“Would I have done the same?”

Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin made a big impact on me. The subject of Larson’s book is the American ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, and his daughter, Martha, from the time Dodd was offered the ambassador’s job by President Roosevelt in 1933 to the Night of the Long Knives in May 1934.

Dodd was something like Roosevelt’s fourth choice for the job, it having been turned down by several others before Dodd’s name bubbled up. Dodd knew Germany and spoke German, but he was an academic historian with expertise on the old South, not Germany. He was chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago when he answered the call to serve. Dodd was torn about taking the job. He wanted to complete his magnum opus, The Old South. Like Edward Casaubon’s Key to All Mythologies in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, it was not to be.

Larson book’s give us Dodd’s effort to represent the United States while he sought to understand Hitler in power. It makes you ask the questions: If you had been an American in Berlin in 1933, what would you have seen? What would you have thought? What would you have said? What would you have done?

Visiting Poland, ten-time NBA all-star Ray Allen followed up his interest in the Holocaust with a visit to the house of a family that hid Jews from the Nazis in a small space under the floor. Allen writes:

When the Skoczylas family was risking their own lives to hide people they barely knew, they weren’t doing it because they practiced the same religion or were the same race. They did it because they were decent, courageous human beings. They were the same as those people crouched in a hole. And they knew that those people didn’t deserve what was being done to them.

Allen reflects: “I asked myself a really tough question: Would I have done the same?” And again: “Really, would I have done the same?

Ray Allen is a man after my own heart. He explains: “Why I went to Auschwitz.” Whole thing highly recommended.

Via Josh Kraushaar/Twitter.

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