December 2, 2011
Tom Hanks as William Dodd takes on Hitler—could he have saved the Jews?
Universal has purchased the rights to the Erik Larson novel “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin,” published last May, as a potential starring vehicle for Tom Hanks, whose Playtone label will co-produce, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
According to descriptions of the book, the movie will explore American naivete during the rise of Nazi Germany. The book reportedly tells the story of William Dodd, the history professor-turned-United States ambassador to Berlin, who served during Hitler’s rise to power from 1933-1937. Though Dodd was initially taken in by Hitler, he eventually became one of the most outspoken American diplomats on the dangers of the Nazi regime.
The story also includes a rather central plot twist involving his daughter, Martha, a doxy and a socialite, who is enamored of Hitler and tries to lure him into an affair. She was known for her romances with Gestapo officials and other statesman, and as THR dishes, “was excited when Hitler kissed her hand.” But her infatuation with Nazi Germany did not last, and Martha eventually became involved in left-wing politics. According to Larson’s book, as the Dodd family became more and more aware of Hitler’s intentions, they eventually discovered their phones tapped and that their servants were spies in disguise. (Martha eventually became a spy herself, betraying her country of birth for the Soviet Union, though, this too, was also borne of a love affair.)
Some highlights in their fascinating story:
Before William Dodd departed with his family for Germany, his friend, the poet Carl Sandburg reportedly told him “to find out what this man Hitler is made of, what makes his brain go round, what his blood and bones are made of” and “be brave and truthful, keep your poetry and integrity,” according to a Wikipedia reference citing Arnold A. Offner’s book, “American Appeasement: United States Foreign Policy and Germany, 1933-1938” published by Harvard University Press in 1969.
Dodd was appointed to his ambassadorship by President Franklin Roosevelt who, according to several biographies, advised him:
When Dodd realized what the Nazis were really about, he spoke out publicly against them.
According to Wikipedia (who, for those in doubt, cites many credible sources in Dodd’s entry):
When his dispute with the State Department over a U.S. presence at the Nuremberg rallies became public, the German government told the State Department Dodd had to go. He practically fled Berlin, never alerting the press to his resignation. The Nazis were thrilled with his more benign replacement. Which begs the question, what might have happened if the U.S. State Department had listened to Dodd instead of trying to subvert him?
Upon his arrival back in the states, a New York Times headline read: “Dodd Back, Bitter on Dictatorships…Denounces the Spread, “from Rome to Tokyo” of Regimes that Suppress Freedom…SEES WORLD WAR BREWING.” That was in January 1938.
Bring on the movie.