Tag Archive | WWII

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

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Leni Riefenstahl: Triumph of the Will

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The Dodd Family

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

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Cindy Knoke‘s review

Dec 28, 12  ·
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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So Martha, being Martha,  decided to convert to communism, and spy for Russia with her lover, the Russian spy.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Highly recommend this remarkable book.

“Endgame 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II,” by David Stafford

2680653 (1)Endgame 1945 is an historical narrative told from the perspective of eyewitnesses, about the final three months after VE Day in Europe. It covers in fascinating detail events leading to the deaths of Hitler and Mussolini, the liberation of concentration camps and the challenges faced by allied occupying forces contending with the mass human trauma of war devastated Europe. It describes the Herculean task faced by relief agencies dealing with displaced persons and the traumas experienced by German women and children in Allied occupied Germany.
This book is a tour de force. Stafford is a brilliant writer and historian and his subject, these specific three months, has been mostly neglected by historians. This is a riveting, compelling read that is difficult to put down and stays with you long after you finish reading it. The extent of the trauma in Europe was mind boggling. The task of restoring order, Sisyphean. The heroism of the allies incredible and the suffering of so many hard to contemplate.
87408c1301d10a9bdc812743de94cd2f (Photo: Struthof Concentration Camp, C. Knoke).

HHhH by Laurent Binet

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I am addicted to reading about the history of WWII and I really wanted to like this book.
Binet’s book however frustrated me. The constant insertion of the author into the text and his continuous use of the word “I” was incredibly distracting. Who was this book about precisely, the author or Heydrich? The purported topic, Heydrich was interesting, the author’s pathos? Not so much.
His short chapter format consisting of 257 chapters, some of which were only a few sentences long, resulted in a choppy, stilted flow.
His constant debunking of historical novels, and their fictionalized aspects, gets a bit tired, but I found his statement that, “I am struck all the same by the fact that, in every case, fiction wins out over history,” provocative. But I also was then, confused by his many discussions of Hollywood movies about the era and his continuous insertion of fictionalized vignettes that he explained were to serve as examples of how he wasn’t fictionalizing. One senses he is really fascinated with historical fictionalized accounts but thinks he is doing something far superior. I think he may not have achieved this goal.
He is an interesting, intelligent man, and this should have been a better book.
If you want a recommendation for a riveting read on the era, try, “Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II,” by David Stafford.