Magazine article The Spectator

Watching the Ranks Closing

Magazine article The Spectator

Watching the Ranks Closing

Article excerpt

Watching the ranks closing BERLIN EMBASSY by William Russell Elliott & Thomson, 27 John Street, London WC 1N 2LL £9.99, pp. 239, ISBN 1904027148

William Russell was a young American who worked as a clerk in the US embassy in Berlin at the time of the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. When Berlin Embassy, his account of those epic times appeared in 1941, it was acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. Little is known of what became of Russell after his return to America in 1940 and his book has been out of print for over 40 years. But thanks to the enterprise of the London-based publishers Elliott & Thompson, we can once again hear the cool, almost laconic, voice of the fun-loving 24-year-old as he calmly elucidates the horror and farce of an era now shrouded by a haze of revisionist history and political correctness.

Russell was the junior member of a team who worked incessantly for two years processing the avalanche of visa applications to the United States precipitated by the ever more relentless Nazi persecution of German Jews. Thanks to the work of this handful of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Jews managed to get out of Germany before the borders closed. Many refugees made for other European countries but they were only admitted if they held immigration visas for the United States. 'I could never get too enthusiastic about that kind of generosity,' Russell acidly comments

But Russell did not write his book in order to draw attention to the plight of the Jews. His overriding concern was for the German people. In the three years since his arrival as a student in Germany, Russell's liking for ordinary Germans had grown in direct proportion to his hatred of the regime under which they lived. He foresaw that Germany would lose the war and feared that retribution would not be confined to avowed Nazis, perhaps two million out of a population of 70 million. Most Germans, Russell found, were indifferent to National Socialism. They believed that, with one exception, the leadership 'are in the Nazi racket for what they can get out of it'. …

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