Tea Time with Hitler

By Dickey, Christopher | Newsweek, April 9, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Tea Time with Hitler

Dickey, Christopher, Newsweek

Byline: Christopher Dickey

The story of the Americans who cavorted with the Nazis.

I have never felt quite so horribly intimate with the Fuhrer as I did when reading Hitlerland: close enough to see him, touch him, almost smell him. What Andrew Nagorski (formerly a Newsweek correspondent) has done in this highly readable history built around the experience of Americans in Germany from the end of the First World War to the beginning of the Second, is to make Hitler at once as human and as monstrous as he was to the reporters, diplomats, businessmen, sycophants, and soldiers from the United States who met him.

Many of the Americans had very privileged access. One is reminded constantly in these pages of just how long the U.S. government remained neutral while Hitler pursued his campaign to resurrect Germany, persecute the Jews, and crush the rest of Europe. And the veteran journalists in Berlin took full advantage of their ability to get close to Hitler. Their greatest frustration was that they saw the horrors to come, but could not get the American home front to listen.

Young William Shirer, working for CBS Radio, watched Hitler giving a speech days before the 1938 Munich Conference, where he would demand that Britain and France allow Germany to dismember Czechoslovakia without firing a shot. Like a card player with his tells, Hitler had nervous tics, and Shirer, on a balcony above Hitler, had a clear view. "All during his speech he kept cocking his shoulder, and the opposite leg from the knee down would bounce up," Shirer wrote in his diary. "Audience couldn't see it, but I could ... For the first time in all the years I've observed him he seemed tonight to have completely lost control of himself." A few days later, after Hitler won, Shirer noticed his swagger: "The tic was gone!"

Many of the most revealing encounters with Hitler involve American women. In the early 1920s, when almost no one outside Bavaria had ever heard of him, Hitler developed a crush on Helen Niemeyer, from New York. She was the young wife of German-American, Harvard-educated Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl, who would, for a time, become one of Hitler's close advisers.

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