Lucifer in the Garden

Rudolf Diels (photo credit p3.1)

Martha Dodd (photo credit p3.2)


Strange Beings

They drove south through lovely countryside and small, neat villages, everything looking very much the same as it had thirty-five years earlier when Dodd previously had passed this way, with the salient exception that in town after town the facades of public buildings were hung with banners bearing the red, white, and black insignia of the Nazi Party, with the inevitable broken cross at the center. At eleven o’clock they arrived at their first stop, the Schlosskirche, or Castle Church, in Wittenberg, where Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door and launched the Reformation. As a student Dodd had traveled to Wittenberg from Leipzig and had sat in on services within the church; now he found its doors locked. A Nazi parade moved through the city’s streets.

The group paused in Wittenberg for only an hour, then continued to Leipzig, where they arrived at one o’clock, and made their way directly to one of the most famous restaurants in Germany, Auerbachs Keller, a favorite haunt of Goethe, who used the restaurant as a setting for an encounter between Mephistopheles and Faust, during which Mephisto’s wine turned to fire. Dodd gauged the meal excellent, especially its price: three marks. He drank neither wine nor beer. Martha, Bill, and Reynolds, on the other hand, consumed stein after stein.

Now the party split into two groups. The young ones headed off by car toward Nuremberg; Dodd and his wife checked into a hotel, rested for several hours, then went out for supper, another good meal at an even better price: two marks. They continued touring the next day, then caught a train back to Berlin, where they arrived at five o’clock and took a taxi back to their new home at Tiergartenstrasse 27a.

DODD HAD BEEN HOME little more than twenty-four hours when another attack occurred against an American. The victim this time was a thirty-year-old surgeon named Daniel Mulvihill, who lived in Manhattan but practiced at a hospital on Long Island and was in Berlin to study the techniques of a famed German surgeon. Messersmith, in a dispatch on the incident, said Mulvihill was “an American citizen of a fine type and is not a Jew.”

The attack followed a pattern that would become all too familiar: On the evening of Tuesday, August 15, Mulvihill was walking along Unter den Linden on his way to a drugstore when he stopped to watch the approach of a parade of uniformed SA members. The Storm Troopers were reenacting for a propaganda film the great march through the Brandenburg Gate that took place on the night of Hitler’s appointment as chancellor. Mulvihill looked on, unaware that one SA man had left the parade and was headed his way. The trooper, without preamble, struck Mulvihill hard on the left side of his head, then calmly rejoined the parade. Bystanders told the stunned surgeon that the assault likely had occurred because of Mulvihill’s failure to offer the Hitler salute as the parade passed. This was the twelfth violent attack on an American since March 4.

The U.S. consulate immediately protested, and by Friday evening the Gestapo claimed to have arrested the assailant. The next day, Saturday, August 19, a senior government official notified Vice Consul Raymond Geist that an order had been issued to the SA and SS stating that foreigners were not expected to give or return the Hitler salute. The official also said that the head of the Berlin division of the SA, a young officer named Karl Ernst, would personally call on Dodd early the next week to apologize for the incident. Consul General Messersmith, who had met Ernst before, wrote that he was “very young, very energetic, direct, enthusiastic” but exuded “an atmosphere of brutality and force which is characteristic of the SA.”

Ernst arrived as promised. He clicked his heels and saluted and barked “Heil Hitler.” Dodd acknowledged the salute but did not return it. He listened to Ernst’s “confessions of regret” and heard him promise that no such attack would occur again. Ernst appeared to think he had done all he needed to do, but Dodd now sat him down and, lapsing into his familiar roles as both father and professor, gave Ernst a severe lecture on the bad behavior of his men and its potential consequences.

Ernst, discomfited, insisted that he really did intend to try to stop the attacks. He then rose, snapped to rigid attention, saluted again, “made a Prussian bow,” and left.

“I was not a little amused,” Dodd wrote.

That afternoon he told Messersmith that Ernst had delivered an appropriate apology.

Messersmith said: “The incidents will go on.”

ALL ALONG THE ROUTE to Nuremberg, Martha and her companions encountered groups of men in the brown uniform of the SA, young and old, fat and skinny, parading and singing and holding Nazi banners aloft. Often, as the car slowed to pass through narrow village streets, onlookers turned toward them and made the Hitler salute, shouting “Heil Hitler,” apparently interpreting the low number on the license plate—traditionally America’s ambassador to Germany had number 13—as proof that those within must be the family of some senior Nazi official from Berlin. “The excitement of the people was contagious and I ‘Heiled’ as vigorously as any Nazi,” Martha wrote in her memoir. Her behavior dismayed her brother and Reynolds, but she ignored their sarcastic jibes. “I felt like a child, ebullient and careless, the intoxication of the new regime working like wine in me.”

At about midnight they pulled to a stop in front of their hotel in Nuremberg. Reynolds had been to Nuremberg before and knew it to be a sleepy place this late at night, but now, he wrote, they found the street “filled with an excited, happy crowd.” His first thought was that these revelers were participants in a festival of the city’s legendary toy industry.

