Sometimes a book published a few years ago takes on renewed immediacy. Such a book is Erik Larson’s 2011 nonfiction work IN THE GARDEN OF THE BEASTS: LOVE, TERROR, AND AN AMERICAN FAMILY IN HITLER’S BERLIN.
Because of my Holocaust research and writing, including my nonfiction theater play THIN EDGE OF THE WEDGE, I am concerned as to how the German people accepted Hitler and his stripping away of civil rights almost immediately after he was legitimately selected chancellor in January 1933. This concern of mine is especially strong now due to the rapid rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S. and around the world.
The younger of my two brothers recommended I read IN THE GARDEN OF THE BEASTS. When I told him I had finished the book and that I appreciated the recommendation, he rightly said, “Isn’t your work basically addressing the issue of why and how it can occur?”
Many are familiar with the saying attributed to German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoeller: “Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.” And as important as knowing of these wrenching words, it is important knowing of the events behind the words.
Page after page in BEASTS showcases the unwillingness of the German people to speak up against the brutality they saw taking place openly in front of them. Larson demonstrates how silence and inaction in the presence of anti-Semitism and racism can have deadly consequences.
The book itself starts with how the then-chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, William E. Dodd, became the U.S. ambassador to Germany in July 1933, six months after Hitler became chancellor. Then, in December of 1937, Dodd was forced to give up his ambassadorial post following pressure on President Roosevelt from the State Department and the German foreign office. Dodd’s anti-Nazi sentiments had gotten him in hot water:
“… The new German ambassador to America, Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff, told Secretary of State Hull that while he was not making a formal request for Dodd’s removal, he ‘desired to make it plain that the German Government did not feel that he was persona grata.’”
Dodd’s uneasy relations with top officials in both the U.S. and Nazi Germany shed a fascinating light on how the United States’ isolationist policy led much of the U.S. to ignore the more and more horrifying acts against humanity perpetrated by Hitler’s government before the start of World War II.
BEASTS contains extensive author notes and bibliography. Much of the material quoted in the book comes from Dodd’s own diaries and official correspondence as well as material from his adult daughter Martha, who, with her adult brother Bill, accompanied their parents to Berlin.
“It is important for all of us to understand how swiftly small drops of hate can lead to an unstoppable tsunami of official, sanctioned violence.”
At this particular time of 2020 in U.S. history, it is important for all of us to understand how swiftly small drops of hate can lead to an unstoppable tsunami of official, sanctioned violence.
While we can – and should – support efforts by organizations to speak up, we as individuals must be willing to do our part. This can be as small as politely correcting a colleague who knowingly or unknowingly uses a derogatory term for an ethnic group or to encouraging students to offer opposing views in a classroom discussion.
If we have learned nothing else from Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, we must learn that not speaking up against Hitler from the time he rose to power until the time his troops invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, led to the murder of six million Jews and millions of others such as the Romani, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals as well as the death of tens of millions of combatants and innocent civilians.
Read Larson’s BEASTS and speak up now and always!
LARSON SOCIAL MEDIA INFO:
Larson’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are here — https://eriklarsonbooks.com/about-the-author/contact-erik/
His publisher social media can be found on this page — https://crownpublishing.com/authors
Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the Los Angeles author of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semifinalist MRS. LIEUTENANT and the co-author of the Shabbat and Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. She is also the co-founder of the free nonfiction theater project www.ThinEdgeOfTheWedge.com to combat anti-Semitism and hate.