In late August, President Hindenburg at last returned to Berlin from his convalescence at his country estate. And so, on Wednesday, August 30, 1933, Dodd put on a formal grasshopper cutaway and top hat and drove to the presidential palace to present his credentials.

The president was tall and broad, with a huge gray-white mustache that curled into two feathery wings. The collar of his uniform was high and stiff, his tunic riveted with medals, several of which were gleaming starbursts the size of Christmas-tree ornaments. Overall, he conveyed a sense of strength and virility that belied his eighty-five years. Hitler was absent, as were Goebbels and Göring, all presumably engaged in preparing for the party rally to begin two days later.

Dodd read a brief statement that emphasized his sympathy for the people of Germany and the nation’s history and culture. He omitted any reference to the government and in so doing hoped to telegraph that he had no such sympathy for the Hitler regime. For the next fifteen minutes he and the Old Gentleman sat together on the “preferred couch” and conversed on an array of topics, ranging from Dodd’s university experience in Leipzig to the dangers of economic nationalism. Hindenburg, Dodd noted later in his diary, “stressed the subject of international relations so pointedly that I thought he meant indirect criticism of the Nazi extremists.” Dodd introduced his key embassy officers, and then all marched from the building to find soldiers of the regular army, the Reichswehr, lining both sides of the street.

This time Dodd did not walk home. As the embassy cars drove off, the soldiers stood at attention. “It was all over,” Dodd wrote, “and I was at last a duly accepted representative of the United States in Berlin.” Two days later, he found himself confronting his first official crisis.

ON THE MORNING of September 1, 1933, a Friday, H. V. Kaltenborn, the American radio commentator, telephoned Consul General Messersmith to express regret that he could not stop by for one more visit, as he and his family had finished their European tour and were preparing to head back home. The train to their ship was scheduled to depart at midnight.

He told Messersmith that he still had seen nothing to verify the consul’s criticisms of Germany and accused him of “really doing wrong in not presenting the picture in Germany as it really was.”

Soon after making the call, Kaltenborn and his family—wife, son, and daughter—left their hotel, the Adlon, to do a little last-minute shopping. The son, Rolf, was sixteen at the time. Mrs. Kaltenborn particularly wanted to visit the jewelry stores and silver shops on Unter den Linden, but their venture also took them seven blocks farther south to Leipziger Strasse, a busy east-west boulevard jammed with cars and trams and lined with handsome buildings and myriad small shops selling bronzes, Dresden china, silks, leather goods, and just about anything else one could desire. Here too was the famous Wertheim’s Emporium, an enormous department store—a Warenhaus—in which throngs of customers traveled from floor to floor aboard eighty-three elevators.

As the family emerged from a shop, they saw that a formation of Storm Troopers was parading along the boulevard in their direction. The time was 9:20 a.m.

Pedestrians crowded to the edge of the sidewalk and offered the Hitler salute. Despite his sympathetic outlook, Kaltenborn did not wish to join in and knew that one of Hitler’s top deputies, Rudolf Hess, had made a public announcement that foreigners were not obligated to do so. “This is no more to be expected,” Hess had declared, “than that a Protestant cross himself when he enters a Catholic Church.” Nonetheless, Kaltenborn instructed his family to turn toward a shop window as if inspecting the goods on display.

Several troopers marched up to the Kaltenborns and demanded to know why they had their backs to the parade and why they did not salute. Kaltenborn in flawless German answered that he was an American and that he and his family were on their way back to their hotel.

The crowd began insulting Kaltenborn and became threatening, to the point where the commentator called out to two policemen standing ten feet away. The officers did not respond.

Kaltenborn and his family began walking back toward their hotel. A young man came from behind and without a word grabbed Kaltenborn’s son and struck him in the face hard enough to knock him to the sidewalk. Still the police did nothing. One officer smiled.

Furious now, Kaltenborn grabbed the young assailant by the arm and marched him toward the policemen. The crowd grew more menacing. Kaltenborn realized that if he persisted in trying to get justice, he risked further attack.

At last an onlooker interceded and persuaded the crowd to leave the Kaltenborns alone, as they clearly were American. The parade moved on.

After reaching the safety of the Adlon, Kaltenborn called Messersmith. He was upset and nearly incoherent. He asked Messersmith to come to the Adlon right away.

For Messersmith, it was a troubling but darkly sublime moment. He told Kaltenborn he could not come to the hotel. “It just so happened that I had to be at my desk for the next hour or so,” he recalled. He did, however, dispatch to the Adlon Vice Consul Raymond Geist, who arranged that the Kaltenborns would be escorted to the station that night.

