BOOK: Lothrop Stoddard, "Into the Darkness"
Lothrop Stoddard: Into the Darkness: Nazi Germany Today. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, Inc., 1940. 311 pp.
I first heard of Stoddard in Edwin Black's War Against the Weak, a history of the eugenics movement. Stoddard was a notable supporter of eugenics and wrote several classics of early 20th-century scientific racism, such as The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy. A few months ago I noticed several of his books on sale at eBay and decided to buy one of them, but not more: I'm not sure if I'm interested enough to read several of his books, and besides they were priced at about $20 apiece, so not exactly dirt cheap. Now that I look back, I'm not entirely sure why I chose to buy Into the Darkness rather than some other book. I knew that the book was about Stoddard's impressions of Nazi Germany; in fact Black says on p. 317: “His [i.e. Stoddard's] 1940 book, Into the Darkness, celebrated Hitler and Nazi eugenics.” So perhaps I was expecting something rather more lurid, and in this I was somewhat disappointed. Yes, Stoddard is still clearly a supporter of eugenics in this book, just as he had been throughout his life; and it's true that this was getting to be a tad less respectable by that time (the book was published in 1940) than it had been earlier on, before the Nazis had come to power in Germany; but nevertheless eugenics wasn't yet anywhere nearly as firmly part of the lunatic fringe the way it is now. So if we decide to be honest and judge the book by the standards of its time, Stoddard's support for eugenics is probably only very mildly shocking.
Apart from that, there's nothing particularly shocking in this book; Stoddard doesn't express any particular enthusiasm or praise for the Third Reich. On the other hand, it's true that he doesn't go out of his way to explicitly condemn it either; he tries to be a neutral observer, which after all is not completely unreasonable (the U.S. was still neutral at the time). I think his discussion of the Winter Help organization (pp. 170–1) is a nice example of that: he mentions allegations of corruption in the organization, but also says he doesn't know to what extent they are true, and that any rate some poor people definitely have been helped by this organization.
And he makes an honest effort to understand the principles underlying the Nazi state: “National Socialism is not a mere farrago of nonsense; somehow it hangs together—provided you accept its premises. That's the trouble with most argumentation. People ignore or slide over premises and then wrangle bitterly over conclusions.” (P. 265). And: “I am convinced that the [Nazi] ‘Old Guard,’ at any rate, are for the most part, fanatical zealots. If the Nazi thesis were a dialectic screen hiding mere lust for power and pelf, it would never have converted so large a portion of the traditionally honest, idealistic German people. If the Nazi leaders were just a band of cynical adventurers, with tongue in cheek and wholly ‘on the make,’ it would be far easier to deal with them.” (P. 264.)
The book is based on the three or four months that Stoddard spent in Germany as a journalist towards the end of 1939 (after the outbreak of war). It consists of a number of short chapters presenting various aspects of life in the Third Reich at the time.
He managed to interview a number of notable people. Of course, how valuable such interviews are is a debatable matter. Consider the interview with Josef Tiso, the president of the puppet state of Slovakia. He speaks as if everything was quite normal, by some stroke of good luck the Slovaks managed to finally get an independent state of their own, and were now dedicating their energy to the building of their nation. He speaks as if there was no world war going on in Europe, and as if there was no Third Reich whose border began just across the river from the Slovak capital (p. 79; it was entirely due to the Third Reich's machinations and arm-twisting that Slovakia declared ‘independence’ and asked Germany for military ‘protection’: see e.g. Ian Kershaw's Nemesis, ch. 4, sec. III, p. 169). The non-Slovak minorities, he says, will be guaranteed cultural liberty. As for the Slovak parliament, “ ‘There is nothing in the Consitution to prevent the formation of new parties. But there aren't any others just now.’ ” (P. 83.) It just so happens, you see! that “ ‘[i]n the recent elections, the Slovaks were unanimous’ ” — a small coincidence and nothing more. Stoddard comments wryly: “A clever man. He knows all the words.”
He also managed to obtain audiences with Hitler (ch. 17) and Himmler (p. 254). From a professional point of view, these are no doubt non-trivial accomplishments, as neither of them was terribly fond of seeing journalists. But apart from that, both conversations are somewhat anticlimactic. Of course it wouldn't be reasonable to expect anything else — it would hardly be reasonable to expect them to howl with maniacal laughter and explain that they were planning to take over the world. And so Himmler tries to come across as little more than a police chief, the Gestapo merely “ ‘do our best to combat crime of every sort’ ”, habitual offenders really shouldn't “ ‘be at large to plague society, so we keep them locked up’ ” in concentration camps, where “ ‘they are better fed, clothed, and lodged than the miners of South Wales’ ” (p. 256). And if a concerned citizen “ ‘sees traffic on a busy corner badly handled [. . .] all that man has to do is to write us, and I assure you the matter will be quickly righted’ ” (p. 257). As for the German policy in the East, they are merely trying to separate all those quarreling nationalities: “ ‘We have voluntarily withdrawn our German minorities from places like the Baltic States [. . .] Between us and the Poles we seek to fashion a proper racial boundary. Of course, we are going about it slowly—you can't move multitudes of people with their livestock and personal belongings like pawns on a chessboard.’ ” If there is a ‘lie of the century’ award somewhere, surely this must be one of the major contenders. Well, there's one perverse way in which he at least got the “we are going about it slowly” part right — since they didn't much care if the people locked up in the cattle-cars that were carrying them to their deaths reached their destination alive or dead from hunger and thirst, the said cattle-cars were given pretty much the the lowest priority on the railroads, often standing in place for days on end...
