Back in the day while working on my Masters in History, I spent about a year researching and studying Christian resistance in Nazi Germany. Resistance in Germany under Hitler’s reign of terror has always been an intriguing topic. Hearing the stories of people in Germany during that time (from Hitler’s Secretary, to Colonel Stauffenberg to the survivors) is a fascinating topic to research and discuss.
Enter: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson, the story of William E. Dodd and his family. Dodd served as America’s first ambassador under Hitler’s Germany. At first they saw nothing wrong with Hitler’s new Germany, but soon the truth unfolded and they were faced with fighting those who didn’t believe or refused to listen. Based on memoirs and letters, this story provides incredible details and insight and once again I highly recommend reading it.
Here’s five more insights from reading book:
1. Larson is an amazing writer. I look forward to reading more of his books.
2. It was hard reading this book at some points because I didn’t understand why more people didn’t see Hitler for what he was, a twisted and brutal madman. But at one point, Dodd believed “Hitler’s regime was too brutal and irrational to last.” (pg. 287). Maybe people in the 1930’s couldn’t believe people would follow someone that mad, and when they did, it was too late to stop the world from entering yet another war.
3. Once people, like the Dodd’s, saw Hitler’s regime for what it was, I cannot imagine the frustration and anger they felt as they constantly tried to let Americans know, only to fall on deaf ears. After the Long Night of Knives in 1934, as Larson pointed out, “Dodd continued to hope that the murders would so outrage the German public that the regime would fall, but as the days passed he saw no evidence of any such outpouring of anger.” There’s no point in over analyzing the what ifs, but you can’t help but wonder why no one listened.
4. No matter how often I study World War 2, I’m left stunned at the cruelty of a man so hungry for power and what he would do to make certain he achieved absolute power, like the amounts of murders Hitler ordered so easily when he was “purging” the German government.
5. Yet, with every story of human darkness, there lies stories of those who in small ways spoke out, even if it cost them their lives. Like Dodd, who became “a lone beacon of American freedom and hope in a land of gathering darkness.”
Be sure to check it out!