“Hitlerland” by Andrew Nagorski relays the years up to and during World War 2, told from the view points of various Americans who had the front row seats to the Germany drama playing out right in front of them. In the book, Nagorski compiles the narratives of American journalists stationed in Berlin such as Singrid Schultz, diplomats like Hugh Wilson, military attachés like Truman Smith, and many, many other characters who for various reasons happened to be present in Berlin during the twenties, thirties, and early forties. The main thing this book does is to present a detailed picture of the atmosphere leading up to Hitler’s rise and his eventual downfall. Nagorski paints a very bleak picture of Germany post-World War 1—a country that’s gone bankrupt, countrymen who struggle to survive, and a country mad at France and other allied powers for making debt re-payment nearly impossible. As the country lies in ruins, Hitler, who is largely unknown at this point, takes advantage of the situation to stage a failed revolutionary takeover—after which he is arrested and sent to prison for a short while, before he manages to come to power using legal methods. An interesting sidekick to Hitler during all this time is Putzi Haefstangl, a half-German half-American Harvard grad who uses his connections to fuel propaganda for the Fuehrer and to introduce him in the upper circles. According to Nagorski’s portrait of the times, few Americans take Hitler seriously and many visiting Americans, at least initially, make nothing out of him. Some, even, mistake him as being good for Germany—such as Martha Dodd, the daughter of American ambassador to Germany William Dodd, who is initially infatuated with the Nazi Germany and goes on to romance several high-level Nazis, before falling for a Russian Communist.
Enter mass rallies, the constant presence of German soldiers on the streets even before the war actually started, induced obsession over Aryans and non-Aryans, and a hatred-filled atmosphere that passed itself off as patriotism, and you have Nagorski’s many stories of the times. If you’re interested in the second World War, or simply intrigued by Americans in Berlin during this time period, than you will probably be intrigued by Nagorski’s portrayal of the times. Published by Simon & Schuster. March 13, 2012. 400 pages. List price $20.00