In the Garden of Beasts – Book Review

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 In the Garden of Beasts is both a biographical portrait of Hitler's 1933 Germany in his first mandate as chancellor  and a cautionary tale about the consequences of  ignoring evil.

(of the United States). He was far from Roosevelt's first choice as ambassador, in fact he was far down the list, but he was on it nonetheless. After preferred candidates turned the job down, he was approached and accepted.

 Dodd was a Jeffersonian democrat intent on practising fiscal restraint – he even sent his old Chevrolet to Germany – in the face of the depression on home soil. He determined to have a moderating influence on HItler whom other diplomats opined, understood only strength and bravado. So off he sailed to Germany with his wife, and grown son and daughter in tow. Fortunately for the author and the reader, many people kept copious journals in those days and first among these in the Dodd family was his promiscuous daughter Martha.

It appears that Martha was pretty cute and she proceeded to have affairs with the head of the Gestapo and a young Soviet diplomat, among a number of others. The indiscretion must have been stunning and did nothing to improve the State Department's already dim view of Dodd who did not please them. He was without wealth and did not come from that "pretty good club" of eastern U.S. elites who populated the State Department. What Dodd thought of his daughter's escapades is, surprisingly, not mentioned. Perhaps he never wrote down his impressions, but he was certainly an indulgent parent.

Enthusiasm for the job waned as Dodd and his family realized the brutality of the regime: the arrests, beatings, censorship and murders that were carried  on under the nose of the civilized world that did not want to hear about them. They had just finished one war and certainly did  not fancy another. So they simply didn't hear.  Diplomats in Germany realized that Hitler was rearming Germany under the guise of "clubs" such as the Sports Flying Club" which trained pilots and gave them practice in the 1930's Spanish Civil War. Indifference was encouraged by wide spread anti-semitism that, while criticising the Nazi regime, partially blamed Jews as the authors of their own misfortune.

 

Dodd never did finish his "Old South". When he returned to the U.S. in 1937, he embarked on a series of lectures hoping to raise the alarm about Hitler's plans and to help stop the drift of America into isolationism. He died in February, 1940, after his alarm had been shown to be justified, but before the entry of America into war.

In the Garden of Beasts is a fascinating insight into 1930's Germany and although there are enough stories about the world wars to publish a new one every day, this story is a compelling "on the ground" view of Nazism with elements of information new to this reviewer.