244 of 255 people found the following review helpful
Lawrence H. Bulk
- Published on Amazon.com
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Over the years I have read quite a few books about Germany between the wars, such as Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s by Otto Friedrich and Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 by William L. Shirer. In addition I have read many books about Hitler and the Nazis and World War II, as well as three voluminous (and excellent) biographies (Toland, Fest, and Kershaw) of Hitler himself. Naturally I also read (when I was a junior in high school) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by Shirer. (It cost $10.00 when first published and it took me a while to save up that much money but I did and I got the book.) In my opinion, it's still the best overall history of Nazi Germany ever written.
But these books are, of necessity, generalized and they are primarily concerned with political history, military history, and/or economic history.
There have also been some books written from Germans individuals' points of view, such as the two Saul Friedlander books Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939 and The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 as well as those by Victor Klemperer I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941 and I Will Bear Witness 1942-1945: A Diary of the Nazi Years.
But these are told, obviously, from the German (Jewish) point of view. What about the American point of view?
While there were many Americans living and working in Germany during the Weimar Republic and after, other than "Berlin Diary," (one man's point of view) I had read no books about these other Americans' varied views about actual life there during the Republic and during its collapse and replacement by the Nazi dictatorship. Recently, Erik Larson wrote an excellent book In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin about the first US Ambassador to Nazi Germany, William Dodd and his family. This book is superb reading material (and I highly recommend it to you) but, concentrating on the Dodd family who came to Germany only in 1933, it does not go into much detail about the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis during the 1920s.
Andrew Nagorski's new Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power is the first book I have ever seen which discusses MANY individual Americans' impressions of this rise and later consolidation. Though the book itself is written with the benefit of hindsight, the quotations from many people - including William L. Shirer, Howard K. Smith, other American correspondents and broadcasters, William Dodd, Truman Smith and his wife, and other American diplomats, many other "ordinary" Americans who happened either to be living there or just visiting, and even Ernst 'Putzi' Hanfstaengl and his wife, as well as a few other Nazi "insiders" - all of the quotations were written at the time, in other words, WITHOUT the benefit of hindsight.
These writings are taken from diaries, articles, and books (both published and unpublished).
It is the "you are there" feeling which makes this book so valuable. Essentially social history, it shows the day-by-day rise of the Nazis and their attainment and consolidation of power in what had been the most civilized country in the world, as viewed by Americans living there - some in high positions, but mostly ordinary people.
I'm certain that nothing like this has ever been written before.
None of the above would be of much use to the average reader if the writing itself were mediocre and pedantic. Fortunately, this is NOT the case. Andrew Nagorski is a writer who knows how to tell a story and who knows how to organize the varied (and often contradictory) published and unpublished writings of the actual authors, both their writings at the time as well as their writings after the fact (and sometimes they tried to 'clarify' - that is revise - what they had actually written and thought at the time). His writing is both very interesting and very informative.
Some Americans tried to ignore the situation altogether. Some were either "neutral" or pro-Nazi. And some were most definitely anti-Nazi. Some started off as one but. through observation and sometimes personal experiences, became the other. But all of their writings are extremely interesting and very valuable.
I personally thank Andrew Nagorski for undertaking this monumental effort. I had trouble putting the book down! I think anyone who is interested in this facet of 20th Century history will also find this book to be an excellent resource and good reading.
There is a voluminous and useful Notes section as well as an excellent Bibliography.
I give this book my highest recommendation.
84 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Michael J. Edelman
- Published on Amazon.com
Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Modern day readers of WWII era history often find themselves wondering how the world could have tolerated the rise of someone like Adolf HItler. Didn't people see the rise of the Nazi party coming? Isn't there something that could have been done to stop him? The answer might surprise those who grew up in the 21st Century.
Germany after World War I was both the most exciting place in Europe- and the saddest. Crippled economically by war reparations it was paying to the victorious Allies, it was at the same time the center of the most existing new movements in art, literature and the theater. Berlin was, for many, the most exciting place in the world, and those who could afford to come, did. Surprisingly, it was also the most liberal of all European nations, and probably the single best place in Europe for a Jew to live. Americans were particularly welcome, as the Germans largely saw them as potential friends who they could ally with against what German saw as the existential threat posed by France. And American visitors were similarly charmed by the warm welcome they received, and were only too happy to help out politically and economically. During the days of the Weimar government, many US banks and companies made loans to German industries to help rebuild this potential ally.
Things were not so rosy in much of Germany. Workers, Farmers, and those without access to foreign capital were impoverished by both the burden of reparations and the hyperinflation that was a consequence of the Weimar Republic's attempt to print money in lieu of engineering actual economic growth. While the Weimar government had strong support among the upper classes, the hearts and minds of the masses were being increasingly attracted to two opposing philosophical camps: On one side, the Communists promised a new state, a dictatorship of the proletariat, in which all workers would share the wealth of the nation. On the other side, nationalists and militarists urged replacing the Weimar Repuiblic with the nationalistic, militaristic state that had been Germany under Bismark.
