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Today in World War II History

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The American Experience in 1930s Germany

If you or I visited Nazi Germany in the 1930s, we know exactly how we’d react. We’d be appalled by the persecution of the Jews. We’d feel the oppression of living under a police state. We’d see the rising danger of Hitler and his militarism.

Or would we?

My grandfather, John F. Ebelke, the textbook he co-wrote, and the record of his voyage from Hamburg to New York in 1936.

A few years ago, we visited Ellis Island, and I put family names into their computer. I found the records of my grandfather’s trip home from Hamburg, Germany, after his junior year abroad in Munich. In 1936.

I knew he’d studied in Germany – he was a professor of German – but I’d never realized he’s studied in Hitler’s Germany! That sparked a question that inspired When Twilight Breaks – what was it like for Americans living in Nazi Germany?

German tourism poster, 1935

German tourism poster, 1935

And yes, thousands of Americans and British lived in Germany before WWII, and in 1937 alone, almost 500,000 Americans visited Germany. As tensions rose, Americans began heading home, especially after Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939. By December 11, 1941, when Germany declared war on the United States, 132 American diplomats and foreign correspondents remained and were interned in a hotel until they were repatriated in May 1942.

As for those Americans in Germany in the 1930s? They were diplomats and foreign correspondents and businessmen. They were students and writers and tourists. And they were divided. This was during the Great Depression, a time of massive unemployment, upheaval, riots, strikes, and instability worldwide. It was a time of great extremism and division in the United States.

German tourism poster promoting the Autobahn, 1930s

German tourism poster promoting the Autobahn, 1930s

Some Americans in Germany saw the uniforms and parades as sinister militarism, marching toward war. But others saw renewed national pride and appreciated Germany keeping the threat of Soviet Bolshevism at bay.

Some saw censorship and loss of freedom of speech. Others saw an orderly society where dangerous elements weren’t allowed to disrupt life for law-abiding citizens.

Some were appalled at the antisemitic laws slowly pushing Jews out of all forms of employment and public life. Others saw it as an internal matter – or harbored antisemitic attitudes themselves.

Some felt the oppression of the Gestapo always watching. Others saw full employment, clean streets, and construction of new buildings, museums, and the famous Autobahn. 

Some felt the pressure to tell the folks back home of the dangers of Nazism. Others believed the negative reports in US newspapers were sensationalism designed to pull America into yet another unwanted war.

So how would we have reacted? Something to ponder. And in When Twilight Breaks, I was able to explore these attitudes through daring foreign correspondent Evelyn Brand and dashing graduate student Peter Lang.

If you’re interested, you can order When Twilight Breaks at your local bookstore or on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or!

39 responses to “The American Experience in 1930s Germany”

  1. Karen Hoyt says:

    I love your “Today in history” series here and on Facebook!

  2. […] 1: Lisa T. Bergren Stop 2: Suzanne Woods Fisher Stop 3: Sarah Sundin Stop 4: Jocelyn Green Stop 5: Bethany Turner Stop 6: Jill Eileen Smith Stop 7: Michelle Griep Stop […]

  3. Gay Martin says:

    This book intrigues me…

  4. Phyllis says:

    So thought provoking! We lived in Germany in the early 70s and my Dad was in the Air Force. Even then, we were not allowed to go to Berlin because of his Intelligence job. So, I can’t imagine what it would have been like during Nazism. I have your book on my wishlist. Thank you!

  5. Megan H says:

    Haven’t been able to get When Twilight Breaks yet, but it’s on the wishlist!

  6. Karen Rumba says:

    Sarah, your Twilight Breaks book is on my to be read list, but I think after learning more about it, I’m moving it to the top! So interesting to hear the background about a book. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Sarah says:

    It’s not often that fiction teaches me or helps me in my real life. Usually, it’s an escape but When Twilight Breaks hit me hard and deep. It was just what I needed right now! Thank you!

  8. Kim Bakos says:

    I’d love to know what it was like for my grandparents, living in Austria when Hitler was first coming to power.

  9. Pam Freeman says:

    Thank you for taking the time to do this I love these hunts!! Happy Easter God Bless

  10. Nina says:

    I enjoyed when Twilight breaks.

  11. Tyleia says:

    I grew up in Germany in the 80s and 90s while my parents did two tours in the military. I was there when the Berlin Wall came down. We learned much about Hitler and WWII—-living there on the other side of history but yet being surrounded by it was surreal at times.

