torture of the Gestapo. As the story unfolds six of the escapees are gradually captured. The title of The Seventh Cross refers to the work of the camp commandant "Fahrenberg" where he has ordered the creation of seven crosses from nearby trees to be used when prisoners are returned not as a means of crucifixion but a subtler torture: the escapees are made to stand all day in front of their crosses, and will be punished if they falter. As in historical document this is an important work primarily because it portrays the mindset of the German people; would they adhere to the barbarous actions of a ruthless government in waiting or were they prepared to stretch out the hand of friendship and help the escapees.

I must confess that as a story I did not find the book as well written as I had hoped (that honour must certainly go to the wonderful Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. and the dangerous actions that Otto Quangel takes when he discovers that his son has been killed on the Russian front) yet it is still an excellent account of its time, written by a lady who herself was a committed communist. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley and the publisher Little Brown Book Group UK, Virago for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written. ( )
  runner56 | Apr 14, 2018 |
5262. The Seventh Cross, by Anna Seghers Translated from the German by James R. Galston (read 7 Apr 2015) This book was first heard of by me back in the days of World War II, and when I saw it recently I thought I would read it even though I was not moved to do so when it came out. It is laid in 1936 Germany, and depicts, chillingly, the tension and fear which was inspired by the Gestapo and concentration camps even in those days. The simple plot involves the escape of seven inmates of a concentration camp, and the tracking down of them. George Heisler is one of the escapees and the tension which involves his effort to stay out of the hands of the Gestapo makes for a tense and suspenseful story. I found I was eager to read the book since one wanted to see if the Gestapo would succeed in recapturing him.. The book seethes with tension. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Apr 7, 2015 |
What I love most about The Seventh Cross is that it documents the insidious beginnings of unjust imprisonment and paranoia in pre-WWII Germany. Jews in the book are still relatively free but required to wear a yellow star, and the death camps have not yet been built; the victims in this book are the political prisoners, and the camps they are held in are make-shift affairs at the edge of town. Anna Seghers was Jewish and a Communist, an author who returned to East Germany after the war, and although this book was hugely popular in the U.S. just after publication and was even made into a movie starring Spencer Tracy, it fell out of print in English with the advent of the Cold War. Thank you David Godine for bringing it back. ( )
2 vote poingu | Jan 29, 2015 |
Adembenemend relaas van de ontsnapping van 7 politieke gevangenen uit het kamp Westhofen in de vooroorlogse periode. Buitengewoon indringend portret van het Duitsland onder de nazi's zoals het ervaren wordt door beulen, slachtoffers en - vooral ook - de gewone burger die onverwachts moet besluiten hoeveel menselijkheid en moed hem in deze extreme omstandigheden nog resten . ( )
1 vote joucy | Jan 20, 2012 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anna Seghersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Galston, James A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hilzinger, SonjaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenberg, DorothyAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rost, NicoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vicol, EusebiuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vonnegut, KurtForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolf, ChristaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Never perhaps in man's memory were stranger trees felled than the seven plane trees growing the length of Barrack III.
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Book description
The tale of the fugitive, of hunted and hunter, is as old as persecution itself. The form changes, the terror and fascination never. But never has flight been more agonising, or the hunt more terrible, than in this age when evil roots not only in the heart of evil men, but, like a plague, in the daily lives of simple people who would be kindly if they were left alone.
Seven men escaped from the concentration camp of Westhofen, and seven plane trees in the courtyard of the camp were prepared for their reception when they returned. One by one they were brought back, till only one remained at liberty. To the other prisoners this one was a portent, to the governor of the camp, who had his own terrors, he was a nightmare; and to the people outside, the friends who might be called upon to help him, he was an object of dreadful fascination, a source of heartrending dilemmas. As to the man himself, a shadow moving through the shadowed woerld of Germany under the Gestapo, dilemma no longer troubled him. He had to keep moving, that was all.
The virtue of this book is in the breadth of its canvas and in its dispassionate portrayal of a world ruled and consummated by fear. In this German world the machinery of life moves normally, even smoothly; but lift the lid a little way and horror will emerge. The author does so, and her sombre, impressive narrative will long stay in the mind of the reade.l As indeed, it should do: for it depicts without bitterness, but with unrelenting clarity, the world we are fighting to destroy.
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Written in 1939, first published in 1942, a national bestseller and a 1943 BOMC Main Selection, The Seventh Cross presented a still doubtful, naive America a first-hand account of life in Hitler's Germany and of the horrors of the concentration camps. Seven men attempt an escape from Westhofen; the camp commander erects seven crosses, one for each. Only one, the young communist, Heisler, survives, not by cunning or superior skill, but through the complicity of a web of common citizens unwilling to bow to the Gestapo and forced to make decisions that will determine the character of their future lives.… (more)

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