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Midwest Journalists


| Louis Lochner |

| William Shirer |

| Vincent Sheean |

Like other reporters, Milwaukee's Louis Lochner experienced life in Adolf Hitler's Third Reich as a correspondent for U.S. news services. As perhaps the reporter most trusted by the Nazis, Lochner gained access to top Nazi officials—inc1uding even Hitler. Married to a German and a resident in Germany for twenty-one years before his expulsion, Lochner became only too aware of the cultural differences between Germans and U.S. Americans; he used those insights to more thoroughly report on recent developments inside Germany and win a Pulitzer Prize for the depth of his reporting.

U.S. reporters who flocked to the “New Germany” early on naturally saw their impressions of life in the Third Reich through the lens of their native culture. Iowan William L. Shirer, for one, was baffled during his visit to the 1934 Nazi Party Rally in Nuernberg over how blindly Germans accepted Hitler’s ugly dictatorship; he compared Hitler’s speeches and the crowds’ reactions to Ozark revival meetings. Used to open criticism of government and the presence of the rule of law, Shirer experienced under Hitler repeated incidents of what he could not have imagined happening in the U.S.: strict media censorship and the arbitrary arrest or torture of citizens.

Intrigued by the visible madness spilling over German-occupied territories like the Sudetenland in September 1938, Chicago native Vincent Sheean watched with disdain as a German minority living in Czechoslovakia turned ultra-patriotic and heavy-handed in the face of approaching Wehrmacht troops. As an U.S. American, Sheean only barely escaped the contempt his fellow French and British journalists—and his British-born wife—earned from the people of Prague due to France and Britain’s betrayal of their country in 1938.

Louis P. Lochner on

  Adolf Hitler  

  Parting Glances

Internment of
Midwest Journalists

William L. Shirer on

  First Impressions  

  Personal Encounters  

  Work Life  

  Confronting Censorship  

  Jewish Persecution  

  Parting Glances  

  Book Review | Obituary  

Vincent Sheean on

  First Impressions  

  Jewish Persecution  

  the Sudetenland

The World as a Stage

Three interests motivated the research for and compilation of this material. The first arises from the desire to explore the effect of one’s culture on an individual’ experiences—especially regarding larger historical developments: the rise and fall of regimes, wars, economics, reform movements, trends in art and science, etc. In this usage of the word the elements of “culture” is inclusive: family systems, religion, language, political structures, art and education, but also food, work, street life, housing, means of communication, and social and religious tolerance. Looking at cultural dynamics in a historical context—in this case the era of World War II because of its significance to the modern world—provides examples of how one’s native culture indelibly colors the experiences one has. As trade, academic and citizen exchanges, government projects, environmental concerns and social-change movements increasingly transcend national borders, the peoples of the world need to better understand cultures other than their own. This increased sensitivity also enriches one's own culture.

A second motivation consists of gaining a unique perspective from which to examine the rise of Hitler and the regime he and his fanatical National Socialists built in hopes of conquering much of the world. Myriad accounts have been published regarding Hitler the man, the Nazi movement and the subsequent war fought to repel Nazi Germany’s ideological as well as military expansion. The first-person accounts on this web site provided by U.S. Americans who visited or lived in Germany, however, offer glimpses of life in the Third Reich that contrast with those of Germans or other Europeans at the time.

While certainly rooted in western civilization, the culture of the United States in Hitler’s time differed from contemporary European culture in significant ways: in the Anglo-Saxon New World authoritarian rule had been dismissed long ago as an acceptable form of government, civil rights and individual freedoms enjoyed fuller protection both under the law and within the tolerance of the general public, and—while present—anti-Semitism did not as fundamental a role in U.S. American as it did in German culture. Also, historical developments from the middle of the nineteen century onward and specifically after the First World War affected the people of Germany and the United States in vastly different ways: while the former suffered greatly both politically and economically from their narcisstic leader’s folly, the latter was catapulted into world power and incredible material wealth by the war’s outcome.

