Historical study of American expatriates and travelers—George Kennan, Eric Sevareid, Josephine Baker, and many more—in the dawning years of World War II.
If most Americans were murky on the details of Hitler’s regime until after the United States entered the fight in 1941, some had very specific information gleaned from close-up study: journalists, diplomats, scholars, writers, artists, and others who found themselves in Europe in the late 1930s. British historian Lyman (Among the Headhunters: An Extraordinary World War II Story of Survival in the Burmese Jungle, 2016, etc.) populates his pages with some of the better known of them, including William L. Shirer, who, as a Berlin correspondent, witnessed the Nazi regime’s rise to power, and Martha Gellhorn, who tracked fascism as she traveled through Europe. Others are now perhaps less well known to general readers, such as Janet Flanner, who was in Austria at the time of the Anschluss and marveled at how deliberately anti-Semitic laws were put into place. “Jewish doctors and lawyers were slowly being deprived of their right to practice,” writes the author, “although for the time being Flanner was still able to buy from Jewish shops, many of which continued to trade.” Flanner turns up later in the book, now in Paris, where she further marveled at the efficiency of the Nazi machine, thanks to “the German passion for bureaucracy.” The most compelling parts of Lyman’s portraits of Americans in Europe in the time of what Churchill called “the gathering storm” concern people most readers will not have heard of, such as the Quaker aid worker Leonard Kenworthy, whose dreams were haunted by the faces of the Jews whom he could not save after the Nazi deportations began. “Quaker diligence, faithfulness, hard work, and prayer came to nothing in the face of Nazi indifference to their fate," the author concludes.
Lyman’s book does not supplant Shirer’s firsthand accounts or Flanner’s and Gellhorn’s reports from the field, but it makes a useful supplement.