“It was ironical that this was just one of the things which Kaltenborn said could not happen,” Messersmith wrote later, with clear satisfaction. “One of the things that he specifically said I was incorrectly reporting on was that the police did not do anything to protect people against attacks.” Messersmith acknowledged that the incident must have been a wrenching experience for the Kaltenborns, especially their son. “It was on the whole, however, a good thing that this happened because if it hadn’t been for this incident, Kaltenborn would have gone back and told his radio audience how fine everything was in Germany and how badly the American officials were reporting to our government and how incorrectly the correspondents in Berlin were picturing developments in the country.”

Messersmith met with Dodd and asked whether the time had come for the State Department to issue a definitive warning against travel in Germany. Such a warning, both men knew, would have a devastating effect on Nazi prestige.

Dodd favored restraint. From the perspective of his role as ambassador, he found these attacks more nuisance than dire emergency and in fact tried whenever possible to limit press attention. He claimed in his diary that he had managed to keep several attacks against Americans out of the newspapers altogether and had “otherwise tried to prevent unfriendly demonstrations.”

On a personal level, however, Dodd found such episodes repugnant, utterly alien to what his experience as a student in Leipzig had led him to expect. During family meals he condemned the attacks, but if he hoped for a sympathetic expression of outrage from his daughter, he failed to get it.

Martha remained inclined to think the best of the new Germany, partly, as she conceded later, out of the simple perverseness of a daughter trying to define herself. “I was trying to find excuses for their excesses, and my father would look at me a bit stonily if tolerantly, and both in private and in public gently label me a young Nazi,” she wrote. “That put me on the defensive for some time and I became temporarily an ardent defender of everything going on.”

She countered that there was so much else that was good about Germany. In particular, she praised the enthusiasm of the country’s young people and the measures Hitler was taking to reduce unemployment. “I felt there was something noble in the fresh, vigorous, strong young faces I saw everywhere, and would say so combatively every chance I got.” In letters back to America she proclaimed that Germany was undergoing a thrilling rebirth, “and that the press reports and atrocity stories were isolated examples exaggerated by bitter, closed-minded people.”

THE SAME FRIDAY that had begun so tumultuously with the attack on the Kaltenborns ended for Dodd in a far more satisfactory manner.

That evening correspondent Edgar Mowrer set out for Zoo Station to begin his long journey to Tokyo. His wife and daughter accompanied him to the station but only to see him off: they were to stay behind to oversee the packing of the family’s household goods and would follow soon afterward.

Most of the foreign correspondents in the city converged on the station, as did a few stalwart Germans daring enough to let themselves be seen and identified by the agents who still kept Mowrer under surveillance.

A Nazi official assigned to make sure Mowrer actually got on the train came up to him and in a wheedling voice asked, “And when are you coming back to Germany, Herr Mowrer?”

With cinematic flare, Mowrer answered: “Why, when I can come back with about two million of my countrymen.”

Messersmith embraced him in a display of support intended for the agents keeping watch. In a voice loud enough to be overheard, Messersmith promised that Mowrer’s wife and daughter would follow unmolested. Mowrer was appreciative but had not forgiven Messersmith for failing to support his bid to stay in Germany. As Mowrer climbed aboard the train he turned to Messersmith with a slight smile and said: “And you too, Brutus.”

For Messersmith it was a crushing remark. “I felt miserable and depressed,” he wrote. “I knew it was the thing for him to do to leave and yet I hated the part that I had played in his leaving.”

Dodd did not appear. He was glad Mowrer was gone. In a letter to a friend in Chicago, he wrote that Mowrer “was for a time, as you may know, somewhat of a problem here.” Dodd conceded that Mowrer was a talented writer. “His experiences, however, after the publication of his book”—his notoriety and a Pulitzer Prize—“were such that he became rather more sharp and irritable than was best for all parties concerned.”

Mowrer and his family made it safely to Tokyo. His wife, Lillian, recalled her great sorrow at having to leave Berlin. “Nowhere have I had such lovely friends as in Germany,” she wrote. “Looking back on it all is like seeing someone you love go mad—and do horrible things.”

THE DEMANDS OF PROTOCOL—in German, Protokoll—descended over Dodd’s days like a black fog and kept him from the thing he loved most, his Old South. With his status as ambassador now official, his routine diplomatic responsibilities suddenly swelled, to a degree that caused him dismay. In a letter to Secretary of State Hull, he wrote, “The protokoll arbiters of one’s social behavior follow precedent, and commit one to entertainments the early part of one’s residence which are substantially useless, and which give every one of the various embassies and ministries the ‘social’ right to offer grand dinners.”

