John F. Kennedy: ‘Fascinated’ … and Puzzled, by Hitler’s Germany (Der Spiegel, Germany)
As is often the case, the English-language write-thrus of this review of a new book about John F. Kennedy’s time in Germany left out some important details by playing up the 20-year-old JFK’s ‘fascination’ with Hitler’s regime, without mentioning the misgivings the future president expressed. This this is the entire German-language review of the book, the title of which translates as John F. Kennedy Among Germans: Diaries and Letters 1937-1945, which outlines Kennedy’s clear interest in the stagecraft of Hitler and and the Nazis, but also his dismay at the ‘docility’ of the German officials who, unlike Americans, seemed to have a problem questioning authority.
Fascism? “The right thing for Germany”? As a young man, John F. Kennedy toured Germany three times from 1937 to 1945 – and was impressed by the “Third Reich.” Now, for the first time, the surprising accounts of the future president are being published in German.
In the summer of 1937, two young Americans and a Ford Cabriolet landed at the Port of Le Havre. Their mission: See Europe in three months. It was the classic “Grand Tour” of wealthy east-coast Americans, which, like a debutante ball, was a must for the adolescent elite. One was named Kirk LeMoyne Billings, also called Lem, and the other was Jack – better known as John F. Kennedy.
The two boys, who had just finished their first year of college at the elite university Harvard, were 20 years old and ready for adventure. They enjoyed their trip to the fullest – flirting, partying, and meeting with friends. At the same time, however, they actively studied political systems – the fascism of Italy and Germany, in particular. Lem Billings recalled later that Kennedy was “completely consumed with interest in the Hitler movement.” As a student, the future U.S. president traveled to Germany on two more occasions: In the summer of 1939, while conducting research for his senior thesis that dealt with the Munich Agreement of 1939, and in 1945, when he accompanied James Forrestal, the-then secretary of the Navy, on a tour.
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