As ambassador, Dodd’s main point of contact in the German government was Foreign Minister Neurath. Spurred by the Kaltenborn incident, Dodd arranged to meet with Neurath on Thursday morning, September 14, 1933, to make a formal protest, against not just that episode but also the many other attacks on Americans and the regime’s apparent unwillingness to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Their conversation took place in Neurath’s office in the Foreign Ministry on Wilhelmstrasse.
It began amiably enough with a discussion of economic matters, but the atmosphere quickly grew tense as Dodd broached the subject of “SA brutalities” and reviewed for Neurath half a dozen incidents. The most recent had occurred on August 31 in Berlin—the Samuel Bossard incident, in which Bossard was assaulted by members of the Hitler Youth after failing to offer the Hitler salute. A week earlier another American, Harold Dahlquist, had been struck by a Storm Trooper for failing to stop to watch an SA parade. Overall the frequency of such attacks had decreased as compared with the preceding spring, but incidents continued to occur at a steady rate of one or two a month. Dodd warned Neurath that press accounts of these attacks had caused real damage to Germany’s reputation in America and noted that this happened despite his own efforts to mute negative coverage by American correspondents. “I may say to you that the embassy has endeavored successfully on several occasions to prevent unimportant events from being reported and also warned reporters from exaggerating their stories,” he told Neurath.
He revealed now that on one occasion his own car had been stopped and searched, apparently by an SA officer, but that he had kept the incident from being publicized “to prevent widespread discussions which as you know would have been inevitable.”
Neurath thanked him and said he was aware of Dodd’s efforts to temper press coverage of Storm Trooper violence, including the incident that Martha and Bill Jr. had witnessed in Nuremberg. He professed to be very grateful.
Dodd turned to the Kaltenborn episode. He told Neurath that the reaction in the United States could have been far worse if Kaltenborn himself had been inclined to publicize it. “He was generous enough, however, to ask us not to allow any report of the episode to get out, and both Mr. Messersmith and I urged the American press not to mention this story,” Dodd said. “It did, however, get out and did Germany incalculable injury.”
Neurath, though renowned for his lack of public affect, grew visibly perturbed, a novelty worth recording, as Dodd did in a “strictly confidential” memorandum he composed later that day. Neurath claimed to know Kaltenborn personally and condemned the attack as brutal and without justification.
Dodd watched him. Neurath seemed sincere, but lately the foreign minister had been displaying a penchant for agreeing and then doing nothing.
Dodd warned that if the attacks continued and if the assailants still evaded punishment, the United States might indeed be forced to “publish a statement which would greatly damage the rating of Germany all over the world.”
Neurath’s complexion turned a deeper red.
Dodd continued as if lecturing a wayward student: “I cannot see how your officials can allow such behavior or how they fail to see that it is one of the most serious things affecting our relations.”
Neurath claimed that during the preceding week he had raised the issue directly with Göring and Hitler. Both, he said, had assured him that they would use their influence to prevent further attacks. Neurath vowed to do likewise.
Dodd pressed on, now venturing into even more charged territory: the Jewish “problem,” as Dodd and Neurath both termed it.
Neurath asked Dodd whether the United States “did not have a Jewish problem” of its own.
“You know, of course,” Dodd said, “that we have had difficulty now and then in the United States with Jews who had gotten too much of a hold on certain departments of intellectual and business life.” He added that some of his peers in Washington had told him confidentially that “they appreciated the difficulties of the Germans in this respect but that they did not for a moment agree with the method of solving the problem which so often ran into utter ruthlessness.”
Dodd described his encounter with Fritz Haber, the chemist.
“Yes,” Neurath said, “I know Haber and recognize him as one of the greatest chemists in all Europe.” Neurath agreed that Germany’s treatment of Jews was wrongheaded and said his ministry was urging a more humane approach. He claimed to see signs of change. Just that week, he said, he had gone to the races at Baden-Baden and three prominent Jews had sat with him on the platform along with other government officials, “and there were no unfriendly expressions.”
Dodd said, “You cannot expect world opinion of your conduct to moderate so long as eminent leaders like Hitler and Goebbels announce from platforms, as in Nuremberg, that all Jews must be wiped off the earth.”
Dodd rose to leave. He turned to Neurath. “Shall we have a war?” he asked.
Again Neurath flushed: “Never!”
At the door, Dodd said, “You must realize that Germany would be ruined by another war.”
Dodd left the building, “a little concerned that I had been so frank and critical.”
THE VERY NEXT DAY, the American consul in Stuttgart, Germany, sent a “strictly confidential” communiqué to Berlin in which he reported that the Mauser Company, in his jurisdiction, had sharply increased its production of arms. The consul wrote, “No doubt can be entertained any longer that large scale preparation for a renewal of aggression against other countries is being planned in Germany.”
Soon afterward the same consul reported that German police had begun close surveillance of highways, routinely stopping travelers and subjecting them, their cars, and their baggage to detailed search.
On one notorious occasion the government ordered a nationwide halt of all traffic between noon and 12:40 so that squads of police could search all trains, trucks, and cars then in transit. The official explanation, quoted by German newspapers, was that the police were hunting for weapons, foreign propaganda, and evidence of communist resistance. Cynical Berliners embraced a different theory then making the rounds: that what the police really hoped to find, and confiscate, were copies of Swiss and Austrian newspapers carrying allegations that Hitler himself might have Jewish ancestry.