One compelling reason to conduct research into the experiences of U.S. Americans in the Third Reich consists of each person's own search for cultural identity. Only after the initial world war were U.S. Americans citizens of a world power; before that time we preoccupied ourselves with settling an unspoiled continent and constructing a European-based culture where there had not been one. Only by being drawn into the international arena during the collapse of Old World dynasties did U.S. Americans venture out from their isolation and see themselves in a cultural context besides the one they had created. Believing their own myths about what it meant to be an “American” and overlooking their own collective psychoses as well as their strengths remained easy as long as they stayed at home. Butted up against the unhappy realities of Nazism, however, they no longer could glibly retain their characteristic blind optimism. Stranded beyond the reach of the rule of law, U.S. Americans living in Nazi Germany had to learn to monitor their public utterances for fear of reprisal; they gained a new appreciation of what freedom of expression really means. Enduring food shortages and the constant barrage of state-sponsored propaganda, they learned the value of abundance and liberty. In coming to know another culture, U.S. Americans discovered their own.

Rather than through bold declarations or long, involved ideological debates, it was through experiencing daily-life abroad that U.S. Americans began to realize more fully what sets our society apart from others. Instead of the obvious, it was the subtle, most profane characteristics borne of the “American experience” which they discovered had shaped U.S. Americans into a unique people: their history, their geography and climate, how they related to each other and to themselves, their assumptions about what government can and cannot do, how they work and how they spend their free time—in short, how they live and dream and die. While some social observers falsely might focus on music, art and literature as the basis of “culture,” it is the mundane which determines the genuine origins of our personal as well as societal realities. Rather than opera, ballet, the “great writers” and other traditional ascribed hallmarks of “culture,” the more realistic components of true culture consist of the various forms involved in the documentation, interpretation or celebration of the human experience.

To more deeply explore the significance of the three above quests, the authors of this site have chosen eleven U.S. Americans who lived in or visited Nazi Germany between late 1932 and early 1942. Because of the profound impact of what at the time might have seemed ordinary, however, the distinction becomes difficult to make between daily life and events usually seen as having a wider historical significance. Is William Shirer’s visit to the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, for example, of purely “historical” interest, or does his reaction to it—his dumbfoundedness at the Germans’ willingness to be so blindly led by a powerful authority figure like Adolf Hitler—reflect a solidly acculturated value of individuality? Martha Dodd—who largely ignored politics before moving to Germany—made friends with many Jews during her stay in Berlin. Why did she not share many Germans’ distrust of and disdain for Jews? Was it because she was not reared with the anti-Semitic bias recurrent throughout German history? Why did the Dodd household seem a safe haven for Germans to confess what they really thought about the Nazi regime? Did U.S. Americans in the Third Reich not succumb to Nazism because they did not share a cultural longing for a Teutonic Vaterland, the Germans’ nationalism that had become ripe for exploitation by shrewd Nazis?

Using their accounts from that time as well as personal narratives written later, this site's authors wish to emphasize how the experiences and perceptions of representative U.S. Americans inside Nazi Germany differed from that of the Germans because of differing cultural values in the two countries at that time. Because this is an introductory survey of social and political history, this work is intended to be grounded in significant detail to be of interest to the serious scholar, yet general enough to attract the casual reader. Because it is a comprehensive look at some of the experiences of eleven people, some critics may point to a certain selectiveness in choosing what has been recorded and what has been left unsaid.

Along with exceptional material, this study provided considerable challenges. U.S. society has always been diverse, dynamic and fluid, for example, and therefore hard to accurately characterize. And, because German culture is so ancient and richly complex, earlier influences which led to Nazism—nineteenth-century German romanticism and nationalism, power struggles between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, anti-Semitism, etc.—receive less attention then they deserve, but as much as the scope of this study will allow. Also, fundamental differences between authoritarian Nazi Germany and the largely democratic United States of the same period exaggerate the influence of cultural background found under “normal” circumstances.

Another difficulty presents itself in that with few exceptions, almost all the material used in this study comes from primary sources, resulting in an impossibility of verifying the accuracy of the accounts with cross-references. This situation allows the subjects to determine largely the “truth” behind the “reality” they attempted to convey and subjectifies the impressions of the reader. In short, these sketches really are very personal accounts of the subjects’ experiences inside Nazi Germany.

