Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

I've rediscovered the library, if only because they now offer ebooks and audiobooks. This is my first ebook loan and I devoured it. I heard about this book on the NY Times book review podcast and it piqued my interest.

The subtitle of this book is Love, Terror and An American Family in Hitler's Berlin. This book doesn't focus so much on Hitler as it does the Dodd family who ends up in Berlin as a result of the father's ambassadorship from President Roosevelt. It's amazing to think now, but thank goodness back then people kept diaries and wrote actual letters that could be saved. We just don't do that now. I mean, besides everyone and their brother posting stuff on the internet.

Dodd was an academic, his daughter Martha was apparently a bit of a slut for the times (we know this by her diary and letters). Dodd tried to be a good ambassador for the US, but once he and his family arrived in Berlin it became clear how bad things were, even if it took Martha a little longer to not celebrate with the Nazis. The US seemed to only be focused on Germany's repayment of debt and not caring about how Hitler was running things.

Most people, hopefully, know from history class about Germany and the start of WWII. You don't get a huge history lesson with this book even though it describes quite a bit of the disturbing events leading up to WWII and Germany's invasion of Poland. What you get is a regular person's account of living in this horrible place under the rule of Hitler. You get Dodd's depression at what he sees as his failure to be a good ambassador, even though he really did do what he could. You also see everyone else's complete lack of regard to the situation. It appalls me how many people in the US government turned their head to what Dodd reported, instead merely asking about the money.

It appalls me how easily Hitler gained power, how after his first "purge" of undesirable people (using the excuse of treason), Americans in Berlin commented in letters how "exciting" it was. Hundreds, if not more, people were pulled from their homes and shot in the back and it's "exciting"?? This is how evil triumphs. When good people fail to do anything. When good people turn their head and believe that since it's not THEM who is persecuted, it's ok. At some point, Dodd even notes that Jewish people are happy with Hitler, when he executed General Rohm.

It's easy to look back on what is done and wonder why things went the way they did. In a way, not a lot has changed with humans. We still have a tendency to look the other way when it's not us being harmed. We have a tendency to gang up on a particular group of people just because everyone else is (illegal immigrants is our new phase). And we still have a tendency to let evil triumph, all because we were just standing still.
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