What most troubled Dodd during his leave was his sense that his opponents in the State Department were growing more aggressive. He became concerned about what he saw as a pattern of disclosures of confidential information that seemed aimed at undermining his standing. A troubling incident occurred on the night of Saturday, April 14, as he was leaving the annual Gridiron Club dinner in Washington. A young State Department officer, whom he did not know, approached him and began a conversation in which he openly challenged Dodd’s appraisal of conditions in Germany, citing a confidential dispatch the ambassador had cabled from Berlin. The young man was much taller than Dodd and stood very close in a manner Dodd found physically intimidating. In an angry letter that Dodd planned to hand in person to Secretary Hull, he described the encounter as “an intentional affront.”
Most distressing to Dodd, however, was the question of how the young man had gotten access to his dispatch. “It is my opinion,” Dodd wrote, “… that there is a group somewhere in the Department who think of themselves and not the country and who, upon the slightest effort of any ambassador or minister to economize and improve, begin consorting together to discredit and defeat him. This is the third or fourth time entirely confidential information I have given has been treated as gossip—or made gossip. I am not in the service for any personal or social gain and/or status; I am ready to do anything possible for better work and co-operation; but I do not wish to work alone or become the object of constant intrigue and maneuver. I shall not resign, however, in silence, if this sort of thing continues.”
Dodd decided not to give the letter to Hull after all. It ended up filed among papers he identified as “undelivered.”
What Dodd apparently did not yet know was that he and fifteen other ambassadors had been the subject of a major article in the April 1934 issue of Fortune magazine. Despite the article’s prominence and the fact that it must surely have been a topic of rabid conversation within the State Department, Dodd only learned of its existence much later, after his return to Berlin, when Martha brought home a copy she had received during an appointment with her Berlin dentist.
Entitled “Their Excellencies, Our Ambassadors,” the article identified the appointees and indicated their personal wealth by placing dollar signs next to their names. Jesse Isidor Straus—ambassador to France and former president of R. H. Macy & Company—was identified as “$$$$ Straus.” Dodd had a single “¢” next to his name. The article poked fun at his cheapskate approach to diplomacy and suggested that in renting his Berlin house at a discount from a Jewish banker he was seeking to profit from the plight of Germany’s Jews. “So,” the article stated, “the Dodds got a nice little house very cheap and managed to run it with only a few servants.” The article noted that Dodd had brought his weary old Chevrolet to Berlin. “His son was supposed to run it for him evenings,” the writer said. “But the son wanted to go the places and do the things sons have a habit of doing, and that left Mr. Dodd chauffeurless (though top-hatted) in his Chevrolet.” Dodd, the article claimed, was left having to cadge rides from junior embassy officers, “the luckier of them in their chauffeured limousines.”
The writer called Dodd “a square academic peg in a round diplomatic hole” who was hampered by his relative poverty and lack of diplomatic aplomb. “Morally a very courageous person, he is so intellectual, so divorced from run-of-mine human beings, that he talks in parables, as one gentleman and scholar to another; and the brown-shirted brethren of blood and steel can’t understand him even when they care to. So Dodd boils inwardly, and when he tries to get tough, nobody pays much attention.”
It was immediately clear to Dodd that one or more officials within the State Department and perhaps even his office in Berlin had revealed fine-grained details of his life in Germany. Dodd complained to Undersecretary Phillips. The article, he wrote, “reveals a strange and even unpatriotic attitude, so far as my record and efforts here are concerned. In my letter of acceptance I said to the president that it must be understood I was to live on my salary income. How and why so much discussion of this simple and obvious fact for me?” He cited diplomats from history who had lived modestly. “Why all this condemnation of my following such examples?” He told Phillips that he suspected people within his own embassy were leaking information and cited other news accounts that had carried distorted reports. “How all these false stories and no reference to real services I have attempted to render?”
Phillips waited nearly a month to respond. “With regard to that article in Fortune,” he wrote, “I would not give it another thought. I cannot imagine where the information to which you refer came from any more than I can imagine how the Press gets hold of gossip (usually erroneous) in regard to myself and other colleagues of yours.” He urged Dodd, “Don’t let this particular item disturb you in the least.”
DODD DID GET to spend a little time in the Library of Congress doing research for his Old South and managed to carve out two weeks on his farm, where he wrote and tended farm matters, and he was able to travel to Chicago as planned, but this did not yield the pleasant reencounter he had anticipated. “Once there,” he wrote to Martha, “everybody wanted to see me: telephones, letters, visits, luncheons, dinners all the time.” He fielded many inquiries about her and her brother, he wrote, “but only one about your problem in New York,” meaning her divorce. A friend wanted to show him examples of “how decently Chicago papers treated it,” but, he wrote, “I did not care to read clippings.” He gave speeches and resolved faculty squabbles. In his diary he noted that he also met with two Jewish leaders whom he had contacted previously in fulfilling Roosevelt’s directive to damp Jewish protest. The two men described “how they and their friends had calmed their fellows and prevented any violent demonstrations in Chicago as planned.”
A personal crisis intruded. While in Chicago Dodd received a telegram relaying a message from his wife. After enduring the inevitable spasm of anxiety that telegrams from loved ones sparked, Dodd read that his old Chevy, icon of his ambassadorship, had been totaled by his chauffeur. The kicker: “THEREFORE HOPE YOU CAN BRING NEW CAR.”
So now Dodd, while on his supposedly restorative leave, was being asked in the matter-of-fact language of telegraphy to buy a new car and arrange for its shipping to Berlin.
He wrote to Martha later, “I fear Mueller was driving carelessly, as I noted several times before I came away.” Dodd could not understand it. He himself had driven between his farm and Washington, D.C., many times and had driven all over the city without ever having an accident. “While this may prove nothing, it suggests something. People who do not own the car are far less careful than those who do.” In light of what was to happen a few years hence, Dodd’s crowing about his own driving prowess can only raise a chill. He wanted a Buick but deemed the price—$1,350—too much to spend given the limited time his family expected to stay in Berlin. He also worried about the $100 he would have to pay to ship the car to Germany.
Ultimately he got his Buick. He instructed his wife to buy it from a dealer in Berlin. The car, he wrote, was a basic model that his embassy protocol experts disparaged as “ridiculously simple for an Ambassador.”
DODD WAS ABLE to make one more visit to his farm, which cheered him but also made his final departure all the more painful. “This was a beautiful day,” he wrote in his diary on Sunday, May 6, 1934. “The budding trees and the apple blooms were most appealing, especially since I must leave.”
Three days later, Dodd’s ship sailed from New York. He felt he had achieved a victory in getting Jewish leaders to agree to ease the intensity of their protests against Germany and hoped his efforts would bring further moderation on the part of Hitler’s government. These hopes were chilled, however, when on Saturday, May 12, while in midocean, he got word via wireless of a speech just delivered by Goebbels in which the propaganda minister called Jews “the syphilis of all European peoples.”
Dodd felt betrayed. Despite Nazi promises about arrest warrants and closure of the Columbia House prison, clearly nothing had changed. He feared that now he appeared naive. He wrote to Roosevelt of his dismay, after all the work he had done with American Jewish leaders. Goebbels’s speech had rekindled “all the animosities of the preceding winter,” he wrote, “and I was put in the position of having been humbugged, as indeed I was.”
He reached Berlin on Thursday, May 17, at 10:30 p.m. and found a changed city. During his two months away, drought had browned the landscape to a degree he had never seen before, but there was something else. “I was delighted to be home,” he wrote, “but the tense atmosphere was revealed at once.”