It started almost immediately. Protocol required that he give a reception for the entire diplomatic corps. He expected forty to fifty guests but then learned that each diplomat planned to bring one or more members of his staff, causing the eventual attendance to rise to over two hundred. “So today the show began at five o’clock,” Dodd wrote in his diary. “The Embassy rooms had been prepared; flowers abounded everywhere; a great punch bowl was filled with the accustomed liquors.” Foreign Minister Neurath came, as did Reichsbank president Schacht, one of the few other men in Hitler’s government whom Dodd saw as reasonable and rational. Schacht would become a frequent visitor to the Dodds’ home, well liked by Mrs. Dodd, who often used him to avoid the awkward social moments that occurred when an expected guest suddenly canceled. She was fond of saying, “Well, if at the last minute another guest can’t come, we can always invite Dr. Schacht.” Overall, Dodd decided, “It was not a bad affair, and”—a point of special satisfaction—“cost 700 marks.”

But now a flood of return invitations, both diplomatic and social, arrived on Dodd’s desk and at his home. Depending on the importance of the event, these were often followed by an exchange of seating charts, given to protocol officers to ensure that no unfortunate error of propinquity would mar the evening. The number of supposedly must-go banquets and receptions reached a point where even veteran diplomats complained that attendance had become onerous and exhausting. A senior official in the German foreign office said to Dodd, “You people in the Diplomatic Corps will have to limit social doings or we shall have to quit accepting invitations.” And a British official complained, “We simply cannot stand the pace.”

It was not all drudgery, of course. These parties and banquets yielded moments of fun and humor. Goebbels was known for his wit; Martha, for a time, considered him charming. “Infectious and delightful, eyes sparkling, voice soft, his speech witty and light, it is difficult to remember his cruelty, his cunning destructive talents.” Her mother, Mattie, always enjoyed being seated next to Goebbels at banquets; Dodd considered him “one of the few men with a sense of humor in Germany” and often engaged him in a brisk repartee of quips and ironic comment. An extraordinary newspaper photograph shows Dodd, Goebbels, and Sigrid Schultz at a formal banquet during a moment of what appears to be animated, carefree bonhomie. Though doubtless useful for Nazi propaganda, the scene as played out in the banquet hall was rather more complex than was captured on film. In fact, as Schultz later explained in an oral-history interview, she was trying not to speak to Goebbels but in the process “certainly looked flirtatious.” She explained (deploying the third person): “In this picture Sigrid won’t give him the time of day, you see. He’s turning on a thousand watts of charm, but he knows and she knows that she has no use for him.” When Dodd saw the resulting photograph, she said, he “laughed his head off.”

Göring too seemed a relatively benign character, at least as compared with Hitler. Sigrid Schultz found him the most tolerable of the senior Nazis because at least “you felt you could be in the same room with the man,” whereas Hitler, she said, “kind of turned my stomach.” One of the American embassy’s officers, John C. White, said years later, “I was always rather favorably impressed by Göring.… If any Nazi was likeable, I suppose he came nearest to it.”

At this early stage, diplomats and others found Göring hard to take seriously. He was like an immense, if exceedingly dangerous, little boy who delighted in creating and wearing new uniforms. His great size made him the brunt of jokes, although such jokes were told only well out of his hearing.

One night Ambassador Dodd and his wife went to a concert at the Italian embassy, which Göring also attended. In a vast white uniform of his own design, he looked especially huge—“three times the size of an ordinary man,” as daughter Martha told the story. The chairs set out for the concert were tiny gilded antiques that seemed far too fragile for Göring. With fascination and no small degree of anxiety, Mrs. Dodd watched Göring choose the chair directly in front of hers. She immediately found herself transfixed as Göring attempted to fit his gigantic “heart-shaped” rump onto the little chair. Throughout the concert she feared that at any moment the chair would collapse and Göring’s great bulk would come crashing into her lap. Martha wrote, “She was so distracted at the sight of the huge loins rolling off the sides and edges of the chair, so perilously near to her, she couldn’t remember a single piece that was played.”

DODD’S BIGGEST COMPLAINT about the diplomatic parties thrown by other embassies was how much money was wasted in the process, even by those countries laid low by the Depression.

