Why These Two Books?
Imagine being in Germany when Hitler was coming to power and having to report on it back home, without the gift of hindsight. We forget today that anti-semitism was not merely a German problem–it was worldwide. In America at that time, Jews were admitted to colleges on a quota system, were barred from many country clubs and were kept from buying in many neighborhoods.
Would Americans, coming from a segregated country with laws excluding Africa-Americans from doing all sorts of things find it odd that Jews were being singled out for ruthless and demoralizing treatment? With “Indian” reservations an idea whose beginning great-grandparents could recall, would they view concentration camps–not yet overtly death camps–as intrinsically evil?
In 1939, just months before war broke out in Europe, The German American Bund–an organization allied wtiht eh Nazis, held an event at the old Madison Square Garden in New York to witch 20,000 people came. American children also atteneded Bund summer camps.
The two books I’m reviewing today take a look at what Americans and Britons saw and experienced in the Third Reich at that time.
Hitlerland, published in 2012, tells the story of journalists and diplomats, their wives and families present in Germany from not long before the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch and Hitler’s subsequent arrest, up until the U.S. entered World War II. Unlike great accounts, such as Rise of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, this book looks at their perceptions at that moment with no gift of hindsight. Drawing on published and unpublished sources, that include observations by a very young John F. Kennedy and by future CIA Chief Richard Helms, the book gives an interesting look at the Germany of that era as seen from the top tier of the diplomatic corps and the corps of foreign correspondents (and a few others).
This book DOES have a lot of overlap with In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larsen–they were being written at about the same time and were published within months of each other, but it goes back further in time and focuses on a few other people as well as Ambassador Dodd and his infamous daughter, Martha.
My Verdict: 3 Stars
Julia Boyd takes a similar look at the events in yet a broader time frame still–1919 to 1945 in Travelers in the Third Reich. She gives glimpses from British aristocrats, ordinary tourists and everyone in between to try to give the picture of what people “saw” when visiting Germany between the end of the First World War and V.E. Day in 1945.
The majority of tourists visiting Germany during those years were British or American. Americans, many of whom still had family in Germany, it should be pointed out. She tells the oft-repeated story of Unity Mitford, daughter of a British Earl, who in today’s terminology would be a stalker, and her pursuit of and friendship with Hitler and her tragic end. Mitford’s sister Nazi became the wife of Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Fascists. The Nazi 1936 Olympics, which gave the world the Olympic Torch and all its symbolism (let THAT sink in), provides some of the observations as well.
Even though Boyd looks at a broader time span and includes a wider section of people, many of the same ancetdotes are told in both books (all three books, if you include In the Garden of the Beasts). Some of the antecdotes told in this book are rather short.
My verdict: I did not get to finish this. 3 stars for the majority of the book that I was able to read.