A nightmare in Berlin

In-the-Garden-of-Beasts-Love-and-TerrorHow many out there have seen Romeo&Juliet, and hoped that THIS time it would have a different, more happy ending? I do every time! And you get the same feeling when you read this book! I sat and thought “But please listen to the reports, pay attention, do something before it is too late!”. Because this book shows many times over, the stupidity of States that could have done something to stop Hitler. There were moderate nazis, there was opposition, but they were too scared. HAD they got international backing, things could have ended differently. In 1933, Hitler was by no means all-powerful and accepted by everyone in Germany. But when everyone thought that the other person supported him, then most people didn’t dare to voice an opinion.

This book mainly shows the US aspect of things. In 1933, USA were more isolationist than ever. FDR only showed concerns for domestic affairs. And diplomats and the State Department were more concerned about their rich lifestyle, being part of “the Pudding Club” (see “Murder on St. Malley’s Day”, a Midsomer Murder), preserving status quo and nepotism, than what went on in Germany. After FDR was elected president, he had the most difficult time, getting someone to accept the Ambassadorship to Germany. Everyone he asked, said no thank you. Not surprising. Nor is it surprising, that all the no sayers, had a lot to say about the man who finally did say yes. They did not want the job, but no-one was good enough in their view, to be a substitute for themselves! A very human character flaw!!!

Mr Dodd was a Historian, teaching in Chicago, dreaming of becoming Ambassador in Holland or Belgium, so that he could write his opus of the Old South. His job did not allow him to write the book of his dreams. But he thought a cozy Ambassador job would allow him time to himself. When the jobs were offered though , he chickened out, but when FDR invited him and asked him to go to Germany and become a beacon in that dark country, he agreed. He had studied there in his youth and wanted to go back there with his wife and grown children. A last time for the family to be together. His two tasks were to make Germany pay back money it owed, and to try to protect American Jews in Germany from being hurt. He was supposed to set an example  to the Germans. In the interview, Dodd told the president that he intended to live on his salary so there would not be the usual luxury and waste, which much pleased the president.

Let’s say that the State Department was full of men in power that hated Jews. They saw no problem with what was going on in Germany. Let them do as they please. When consuls like Messersmith, wrote report after report of all horrible atrocities going on around him, they made fun of his lengthy reports and ignored their contents. Not only did they hate Jews, they hated the fact that a history professor became ambassador, and that he had no private fortune to waste on parties. From the outset, they did everything to get rid of him. All of Ambassador Dodd’s reports were laughed at as well.

When Dodd arrived in Berlin, he was scorned. He arrived with an old Chevrolet and decided to rent a house from a Jewish banker, that wanted the protection of a powerful rentée. The Jewish banker and family, were to live on the fourth floor in the house, but that turned in to just one of many unfortunate mistakes that the Ambassador made. He was an embarrassment to the Americans because of his frugal living, leaving parties early, going to bed early, walking to work… And an even bigger mistake was to take his marthadodd28-year-old son Bill and 24-year-old daughter Martha to Berlin. They spent all their time at night clubs and Martha, who was secretly married and going through a divorce, was a very promiscuous young lady, which did not escape anyone, especially not the Gestapo, since one of the men she was sleeping with, was  its head.

The sad part was that Ambassador Dodd’s heart was in the right place. But without a supporting group behind him, there was little he could do to make a difference. The Germans more and more looked down on him. Especially after he tried to set them straight a couple of times, at dinners and in speeches. He really tried to help people, he tried to get abused Americans restitution, but to no avail. He also tried to make the State Department understand that it was wrong for Embassy people to waste private fortunes on parties, that they could not work just when they wanted to and go off to play golf or whatever when they felt like it. But of course, no-one listened to him in Washington D.C. Finally, he had to realize that the only thing he could do personally, when Washington did not listen to his warnings about Germany and about the service itself, was to be the beacon in the darkness till his time was over. He and his family could only observe when the Long Night of the Knives took place and other nightmarish events.

It was an uplifting book to read, in the way that I could read with my own eyes, what this man saw at an early stage. And Ambassador Phipps from Britain, likewise. There were people who reported home, and to the press, what was going on and came with astute warnings. They understood what was happening, they understood what Hitler’s ultimate plans were, but unfortunately, the people who could have done something, did not want to do anything. Their concerns lay elsewhere. What was not uplifting to read of course, was the backstabbing that went on, the jealousies. Reading about how Martha, the daughter, transformed from accepting Nazism, to her seeing them for what they were, was upsetting because one would have thought she could have seen that from the start.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with two reservations. After 1934, when Dodd became disillusioned and felt like he could not do anything and that he didn’t even have the President’s support, he stayed in Germany till 29 December 1937. Sadly, the book skips the years between these dates and only at the end goes through the details of Dodd getting fired since FDR was too much of a coward to stand up to Dodd’s enemies in the State Department and the Germans. He put a new Ambassador in Germany that completely licked the Nazis boots! And all was well… Or!?

My other reservation about this book is a strong one. In my hardcover version of the book, every page came out as I turned them. So now I have a loose leaf book! And the book is not THAT cheap! The glue is of a very poor quality in other words. Perhaps the paperback has better binding?

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