  12. SARAH TAYLOR says:

    Thank you!

  13. Love your historical emails and historical books. Thanks for opportunity to win one of your books.

  14. Gabrielle says:

    Actually, I pre-ordered and already read “When Twilight Breaks” (and loved it). But I am looking forward to your next book, and would love to win a copy of it.

  15. Lisa Hudson says:


    Your books are always a “highlight” in my Reading Year! When Twilight Breaks is in my “Top 30 Books of All Time ” & I continue to recommend it to family and friends! It certainly caused me to reflect on my visit to Germany in the 70’s and our opportunity to visit Dachau and see firsthand what life was like under the Nazi regime. Thank you for your “Today in History Posts” as I know it’s a Labor of Love for you!

  16. Carissa Miller says:

    When Twilight breaks is my favorite of yours. I enjoyed reading about a time in history that you don’t really find in fiction. I mean you find plenty of WWII in fiction, but not much set in Germany leading up to the war. But its a part of history that I’ve been fascinated with since I was in high school My dad’s great aunt was a German war bride, who when I was in high school told me what it was like in Germany for the Germans who did stand up and do the right thing, which they had to do in secret. But she was proud of the work she did with the resistance even with what it cost her, she said she would gladly do it again. That looking back she would have made the same choice.

  17. Mrs. Dave Chamberlain says:

    I loved Bodie Thoene’s historic books, and yours sounds great! Thank you for the opportunity.

  18. Ferne Knauss says:

    I really enjoyed the WWII novels! Thank you!!

  19. Betty Reynolds says:

    I love to read WWII stories and “live” the world my parents did. My father served in the War.

  20. Melinda says:

    Enjoy your stories

  21. Alicia Haney says:

    Your book sounds like a very good read. Have a Great weekend and stay safe.

  22. Linda Berg says:

    I enjoyed your novels so much. As a nurse, I especially enjoyed the 3 books that featured WW2 nurses:www On Distant Shores, In Perfect Time and With Every Letter. They are some of my favorite all-time books. I love how the same characters appear in your book series so you get a look at each one from all angles. Thank you for filling my mind, heart and soul with excellent fiction books that give me new insights and allow me to read without cringing! And thanks for the opportunity to win your new book!

  23. Diana says:

    It is exciting to find an author that I have read! I look forward to to reading your books beginning with When Twilight Breaks.

  24. Mary says:

    Can’t wait to read this!

  25. This is so much fun!

  26. Marilyn Rosenberger says:

    Sarah, you are by far my favorite author of WWII books. I’ve read everything you’ve written. I preordered When Twilight Breaks and “devoured it” as soon as I got it! What an interesting read about the attitudes of Americans during Hitlers earlier years. As always your historical details are spot on and your storylines are riveting and believable. May God continue to lead you to write more. I will be eager to read anything you write!

  27. Deb says:

    I love reading books set around World War II. I often wonder what I would have done if I lived during that time in Europe. I am interested to read this story! I was an exchange student decades ago so it hits on several fronts.

  28. Patti Bond says:


  29. Amber says:

    Hope you’ll sign my book when I win ????
    I’m a regular reader of your blog!

  30. Joyce says:

    This is lots of fun

  31. Michele Rolfe says:

    WOW! My family came to America from Germany in 1710 as part of the 10,000 people Palatinate Emigration. Would really like to win!

  32. Janeen L Honsey says:

    I am intrigued by When Twilight Breaks. I read the blurb on Amazon, but at that point I put it on my wish list as I am behind in my reading right now. I would definitely appreciate a copy! Thank you for offering a few lucky readers a chance.

  33. Sherry Brown says:

    Thank you for your post! Enjoyed it very much!!
    You are new to me, so it’s a pleasure to learn about you and your books!

  34. Teri DiVincenzo says:

    This one has been on my TBR since before it released! Thanks for the giveaway!

  35. Wanda Gerke says:

    Just picked up When Twilight Breaks at the library – excited to begin this new read.

  36. Elizabeth Buck says:

    After reading the many comments by others, I am inspired to read your books! I enjoy reading books of Nazi Germany.

  37. […] by the 30 authors who participated, starting at Lisa Tawn Bergren’s site. My article on The American Experience in 1930s Germany talks about the background behind my new novel, When Twilight […]

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