Larson, Beasts

/ Reading Notes /

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

Erik Larson writes some terrific non-fiction, compelling, panoramic: accurate I presume.

Jan and I are reading this book aloud to each other. The Dodds arrive in Berlin, appointed by Roosevelt in 1933 as ambassador to Germany, Hitler the new chancellor. One thing I love so far, recognize to be probable in human nature, is the unwillingness of the German people and of the people of the world to believe reports of what was going on. Polyanna rules in any form of government. If we admit that we’re under the rule of war lords, then we’ll concoct heroic myths for them, never call a murdering rapist a murdering rapist: not if the murdering rapist is attached to the state.
I see my fellow Americans as 99% the same. Facts are not known, cannot be established: not where the state — and its crony media — influence the reporting, the record keeping.

It was especially telling last night when Jan said that Larson’s description of the anti-Semitism general in 1933 Germany, also general in the US, fairly well represented the mild anti-Semitism of her own family. Mine too, I agreed: but added, imagine my shock in the seventh grade — Rockville Centre, Long Island — to discover that “half” the people I knew — from school, if not among my direct friends — were Jewish! Most people don’t have that luxury, to acknowledge actual experience, experience not supportive of the myth.

Different police groups went around singing songs about Jew blood on their knife, then they’d attack and beat families deemed Jewish, including pregnant women. Then the Germans, then the American reporters, commentators, would say, Oh, that’s all exaggerated.

That’s why we need a God, to tell the truth. Or, we need to disabuse ourselves of the belief that any human society is capable of determining the truth: about anything. We don’t and can’t know God, don’t and can’t recognize Jesus, can’t tell him from Beelzebub.

2013 02 02 Jan and I are just loving reading this book together.
Meeting Martha Dodd in some depth is just marvelous. Googling a pic I came upon an article mentioning Dodd and Eva Braun together, the pic seems to be of Braun, not Martha Dodd, but the text is marvelous for all of us:

Love is famously blind; if Eva Braun and Martha Dodd are any indication, it is also willfully ignorant. Both women were afflicted with a chronic romanticism that warped their logic and inured them to the catalog of abominations taking place around them. Blame it on their dizzy blondness. Blame it on an excess of devotion — always becoming in a woman. Dodd went on to write about her years in Berlin and seems to have chalked up her attitude to immaturity; Braun has been written off as an innocent bystander. In fact, their solipsism was part of a larger scheme, in which matters of government and war were the province of men, and being oblivious to them was a woman’s prerogative. It ratified their femininity, this capacity to look the other way. What I Did for Love — that’s a list that many if not most women would just as soon forget.

Solipsism, yes! exactly!
Let me emphasize: … solipsism was part of a larger scheme, in which matters of government and war were the province of men, and being oblivious to them was a woman’s prerogative.

Notice the coordination of public and party (and “foreign” instruments, organs, media): the Nazi party wants to persecute Jews, the German people don’t want to notice, half, or more than half, do want the Jews persecuted, and the fags, and the commies, and anyone thinking independently: and even when correspondents notice atrocities no one will believe the correspondents! Of course they stop pushing with the truth, the truth is never welcome, not in any kleptocracy, maybe not in any human groups! Or rarely.

This Church, that Times, pretends to be reporting the truth, but of course we’ need perfect information, we’d need to be God, to prove or disprove anything.

So: Americans, we Americans, sat back, said to ourselves, we’re better than that: and maybe we were, a little, marginally: but really, we’re essentially the same people who stood with our thumb in our ass while Jesus was crucified: and while pk was sabotaged, censored, jailed … Still, we get up and with a straight face, proving our stupidity, or dishonesty, say, “We’re better.”

Hell will reverberate with the damneds’ infinite insistence that they’re better than some other damned. “Goebbels can say, I’m better than Hitler …”
Savor this: Goebbels was “propaganda minister“! I added more on this in my new post on Rhetoric.
Goebbels had the gaul to blame the war on the Jews! said the Jews monopolized investments in armaments!
Goebbels had the gaul — while admitting that persecution was hard on the Jews — to say that the Jews deserved it! A lot of Americans agreed with that! then and now!

Thanks to Larson we get to read some diplomatic correspondence: where this or that US bureaucrat, diplomat, commentator … says as though grudgingly, Well, yes, the Jews have too much power, too much influence, are over-represented in decision-making quarters!
Meantime the Nazi state was making it illegal for Jews to be employed by any of the state monopoly services: police, post office …

Now, we must be clear: the US and other countries had lots of diplomats, lots of tourists, lots of correspondents … visiting Germany: Berlin, lots of places. They saw the stripping of civil rights from Jews, they saw and heard of the beatings of Jews, pregnant women beaten into aborting, but didn’t squawk until Americans were bullied by the same SA, SS … Gestapo, approving Germans standing by! and that! The American state, press, etc. said, Oh, that’s all exaggerated!
In other words: the US, the US media … misused its control of information to aid atrocity, at least at first: in 1933 …

I’ll take a different tack on this material in a post to be called Knatz & the Nazis.