There are several interesting chapters showing how the daily life of the German population is affected by rationing, blackouts, and other similar inconveniences. The Nazis were determined not to repeat the mistake from the WW1, when rationing was neglected during the first years of the war, which led to hoarding, price gouging, etc. They introduced fairly strict rationing early in the WW2 (pp. 65, 87), but according to Stoddard it was not yet so strict as to produce malnourishment. It did, however, lead to a diet with too few fats and too much carbohydrates (pp. 88–9). In fact the German workers had been accustomed to a meagre diet for many years; their nutrition under the rationing system was not really worse than before the war; most of the complaints were coming from the upper and middle classes (pp. 89, 97).
Stoddard describes how rationing works on p. 28: “In the last analysis, each of these food-coupons is what the Germans call a Bezugschein—an official permit to purchase an article of a specific kind and quality. Let me illustrate: You want to buy some meat. Each of your meat coupons entitles you to so many grams. You may go into an inexpensive restaurant and get the cheapest grade of sausage or you can go into the best hotel and get a finely cooked filet mignon. The price will differ enormously, but the number of meat coupons you hand over is precisely the same.” However, it seems that in the countryside, rationing was not taken so seriously, at least not at the time when Stoddard was there (p. 114). Similar rationing schemes also applied to clothing (pp. 93–4).
Chapter 19 is also interesting, describing a short trip he took to Hungary. Although it was to some extent a German satellite, Hungary was still neutral at the time. Stoddard vividly describes how delightful it was to be able to escape rationing, blackouts, etc. for a few days after having to put up with these inconveniences for several months during his stay in Germany.
Of course many things in Nazi Germany were off-limits to journalists; or even if they could learn something about them, they wouldn't be allowed to write about them. See in particular ch. 22, ‘Closed Doors’. For example, they weren't allowed near the ‘West Wall’, i.e. the fortified area near the border with France (p. 281). Into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia it would in principle be possible to go, but a journalist would be continually under surveillance and thus it would be impossible for him to really come into contact with Czech patriots to learn about their views of the situation (pp. 46, 283). Occupied Poland was entirely off-limits to journalists. The most he was able to do was talk to a Red Cross official who had been in Warsaw and praised the German efforts to prevent the spread of disease in the wake of the war (pp. 185–6). This lack of direct information from Poland naturally gave rise to rumours: “Some of the rumors around Berlin were very lurid. One of the most persistent which went the journalistic rounds was that the Nazis were systematically killing off all troublesome Poles; that Gestapo and S.S. men went from village to village, rounding up those denounced by resident secret agents and machine-gunning them into a common grave which the victims had been previously forced to dig. I mention this, not to assert its credibility, but to present a picture of the urmor and gossip which are passed around when authentic news is unobtainable. The general impression among foreign journalists in Berlin was that rough work was going on in Poland. If that was an unjust inference, it's the Nazis' own fault for keeping out reliable neutral observers who could have written objective, unbiased accounts.” (Pp. 282–3. Although he's really bending over to give the Nazis the benefit of the doubt, we must admit that in hindsight these rumours seem substantially justified. The massacres of Polish intelligentsia, clergy, etc. are well known.)
On p. 108 he mentions the mandatory separation of different types of trash: paper, rags, bottles, old metal, broken furniture. I suppose that these different types of waste were then recycled in the appropriate way. It's a sad and sobering thought, this — that Nazi Germany 65 years ago had better recycling practices than we do nowadays.
