Erik Larson has done it again - taken a slice of our collective history and served it up in an eminently readable fashion. Through dispassionate prose and accompanying photos, In the Garden of the Beasts chronicles Hitler's ascent from chancellor to tyrant by looking at the ambassadorship of William E. Dodd, a former professor turned American ambassador to Germany.
Dodd was not part of the wealthy elite that generally make up the ambassador corps, and his determination to live within his salary, coupled with his criticisms of those that didn't, made him stand out from the pack. As Dodd witnesses and hears of anti-Semitic attacks, including attacks on American citizens, he tries to sound a warning bell, but his warnings fall on deaf ears. There were many promoters of isolationism and laissez-faire (hands-off) within the United States at the time, and Germany had a huge bond debt to the US. Stirring up trouble by criticizing Germany's actions might have resulted in those debts not being repaid, and that seemed to be the biggest consideration by our government at the time. In addition, most Americans did not take the ridiculous-looking Hitler seriously.
His daughter Martha, rather promiscuous for the times, had a number of affairs while living with her parents in Germany, and her behavior also counted against Dodd, as at least one of her affairs was with a high-ranking member of the Nazi party, Rudolf Diels, originally the Gestapo chief.
As Dodd and his family witness persecution and see brutal laws being enacted such as the law for Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases, which resulted in the enforced sterilization of close to 400,000 "undesirables" in Nazi Germany, Dodd continues his warning attempts to no avail.
This account helps the reader understand how and why Hitler was allowed to rise to power. It illustrates how a collective blind eye was turned until it was too late, and should reinforce the lesson that saying nothing is as good as giving permission.
I would definitely recommend this for any reader who would like a deeper understanding of this period in history, especially for anyone who still wonders HOW.
From the foreword: There are no heroes here, at least not of the Schindler's List variety, but there are glimmers of heroism and people who behave with unexpected grace. Always there is nuance, albeit sometimes of a disturbing nature.
Regarding Jews: . . . "they intended to ruin Germany." More furious now than ever, Hitler proclaimed, "If they continue their activity, we shall make a complete end to all of them in this country."
It was a strange moment. Here was Dodd, the humble Jeffersonian schooled to view statesmen as rational creatures, seated before the leader of one of Europe's great nations as that leader grew nearl y hysterical with fury and threatened to destroy a portion of his own population.
Throughout that first year in Germany, Dodd had been struck again and again by the strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest. It was as if he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended.
BOOK RATING: 4 out of 5 starsshow more
by Julie Smith