Competition published on August 4, 2017.
Without the benefit of hindsight, how do you interpret what’s right in front of your eyes?
The events that took place in Germany between 1919 and 1945 were dramatic and terrible but there were also moments of confusion, of doubt – of hope. How easy was it to know what was actually going on, to grasp the essence of National Socialism, to remain untouched by the propaganda or predict the Holocaust?
Travellers in the Third Reich is an extraordinary history of the rise of the Nazis based on fascinating first-hand accounts, drawing together a multitude of voices and stories, including students, politicians, musicians, diplomats, schoolchildren, communists, scholars, athletes, poets, journalists, fascists, artists, tourists, even celebrities like Charles Lindbergh and Samuel Beckett. Their experiences create a remarkable three-dimensional picture of Germany under Hitler – one so palpable that the reader will feel, hear, even breathe the atmosphere.
These are the accidental eyewitnesses to history. Disturbing, absurd, moving, and ranging from the deeply trivial to the deeply tragic, their tales give a fresh insight into the complexities of the Third Reich, its paradoxes and its ultimate destruction.
*We have a copy of Travellers in the Third Reich to give away – scroll down for your chance to win*
Reviewer Paul Burke shares his thoughts:
This is an entertaining popular history that casts an original eye over the history of the Third Reich. It will appeal both to general readers and students of history. Travellers in the Third Reich is a compendium of thoughts and observations by visitors to Germany during the inter-war years. Some living there for a time, others just passing through the country. First-hand accounts show us what individuals thought of Weimar, the Nazis and their leader, Adolf Hitler. Boyd has collated a wealth of material from a variety of people – from the very rich tourist to the poorest migrant worker. There are accounts from familiar and expected sources such as; Unity Mitford, Stephen Spender, W.H. Auden and Neville Chamberlain but also a wide range of ordinary people are represented. These visitors shed light on the day to day life under Nazi rule as well as the wider political context. The focus is largely on American and British sources (they make up a substantial part of the foreign influx during the period). Boyd lets the voices from the past speak to us, knitting their stories, some serious others just light observations, into their historical context. An easy flowing narrative style makes the book very readable.
We have many preconceptions about what people from Britain, the United States and the rest of the world thought about Germany and it’s political upheaval during the 1930s. However, Boyd illustrates how real people felt on coming into contact with the country, the people and the Nazi party. Opinions that are sometimes shocking and often thought provoking. Here are the brave, the romantic, the ignorant and the astute. People are often contradictory and conflicted in how they feel. American journalist J.A. Cole, (visited in 1937/38), disliked the Nazis but stated, “I cannot see a German town for the first time on a sunny morning without a raising of the spirits…..” Demonstrating his capacity to distinguish the regime from the people and place.
Bizarrely a lot of intelligent liberal British parents sent their children to Nazi Germany for a cultural education; music, philosophy and language, (e.g. the opera at Bayreuth, the Oberammergau passion plays). Boyd presents diverse views and what emerges is as complex as it is varied, a truely eclectic and cosmopolitan mix. Some deluded (Thomas Cook was still advertising German holidays as the war approached in 1939), others seduced by the country and people or simply conned by the highly efficient propaganda. Many found the camaraderie and fitness regimes of the young inspiring, ignoring the more subversive elements of Nazi control of the family and the future. Even though deplorable in practice some welcomed the ideological bolster against communism in the East. Overall this is a fascinating book.
The travellers are soldiers, academics, diplomats, journalist and tourists – Nazi sympathisers and Communists. The only common link is that they shared their experience in writing. Boyd takes us from the end of WWI to the death of the Reich in 1945. The first ‘visitors’ were the soldiers stationed in Germany after the Armistice. The Germans liked the British and the Americans but were not keen on the French, they were courteous and civil. Reactions to French colonial troops was far less cordial and the onerous burden of Versailles led to a backlash against the Jewish population.
Boyd tells us that several of the top German hotels were marketing the idea of visiting Germany to American tourists only months after the end of the First World War. The country boasted beautiful unspoiled countryside and exciting cities. Yet the British blockade had caused mass starvation and food shortages, people relied upon ersatz goods and soup kitchens, there were mass strikes and influenza. Politically the country polarised, Communist party on one side and right wing militias on the other. Still Germany was popular with the British and the Americans tourists, by 1937 almost half a million Americans visited Germany.
Whether you are interested in the political or social there are thoughts on the Third Reich that cover the whole gamut of issues, from Kristallnacht to seaside holidays, concentration camps, book burning, sterilisation and censorship, from meeting the Fuhrer to staying with ordinary Germans and seeing how people’s attitudes changed over time. From the underestimation of the National Socialists to the role of women in the authoritarian society. There are many little nuggets of information to enjoy. In 1932, Brandon J Wright, an African-American completing a PhD at Heidelberg University met Hitler only to be told he was a third class person because of his race. He was, however, given a signed photograph of the Fuhrer when dismissed.
I felt the coverage of the 1936 Summer Olympics to be brief, I would have expected more. Still, Boyd notes that U.S. journalists spent time trying to find fault with the German treatment of African American athletes but found few of them willing to say that they were not being well treated. The incident of Hitler refusing to shake the hand of four time gold medalist, Jessie Owens, showed the petty nature of the man. However, Owens was loved by the German crowds.
As Boyd covers the war there are fewer voices to be heard because fewer foreigners visited or remained. I love the story of Ida and Louise, British women who kept visiting Germany up until August 1939, ostensibly for the opera. They would fly in with the bare essentials and then take the train out (to avoid meeting the same customs officials), bedecked in jewellery and furs. The women were helping Jewish people smuggle their possessions out of the country. The American journalist Howard J Smith noted the change in the German people after the invasion of Russia, showing; ‘unmitigated fear’ at the prospect of a long war. Americans were forced to leave or face internment after Pearl harbour on 7th December, 1941. After that most of the travellers were drafted labour from the East and France. They speak of the bombing, of food shortages, of destruction and chaos. Eventually the returning ‘travellers’ are the invading allied armies. If I have one qualm it is that for the casual reader the chronology of events underlying the narratives may not be clear enough.
Boyd is clearly a traveller who loves exploring place, people and history. Travellers in the Third Reich shows that she is a researcher of some skill and dedication – seeking original, interesting and relevant material. One of the big achievements of the book is that traveller attitudes to Germany and the Nazis give an insight into the feelings before the war. Often at odds with or in more depth than many standard histories. The notes, index and list of travellers are very good.
We have a copy of the book to give away – for your chance to win simply fill in the form below:
The Competition is closed.
About the author
An experienced researcher, Julia Boyd has scoured archives in many different countries to find original material for her books. As the wife of a former diplomat, she lived in Germany 1977–81. She is a former trustee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Travellers in the Third Reich presents fascinating new material discovered in private collections and archives all over the world. Julia Boyd lives in London.
Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd, published on 10 August, 2017 by Elliott & Thompson, in hardback
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