I have finished reading Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (New York: Crown, 2011). Its focus was mainly upon the years 1933 and 1934 as seen through the eyes of the newly installed American ambassador, William Dodd, and his daughter Martha. Larson’s book provides a different angle by which to see the rise of the Nazi state in Germany. One of the areas, however, that struck me the most was his almost total lack of religious context for understanding these years. I understand, of course, that an author cannot cover all issues; however, he did include some very trivial social matters in providing the milieu of the time. Wouldn’t religion have helped set the environment and context of the era? For example, did the Dodd family not attend church or make any reference to religious topics in their letters or diaries? In 1934 the Barmen Declaration was penned by the Confessing Church which opposed the Nazi –supported German Christian movement. This omission in the book seems odd. Or did this declaration mean nothing in the political circles of power 1934? One of the individuals frequently mentioned in the book is Arvid Harnack and his wife Mildred. It seems relatively easily to have included a note that he was the nephew of the well-known religious scholar Adolf von Harnack. The author notes on the “Night of the Long Knives” (June 30, 1934): “A prominent leader in the Catholic Church had been murdered in his office ” (p. 311). But he never gives the reader (even in an endnote) his name. (I believe the individual was Fritz Gerlich). The author has a form of docetic writing that divorces the religious spirit from the body politic. One of my favorite teachers of history back in college in the late 1970s, Dr. Bill Fleming, would say, “In politics you are never far from religion and in religion you are never far from politics.” This point is certainly evident as we enter the election cycle of 2012.
Where Is the Religious Context?2 01 2012