Could you have seen Hitler coming? That is essentially the question Andrew Nagorski puts to Americans living in post-WWI Germany in Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power.
Hitlerland chronicles their impressions on Hitler, his party, and ‘the German people’ from the aftermath of WWI up to the United States entry into WWII, relying mainly on written testimonials of American diplomats and journalists. Some actually met Hitler before and after he came to power. Although not strictly necessary to read Hitlerland, some familiarity with the conditions in Germany between the World Wars will help make sense of the story.
Nagorski focuses on the American reaction to the events they witness, not necessarily detailing the broader context. For example, the Americans knew that Jews were becoming Nazi targets, but this figures mostly as eyewitness accounts of the Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), not a detailed account of what German Jews endured in Nazi Germany. Indeed, one theme is that Americans were somewhat privileged foreigners and only the most astute could foresee the threat that Hitler represented.
Hitlerland is immensely readable. Nagorski gently provides reminders about who the core characters are throughout the text. However, as much as the author wanted to focus on “telling their stories—and whenever possible, letting those stories speak for themselves,” there was a hint of judgment on those who foresaw what was to come and those who could or would not, and those who saw that America needed to become involved and those who wanted to remain isolationists. Perhaps that is unavoidable with the luxury of hindsight.
Nonetheless, Hitlerland gave me a more nuanced view of this moment in history. Although it inspired me to learn more about 1920s Berlin as a vibrant cultural capital, Hitlerland is an enjoyable read more about Americans living and passing through there than about Germany per se.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.