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

by Erik Larson
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In In the Garden of Beasts, William Dodd went to Germany believing that Hitler would have a positive influence on Germany. Why were so many at first enamored of Nazism and willing "to give Hitler everything he wants"?

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While it's not clear that Ambassador Dodd thought Hitler would have a "positive" influence on Germany, and while not everyone was enamored of Hitler—after all, four men turned down the plum post of ambassador to Germany before FDR phoned the unlikely candidate, Dodd, with the offer—Dodd and others were willing...

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While it's not clear that Ambassador Dodd thought Hitler would have a "positive" influence on Germany, and while not everyone was enamored of Hitler—after all, four men turned down the plum post of ambassador to Germany before FDR phoned the unlikely candidate, Dodd, with the offer—Dodd and others were willing to give Hitler the benefit of the doubt. Some people wrote off Hitler and the Nazis from the start as animalistic thugs, but Dodd was willing to make an effort to try to work with the regime. Still others, such as Dodd's daughter Martha, were indeed enamored of the attractive youth aspects of National Socialism and discounted the rumors of violence and sadism.

As for Ambassador Dodd and those willing to give the Nazis a chance, the thinking went as follows: yes, the Nazis had been excessively violent on taking power, but the responsibility of governing a country was causing them to become more moderate. Second, some people were of the mindset that while the ruthless treatment of the Jews was deplorable, the Jews had in part brought it on themselves. Third, Dodd himself thought the best approach to Hitler was to be "as sympathetic and nonjudgmental as possible" (41) and to try to understand Germany's objections to the Treaty of Versailles. Finally, as an intellectual, Dodd also believed that people were inherently rational, and therefore, "'Hitler will fall in line with ... wiser men" (65).

For many foreigners—and this initially was the experience of the Dodds—the "dissonance" between the reports of Nazi violence and the "pleasant times" they actually experienced in Germany led them to discount the reports of violence and remilitarization they heard as exaggerations. The Nazis appeared to have cleaned up the country and brought new hope. Much of this pleasant feeling, however, was due to a concerted Nazi effort to put the best foot forward in front of foreigners, exactly so that they would not believe the darker rumors.

One of Larson's main points is that people like Dodd, encountering Hitler and the Nazis early on, in real time, didn't yet have enough context to understand the true nature of the regime. We see it a certain way in hindsight, because we know the horror that ensued, but people early on didn't know quite what to think.

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