Magazine article The Spectator

'Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism through the Eyes of Everyday People', by Julia Boyd - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism through the Eyes of Everyday People', by Julia Boyd - Review

Article excerpt

We don't usually think of Hitler's hated henchman Heinrich Himmler, architect of the Holocaust of European Jewry, as a comic turn, but the diary of Admiral Sir Barry Domvile, a former chief of British Naval Intelligence and fanatical admirer of Nazi Germany, proves otherwise.

Domvile's description of his visit to Himmler's 'hunting box' high in the Bavarian Alps in 1935, reproduced in Julia Boyd's fascinating book, is a treasury of thigh-slapping humour, including hearing Himmler wake him at 3.20 a.m. with his rendition of 'God Save the King'; complaints about the Reichsführer's primitive 'bog' -- a deep hole in the ground; and finishing with a 'regular Bavarian evening... much leaping, crying and slapping of bums, soles of feet, thighs etc. and a pretence of lifting the girls' skirts, reminiscent of Highland reels'. 'HH', Domvile concludes, was 'very charming'.

No less droll is the eyewitness account by Kay Smith, an American diplomat's wife, who saw that inveterate show-off Hermann Goering -- second only to Hitler in the Reich's heirarchy -- demonstrate his affinity with his pet lion Augie by letting the animal lick his face before an audience of visiting VIPs. Then the poor creature, startled by an aide's sudden laugh, 'let loose a flood of yellow urine all over [Goering's] snow white uniform... the lion was led away... we all laughed pleasantly'.

Such surreal scenes pepper Boyd's deep trawl of travellers' tales from the scores of visitors she quotes who were drawn to the 'new Germany' in the 1930s. The tourists fell into three groups: most were simply curious to discover for themselves what the much vaunted or reviled regime was really like; some were enthusiasts who saw nothing but good in the Hitlerian state, determinedly closing their eyes to its obviously sinister side; and others were committed anti-Nazis, who came to confirm their loathing of a society hell-bent on indoctrination, racial persecution and war.

Few minds were changed by their visits. Hitler fans like Domvile, the dementedly Führer-struck Unity Mitford, and famous sympathisers such as the American aviator Charles Lindbergh, the Norwegian Nobel literature laureate Knut Hamsun, and the British nature writer Henry Williamson, came away convinced that the Führer was creating a utopia peopled by happy and healthy youngsters marching down an autobahn towards a radiant future.

The only pro-Nazi cited by Boyd who was 'turned' by the reality of his experience was the verbose American novelist Thomas Wolfe. …

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