Of course, the act of interpreting another’s experiences—especially second-handedly, with usually only information provided by the person being studied—can be tricky. For this reason, whenever possible the creators of this documentation attempt to present the reader with adequate material to form largely her or his own opinion. They also acknowledge, however, that simply by the choice of what is presented, they have made judgments on what is relevant and what is not. Because of the rather delicate nature of responsible historical and sociological scholarship, all one might do with clear conscience is faithfully illustrate the daily lives of U.S. Americans inside Nazi Germany by covering—often in their own words—the subjects’ first impressions upon arriving in Germany, their encounters with the Fuehrer himself, their experience of public life and their enjoyment of private life with family and friends. One also can recount the subjects’ accounts of communication, work, housing and the “Jewish problem” in the Nazi state, and of their personal experience of war on the German homefront. Finally, one can present the experiences of U.S. Americans in German-occupied territories and of a couple U.S. Americans trapped inside Germany after the U.S. entered the war in order to offer yet another dimension of the U.S. American experience inside Nazi Germany. The final assessment, however, of how cultural background influenced U.S. Americans’ experiences of Nazi Germany—and how those experiences clarified what it means to be “an American”—will have to be made by each person who shares this journey into the past.

The Setting: the United States of America, 1918-1933


          The end of the First World War changed the world forever. It shattered the remnants of pre-modern Western society and unknowingly sowed the seeds for a concluding mass-slaughter to be suffered a generation later. The war cost virtuallyall of Europe’s remaining major dynastic powers their thrones and marked the beginning of the end of European colonialism. Besides shifting the balance of power in the world, the war also catapulted the United States of America into the international arena. Until that point it had remained mostly secluded from and rather unimportant to world affairs.

While it had dabbled with building an overseas empire during the cynical Spanish-American War, the United States really only entered the competitive field of international power while briefly fighting in, then brokering a fractured “peace” to the “war to end all wars” twenty years later, following the defeat of the German Kaiser in 1918. Whereas before the world war the young republic understandably had preoccupied itself with settling what had been an unspoiled continent, during and after the greatest armed struggle humanity had endured to that point, the U.S. discovered a new role in the world. Urgently looked to as a supplier of raw materials, soldiers and the capital needed to finance armaments, the U.S. utilized its position during the fighting to influence other Western powers; after the armistace, it claimed a leading place among them and garnered fantastic wealth from manufacturing products for a rapidly growing market abroad. Like stone-collecting children suddenly finding themselves possessing valuable gems, U.S. American government leaders and capitalists soon became giddy on the nation’s new-found prowess and set out to exploit what they deemed would become an “American Century.”

The United States’ ambiguous relationship with world power grew naturally out of its own history. On one hand, even since its colonial days the cultural experience of its people had fostered a sense of uniqueness, a faith that on the shores of the New World refugees from the old one had found a haven from the cruel limitations of stifling social tradition, political tyranny and perpetual poverty. White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant men seemed free to develop their lives as they chose and the riches of the wilderness generated unprecedented abundance for those persons with enough luck, pluck or shrewd cunning to survive life on the frontier. A hybrid strain of individualism developed in the young country that transformed former communally minded European peasants into a people confident in the fruits of personal “progress” and freedom. Rejecting the heavy hand of authoritarian rule and rigid class systems, they embraced an ethos of unlimited opportunity and the sanctity of the individual.

A seeming confirmation of their culture’s sense of having been divinely chosen as the New Canaan, U.S. Americans achieved the amazing feat of building a European-based culture across an entire continent in an astonishing short time. Convinced of the soundness of the national myth that ordinary persons now could realize humanity’s ever-elusive “pursuit of happiness,” U.S. Americans invested in expectations of personal advancement not obtainable in other cultures. On becoming a world power, then, they set out beyond North America's shores carrying with them this same idealism. Perhaps more than any other national characteristic, it would be the common U.S. American belief in freedom, fairness and a favorable outcome of most situations that would differentiate them from other peoples—and which repeatedly receive a sound beating.

