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What is the value of standards?

What is the value of standards?

When art meets science

Who: André Klip, professor of Criminal Law and Criminology

Book: Every Man Dies Alone, Hans Fallada (1947)

Target group: all (Law) students

The story Every Man Dies Alone (original title: Jeder stirbt für sich allein) – based on actual events – is set in Berlin during the Second World War. The married couple Otto and Anna Quangel have always been good dutiful citizens. Then they receive the message that their son, who had been fighting at the front, has died. “This breaks something in them,” says André Klip, professor of Criminal Law and Criminology. “They start to look at their country differently and decide to form a resistance. They do so in their own way. They leave postcards with texts such as ‘Hitler is wrecking Germany’ in porches and stairwells.”

Klip finds the dialogue between the spouses fascinating. “They wonder if they should do this. Are they not betraying their country with their actions? Eventually, they decide that their deeds serve a greater good.” When the man and woman are arrested, it becomes clear just how obedient most Germans were at that time. “Ninety per cent of the postcards were immediately handed in to the police. So the impact had been minor. I found this very poignant and unpleasant. That their great courage – they know that they will be killed if they are caught, which eventually happens – was actually for nothing.”

Although, they did achieve something. “A policeman puts it to the man during his interrogation. ‘Why didn’t you stop,’ he asks. There was no point. The man answers: ‘I have remained decent’. This is true; he never worked with the regime in any way, shape or form. That was what was most important to him. How many others from that time can say the same?”

According to Klip, the book teaches students to think about the value of standards. “Should you see the law as standard or are their higher standards? The law can be abused; it can be used to prosecute certain groups of people. That is why you should always look at the law critically.” The deliberations made by the detective in charge of the case are also described in Every Man Dies Alone. “He wonders: should I continue with their prosecution? In fact, this concerns a dozy and sappy old couple. He knows that if he takes certain steps, it will lead to their death. But he does so anyway. It shows how far people will go with a criminal standard because of fear. How everyone in a totalitarian regime, even the police and the military, is always afraid, and the strange things people do as a result.”

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