Nazi Violence Through American Eyes

Martha Dodd, a diplomat's daughter (and future Soviet spy), arrived in the Third Reich with romantic visions of Hitler's regime. Then she witnessed a scene that left her shaken.

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Martha Dodd was 24 when she arrived in Berlin in the summer of 1933 with her father, the new American ambassador, her mother, and brother. Recalling her state of mind later, she stressed how naïve and uninformed she was about politics, with almost no idea about what Germany would be like -- or what its new Nazi rulers represented.

Her first judgment as a new arrival was that Germany and its new rulers had been unfairly condemned by world opinion -- and she needed to help set the record straight. "We liked Germany, and I was enchanted by the kindness and simplicity of the people... Everything was peaceful, romantic, strange, nostalgic," she recalled. "I felt that the press had badly maligned the country and I wanted to proclaim the warmth and friendliness of the people, the soft summer night with its fragrance of trees and flowers, the serenity of the streets."

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Soon after her arrival, Martha met fellow countryman Quentin Reynolds. Reynolds had been sent to Berlin earlier that year by the international news service to fill in for the regular correspondent, who had run afoul of the new Nazi rulers. Martha was impressed that Reynolds, who had only been in the country a few months, already knew "such legendary figures" as Putzi Hanfstaengl. At a party thrown by an English journalist -- "a lavish and fairly drunken affair," as Martha recalled -- the Nazi propagandist lived up to her expectations."[Hanfstaengl] had a soft, ingratiating manner, a beautiful voice which he used with conscious artistry, sometimes whispering low and soft, the next minute bellowing and shattering the room. He was supposed to be the artist among the Nazis."

Like other Americans, Martha would find herself frequently in Hanfstaengl's company, dancing with him at parties and gladly taking advantage of his offers to introduce her to Nazi luminaries. But Reynolds was already developing a healthy sense of skepticism. About a month after Reynolds arrived, he ran into Hanfstaengl at the bar of the Adlon Hotel. 

"You've been here a month now, and you haven't asked me about our so-called Jewish problem or written anything about it to annoy me," Putzi told him. "How come, Quent?"

"Give me time, Putzi," Reynolds replied. "I haven't been here long enough to know what's going on."

By the time he met Martha, Reynolds not only knew more but was eager to explore more for himself. In August, he suggested to Martha and her brother Bill that they take their Chevrolet and travel to southern Germany and Austria with him -- an idea that immediately appealed to Martha. As they drove south, she recognized the word "Jude" in banners strung across the road; they realized this was anti-Semitic propaganda but, as Martha put it, "we didn't -- at least I didn't -- take it too seriously."

In fact, Martha was so swept up by the sight of marching Brownshirts and the apparent enthusiasm of the people, she responded equally enthusiastically. When Germans saw their special license plate, they assumed the trio of Americans were top officials -- and welcomed them with "Heil Hitler" greetings. "The excitement of the people was contagious and I 'Heiled' as vigorously as any Nazi," she recalled.

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Andrew Nagorski is the author of Hitlerland. He has served as Newsweek's bureau chief in Hong Kong, Moscow, Rome, Bonn, Warsaw, and Berlin. 

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