Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Remember the Third Reich?

In the Garden of Beasts, Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin is another non-fiction book by Eric Larson, whose Devil in the White City I read at least a dozen years ago. Larson has an uncanny way of telling non-fiction in an interesting way, the facts flowing like they were never researched, like the writer knew them first-hand. He’s a good historian storyteller. I was fascinated by several things: an American Jeffersonian ambassador is appointed to go to Germany and no one in power respects them; his daughter, recently divorced from a short marriage, sleeps with Nazis, Soviets, American reporters with no discrimination and seems to have no clue how her actions affect her father and her fragile lovers; and the Hitler monster, despite all reports that he is torturing and killing people who are disloyal to him and preparing for war, somehow gets full control of the country. It’s an amazing story, and I’m glad Larson put so much effort into telling the truth. “Change came to Germany so quickly and across such a wide front that German citizens who left the country for business or travel returned to find everything around them altered, as if they were characters in a horror movie who came back to find that people who once were their friends, clients, patients, and customers have become different in ways hard to discern.” The fear came upon them so gradually, the changes so stealthily, that the people didn’t understand what was happening to them, like they were in a trance or hypnotized. “The Gestapo enhanced its dark image by keeping its operations and its sources of information secret.” Secrecy was one thing, but another thing that was happening was people divided into innocent citizens, the Gestapo, the SS, the SA, foreigners, and Nazis, all concerned with the intrigue of the others. Many thought they could control Hitler, but the man had a lot of anger and not a lot of respect for human life, and those close to him were some of the first to die. The book ends on this note: “’But history,’ wrote Dodd’s friend Claude Bowers, ambassador to Spain and later Chile, ‘will record that in a period when the forces of tyranny were mobilizing for the extermination of liberty and democracy everywhere, when a mistaken policy of ‘appeasement’ was stocking the arsenals of despotism, and when in many high social, and some political circles, fascism was a fad and democracy anathema, he stood foursquare for our democratic way of life, fought the good fight and kept the faith, and when death touched him his flat was flying still.’ And indeed one has to wonder: For Goebbels’s Der Angriff to attack Dodd as he lay prostrate in a hospital bed, was he really so ineffectual as his enemies believed? In the end, Dodd proved to be exactly what Roosevelt had wanted, a lone beacon of American freedom and hope in a land of gathering darkness.”

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