Nazi Germany, tourist destination? Yes, by this account—and, by 1937, a destination of choice for a half-million Americans per year.
“You did not have to be pro-Nazi to marvel at the green countryside, the vineyard-flanked rivers or the orchards stretching as far as the eye could see.” So notes Boyd (The Excellent Doctor Blackwell: The Life of the First Woman Physician, 2013, etc.) of the vast, lucrative trade marketing Germany under the Third Reich to non-German visitors, a trade that had begun in earnest immediately after World War I ended. It helped to hold those views or at least believe, as did British aristocrat Violet Bonham Carter, that “the reparations policy insisted on by France…was morally unjust and politically mad.” Carter was traveling to a grimy, still-staggering Germany in 1923, and during that and the following decade, many Britons and Americans came to Germany to enjoy the bohemian liberties depicted by Christopher Isherwood in the stories that would underlie the stage play Cabaret. Some of those Britons took pains to avoid dreadful middle-class people, “however nice they are,” and to stay among “one’s own kind,” as another aristocrat wrote to the folks back home. Some of Boyd’s portraits involve men and women whose firsthand views of Germany would harden their opposition to Nazism—including, surprisingly, the poet and playwright Samuel Beckett, who endured “freezing weather, lack of money, rain and leaking shoes” to report on the place with much less enthusiasm than Graham Greene. Boyd also adds a dimension to a well-known tale by noting Hitler’s famed refusal to shake the hand of African-American athlete Jesse Owens—but adding that ordinary Germans in the Olympic crowd “took the great black athlete to their hearts, chanting ‘Oh-vens! Oh-vens’ whenever he appeared.” Even so, Boyd notes the still greater popular enthusiasm for the regime, concluding that returning visitors would have had no illusions, if honest with themselves, about the Nazis’ true colors.
A well-conceived study of a little-known corner of history.