When it comes to Nazi Germany, one of the biggest questions most people have is how a country like Germany could transform into the disturbing and destructive state it became under Adolf Hitler. And how did no one see it coming?
And so, in “Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power,” Andrew Nagorski details how Americans living in and visiting Germany from the early 1920s through the early 1940s reported on the rise of Nazi Germany.
For the most part, he focuses on diplomats and journalists, noting that some of them were wary of the Nazis early on, while others remained blind to what was happening, in part because they were so isolated in their American expat bubble.
But he also slips in a detail about how Henry Goldman, the son of Goldman Sachs’ German-Jewish immigrant founder Marcus Goldman, changed his opinion of the Nazi regime after visiting Berlin in the early 1930s.
Nagorski writes that James G. McDonald, the head of the Foreign Policy Association who later became the League of Nations’ high commissioner for refugees, met with Goldman briefly before both of their trips to Germany in 1933.
At the time, McDonald asked Goldman whether the German government’s extreme anti-Semitism was a sign that something might be wrong, to which Goldman reportedly replied, “No, there is no more anti-Semitism in Germany than in the United States.”
McDonald described Goldman as a bit of an “apologist for Germany.” And, in fact, Goldman initially supported Germany in World War I.
But after visiting the country in 1933, the banker reversed his position.
Here’s what Goldman said to MacDonald when they met again in Berlin’s Adlon Hotel on April 8, 1933, as Nagorski detailed it in his book (emphasis ours):
“Based on what he had seen and heard, Goldman had radically revised his views of Germany. ‘Mr. McDonald, I never would have believed that the worst of the fifteenth and sixteenth century would return in this twentieth century and of all places in Germany,’ he said. When McDonald asked him how long he was staying, he replied: ‘Just as long as I can bear it.'”
“I saw that [Goldman] was a broken old man,” McDonald noted, according to Nagorski, after the exchange.