2013 02 21 The Nazis in the early 1930s got wind of plans by Jews in America to hold a mock trial in Madison Square Garden, Chicago would later do the same. Hitler went ballistic. The Nazis tried to pressure Ambassador Dodd to stop it, to pressure Roosevelet to stop it. Stop It!
It proved to be impossible to explain to Hitler or to Diehls, to any Nazi, that the US government had no mechanism for interfering with free assembly, free speech … Oh, we do now. I bet we did then to, but not a mechanism well oiled with use.
I’m reminded of the first meeting I ever had with my present landlord and his wife. They knew that I’d gotten beat up by the previous landlord’s manager, knew that I’d sued, knew that I’d won, knew it was a paltry settlement, no major judgment. How would I tell them of how closed to the truth the depositions went, how uncooperative my lawyer, stuck in reverse, with the brake on: no one in Highlands Country wanted it’s nature as a Yankee trap exposed. I attempted to introduce myself, as is my decades-long habit in terms of Ivan Illich and my discipleship to him, both of us to Christ: to try to convert Christians, Americans, everyone, to convivial Christianity: Illich Christianity. I told how Illich in the 1960s had said that if the Roman Catholic Church, of which Illich was a monseigneur, a defrocked monseigneur! wish to become Christian ! it would have to give up its property and to deprofessinalize its priesthood.
There’s a whole universe of social criticism in that pair or recommendations!
Diane, Mrs. Landlord, glowered and said, “I don’t think he should have been allowed to say that.” Allowed!
America sure has moved over next to Hitler since 1933, by the early 2000s …
Ponder: Let’s swallow the idea that the ordinary Catholic has no right to free speech, free thought, free inquiry, free hypothesis spinning. Does the priest? Does the bishop? the monseigneur, the cardinal, the pope? Does the Protestant have free speech? How does landlady Diane decide who does and who doesn’t?
I can well see that the damned should have no free speech, but what about God’s messengers? Shouldn’t they be allowed to deliver the messages? Doesn’t God have freedom of speech, thought, expression?
Without such freedom, error cannot be challenged let alone corrected.

This question relates: if the messenger, the Jesus as it were, does have the right to deliver the message (and maybe make of one of his own while he’s at it, do the damned then have the right to crucify him? to bear false witness? to concoct a verdict?
Once again, I don’t believe there are any political solutions to our most fundamental social problems.

2013 03 01 We band together to protect ourselves and our interests: we wind up protecting the state and its interests: and once the state is free (and empowered) to murder anyone the state says is a threat to the state, well, there goes you and your rights and your interests. The state compels you to go to a church or a school or a rally where you’re told that the state’s major interest is protecting you: but the state actually protects itself, not necessarily intelligently. Eric Larson’s Beasts‘ coverage of Hitler’s Reich’s purge of his competition, Saturday, June 30, 1934, the Night of the Long Knives, Captain Ernst Röhm, for example, hundreds of others, maybe thousands, no way to tell for sure, is wonderful in illustrating the above truth. The Nazis killed other Nazis left and right, sometimes killed the wrong Nazi, killed Schmidt meaning to kill Schmitt. Then their note to the widow merely says they were protecting the state!
The way I was arrested, jailed, “tried” is no different. But were there any protests? from the media? from my family?! friends?
I stopped having any “friends” shortly after I started following Ivan Illich and Jesus, trying to nurture a new and vivid “Christ.” Actually, the friends I had before then proved to be not worth much either.
Don’t forget, or learn, if you don’t already know: in the oldest version of Mark, that gospel ends with the angel telling Mary that Jesus is risen, that she should go and tell the disciples; but she is frightened, goes home, tells no one!
If that’s what Jesus’ best friends are worth, what are his disciples worth? What’s the worth of a “Christian” who doesn’t tell that detail of the scholarship? Does the priest? Does the Pope? Ehrman does, but you have to piece it together.

2013 03 02
FDR Diplomacy
One thing I love about this book is seeing Ambassador Dodd’s influence on the Nazi Jewish issue. Pressure is put on Dodd to soft-pedal his reports of harassment of the Jews: economic blackballings, beatings, murder … Jews in the US are protesting, Dodd asks Jewish leaders in the US to go easy, they do: and the rest of the Holocaust follows! Don’t report bad news, maybe it will go away by itself.
Furthermore: Dodd and Roosevelt seemed to be in agreement with the Nazis that Germany had a Jewish “problem”: they seemed to agree that there were too many Jews in important positions … Did they have actual data? or common misinformation mixed with prejudice? Besides, what would be the right number of Jews in positions of importance. How many positions of importance in Washington DC were held by white Protestant males? Is there a quote? an optimum? or why doesn’t everybody just mind their own business and let water seek its own level?
But: of course he Jews weren’t surprised: they’ve experienced this world longer than most peoples, and they’re part of the makeup of what’s been wrong all along, was King David a Jefferson? or a Hitler? More Hitler, I’d say.
Hitler’s 1934 Night of the Long Knives? King David would have recognized that behavior.

Reading Notes

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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