Inside the hotel Reynolds asked the registration clerk, “Is there going to be a parade?”

The clerk, cheerful and pleasant, laughed with such delight that the tips of his mustache shook, Reynolds recalled. “It will be a kind of a parade,” the clerk said. “They are teaching someone a lesson.”

The three took their bags to their rooms, then set out for a walk to see the city and find something to eat.

The crowd outside had grown larger and was infused with good cheer. “Everyone was keyed up, laughing, talking,” Reynolds saw. What struck him was how friendly everyone was—far more friendly, certainly, than an equivalent crowd of Berliners would have been. Here, he noted, if you bumped into someone by accident, you got a polite smile and cheerful forgiveness.

From a distance they heard the coarse, intensifying clamor of a still larger and more raucous crowd approaching on the street. They heard distant music, a street band, all brass and noise. The crowd pressed inward in happy anticipation, Reynolds wrote. “We could hear the roar of the crowd three blocks away, a laughing roar that swelled toward us with the music.”

The noise grew, accompanied by a shimmery tangerine glow that fluttered on the facades of buildings. Moments later the marchers came into view, a column of SA men in brown uniforms carrying torches and banners. “Storm Troopers,” Reynolds noted. “Not doll makers.”

Immediately behind the first squad there followed two very large troopers, and between them a much smaller human captive, though Reynolds could not at first tell whether it was a man or a woman. The troopers were “half-supporting, half-dragging” the figure along the street. “Its head had been clipped bald,” Reynolds wrote, “and face and head had been coated with white powder.” Martha described the face as having “the color of diluted absinthe.”

They edged closer, as did the crowd around them, and now Reynolds and Martha saw that the figure was a young woman—though Reynolds still was not completely certain. “Even though the figure wore a skirt, it might have been a man dressed as a clown,” Reynolds wrote. “The crowd around me roared at the spectacle of this figure being dragged along.”

The genial Nurembergers around them became transformed and taunted and insulted the woman. The troopers at her sides abruptly lifted her to her full height, revealing a placard hung around her neck. Coarse laughter rose from all around. Martha, Bill, and Reynolds deployed their halting German to ask other bystanders what was happening and learned in fragments that the girl had been associating with a Jewish man. As best Martha could garner, the placard said, “I HAVE OFFERED MYSELF TO A JEW.”

As the Storm Troopers went past, the crowd surged from the sidewalks into the street behind and followed. A two-decker bus became stranded in the mass of people. Its driver held up his hands in mock surrender. Passengers on the top deck pointed at the girl and laughed. The troopers again lifted the girl—“their toy,” as Reynolds put it—so that the riders could have a better view. “Then someone got the idea of marching the thing into the lobby of our hotel,” Reynolds wrote. He learned that the “thing” had a name: Anna Rath.

The band stayed out on the street, where it continued to play in a loud, caustic manner. The Storm Troopers emerged from the lobby and dragged the woman away toward another hotel. The band struck up the “Horst Wessel Song,” and suddenly in all directions along the street the crowd came to attention, right arms extended in the Hitler salute, all singing with vigor.

When the song ended, the procession moved on. “I wanted to follow,” Martha wrote, “but my two companions were so repelled that they pulled me away.” She too had been shaken by the episode, but she did not let it tarnish her overall view of the country and the revival of spirit caused by the Nazi revolution. “I tried in a self-conscious way to justify the action of the Nazis, to insist that we should not condemn without knowing the whole story.”

The three retreated to the bar of their hotel, Reynolds vowing to get savagely drunk. He asked the bartender, quietly, about what had just occurred. The bartender told the story in a whisper: In defiance of Nazi warnings against marriage between Jews and Aryans, the young woman had planned to marry her Jewish fiancé. This would have been risky anywhere in Germany, he explained, but nowhere more so than in Nuremberg. “You have heard of Herr S., whose home is here?” the bartender said.

Reynolds understood. The bartender was referring to Julius Streicher, whom Reynolds described as “Hitler’s circus master of anti-Semitism.” Streicher, according to Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw, was “a short, squat, shaven-headed bully … utterly possessed by demonic images of Jews.” He had founded the virulently anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer.

Reynolds recognized that what he, Martha, and Bill had just witnessed was an event that had far more significance than its particular details. Foreign correspondents in Germany had reported on abuses of Jews, but so far their stories had been based on after-the-fact investigation that relied on the accounts of witnesses. Here was an act of anti-Jewish brutality that a correspondent had witnessed firsthand. “The Nazis had all along been denying the atrocities that were occasionally reported abroad, but here was concrete evidence,” Reynolds wrote. “No other correspondent,” he claimed, “had witnessed any atrocities.”

His editor agreed it was an important story but feared that if Reynolds tried to send it by cable it would be intercepted by Nazi censors. He told Reynolds to send it by mail and recommended that he omit any reference to the Dodd children in order to avoid causing difficulties for the new ambassador.

