History Class Gave Hitler a Free Pass

Did Hitler come to power on a Monday and subsequently start slaughtering Jews on a Tuesday? The answer is obviously no but we are primarily taught in school about the events of WWII-not how we got to WWII. Usually our history class did a hop skip and jump to the juicy parts to keep our teenage selves from getting bored. Most people’s history knowledge is best described as someone who watched Titanic but only skipped to the sex scene in the car, the naked painting on the couch, the boat sinking, and Jack falling off the door in the water. I am in this same sinking boat with most people and that is why I wanted to read In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. Larson is an excellent writer because he makes nonfiction read like fiction. If you are not the type to read history then you should try Larson-I promise you will not be bored. In the Garden of the Beasts follows the American Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, and his family while they lived in Germany between 1933-1938. The book primarily details the rise of Hitler and the atmosphere of Nazi Germany through the diary of Dodd and Dodd’s daughter-Martha. This family was able to detail what life was like in Nazi Germany and how Hitler slowly morphed into the monster we know of today.

In 1933 Hitler became chancellor of Germany. He did this through subjugating his competition and rallying his people behind the cause of German nationalism. Shortly after Hitler was elected he began to use the Gestapo to put fear into the hearts of Jews, Communists, and anyone who did not see exactly his way. People oftentimes were beaten in the streets or were reported missing for no apparent reason. Even Americans were beaten on many occasions for failing to give the Hail Hitler salute and observing the ceaseless military parades. Furthermore, the Nazis openly passed laws that disbanded Jews from marrying non-Jews, working in certain jobs, and using certain facilities in the city. All these things were well known around the world yet no government spoke up against Hitler’s practices? Why was this? In America it was because of greed and homegrown antisemitism. Firstly, America didn’t want to upset Hitler by condemning these early actions because Germany owed the US a lot of money. The debtors were focused on collecting their interest and Germany was having difficulty making their payments. Secondly, the US had specific immigration policies in place that prevented Jews from coming to the country because there was a clear dislike of Jews among many state officials. This atmosphere was similar in other Western countries and is one reason Hitler was allowed to continue these preliminary policies.

What about the German people? Why didn’t they stop Hitler? Some Germans did try to go against Hitler but most of them were killed or imprisoned for their treason. Most Germans in those early years thought Hitler was not going to last long in politics and would actually step down. Hitler slowly became more forceful in his control over the population and eventually everyone was afraid of espionage and being taken in by the Gestapo. Living in Germany during that time was stressful and scary no matter who you were-no one felt comfortable. It was this atmosphere that allowed Hitler to take full control when President Hindenburg finally passed away. At anytime during those early years Hitler could have been stopped. His policies were disliked by most people in and outside of Germany but nothing was done. Students are taught that the US came in triumphantly, stormed Normandy, defeated Hitler, and freed the Jews in the concentration camps. But when you really look into the details is the US not partially responsible for WWII? Hitler many times over broke the Treaty of Versailles but no Western country stepped in? The reasons for these are many: an isolationist attitude, fear of losing interest payments, the Great Depression, hypocritical racist policies in the South, etc. We can’t go back and change history but what we can do is learn from history. And how can we do this? We need to teach and learn about all the scenes that took place to understand how we got to that point. Without context, Rose getting painted butt naked by her lover, could be Rose getting painted butt naked by her kidnapper. Why is this important today? In America at least, there are still groups of people who are disenfranchised and political leaders who want further disenfranchisement. It seems we want to get right to the action and skip all the details-maybe that is why history repeats itself.

8 thoughts on “History Class Gave Hitler a Free Pass

  1. Very nice report, you taught me a lot and maybe I will one day read that book, since you think it won’t bore your Mother? But, in the winter months, ok? History does repeat it self and I think American don’t put enough time into anything or anyone to make logical decisions. Maybe, we could say the majority of the population on earth? It’s like we are looking for the savior to save the day in all the wrong places. I’m thankful that you are educating yourself, keep up the good work.


  2. I taught 8th grade US history , we cover colonization (Sir Walter Raleigh, Jamestown, etc.) all the way up to Civil War reconstruction (1870ish). The last quarter at the school, the students would read a book called Alicia – same general tone as Diary of Anne Frank, and research the holocaust. Thing was, the students had no context. The project was through their reading and English classes. I took it upon myself to give a WWII primer. I got way into it; I got a tome by Richard Evans called The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It’s been years ago, but if I recall correctly Hitler had a group of thugs officially known as the SA (Sturmabteilung “storm department”). He would send these ne’er do wells out to terrify and intimidate communists, Jews, and that other really large group over there…what are they called…OH YEAH! GERMANS! In public, Hitler disassociated himself with the SA, eventually reproving them. The coup de grâce came in late June 1934, during the infamous “Night of the Long Knives”. Hitler executed all of his opposition or anyone he viewed as being a threat, like the SA. Then people would flock to him for ridding them of the big, bad SA (and putting the shiny, happy SS in their place).
    Lucas did the same thing with Palpatine’s rise to power. Palpatine had separatist thugs intimidate, then he stopped in to save the day with his schutzstaffel (SS, literally “stormtrooper”)
    Gosh, it’s plain to see that I think fondly of those days, I enjoyed writing all that, sorry so long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really enjoyed the comment. I commend you for the extra work you did to teach your students and I think our world would be a much better place if everyone had that experience in school. Hitler was a political master. He knew how to manipulate people and when it was time to strike. I find it interesting that when people met Hitler they were usually unimpressed by his aura and demeanor. He made up for all that by his cunning ability to have the SS, SA, and military all fight for his approval. Thank you again for the thoughtful feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, and thank you for putting this out there. I agree. If you really think about it, we are led to believe that one day Germans were yodeling, drinking beer, eating strudel, and the next they were anti Semite psychopaths and Hitler, standing around painting, stood up and said “I’ll be der fuhrer”. This had got me wondering about Trump. Is he staging all this violence only to come in and save the day? Sounds preposterous, but I’m sure a German would’ve said the same thing in early 1930.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think there are many similarities between Trump and Hitler. Both appealed to the emotional side of the masses and targeted certain groups of people. I find it interesting that people know about the Holocaust and are sensitive to anything that is antisemitic but are clueless whenever other groups are persecuted. For example, Trump called for the complete stop of Muslims immigrating into the country. This seems okay to Trump supporters until I say we should then ban all the Jews from immigrating into the country. That raises some 8th-grade-history-class-red flag that screams HITLER. But banning Muslims…that is something different. Also, Trump made some comments that 2nd generation Americans from immigrant parents were a danger to the country. Speech like this sounds like targeting Arabs based on ethnicity more than religion. Is Trump the next Hitler…No. But, I don’t want anyone in office that would require a conversation like this. Thanks again for the comment, I laughed because it is taught like Hitler came down in a spaceship or something.


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