Nazi Germany as a travel destination
Historian and biographer Julia Boyd opens her riveting with this anecdote: "Imagine that it is the summer of 1936 and you are on honeymoon in Germany. The sun is shining, the people are friendly — life is good." Suddenly, out of nowhere a "Jewish-looking" woman approaches. "Radiating anxiety, she clutches the hand of a limping teenage girl wearing a thick built-up shoe." The woman has seen the GB sticker on your car and begs you to take her daughter to England. Astonishingly, the real-life newly-weds drove off with the young Jewish girl in the back seat of their car and when they left Germany, so did she.
While there have been countless books written about the rise of Hitler, relies on first-hand accounts by foreigners to convey what it was really like to visit, study or vacation in Germany during the 1920s and '30s. Throughout, Boyd draws on contemporary letters, diaries and memoranda written by diplomats and politicians, college students, social workers, famous authors and Englishwomen married to Germans. Two of her most unexpected witnesses are the African-american historian W.E.B. Du Bois, a devotee of Wagner's operas, and the Chinese scholar of Sanskrit, Ji Xianlin. Shockingly few of these observers managed to see through the Nazis' smoke and mirrors.
Right up until the late 1930s, Germany was successfully promoting itself as the ideal place to vacation, its smiling people overflowing with
(comfortable friendliness) and eager to please, unlike the “stuck-up and dirty French.” The land of Goethe and Beethoven had much to offer: Picturesque scenery, theatre and music, delicious beer and sausages.
As Boyd stresses, the Nazis were expert propagandists. Foreign dignitaries who met Hitler invariably remarked on his charm; one described him as "courteous, quiet, patient."
When some diplomats and nearly all the foreign journalists sounded the alarm about the dictator's demagoguery, lies and racism, it was simply assumed that "the journalists and diplomats had got it wrong." As Julia Boyd emphasises, too many people allowed reverence for a nation's glorious past to warp their judgment about its morally repugnant present. That's a lesson still worth thinking about.