“In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.”


download (8)
Leni Riefenstahl: Triumph of the Will


The Dodd Family

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
by Erik Larson


Cindy Knoke‘s review

Dec 28, 12  ·
5 of 5 stars false
Eric Larsen is a meticulous researcher and writer.  His book “Devil in the White City,” a non-fiction account of a serial killer on a spree during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was a tour de force, but “In the Garden of Beasts,” may be his greatest accomplishment to date. This book, relying on historical records and eye witness accounts, details the experiences of William E. Dodd and his family living in Hitler’s Berlin from 1933-38, when Dodd was the first US ambassador to Berlin under Hitler’s regime.
Dodd, an unassuming professor from the University of Chicago, who had received his Ph.D. from the University of Leipzig thirty years before, was somewhat ill prepared to be an ambassador. He was more at home at his farm or in a classroom than in an international embassy.  He was viewed as a middle class, penny-pincher, who scrupulously monitored embassy expenses.  This made him the butt of jokes and ill will among embassy staffers, most of whom were independently wealthy.  His penurious ways also made him the butt of jokes among the Nazi elite.
Despite this awkward fit, Dodd was a remarkable person, who sent a series of astutely accurate reports back to President Roosevelt during his tenure, documenting escalating atrocities against Jews under Hitler’s regime, restrictions in civil liberties, press censorship, violence and incarceration against opponents and German citizens, and the alarming increase in martial law.
When Dodd assumed the Ambassadorship, Hitler was Hindenburg’s Chancellor. Hindenburg died a year later, the same year that Hitler and his supporters staged a coup to route out their substantial German opposition led by Eric Rohm. It was after this violent and bloody coup, “The Night of The Long Knives,” that Dodd commenced his campaign to inform President Roosevelt and the American leadership about the atrocities occurring under the Nazi regime. His remarkable and accurate reports were essentially ignored by American leadership preoccupied by the depression, and unable to get their minds around what was occurring in Europe. Dodd was relentless in his unpopular campaign despite this resistance.
As if all of this wasn’t challenging enough, Dodd who served in Berlin with his wife, son Bill and daughter Martha, had his hands full with…umm…vivacious Martha. Martha, 22 years old when she arrived in Berlin, had already been secretly married and divorced. She wasted no time upon arrival in Berlin to involve herself in the Third Reich social whirlwind. It was impossible for me to keep track of her sexual liaisons, but she had affairs with an Luftwaffe Officer; Rudolf Diels, the head of the Gestapo; a Russian spy stationed in Berlin; a French Diplomat; American personnel; the poet Carl Sandburg; a Nobel Laureate and many more. Keeping track was difficult for the reader, and possibly for Martha herself.
Originally Martha was a Third Reich supporter, but after The Night of the Long Knives, her politics turned sharply left and anti-Nazi. The violence and imprisonment of her friends who opposed Hitler shocked her. The ambassador’s residence phone was tapped by the Nazis,  and servants were paid to spy and eavesdrop on the family. Her mother nearly had a nervous breakdown due to stress.
So Martha, being Martha,  decided to convert to communism, and spy for Russia with her lover, the Russian spy.
Martha’s fascinating life is way too complicated for me to try to explain. You must read the book. She did continue to spy for Russian against the US through the Cold War, even after marrying Alfred Stern, heir to the Sears Roebuck fortune.
This review is just the tip of the iceberg. You must read the book. The denouement of the ambassador and his family’s tenure in Germany is absolutely fascinating reading, as is the denouement of Martha’s Dodd’s peculiar life.
No one could make up a story like this because it would not be credible. You will learn so much about this period in German history, and for that alone this book is invaluable. The full story of Martha’s life is mind-boggling as well.
But in the final analysis, it is steady, relentless, William Dodd, trying to alert the US to what was happening in Europe that impressed me.
Highly recommend this remarkable book.

The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic!


download (3)

Willard State Hospital

by, Darby Penny, Peter Stastny, Lisa Rinzler, Robert Whitaker.

When Willard State Hospital closed in 1995, after 125 years of continuous operation, 427 patient suitcases, filled with patient’s personal belonging, were discovered, abandoned, in an attic.

download (6)

This interesting book attempts to bring to light the personal stories of ten of these patients whose suitcases were intensely studied. The authors chose these specific suitcases because there were a lot of personal notes and materials in each of these ten suitcases, that provided the authors with enough data, combined with patient records and charts, to try to reconstruct these ten people’s lives.

This is a fascinating book about these people’s lives and about the hospital itself. The authors are incredibly patient detectives, who tease out a great deal of facts and details from these suitcases, chart notes, and interviews with hospital staff members, many retired. They locate living relatives of the deceased patients and also interview them whenever possible. The reader feels as if one is reading a riveting detective story x 10, but it is non-fiction, which makes it all the more remarkable.

The “The Willard Asylum for the Insane,” opened in Ovid, New York in 1896. It closed in 1995.  54,000 people were committed to Willard during its 126 years of operation. Most patients stayed at Willard for an average of 30 years. One woman for example, arrived 1899, and died 77 years later in the hospital at the age of 100. Half the patients who entered the facility died there.

