Though rumors continued to sketch a blood purge of startling dimension, Ambassador Dodd and his wife chose not to cancel the embassy’s Fourth of July celebration, to which they had invited some three hundred guests. If anything, there was more reason now to hold the party, to provide a symbolic demonstration of American freedom and offer a respite from the terror outside. This was to be the first formal occasion since the weekend at which Americans and Germans would encounter each other face to face. The Dodds had invited a number of Martha’s friends as well, including Mildred Fish Harnack and her husband, Arvid. Boris apparently did not attend. One guest, Bella Fromm, noted an “electric tension” that pervaded the party. “The diplomats seemed jittery,” she wrote. “The Germans were on edge.”
Dodd and his wife stood at the entrance to the ballroom to greet each new arrival. Martha saw that outwardly her father was behaving as he always did at such affairs, hiding his boredom with ironic quips and sallies, his expression that of an amused skeptic seemingly on the verge of laughter. Her mother wore a long blue and white dress and greeted guests in her usual quiet manner—all southern grace, with silver hair and a gentle accent—but Martha detected an unusual flush to her mother’s cheeks and noted that the nearly black irises of her eyes, always striking, were especially so.
Tables throughout the ballroom and the garden were decorated with bouquets of red, white, and blue flowers and small American flags. An orchestra played American songs quietly. The weather was warm but cloudy. Guests wandered through the house and garden. All in all it was a peaceful and surreal scene, in powerful contrast to the bloodshed of the prior seventy-two hours. For Martha and her brother the juxtaposition was simply too glaring to go unacknowledged, so they made a point of greeting the younger German guests with the question “Lebst du noch?”
“We thought we were being sarcastic, revealing to the Germans some of the fury we felt,” she wrote. “No doubt many of them thought the remark bad taste. Some Nazis showed extreme irritation.”
Guests arrived bearing fresh news. Now and then a correspondent or embassy staffer pulled Dodd away for a few moments of conversation. One topic, surely, was a law enacted the day before by Hitler’s cabinet that made all the murders legal; it justified them as actions taken in “emergency defense of the state.” Guests arrived looking pale and shaken, fearing the worst for their friends throughout the city.
Fritz, the butler, brought Martha word that a visitor was waiting for her downstairs. “Der junge Herr von Papen,” Fritz said. The young Mr. Papen—the vice-chancellor’s son, Franz Jr. Martha was expecting him and had alerted her mother that if he appeared she might have to leave. She touched her mother’s arm and left the reception line.
Franz was tall, blond, and slender, with a sharply sculpted face and, Martha recalled, “a certain fine beauty—like that of blonde fox.” He was graceful as well. To dance with him, she wrote, “was like living in music itself.”
Franz took her arm and briskly led her away from the house. They crossed the street to the Tiergarten, where they strolled awhile, watching for signs of being followed. Finding none, they walked to an outdoor café, took a table, and ordered drinks.
The terror of the last few days showed on Franz’s face and in his manner. Anxiety muted his usual easygoing humor.
Though grateful for Ambassador Dodd’s appearance outside his family’s home, Franz understood that what had really saved his father was his relationship with President Hindenburg. Even that closeness, however, had not kept the SS from terrorizing Papen and his family, as Franz now revealed. On Saturday armed SS men had taken up positions within the family’s apartment and at the street entrance. They told the vice-chancellor that two of his staff had been shot and indicated the same end awaited him. The order, they said, would arrive at any moment. The family spent a lonely, terrifying weekend.
Franz and Martha talked awhile longer, then he escorted her back through the park. She returned to the party alone.
LATE ONE AFTERNOON DURING that week, Mrs. Cerruti, wife of the Italian ambassador, happened to look out a window of her residence, which stood across the street from Röhm’s house. At that moment, a large car pulled up. Two men got out and went into the house and emerged carrying armloads of Röhm’s suits and other clothing. They made several trips.
The scene brought home to her the events of the past weekend in a particularly vivid manner. “The sight of these clothes, now deprived of their owner, was nauseating,” she recalled in a memoir. “They were so obviously ‘the garments of the hanged’ that I had to turn away my head.”
She suffered “a regular fit of nerves.” She ran upstairs and vowed to take an immediate break from Berlin. She left the next day for Venice.
