When learning about World War II in school, how many of us asked ourselves (and our history teachers) how could so many good people stand by and watch as Hitler and the Third Reich dismantled personal freedoms in Germany and exterminated millions of people in the most horrific ways? I know I did and I’m guessing it’s crossed your mind one or twice as well. It is almost unfathomable to us that good, honest, Christian people would allow such atrocities to occur and (seemingly) do nothing to stop it!
In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson is an excellent work of non-fiction which follows the lives of the Dodd family as William Dodd becomes the American ambassador to Germany in the years leading up to the rise and fall of Hitler and the Third Reich. Larson utilizes personal diaries, official correspondence, letters, memos, etc. to tell the story of this American family in 1930’s Berlin. The story is a complicated one, as impressions and feelings change over the years the Dodd’s spent in Germany. At first glance the new government in Germany seemed liked a well oiled machine that brought order to chaos however, this machine soon evolved into an instrument of terror, violence, and oppression for any and all (German or otherwise) who questioned it’s motives or means.
When read in light of the current political and economic climate in the United States I believe this is most certainly a cautionary tale. This story tells of the micro and macro aggressions of a government before it had completely dissolved all human and civil rights of it’s people. It honors the voices that were ignored which warned the world that Germany was preparing for war and it tells the stories of those who died because they spoke out against an oppressive and violent government. Most importantly, it shows us that racism, bigotry, government sanctioned violence, isolationism, and hatred can and DO exist in our ‘civilized’ world and if we sit by and do nothing to preserve what is right, just, and good in this world, it can all be taken from us.
This book easily makes my top 5 of the year so far. My brother, Jeremiah, and I read The White City by Erik Larson last year and liked it, which is what prompted me to buy this one for Jerm for Christmas. After he read it he immediately gave it to me and said I HAD to read it too! So glad he did!
Read on my friends!