“To illustrate,” he wrote to Secretary Hull, “last night we went at 8:30 to dine at the 53-room house of the Belgian minister (whose country is supposed to be unable to meet its lawful obligations).” Two servants in uniform met his car. “Four lackeys stood on the stairways, dressed in the style of Louis XIV servants. Three other servants in knee breeches took charge of our wraps. Twenty-nine people sat down in a more expensively furnished dining room than any room in the White House that I have seen. Eight courses were served by four uniformed waiters on silver dishes and platters. There were three wine glasses at every plate and when we rose, I noticed that many glass[es] were half full of wine which was to be wasted. The people at the party were agreeable enough, but there was no conversation of any value at all at my part of the table (this I have noted at all other large parties).… Nor was there any serious, informative or even witty talk after dinner.” Martha attended as well and described how “all the women were covered with diamonds or other precious stones—I had never seen such a lavish display of wealth.” She noted also that she and her parents left at ten thirty, and in so doing caused a minor scandal. “There was a good deal of genteel raising of eyebrows, but we braved the storm and went home.” It was bad form, she discovered later, to leave a diplomatic function before eleven.

Dodd was shocked to learn that his independently wealthy predecessors in Berlin had spent up to one hundred thousand dollars a year on entertaining, more than five times Dodd’s total salary. On some occasions they had tipped their servants more than what Dodd paid in rent each month. “But,” he vowed to Hull, “we shall not return these hospitalities in larger than ten or twelve-guest parties, with four servants at most and they modestly clad”—meaning, presumably, that they would be fully clothed but forgo the knee breeches of the Belgians. The Dodds kept three servants, had a chauffeur, and hired an extra servant or two for parties attended by more than ten guests.

The embassy’s cupboard, according to a formal inventory of government-owned property made for its annual “Post Report,” contained:

Dinner plates 10½″

4 doz.

Soup plates 9½″

2 doz.

Entree plates 9½″

2 doz.

Dessert plates

2 doz.

Salad plates 5 5/16″

2 doz.

Bread/butter plates 6 3/16″   

2 doz.

Teacups 3½″

2 doz.

Saucers 5 11/16″

2 doz.

Bouillon cups 3½″

2 doz.

Saucers 5 11/16″

2 doz.

After-dinner cups 2½″

2 doz.

Saucers 4¾″

2 doz.

Chop dishes

2 doz.

Platters, various sizes

4 doz.


3 doz.

Tall sherbert

3 doz.

Low sherbert

3 doz.

Small tumblers

3 doz.

Tall tumblers

3 doz.

Finger bowls

3 doz.

Finger bowl plates

3 doz.

“We shall not use silver platters nor floods of wines nor will there be card tables all about the place,” Dodd told Hull. “There will always be an effort to have some scholar or scientist or literary person present and some informatory talk; and it is understood that we retire at 10:30 to 11:00. We make no advertisement of these things but it is known that we shall not remain here when we find that we can not make both ends meet on the salary allowed.”

In a letter to Carl Sandburg he wrote, “I can never adapt myself to the usual habit of eating too much, drinking five varieties of wine and saying nothing, yet talking, for three long hours.” He feared he was a disappointment to his wealthier junior men, who threw lavish parties at their own expense. “They can not understand me,” he wrote, “and I am sorry for them.” He wished Sandburg all speed in completing his book on Lincoln, then lamented, “My half-completed Old South will probably be buried with me.”

He closed the letter ruefully, “Once more: Greetings from Berlin!”

At least his health was good, though he had his usual bouts of hay fever, indigestion, and bowel upsets. But as if foreshadowing what was to come, his doctor in Chicago, Wilber E. Post—with an office, appropriately enough, in the People’s Gas Building—sent Dodd a memorandum that he had written after his last thorough examination a decade earlier, for Dodd to use as a baseline against which to compare the results of future examinations. Dodd had a history of migraines, Post wrote, “with attacks of headaches, dizziness, fatigue, low spirits, and irritability of intestinal tract,” the latter condition being best treated “by physical exercise in the open air and freedom from nervous strain and fatigue.” His blood pressure was excellent, 100 systolic, 60 diastolic, more what one would expect from an athlete than from a man in late middle age. “The outstanding clinical feature has been that Mr. Dodd’s health has been good when he has had the opportunity to get plenty of open air exercise and a comparatively bland non-irritating diet without too much meat.”

In a letter appended to the report, Dr. Post wrote, “I trust that you will have no occasion to use it but it might be helpful in case you do.”

THAT FRIDAY EVENING a special train, a Sonderzug, made its way from Berlin through the night landscape toward Nuremberg. The train carried the ambassadors of an array of minor nations, among them the ministers to Haiti, Siam, and Persia. It also carried protocol officers, stenographers, a doctor, and a cadre of armed Storm Troopers. This was the train that was to have carried Dodd and the ambassadors of France, Spain, and Britain. Originally the Germans had planned on fourteen railcars, but as the regrets came in, they scaled back to nine.

Hitler was already in Nuremberg. He had arrived the night before for a welcome ceremony, his every moment choreographed, right down to the gift presented to him by the city’s mayor—a famous print by Albrecht Dürer entitled Knight, Death and the Devil.

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