Martha begged him not to write the story at all. “It was an isolated case,” she argued. “It was not really important, would create a bad impression, did not reveal actually what was going on in Germany, overshadowed the constructive work they were doing.”

Martha, Bill, and Reynolds continued south into Austria, where they spent another week before returning to Germany and making their way back along the Rhine. When Reynolds returned to his office, he found an urgent summons from foreign-press chief Ernst Hanfstaengl.

Hanfstaengl was furious, unaware as yet that Martha and Bill also had witnessed the incident.

“There isn’t one damned word of truth in your story!” he raged. “I’ve talked with our people in Nuremberg and they say nothing of the sort happened there.”

Reynolds quietly informed Hanfstaengl that he had watched the parade in the company of two important witnesses whom he had omitted from the story but whose testimony was unassailable. Reynolds named them.

Hanfstaengl sank into his chair and held his head. He complained that Reynolds should have told him sooner. Reynolds invited him to call the Dodds to confirm their presence, but Hanfstaengl waved away the suggestion.

At a press conference soon afterward, Goebbels, the propaganda minister, did not wait for a reporter to raise the issue of abuse against Jews but did so himself. He assured the forty or so reporters in the room that such incidents were rare, committed by “irresponsible” men.

One correspondent, Norman Ebbutt, chief of the London Times’s bureau in Berlin, interrupted. “But, Herr Minister, you must surely have heard of the Aryan girl, Anna Rath, who was paraded through Nuremberg just for wanting to marry a Jew?”

Goebbels smiled. It utterly transformed his face, though the result was neither pleasant nor engaging. Many in the room had encountered this effect before. There was something freakish about the extent to which the muscles of the bottom half of his face became engaged in the production of his smile and how abruptly his expressions could shift.

“Let me explain how such a thing might occasionally happen,” Goebbels said. “All during the twelve years of the Weimar Republic our people were virtually in jail. Now our party is in charge and they are free again. When a man has been in jail for twelve years and he is suddenly freed, in his joy he may do something irrational, perhaps even brutal. Is that not a possibility in your country also?”

Ebbutt, his voice even, noted a fundamental difference in how England might approach such a scenario. “If it should happen,” he said, “we would throw the man right back in jail.”

Goebbels’s smile disappeared, then just as quickly returned. He looked around the room. “Are there any more questions?”

The United States made no formal protest of the incident. Nonetheless, an official of the German foreign office apologized to Martha. He dismissed the incident as isolated and one that would be severely punished.

Martha was inclined to accept his view. She remained enthralled with life in the new Germany. In a letter to Thornton Wilder, she gushed, “The youth are bright faced and hopeful, they sing to the noble ghost of Horst Wessel with shining eyes and unerring tongues. Wholesome and beautiful lads these Germans, good, sincere, healthy, mystic brutal, fine, hopeful, capable of death and love, deep, rich wondrous and strange beings—these youths of modern Hakenkreuz Germany.”

IN THE MEANTIME, Dodd received an invitation from the German foreign office to attend the upcoming party rally in Nuremberg, set to begin in earnest on September 1. The invitation troubled him.

He had read of the Nazi Party’s penchant for staging these elaborate displays of party force and energy, and saw them not as official events sponsored by the state but as party affairs that had nothing to do with international relations. He could not imagine himself attending such a rally any more than he could envision the German ambassador to America attending a Republican or Democratic convention. Moreover, he feared that Goebbels and his propaganda ministry would seize on the fact of his attendance and portray it as an endorsement of Nazi policies and behavior.

On Tuesday, August 22, Dodd cabled the State Department to ask for advice. “I received a non-committal reply,” he wrote in his diary. The department promised to support whatever decision he made. “I at once made up my mind not to go, even if all the other ambassadors went.” The following Saturday he notified the German foreign office that he would not be attending. “I declined it on the grounds of pressure of work, though the main reason was my disapproval of a government invitation to a Party convention,” he wrote. “I was also sure the behavior of the dominant group would be embarrassing.”

An idea occurred to Dodd: if he could persuade his fellow ambassadors from Britain, Spain, and France also to rebuff the invitation, their mutual action would send a potent yet suitably indirect message of unity and disapproval.

Dodd first met with the Spanish ambassador, a session that Dodd described as “very pleasantly unconventional” because the Spaniard likewise had not yet been accredited. Even so, both approached the issue with caution. “I implied that I would not go,” Dodd wrote. He provided the Spanish ambassador with a couple of historical precedents for snubbing such an invitation. The Spanish ambassador agreed that the rally was a party affair and not a state event but did not reveal what he planned to do.

Dodd learned, however, that he did at last send his regrets, as did the ambassadors from France and Britain, each citing an inescapable commitment of one kind or another.

Officially the State Department endorsed Dodd’s demurral; unofficially, his decision rankled a number of senior officers, including Undersecretary Phillips and Western European affairs chief Jay Pierrepont Moffat. They viewed Dodd’s decision as needlessly provocative, further proof that his appointment as ambassador had been a mistake. Forces opposed to Dodd began to coalesce.

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