The United States assumed for most of its history it was not soiled by the same corruptions and ills that its constant flow of emigrants had fled. On the other hand, though, the growing country remained an awkward, self-conscious adolescent more established nations. It was one thing to briefly bathe in the self-righteous glory of military victory and savor the taste of world power; yet actually fulfilling the obligations of such a role seemed quite another matter. Unexpectedly thrust into the scrutinizing eye of a world hungry for peacetime leadership and direction, U.S. Americans soon lost the intoxicating reverie of having beaten the “Huns” and found the international spotlight a very sobering place to be. Some of the country’s leaders may have continued to champion active participation in the world’s political affairs, but common citizens overwhelmingly preferred a collective retreat home to regroup and reconsider the rather uncomfortable questions implicit in such a swift national coming-of-age.

Despite initially rallying behind Woodrow Wilson’s impossible, self-contradicting promise to engage the country in a war to eliminate war, public opinion after the signing of the Versaille Treaty again became decidedly isolationist—mostly in fear of so suddenly being handed international responsibility and easily slipping into “entangling Alliances.” Bowing to public sentiment, the Senate refused to ratify Wilson’s plan for U.S. involvement in the League of Nations. Voters subsequently elected in Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover—three Presidents who would cater to the interests of domestic business rather than of a global order. For the duration of the 1920s, then, U.S. Americans largely distracted themselves with the pursuit of making lots of money—and loads of whoopie.

Besides flinging the country down a road of exaggerated power and wealth, the war had slapped former Victorian ideals in the face, in the process shattering earlier visions of simple morality and innocence. Yanked from the Heartland and plopped down in the midst of battlefield brutality, many U.S. soldiers returned from the war confused by the disturbing contrast between comfortable small-town life in rural American and the atrocities they’d witnessed in the trenches. In Europe young U.S. men had danced with women uninhibited by Puritanical prudence and U.S. blacks became celebrities in a France not yet made racist by the influx of former African and Arab subjects. Correspondents excitedly sent home word of a world larger than the limiting realm of church socials, the Masonic Temple and a stool at the local drugstore soda fountain. And, during the wartime labor shortage, U.S. women for the first time left the hearth to fill what previously had been male positions. In short, a de facto cultural revolution had erupted in the midst of an unsuspecting population.

Injected with new enthusiasm for personal advancement and a stable homefront after the war, the economy boomed. In addition to supplying European reconstruction efforts and drawing vast interest from wartime loans, U.S. business expanded through the selling of stocks and bonds. Confident in the prosperity of the times, seemingly everyone invested in the stock market; not only oil barons and steel magnates, but Parson Smith and Farmer Brown all scraped together their expendable funds and bought as many shares as they could. From 1918 to 1929 Dow Jones Industrial Average highs shot from 89.07 to 381.17. Big corporations bought out smaller companies, farms consolidated as the rural population shrunk from fifty-three to forty-three percent of the total population between 1910 and 1930, and increasing numbers of young people flocked to colleges and universities as education became synonymous with “making it.” Indeed, from appearances at least, it did seem that in the heady United States of the Roaring Twenties, “happy days [were] here to stay.”

In a climate where a fatherly Warren Harding promised “normalcy” and a stoic Calvin Coolidge matter-of-factly proclaimed that “the business of America is business,” differing social values began dueling with each other. While Rotary infected Main Street with community and mercantile boosterism, Hollywood advertised a world of glamour, of unleashed sexy men snubbing social roles to individually pursue fame and fortune, and of women casually smoking cigarettes and wearing short hemlines. Ma and Pa may have piously touted prohibition, hard work and familial fidelity back in everyone’s hometown, but Junior and Sis off at college carried pocket and hip flasks, went driving in fast cars and necked at illicit parties. Bootleg booze, jazz and wild dancing seemed to many as proof of degeneracy, yet for most a quiet conformity characterized daily life. A noisy minority may have caught national attention, but the majority of mainstream U.S. Americans continued living in a fading era of benighted small-town life.

Disheartened by the basically conservative times, however, a fringe subculture of young U.S. Americans bolted for Europe. Seizing upon the cultural tempo of metropolitan Paris, Gertrude Stein set up a salon and invited in the most promising U.S. American artists of the time—artists who mostly were exploring their native culture from afar and reinterpreting the “American experience.” The likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (with Zelda) marched through Stein’s crowded parlor and into international fame for their avantgarde writing, but they represented only a wider community of creative ex-patriots. James Thurber, Harold Stearns, Elliot Paul and Ezra Pound all passed through Paris on their way to successful writing careers, as did Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson and Edith Wharton. Isadora Duncan and Bessie Smith set new standards for innovative dance and entertainment—and even folksy Grant Wood came to chic Paris in order to discover the simple majesty of Midwestern cornfields. Jazz cried throughout the nightclubs of the French capital and “l’attitude américaine became synonymous with daring expressiveness, abandon and innovation.