THE DODDS LEARNED THAT Wilhelm Regendanz, the wealthy banker who had hosted the fateful dinner for Captain Röhm and French ambassador François-Poncet at his Dahlem home, had managed to escape Berlin on the day of the purge and make his way safely to London. He feared now, however, that he could never return. Worse, his wife was still in Berlin and his adult son, Alex, who also had been present at the dinner, had been arrested by the Gestapo. On July 3 Regendanz wrote to Mrs. Dodd to ask if she would go to Dahlem to check on his wife and younger children and “to bring her my heartiest greetings.” He wrote, “It seems that I am suspect now, because so many diplomats have been in my house and because I was also a friend of General von Schleicher.”
Mrs. Dodd and Martha drove to Dahlem to see Mrs. Regendanz. A servant girl met them at the door, her eyes red. Soon Mrs. Regendanz herself appeared, looking dark and thin, her eyes deeply shadowed and her mannerisms halting and nervous. She knew Martha and Mattie and was perplexed to see them there in her home. She led them inside. After a few moments of conversation, the Dodds told Mrs. Regendanz about the message from her husband. She put her hands to her face and wept softly.
Mrs. Regendanz recounted how her house had been searched and her passport confiscated. “When she spoke of her son,” Martha wrote, “her self-control collapsed and she became hysterical with fear.” She had no idea where Alex was, whether he was alive or dead.
She pleaded with Martha and her mother to locate Alex and visit him, bring him cigarettes, anything to demonstrate to his captors that he had drawn the attention of the U.S. embassy. The Dodds promised to try. Mrs. Dodd and Mrs. Regendanz agreed that henceforth Mrs. Regendanz would use a code name, Carrie, in any contact with the Dodds or the embassy.
Over the next few days the Dodds spoke with influential friends, diplomats, and friendly government officials about the situation. Whether their intercession helped or not can’t be known, but Alex was freed after about a month of incarceration. He left Germany immediately, by night train, and joined his father in London.
Through connections, Mrs. Regendanz managed to acquire another passport and to secure passage out of Germany by air. Once she and her children were also in London, she sent a postcard to Mrs. Dodd: “Arrived safe and sound. Deepest gratitude. Love. Carrie.”
IN WASHINGTON, WESTERN EUROPEAN affairs chief Jay Pierrepont Moffat noted a surge of inquiries from American travelers asking whether it was still safe to visit Germany. “We have replied to them,” he wrote, “that in all the trouble to date no foreigner has been molested and we see no cause for worry if they mind their own business and keep out of trouble’s way.”
His mother, for one, had survived the purge unscathed and professed to have found it “quite exciting,” Moffat wrote in a later entry.
His sister’s home was in the Tiergarten district, where it “was blocked off by soldiers and they had to make quite a detour to get in or out.” Nonetheless, mother, daughter, and granddaughter set off by car, with chauffeur, for their previously planned tour of Germany.
What most occupied the attention of the State Department was the outstanding German debt to American creditors. It was a strange juxtaposition. In Germany, there was blood, viscera, and gunfire; at the State Department in Washington, there were white shirts, Hull’s red pencils, and mounting frustration with Dodd for failing to press America’s case. In a telegram from Berlin dated Friday, July 6, Dodd reported that he had met with Foreign Minister Neurath on the bond issue and that Neurath had said he would do what he could to ensure that interest was paid but that “this would be extremely difficult.” When Dodd asked Neurath whether the United States could at least expect the same treatment as other international creditors, Neurath “merely expressed the hope that this might be possible.”
The telegram infuriated Secretary Hull and the elders of the Pretty Good Club. “By his own showing,” Moffat wrote in his diary, Dodd “put up very little fight and rather let von Neurath walk away with the situation. The Secretary knows that [Dodd] has scant sympathy with our financial interests but even so was pretty fed up with the Dodd telegram.”
Hull angrily ordered Moffat to compose a harsh response to Dodd to compel him “not only to take but to create every opportunity to drive home the justice of our complaints.”
The result was a cable transmitted at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 7, under Secretary Hull’s name that questioned whether Dodd had challenged Germany’s failure to pay its bond debt “with the utmost vigor alike from the point of view of logic, equity, and its effect upon the estimated 60,000 mainly innocent holders in this country.…”
Moffat wrote, “It was a fairly stiff telegram, one sentence of which the Secretary with his intense kindly nature modified to salve Dodd’s feelings.” Moffat noted that “the irreverent ones” in the department had begun referring to Dodd as “Ambassador Dud.”
During another meeting on the bond situation later that week, Hull continued to express his dissatisfaction with Dodd. Moffat wrote, “The Secretary kept repeating while Dodd was a very fine man in many ways, he certainly had a peculiar slant to his make-up.”