Ch. 16 is about eugenics in Germany. This is perhaps one of the aspects where Stoddard's opinions seem the most unsavoury from the present-day point of view. He was, of course, a life-long supporter of eugenics, and no country at the time had more eugenic legislation than Nazi Germany. In this chapter, he rarely makes explicit statements in support of the Nazi policies, but the fact that he states everything so very neutrally and without the slightest hint of disapproval is telling enough by itself. “Inside Germany, the Jewish problem is regarded as a passing phenomenon, already settled in principle and soon to be settled in fact by the physical elimination of the Jews themselves from the Third Reich. It is the regeneration of the Germanic stock with which public opinion is most concerned and which it seeks to further in various ways.” (P. 189.) He mentions the Nuremberg laws prohibiting intermarriage between Jews and Germans on p. 190; at least he admits that this is “highly controversial racial doctrine”. He also mentions the compulsory sterilization for various hereditary conditions (p. 191), again without any hint of disapproval. He witnessed some proceedings at the German eugenic supreme court (pp. 192–6), and leaves the impression that the judges and doctors involved are making a serious effort to ascertain if the people concerned should come under the provisions of sterilization law or not (and prefer not to recommend sterilization in doubtful cases). But this picture is probably too rosy. In fact at the time of Stoddard's visit to Germany, the Nazis were already taking the first steps on the way from mere sterilization to euthanasia; the T-4 euthanasia programme was starting up, and its procedures were far from the careful court sessions described above. A certain Dr Schreck (yes, really) “took refereeing ‘euthanasia’ forms to new Stakhanovite heights, sometimes processing fifteen thousand forms a month, on occasion in a tavern over a glass or two of wine” (Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History, ‘Medicalized Mass Murder’, p. 386).
At the end of the chapter Stoddard quotes from German eugenic propaganda a bizarre set of “Ten Commandments for the Choice of a Mate”. What makes this even more bizarre is that, when these commandments address the reader with the familiar du, Stoddard's translation uses the English thou. I wonder if this is really appropriate. He seems to feel that the use of du in the original was “exhortatory” (p. 197) rather than merely a way of addressing the reader in an informal way. But in English, thou has such a strong religious baggage and sounds so pompous that I really can't think of it as a suitable translation of du.
There are some interesting observations on the German economy under the Nazis on pp. 272–5. It was not quite a planned economy but more like a “directed economy” (p. 275). Private business was allowed to exist and make a modest profit, but high profits were prevented by taxation and by tight price controls. Additionally, the government never hesitated to step in and regulate some part of the economy directly if this seemed necessary to achieve their goals. The Nazi agricultural policy is described in ch. 9; there seems to be a good deal of romanticism in it, what with its emphasis on yeoman-like small-scale farmers, unpretentious, in close touch with the soil (pp. 111, 121), with their old-worldly quasi-feudal relationship between the solid farmers and their poorer tenants or hired workers, with patriarchal benevolence on one side and boundless loyalty on the other (pp. 123–4), etc., etc. Subsequent chapters describe other major Nazi organizations: the Labor Front (their replacement for the trade unions; ch. 10), the National Labor Service (ch. 11), Hitler Youth (ch. 12), women's organizations (ch. 13), the Winter Help charity programme (ch. 14), and the Nazi party itself (ch. 20).
“Even more interesting are reports that some iron from French Lorraine finds its way to the Reich in exchange for German coke which the French iron mines need for effective operation. This contraband trade apparently runs through neutral Belgium and is winked at by both sides. Though the French Government has denied these reports, they are not improbable. Such exchanges occurred in the last war, and are an historical commonplace. Even across the hottest battle-lines, barter usually occurs when the mutual benefits are sufficiently apparent.” (P. 295.)
In a comment on the German people's attitude to the war, Stoddard notes the absence of histrionic enthusiasm that was so typical of the early months of the first world war: “To be sure, the average German seems ready to fight and die for what he believes to be his rightful place in the world. However, he doesn't sentimentalize over it. He's usually hard-boiled on the subject. It's just a dirty chore that, if needs be, must be done.” (P. 64.) This agrees with what I've read elsewhere (e.g. Ian Kershaw's Hubris, ch. 2, sec. V, p. 124, and ch. 5, sec. V, p. 221).
Another observation that agrees with what I've read elsewhere is this one from p. 50: “National Socialism is not merely a political and eocnomic upheaval but a social revolution as well. To a very large extent it has brought the lower middle class into power.” Indeed in the early years of the Nazi movement, the lower middle class was the only one where they had a non-negligible number of supporters.
Incidentally, Stoddard died in 1950. Therefore the copyrights of some of his works have already expired in some countries; unfortunately not in most of the European ones, where they will last at least until 2020 (and I don't doubt for a moment that by then copyright terms will be extended even further). Anyway, if you're one of the lucky people whose government still adheres to the ‘life + 50 years’ copyright terms of the Berne convention, you may read the free e-text of Into the Darkness at the Project Gutenberg of Australia web site.
- Perhaps I'll eventually read some of Stoddard's earlier works of ‘scientific racism’, but they aren't very high on my priority list. After all, they have only curiosity value, and besides there's probably a considerable risk that they must be boring (depending on how strongly he was trying to appear scientific).
- He mentions Nora Waln on p. 252. This is the first time I've heard of her. The titles of her books sound interesting: The House of Exile (1933, based on the ten or so years she lived in China); Reaching for the Stars (1939, about her experiences in Germany in 1934–1938; later editions were published under the title The Approaching Storm: One Woman's Story of Germany 1934–1938); and her first book, The Street of Precious Pearls (1921), which I've no idea what it's about.