Resistance: A Perspective on Larson’s ‘Love and Terror in Berlin’

It’s dark, below 10 degrees, and I’m starting to feel comfortable in this DC neighborhood, surrounded by fellow commuters. It helps that I made this exact trek a few nights ago. The sidewalks near the Dupont metro are mostly clear of snow and ice, and even though I make no eye contact with passersby, I feel a sense of solidarity with this community of young professionals.

We’re just trying to get by, doing the best that we can, and hope that we don’t fall.

But halfway on my way to meeting my friend for dinner on 14th Street, I come across a stretch of ice. My mind is on this book I just finished on the train, “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin” by Erik Larson that provides a third-person account of the U.S. ambassador William Dodd’s stay in Berlin prior to World War II.

As I later told my friend at dinner, the book captures the building momentum of a culture that preceded one of the greatest atrocities in history. Even though I tend to be a bit of a history buff, especially around that time period, I was still amazed by the tension and struggles that plagued Berlin years before events like Kristallnacht even happened. And the world let it happen.

Entrance to Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp (Austria)

Entrance to Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp (Austria)

The most disconcerting aspect, although not surprising, was the political frame setting the stage in the U.S. For the sake of maintaining a business relationship with Germany, signs were ignored and tragedies never prevented. Of course, there was a sense of establishing peace, and maybe that’s where Hitler’s manipulation and deceit really took effect? But then, have we learned anything? We are human, after all.

All of this on my mind as I stumbled on an inch-thick layer of ice in my path. Everyone around me walked on like it was no big deal, but I took the detour, tredging through the snow near the trees along the curb. The ice still lay beneath, but I felt more comfortable with a soft layer on top.

Of course, while others passed me, I gingerly stepped on the ice when I had to and looked for open spots of brick. At one point, I had to slide down a curb and cross an intersection full of ice. With a myriad of vehicle drivers as my witness, I survived this vantage point, too, without a fall. And I wasn’t too late for dinner.

Afterwards, my friend had me beat. She walked with me over patches of ice in heels.

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