That day Moffat attended a garden party at the home of a wealthy friend—the friend with the pool—who had invited as well “the entire State Department.” There were exhibition tennis matches and swimming races. Moffat had to leave early, however, for a cruise down the Potomac on a power yacht “fitted out with a luxury that would satisfy the soul of any sybarite.”
IN BERLIN, DODD WAS UNMOVED. He thought it pointless to pursue full payment, because Germany simply did not have the money, and there were far more important issues at stake. In a letter to Hull a few weeks later he wrote, “Our people will have to lose their bonds.”
EARLY ON THE MORNING of Friday, July 6, Martha went to her father’s bedroom to tell him good-bye. She knew he disapproved of her journey to Russia, but as they hugged and kissed he seemed at ease. He urged her to be careful but hoped she would have “an interesting trip.”
Her mother and brother took her to Tempelhof Airport; Dodd remained in the city, aware, no doubt, that the Nazi press might try to capitalize on his presence at the airport, waving farewell as his daughter flew off to the hated Soviet Union.
Martha climbed a tall set of steel stairs to the three-engine Junker that would take her on the first leg of her journey. A photographer captured her looking jaunty at the top of the stairs, her hat at a rakish angle. She wore a plain jumper over a polka-dotted blouse and matching scarf. Improbably, given the heat, she carried a long coat draped over her arm and a pair of white gloves.
She claimed later that she had no idea her trip would be of interest to the press or that it would create something of a diplomatic scandal. This hardly seems credible, however. After a year in which she had come to know intimately such intriguers as Rudolf Diels and Putzi Hanfstaengl, she could not have failed to realize that in Hitler’s Germany even the smallest actions possessed exaggerated symbolic power.
On a personal level her departure marked the fact that the last traces of the sympathy she had felt for the strange and noble beings of the Nazi revolution had disappeared, and whether she recognized it or not, her departure, as captured by news photographers and duly registered by embassy officials and Gestapo watchers alike, was a public declaration of her final disillusionment.
She wrote, “I had had enough of blood and terror to last me for the rest of my life.”
HER FATHER REACHED a similar moment of transformation. Throughout that first year in Germany, Dodd had been struck again and again by the strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest. It was as if he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended. He wrote to his friend Roper, “I could not have imagined the outbreak against the Jews when everybody was suffering, one way or another, from declining commerce. Nor could one have imagined that such a terroristic performance as that of June 30 would have been permitted in modern times.”
Dodd continued to hope that the murders would so outrage the German public that the regime would fall, but as the days passed he saw no evidence of any such outpouring of anger. Even the army had stood by, despite the murder of two of its generals. President Hindenburg sent Hitler a telegram of praise. “From the reports placed before me, I learn that you, by your determined action and gallant personal intervention, have nipped treason in the bud. You have saved the German nation from serious danger. For this I express to you my most profound thanks and sincere appreciation.” In another telegram Hindenburg thanked Göring for his “energetic and successful proceeding of the smashing of high treason.”
Dodd learned that Göring personally had ordered over seventy-five executions. He was glad when Göring, like Röhm before him, sent his regrets at not being able to attend the dinner party the Dodds had planned for Friday evening, July 6. Dodd wrote, “It was a relief that he did not appear. I don’t know what I would have done if he had.”
FOR DODD, DIPLOMAT by accident, not demeanor, the whole thing was utterly appalling. He was a scholar and Jeffersonian democrat, a farmer who loved history and the old Germany in which he had studied as a young man. Now there was official murder on a terrifying scale. Dodd’s friends and acquaintances, people who had been to his house for dinner and tea, had been shot dead. Nothing in Dodd’s past had prepared him for this. It brought to the fore with more acuity than ever his doubts about whether he could achieve anything as ambassador. If he could not, what then was the point of remaining in Berlin, when his great love, his Old South, languished on his desk?
Something left him, a vital last element of hope. In his diary entry for July 8, one week after the purge began and just before the one-year anniversary of his arrival in Berlin, he wrote: “My task here is to work for peace and better relations. I do not see how anything can be done so long as Hitler, Göring and Goebbels are the directing heads of the country. Never have I heard or read of three more unfit men in high place. Ought I to resign?”
He vowed never to host Hitler, Göring, or Goebbels at the embassy or his home and resolved further “that I would never again attend an address of the Chancellor or seek an interview for myself except upon official grounds. I have a sense of horror when I look at the man.”