In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Germany

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin  

Erik Larson 2011

Larson is an amazing storyteller.  He infuses the history of Berlin with the family story of the man chosen to be our ambassador by FDR, against everyone's better judgement.  William Dodd was not FDR's first choice by any means, and did not fit in well with the other diplomats.

Dodd's daughter Martha is young, and perhaps quite a bit too carefree, where her father is extremely conservative and naive.  The family arrives in Germany in 1933, and of note is that there are many residences available, fully furnished, and Dodd lands a bargain.  Of course, it is owned by a Jewish family who was exiled.

Martha's entanglements take up more of the book than I would prefer, I found her exhausting and irritating, in her foolishness, and her promiscuity.  However, she was a writer herself, and Larson draws a good bit on her material.  Perhaps she embellished.

Here is a fantastic piece on Larson and the book from NPR: William Dodd: The U.S. Ambassador In Hitler's Berlin

Notes from my reading: 

It was common for American expats to visit US consulate in Berlin. 
George s. Messersmith, America's consul general since 1930

Hitler appointed chancellor in January 1933. Beatings and arrests of Americans (and Germans) started then.  

FDR inaugurated March 4, 1933

March 1933 America's ambassador in Germany leaves (Frederic M. Sackett)

The Junkers: Germany's industrialists and aristocrats. 1916

Woodrow Wilson died February 3, 1924

Daniel Roper, FDR's sect of commerce, 1933

Cordell Hull, sect of state, 1933 (speech impediment twade tweaties)

Sturmabteilung SA, Storm Troopers, Brownshirts ( Germany)

NIRA 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act, opposed in Congress, FDR. Has to modify it, heatwave that June, 1/3 non-ag workers unemployed

Isolationists. 1933 Polls showed 95% opposed to involvement in foreign wars. 

William E. Dodd, univ Chicago history prof appointed US Ambassador to Germany, June, 1933, after 3 or more others turned it down.

Head of Germany's Reichsback, Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht 

"American political discourse had framed the Jewish problem as an immigration problem." An influx of immigrants during the depression would be disastrous. 

Sect of Labor Frances Perkins, 1st woman in cabinet, wanted to aid Jewish refugees

Immigration Act 1917 clause barred Immigrants who were "likely to become a public charge" (LPC). Reinstated by Hoover admin 1930 b/c high unemployment 

Colonel Edward M. House, advisor, friend to FDR, said to Dodd before he went to Berlin: "the Jews should not be allowed to dominate economic or intellectual life in Berlin as they have done for a long time."  typical of American sentiment that German Jews had brought their problems on themselves. 

Berlin's version of Central Park, Tiergarten, is literally, garden of the beasts. 

The Coordination policy of the national Socialist Party used the Aryian Clause to keep Jews from holding gov jobs, yet also kept them out of other areas, medicine, Law.  Not so noticeable to the foreign visitor or the casual observer, b/c so few Jews lived in Germany, only about 1% of the population, and most in cities. (pop 65,000,000)

New German law, effective January 1, 1934, Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases - sterilization of those w/ mental or physical handicaps... (wonder where Hitler got that idea) 

Americans visiting Germany were skeptical of the reports of people like Messersmith. They were inundated with propaganda, treated well, entertained, and generally duped.  

Fritz Haber, forest chemist in Germany, revered until Hitler
Nobel laureate for mining nitrogen from air for fertilizer and gunpowder
Created poison chlorine gas used in WWI ... Wife killed herself over it. 

1933 Rabbi Wise of the American Jewish Congress in Geneva Swtz resolution for worldwide boycott of German commerce...passed 

Nov 6, 1933, US recognizes Soviet Union

Dodd friends with Jane Addams. 

Bella Fromm, Jewish journalist

Wera von Huhn, or Poulette 

the whole problem with Nazi Germany in 1933-34 seems to be one of complacency, or a mere willingness to "go along" which is very scary. 

July (1, 2?) 1934: Hitler and the SS arrested Rohm and the other SA (storm troopers - brown shirts) and start shooting people - former chancellor and minister of defense and his wife, etc. Totals from the executions were never confirmed - some said 250, a few said 500, Diels put the total at 750, others over 1000.  15,000 arrested?  Firing squads worked all night. Diels was spared ??  Gohring? 


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