Somehow, it seemed, the best of the United States cultural scene in the ‘20s lived in exile in Paris. No longer children of an isolated frontier, these young U.S. Americans had journeyed into the complex postwar world to gain the perspective born of distance from what is closest to a person: her or his own cultural identity. Although they had forsaken (at least temporarily) their native land, U.S. Americans living in voluntary exile in Europe embodied the struggle of a maturing culture in search of itself. Mostly children of Middle America—Hemingway hailed from suburban Chicago, the Fitzgeralds and Lewis from Minnesota, Anderson from Ohio, Wood and Shirer from Iowa, Bessie Smith from Kansas City—they had left the Heartland behind and sought refuge on the more tolerant, less conformist shores of postwar Europe. Although their works were often banned at home by mayors, preachers and teachers fearful of dissident views of a society the mainstream tried so hard to portray as “pure” and divinely blessed, the critical art of U.S. expatriates ultimately broke open and sometimes down some of the United States’ most guarded values, tastes and mores.

In the last months of a decade that would come to epitomize greed, political isolation and personal carefreeness, the gilded facade of the postwar boom collapsed. The stock market crashed and the silly, robust ‘20s gave way to the dire, depressed ‘30s. The U.S. expatriate colony in Paris quietly snuck home, as did most of the U.S. businesspeople, journalists and political representatives who had ribboned the world during the years following the First World War in search of expanding markets, paper-selling headlines and U.S. clout overseas. In the States the industrial machinery of the nation abruptly stopped, Ma and Pa tightened their belts back on the farm and Junior and Sis set aside their flasks and began hawking apples. No longer obsessed only with their own cultural identities, pioneering artists became preoccupied instead with paying the rent and filling their stomachs. Quickly weaned from the illusion of a premature national adulthood, the rising Zenith of the projected American Century crashed in takeoff—while an oblivious Herbert Hoover fished more and lead the nation less.

The world—especially Europe—had mostly welcomed the United States’ entry into the international theater during the war. While skeptical of U.S. culture and the sophistication of its people, Europeans admired the accomplishments of their castaway cousins and appreciated the relief work following the ceasefire provided by both the U.S. government and private organizations. In the embittering times of the Depression, however, the United States experienced an increasingly complicated relationship with other countries. Germany, France and Great Britain—as well as numerous other countries—owed vast debts to the U.S. after having borrowed heavily during the prosperous years of economic expansion. Now the same loans that had allowed Europe to rebuild threatened to tear apart its political stability and material well-being. Reeling under tremendous war reparations and domestic obligations, Germany wished to reschedule its debt to U.S. banks. Subsequently, throughout Europe U.S. Americans were no longer applauded as heroes, but rather tolerated as visitors; a bus of U.S. American tourists in Paris was even attacked by an angry mob.

          The still-young nation’s search for identity continued even during the Depression, but in less obvious ways and stripped of the urgency afforded that quest by careless youth. Instead of mostly rebellious Bohemians, a more diverse crowd would carry on the role of discovering the “American character” from abroad. Journalists would still venture into other lands, but individuals more typical of the U.S. population as a whole also would move into the world. No longer shielded by the blind confidence of a newfound international status or postwar prosperity, these people by necessity would see their country and themselves in more realistic terms. Especially in a Germany overtaken by the National Socialists, U.S. Americans abroad in the sober 1930s had to more seriously examine the U.S.’ role in the world and how being U.S. Americans set them apart from other peoples. The experiences they had in the Third Reich, for example, emphasized in both direct as well as subtle ways how being U.S. American affected them and their experiences.

Human beings are always

and finally the subject

of history. History is the

record of human behavior,

the most fascinating subject

of all…


Barbara Wertheim Tuchman


It’s a complex fate, being an American.


Henry James


Fate is strange.


William L. Shirer

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