5/9/12 - a date with hitler

In today's excerpt - in 1933, William Dodd, the new American ambassador to Germany, had the difficult task of assessing the new German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. Dodd was accompanied during his tenure by his wife Mattie and his grown children, Bill and Martha. At one point, Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl, Hitler's foreign press chief, arranged for Dodd's daughter Martha to have a lunch date with Hitler knowing that Hitler's previous relationships with women had been odd and under the belief that Hitler "would be a much more reasonable leader if only he fell in love":

"On the morning of the rendezvous that Putzi Hanfstaengl had ar­ranged for Martha with Hitler, she dressed carefully, seeing as she had been 'appointed to change the history of Europe.' To her it seemed a lark of the first order. She was curious to meet this man she once had dismissed as a clown but whom she now was convinced was 'a glamorous and brilliant personality who must have great power and charm.' She decided to wear her 'most demure and intriguing best,' nothing too striking or revealing, for the Nazi ideal was a woman who wore little makeup, tended her man, and bore as many chil­dren as possible. German men, she wrote, 'want their women to be seen and not heard, and then seen only as appendages of the splen­did male they accompany.' She considered wearing a veil. ...

"Hanfstaengl had arranged that he and Martha would be joined for lunch by another party, a Polish tenor, Jan Kiepura, thirty-one years old. Hanfstaengl, well known and unmistakable, was treated with deference by the restaurant's staff. Once seated, Martha and the two men chatted over tea and waited. In time a commotion arose at the entrance to the dining room, and soon came the inevitable rumble of chairs shoved back and shouts of 'Heil Hitler.'

"Hitler and his party—including, indeed, his chauffeur—took seats at an adjacent table. First, Kiepura was ushered to Hitler's side. The two spoke about music. Hitler seemed unaware that Kiepura under Nazi law was classified as Jewish, by maternal heritage. A few moments later Hanfstaengl came over and bent low to Hitler's ear. He barreled back to Martha with the news that Hitler would now see her.

"She walked to Hitler's table and stood there a moment as Hitler rose to greet her. He took her hand and kissed it and spoke a few quiet words in German. She got a close look at him now: 'a weak, soft face, with pouches under the eyes, full lips and very little bony facial structure.' At this vantage, she wrote, the mustache 'didn't seem as ridiculous as it appeared in pictures—in fact, I scarcely noticed it.' What she did notice were his eyes. She had heard elsewhere that there was something piercing and intense about his gaze, and now, immediately, she understood. 'Hitler's eyes,' she wrote, 'were startling and unforgettable—they seemed pale blue in color, were intense, unwavering, hypnotic.'

"Yet his manner was gentle—'excessively gentle,' she wrote—more that of a shy teenager than an iron dictator. 'Unobtrusive, commu­nicative, informal, he had a certain quiet charm, almost a tenderness of speech and glance,' she wrote. Hitler now turned back to the tenor and with what seemed to be real interest rekindled their conversation about music.

"He 'seemed modest, middle class, rather dull and self-conscious—yet with this strange tenderness and appealing helplessness,' Martha wrote. 'It was hard to believe that this man was one of the most powerful men in Europe.' Martha and Hitler shook hands once again, and for the second time he kissed hers. She returned to her table and to Hanfstaengl. They remained a while longer, over tea, eavesdropping on the continuing conversation between Kiepura and Hitler. Now and then Hitler would look her way, with what she judged to be 'curious, em­barrassed stares.'

"That night, over dinner, she told her parents all about the day's encounter and how charming and peaceful the Fuhrer had been. Dodd was amused and conceded 'that Hitler was not an unattractive man personally.' "


Erik Larson


In the Garden of the Beasts


Crown Publishing Group


Copyright 2011 by Erik Larson


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment