Award-winning journalist Andrew Nagorski looks at the years leading up to Hitler’s rise to power, the run-up to war, and the Holocaust through the observations and personal testimonies of American diplomats, military attachés, journalists, authors, and Olympic athletes who spent time in Germany and witnessed the unfolding of that nightmarish history. A deft storyteller, Nagorski brings that history to life.
Hitlerland suggests that Americans were not without resources to understand the collapse of the Weimer Republic and the subsequent rush to terror, war, and genocide. But that does not mean that Hitler’s intentions were obvious from the outset. There were an array of Americans who observed events and some who met and spoke with Hitler, both when he was an aspiring leader and then the all-powerful Fuher. Among them were writers Thomas Wolfe and Sinclair Lewis, architect Philip Johnson, broadcasters and journalists Edward R. Morrow, William Shirer, Richard Hottelet, and Dorothy Thompson, black historian W.E.B. DuBois, athlete Jesse Owens, diplomats William Dodd and his daughter, Martha, and George Messersmith, and, of course, aviator Charles Lindbergh. Many were naïve and superficial in their observations, some were sympathetic and even apologists for the Nazis, but most, like Shirer, Thompson, and Consul General Messersmith, were alarmed by what was happening around them even if they did not grasp the full implications. In the end, these American observers helped to alert a reluctant nation to the danger of Nazi Germany, particularly how it instilled hatred of Jews and ruthlessly eliminated its political opponents. By doing so they gradually contributed to the erosion of isolationist sentiments and helped prepare their countrymen for the looming war ahead. Nagorski opens up a window into an era that we thought we already knew and allows these Americans to tell their stories without passing judgment on their perceptiveness or the rectitude of their moral compasses clouded by the benefits of historical hindsight. Their voices probably should have been more forceful and exhorting but they cannot be blamed that more people did not heed the warnings.