Many of the people who were admitted to Willard would not meet the criteria for involuntary hospitalization today. Many were immigrants, who had experienced a series of major stresses in their lives such as the death of a spouse, loss of a job, poverty, homelessness, one woman was regularly beaten by her spouse. There was a nun who left her order and had nowhere else to go. And of course, many patients did have major psychiatric disorders.

Today most of these people, if lucky enough to be able to GET treatment, would receive short-term treatment on an outpatient basis, living in board and care homes. Or they might live on their own with case management, or as quite often occurs, they would live on the streets with no medication or treatment at all, either because services are unavailable, or patients are non-compliant. Many mentally ill people today, who could be helped by a short stay in a psychiatric hospital, therapy, and medication, are unable to receive these services and end up living on our streets (Barton, C. 2006).

What makes this book so interesting, is not these grim statistics, but the detective work the writers embark on to tell the stories of these people’s incredible lives. Who were these people who were left behind and forgotten? Where did they come from? Why were they left here for so long? What was their story?

The bulk of the book examines these people lives and answers these questions, and it is a riveting read. You will find yourself drawn into to these people’s lives and experiences, taken back to the times they lived, and you will see their experience through their eyes.  This is a major accomplishment on the part of these four authors. The authors, one of whom is a psychiatrist, and another a journalist and advocate for the mentally ill,  are all exceedingly patient, master-detectives.

The suitcase project eventually became an exhibit, that traveled around the country and I have included the following link for you to see. It gives an idea of how interesting and compelling this book is.


download (5)

Highly recommend.

download (4)

Willard Hospital

(Photo Source: The Suitcase Project: The Lives They Left Behind).

Need A Little Caribbean Right About Now?


Not the Royal kind…

But the real kind?

How about lesser visited Eleuthera?

The fried conch is to die for……



And the dolphin always want to play…..dol3


At the library built in 1897, you can check out a book…ele6 (1)


The beaches are pink and warm in January

F10 150 (2)


The island is beautiful

ele3 (2)

And the sunsets are too.

So, why not, visit Eleuthera?

It’s not that far from you.


“In The Sanctuary of Outcasts,” Neil White.


Carville Louisiana

Neil White was a supremely successful southern business man, first a reporter, than a publisher, with a beautiful wife, lovely children, gorgeous homes and a yacht. He was a leader in the business community, contributed to many charities, and was an elite philanthropist, who traveled the world in high style.

White’s world came crashing down when he was arrested for kiting million dollar checks and committing financial fraud by the FBI. White was sentenced to 18 months incarceration in Carville Louisiana, a picturesque, verdant, small, community in Louisiana.

It was not until White arrived at the locus of his incarceration, that he realized he was to serve his time in the nation’s only remaining Leprosorium, for people who were disfigured by Hansens disease. Many of the people in the facility had contracted the disease as children and were living out their entire lives in Carville, to protect them from the cruelties of the outside world. Most had been there for decades.


Other white-collar criminal types were also incarcerated at Carville. One was new White’s roomy, a Russian born physician and pharmacist, convicted of Medicare fraud for using an compound banned by the FDA, but quite effective for weight loss. He estimated that he had billed Medicaid between $15-$37 million for these useful services. He was sentenced to 15 years in Carville. He was an very interesting man.

At White’s first prisoner group meeting upon his arrival, led, of course, by a priest, another newly arrived con-man criminal, tells the priest group leader, that he didn’t want to “become no leopard.”

Shortly after this first fun group orientation, White receives notification that his wife has, understandably, filed for divorce.

So starts this absolutely incredible memoir. It’s reminded me in some ways of Thomas Mann’s, “Magic Mountain,” except that Mann’s sanatorium was in a TB Asylum in Switzerland, not in a Leprosorium in Louisiana.
images (16)

White is an astoundingly good writer, and he strips himself raw in this memoir, examining himself and his life. He enters the leprosorium, an arrogant and self-involved man, and he leaves it profoundly changed by the experience.

The book is not a depressing read. It is incredible, at times uplifting, sometimes tragically sad, but also moving. It is, of course, also true.

The residents the reader meets who live in the Carville facility seem to exist in an alternate universe, separate entirely from our world and ways. The reality of people sequestered away for their entire lives for a treatable, manageable, disease is heartbreaking. More so when you consider the separations and horrific losses this would have necessitated earlier in their lives. By the time White enters the facility most of the permanent residents had lived there for decades. This was their home.

At times, similar to when reading Mann’s Magic Mountain, I felt the residents sense of safety, their adjustment to their completely removed sanctuary, even if it meant they were outcasts.

After all, don’t most  people feel like a bit of an outcast at some time or another in their life?

Shakespeare certainly did. He wrote Sonnet 29 about it:


“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.”

But then he remembers, no matter how outcast he might be in “fortune and in men’s eye’s,” he is not an outcast …..