There were several parties and organizations on each side of this struggle, but the one that was gaining the most public support was the National Socialist Party, led by a man who many thought possessed of great charm, and an electrifying public speaker- Adolf Hitler. Hitler was not only a natural leader, he had formulated a political platform that combined the socialism and promise of wealth-sharing of the Communists with the nationalistic fervor of the militarists. He called his program national socialism, and he and his followers dressed in militaristic garb to emphasize the point.
It should be noted that this was not entirely Hitler's idea. He had himself watched the rise of Mussolini in Italy, where Il Duce had instituted his own particular brand of nationalistic socialism,- Fascism. (Mussolini himself had taken some inspiration from the American Progressive movement.) To Mussolini's nationalistic, socialist, philosophy, Hitler added his philosophy of racial purity, and created not just a militaristic, nationalistic socialism, but an entirely new German mythos.
All this was watched with fascination by the Americans who moved freely throughout Germany right up until German's declaration of war against the US. Many thought Hitler was, overall, a positive influence, someone who would get the country moving again. Yes, there was that nasty bit of antisemitism, they said, but that was just something to appeal to the masses. After all, Germany's champion tennis pro, Daniel Prenn, was a Jew, wasn't he? Yes, Hitler's SA were a bit... overzealous, but there's no real need for alarm. He couldn't really mean all those things he wrote about purifying the race. Anyways, many had rationalized, he did have a point about the Jews. Even FDR, in deciding not to withdraw from the Berlin Olympics in 1936, was influenced by the fact that his administration was perceived by many as being "too Jew friendly." Antisemitism was not an unpopular view in the America of the 1930s. And a great many Americans could trace their ancestry to Germany. Before WWII, there were great many German-American Bunds, and people celebrated their German heritage. WWI wasn't looked on a a German war so much as the "Kaiser's War."
Watching newsreels of the era, the modern day viewer cannot help but be puzzled by this- could that small, Chaplain-esque man in the newsreels really have been capable of electrifying crowds? NO less a figure than William Shirer wrote in his well known The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany how he himself was absolutely captivated by one of Hitler's speeches- only to find, when he bought a transcript the next day, that it was empty, and filled with banalities. Shirer was not the only American to witness Hitler's rise close up. German between the two world wars was filled with American reporters, military attaches, diplomatic personnel, businessmen, and ordinary citizens who found it exciting and stimulating to the point of becoming more than just passive viewers. As late as 1936 German and American army officers were participating in exercises at each other's war colleges, something that showed the Americans how Germany was planning to revolutionize mobile warfare, and showed the Germans how ill-prepared for war America was.
Many Americans found Hitler charming and exciting as well. One German-American couple in particular- Helen and "Putzi" Stanfnaegl- were seduced by the Hitler's rising power and influence in the German state, and found themselves in his inner circle. Putzi sold his interest in a business in order to finance the Nazi party newspaper. Helen, according to her own telling of the story, stopped Hitler from committing suicide after his failed Beer Hall Putsch. Another German-American, Frederick Kaltenbach, became the American voice of Nazi radio broadcasts.
For every American who saw Hitler's rise as a good thing for Germany, there were a number who saw it as a threat- and yet many of them doubted he'd actually achieve his aims. Dorothy Thompson clearly saw Hitler's rise as a threat, but even she doubted that he would achieve his goal of a Nazi Germany. She was not alone in this belief. Few thought that Hitler and his gang of thugs were powerful enough to topple a strong leader like Hindenburg. Thompson's husband, Sinclair Lewis, was affected enough by what Dorothy had told him of German affairs that he was inspired to write "It Can't Happen Here," a novel about the rise of a dictator. But Lewis set his book in the US, not in German. Other Americans came over mildly supportive of the Nazis, only to be disillusioned by what they saw. Some, like the legendary broadcaster H. V. Kaltenborn, appeared to go to great lengths to convince themselves not to see the obvious. But even those reporters who clearly saw the horrors of the new Nazi state emerge kept a sort of conspiracy of silence, in order to be able to stay in German. The Associated Press' Louis Lochner later wrote: "Our orders from our bosses were to tell no untruth, but to report only as much of the truth, without distorting the picture, as would enable us to remain at our posts."
Andrew Nagorski has done an excellent job of stitching together a wide range of narratives from a great many sources to create a vivid picture of the American experience in Germany between the wars. The cast includes well known figures, like Shirer, Thompson, Hans Kaltenborn, Richard Helms, Howard K. Smith, Charles Lindburgh and Edward R. Murrow as well as a great many unknown diplomats, officers, businessmen, writers, and ordinary citizens who witnessed the rise of the Third Reich. Excellent and informative reading for anyone interested in the history of the 20th Century and the events that shaped the modern world.