What happened to the American NSDAP

Erik LarsonA US ambassador to Nazi Germany

Adolf Hitler has been German Chancellor for two months, so in the spring of 1933 the post of American ambassador in Berlin had to be filled again. President Roosevelt is struggling to find a suitable and willing man for it: Several candidates refuse because Germany is no longer one of the first addresses for ambitious diplomats. Many prefer to wait until the crazy spook called Hitler has ended. But time is of the essence, because the US President is concerned about $ 1.2 billion that Germany owes American creditors. So Roosevelt appoints William E. Dodd, a hard-working history professor, 63 years old, who studied in Leipzig.

Dodd was looking for a quiet post that would secure his status and a livelihood without being too demanding, so that he had as much time as possible to write - although he did see that by nature he was not necessarily a diplomat.

At the beginning of July 1933, Dodd embarked for Germany with his wife and two adult children, Martha and Bill. In his luggage he has the task of looking after the American money in Germany, waiting for the end of the Hitler regime and not openly protesting against the persecution of the Jews. On the one hand, Jewish associations in the USA had warned against a confrontation with the Nazi regime in order not to provoke it any further. On the other hand, the US president feared the onslaught of Jewish immigrants from Germany if their needs were loudly complained about. The new Ambassador Dodd has resolved to moderate the Nazis through reason. His cheerful 24-year-old daughter Martha, however, is enthusiastic about Germany and the "National Socialist Revolution":

When Martha left the hotel she saw no violence, saw no frightened faces, felt no oppression. The city was a delight. What Goebbels condemned was exactly what Martha loved. A short walk down the street to the right, away from the cool green of the zoo, brought you to Potsdamer Platz, one of the busiest intersections in the world. The fact was, most days the city looked and worked in almost every neighborhood as it had always looked and worked.

Diary entries of US Ambassador William E. Dodd

As in a report, Erik Larson tells the story of the US Ambassador William E. Dodd, researched, among other things, on the basis of Dodd's diary entries. The author succeeds very convincingly in illustrating the coexistence of normality and excess under the young Nazi regime. The daughter Martha Dodd plays a special role. She is smart, flirtatious and attractive, and she shakes hands with Hitler, Goebbels, foreign diplomats and German resistance members alike. In their footsteps, the reader gets to know a Berlin in upheaval, contradicting and exciting - at least for someone who is safe from beating brown shirts. Martha's father is less naive than she is, and yet blind to the swelling evil: he ignores the fact that Jews are increasingly being marginalized, he urges a critical American journalist to leave the country and is happy to set up his residence in a villa near the zoo for little money to be able to - the owner, a Jewish banker, moves under the roof with his mother. It is to the great merit of the author that the changes in the views of the protagonists are credible and vivid. At the same time, the reader experiences the upheaval in the capital Berlin from a central place of modernity to a place of fear, denunciation and terror.

The life of the Dodds underwent a subliminal change. If they had previously believed that they could speak freely and openly at least in their own house, they suddenly felt a new, unknown bias. The fears found their way into her dreams.

Nevertheless, Ambassador Dodd believes that simply by promoting American values ​​he can lead Germany back onto the path of virtue. However, Dodd's daughter Martha, who knows the nightlife in the capital, who has - in some cases parallel - relationships with the Gestapo chief, a Soviet and a French embassy employee and with the American author Tom Wolfe, learns too much to continue from the blond Aryan youths to be excited.

Their blind affirmation of the Hitler regime faded into benevolent skepticism and turned into deep rejection.

The reader learns interesting details about the elimination of the SA as a political competitor to Hitler and about Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen's approaching opposition speech at the University of Marburg. With these conflicts, the author also shows the change of Ambassador Dodds to a declared opponent of the Nazis, who was the only diplomat who demonstratively stayed away from the Nuremberg Nazi party rallies. After Dodd's return to the United States in 1938, he warned of the German threat to peace and civilization and advocated the United States' entry into the war against Germany. The author Erik Larson judges the diplomat, who was assessed by many colleagues as an embarrassing or curious wrong choice:

In the end, Dodd turned out to be exactly what Roosevelt had wanted, a lonely beacon of American freedom and hope in a land sunk in darkness.

Most of all, however, the author likes to follow Martha Dodd's paths, her love affairs and ventures. This may be due to the sources, but also to the piquancy of their daring love life. In the end, Martha even ends up in the service of the Soviet secret service, but the reader does not find out more about it. The well-researched and well-documented book is not entirely free from gossip, loquacity and gossip; it is written fluently and entertainingly. Grammatically it occasionally bumps, here a better proofreading would have done well. However, the unbiased look at Berlin from 1933 to 1938 is definitely worth reading.