“For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”

Something similar to this occurs in this book .  Some of the people in the sanctuary, form bonds of friendship, respect and emotional attachment to each other, that results in an unexpected community, that is quite moving to read about.

In fact, later when I learned they might move the residents out of the only home they had known for many decades, I became quite upset, thinking you can’t rob these people who have suffered too much, of their only sanctuary.

White forms a close friendship with Ella Bounds, an 88 year old black woman and double amputee, who contracted leprosy as a child. She is a dignified and impressive person, who clearly had a powerful effect on White, as she does on the reader. There are more people and stories here that will at times humor you, possibly anger you, definitely surprise you, but in the end, move you profoundly.

White leaves after eighteen months, a changed person, and the reader is a better person also, for having read this book.

Highly recommend.

For more reading on the history of the Carville Facility and the current location of the present facility, please see:





Memorial to Those Who Perished in Struthof.

I have a long standing interest in the history of WWII and the European Resistance Movement. I have read extensively on the subject, visited The Holocaust Museum in the US and toured Dachau in Germany.

In 2010 we visited Obersalzburg where we visited the site of Hitler’s Bavarian residence, Berghof, and his house, the Eagle’s Nest. Hitler rarely visited Eagle’s Nest because he was a severe acrophobe. There is a museum very worth visiting about the Third Reich in Oberslazburg. Goring, Speer and Borman also had residences nearby.

We visited Obersalzburg on a freezing cold October morning, which seemed appropriate for what we were seeing and experiencing. It was a little difficult to find the site as there were very minimal road signs to indicate the way. The most remarkable thing about Hitler’s Berghof  is the extensive underground redoubt system he constructed. Goring had one also. These underground bunkers had extensive tunnels with elevators, air shafts, multiple interconnected underground rooms, some with chandeliers, storage facilities and a location for snipers to kill anyone entering the pass. Hitler planned this as a place to hide, fight, and win his last battles. What struck me most forcefully in Hitler’s redoubt was the true insanity of the man and his followers. He literally thought that if he was losing the war, he could live for an extended time frame underground with his loyal followers. This is a surreal place, and if you are in Salzburg,  I recommend you visit. We need to understand this type of insanity so we can better recognize it when it rears it’s ugly head.

bunker obersalzburg

Hitler’s Underground Redoubt

I also wanted while in Alsace to visit Struthof, which is a lesser-known concentration camp that housed many members of the European Resistance. So on another unseasonably cold day in July the subsequent year, we made the journey over the picturesque mountains and forests of Alsace to Struthof.

First, some facts about this camp.

Struthof Concentration Camp is located in Alsace France, thirty-one miles southwest of Strasbourg. This camp housed many members of the European Resistance, mostly from France, Norway and the Netherlands. An estimated 7000 prisoners were from the French resistance alone. Many communist resisters were incarcerated in this camp, along with Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. An estimated 52,000 people were incarcerated here with a death rate of approximately 40% of total inmates, or 22,000 people. The youngest inmate was eleven years old and the oldest was seventy-eight. (source: http://www.struthof.fr)

Struthof was “one of the most murderous camps of the Nazi system.” (www.struthof.fr)  Prisoners were used in forced labor for the Nazis. Medical experiments were conducted onsite by Nazi Physicians from the Reich University of Strasbourg, mostly on Gypsy prisoners. It contained a gas chamber. The medical experimentation rooms are still there and are quite distressing to see. Most disturbing of all to me were the pens where prisoners who were selected for special punishments were kept for extended periods. They resemble dog pens in a pet store, prisoners could sit in them but not lie down or stand, as they were just over 3×3′ in size. If Devil’s Island was malevolent, which it was, the evil in this place and in Dachau is non-describable by me.



strEs a

strucstruth 4

It is worthwhile when visiting Europe to take time to visit some of these places. It leaves a strong impression and will to stand up for what is  humane all over the world. Estimates vary but between 11.5-17 million people were killed in The Holocaust during WWII.  Jews, (Roma) Gypsys, Russians, Poles, Slavs, allied military personnel, people of conscience, intellectuals, dissenters, Christians, homosexuals, members of the resistance, handicapped people, the list goes on and on (See references for source information regarding statistics.) My uncle was in a POW camp in Europe after he was shot down in a mission over Germany. He was an Air Force Navigator. 3.5 million POW’s were estimated to have been killed in these camps.  WWII would eventually claim the lives of more than 62 million people. This is most likely an under representation because there are not accurate counts of the dead in China (whole towns were obliterated) and Russia where countless millions of souls perished.

(Please see link below for discussion of latest population statistics on the war as they do vary, but contemporary consensus seems to be that numbers are under-reported.)

Visiting Struthof is difficult and disturbing, but important, in that we need to remember and honor all those who perished in this terrible war.



A Mosaic of Victims: Non Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis. Ed:  Michael Berenbaum. NYU Press. 2000.

Ellis, John. World War II: A Statistical Survey, Facts on File. 1993.

Niewyk, Donald.  The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust. Columbia University Press, 2000.