STARRED REVIEW
August 07, 2018

The facade of Hitler’s Germany

By Julia Boyd

In the years after World War I, as Hitler and his followers gained attention and then power in Germany, many foreign visitors, especially from Britain and the United States, poured into the country. Foreigners continued to be captivated by Germany’s natural beauty, its strong cultural heritage in literature, music and philosophy, its technological advances and the friendliness of its citizens. Years later, when those visitors looked back at their prewar visits, most genuinely claimed that they could not have been aware of the terrible actions of the Nazis. Despite rumors and evidence of disturbing activity, many had made up their minds before they came of what they were to see—or not see. Surprisingly few, it seems, had their minds changed as a direct result of their visits.

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In the years after World War I, as Hitler and his followers gained attention and then power in Germany, many foreign visitors, especially from Britain and the United States, poured into the country. Foreigners continued to be captivated by Germany’s natural beauty, its strong cultural heritage in literature, music and philosophy, its technological advances and the friendliness of its citizens. Years later, when those visitors looked back at their prewar visits, most genuinely claimed that they could not have been aware of the terrible actions of the Nazis. Despite rumors and evidence of disturbing activity, many had made up their minds before they came of what they were to see—or not see. Surprisingly few, it seems, had their minds changed as a direct result of their visits.

Julia Boyd has done exhaustive research on these visitors and their firsthand accounts of their visits. In her extraordinary and absorbing Travelers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism: 1919-1945, she tells their stories, often in their own words, as they “accidentally witnessed,” in varying degrees, the transformation of a government and its people before their eyes. The author’s nuanced and lively narrative shows that a vigorous propaganda campaign by the Nazis, targeted toward tourists and other visitors, was hugely successful for years but became less so as the government tightened its control on the eve of World War II.

Foreign diplomats and reporters followed events closely and generally understood what was going on. But others who were visiting for relatively short periods, including such keen observers as scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois, were bewildered by the truth. In 1936, Du Bois wrote that it was hard to “express an opinion about Germany today which is true in all respects without numerous modifications and explanations.” That same year, author Thomas Wolfe, who loved Germany and whose novels were bestsellers there, dared to speak out in an essay critical of the regime after a Jewish acquaintance was arrested, leading to great personal cost.

These firsthand glimpses of a dark time in Germany show us the complexity of appearances, and Boyd’s book should be widely read.

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Travelers in the Third Reich

Travelers in the Third Reich

By Julia Boyd
Pegasus
ISBN 9781681777825

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