From Mein Kampf: “At first the claims of propaganda are so impudent that people think it insane; later, it gets on people’s nerves; and in the end, it was believed.” -1925
By Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, Interview with Andrew Nagorski,
Q: What did Americans think of Hitler when they first met him in the 1920s and 1930s? You write that some of them burst out laughing at his shrill voice and jerky hand movements and refused to take him seriously.
A: That’s true. You had Americans meeting Hitler and saying, “This guy is a clown. He’s like a caricature of himself” … and “German politicians would somehow be able to control him.” A lot of German politicians believed it themselves.
However, some who met him did take him seriously.
- Truman Smith (a junior military attaché in 1920) said, “This is a marvelous demagogue who can really inspire loyalty.”
- Karl von Wiegand, a Hearst correspondent who interviewed Hitler in 1922, was struck by Hitler’s ability to whip people into a frenzy.
- Edgar Mowrer, the Chicago Daily News correspondent, kept frantically trying to warn readers and the world, “What he’s saying about the Jews is serious. Don’t underestimate him.”
Right after Hitler took power there were attacks on Americans (living in Germany) who failed to give the Hitler salute.
If you look back to the very beginning of Hitler’s rhetoric about Jews, it was all there — the talk about extermination and vermin. He didn’t spell out exactly what would happen in the Holocaust, but he gave a pretty good indication of its overall thrust. When someone lobs those kinds of rhetorical bombs, it’s sort of a natural human tendency to say, “Oh, that’s just a figure of speech. They don’t really mean it. It’s just a way to whip up supporters.”
Even the German Jews didn’t seem to realize the danger they were facing.
Andrew Nagorski, author of the new (in March 2012) book Hitlerland, discusses the way Americans saw — and wrote about — the early days of the Third Reich.