Nazi Ger­many as a travel des­ti­na­tion

The East African - - THE MAGAZINE -

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.

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