An Eerie Parallel. Or Maybe Not.

News accounts of the Trump transition have used terms like “knife fight”, “Game of Thrones”, etc, to characterize the chaos and infighting among the various individuals and groups vying for power in what I assume must be a well-drained swamp. Trump himself dismisses such accounts as bad reporting, insisting that the transition is going smoothly.

My first thought was that some enterprising journalist must find Trump’s ear and convince him to allow unprecedented access, because “wow, you are so right–this is going smoothly, and the press are so wrong, and someone has to show them how smoothly and perfectly everything is going and how wrong they are.” Eeew, that was icky to write.

But writing that (or rather, thinking that) reminded me of something I had read somewhere. As with so many stories one is reminded of by Trump’s actions and words, this one was a story from wartime Berlin. In 1941, the war was on, but the US was not yet, as a nation, at war with Germany. American businessmen could, and did, visit Germany, although it was not easy. One such visiting businessman was Charles C. Parlin Sr.. In a personal memoir, he writes about (among other things) his adventures all across Europe, including a particularly harrowing few days in Berlin. (The memoir is part of a vanity-press publication, so it is not something I can point you to at the local library. If you are some sort of historian and want more info, leave your contact information in the comments.) I have reproduced it here, with some breaks for readability (all of this is one paragraph in the original):

Back in Berlin, members of the German Bar had a luncheon in my honor. As we walked into the dining room an old friend sidled up to me and said “Von Trott is a fanatic; keep your gloves on.”
Adam von Trott came from the high German aristocracy; had studied law in Oxford, after getting his German degree; had prospects of a brilliant career as a Berlin lawyer in international law but when the war broke had gone to the Foreign Department to work under Foreign Minister von Rippentrop. During the luncheon von Trott said to me “What are you going to tell them about the bombing of Berlin when you go home?”
At this point Berlin buildings had been scratched but I had not seen the big-scale destruction which our press had reported. I said “Nobody knows I am here. I am not going to admit that I was in Berlin.”
“Why not?”
“Because, as you know, my press has reported big destruction—your railroad stations and buildings—and if I report things as I have seen them my best friends will look me in the eye and call me a liar.”
They laughed but later that afternoon von Trott met me in the lobby of my hotel. “What you said at lunch worried me—we want to back you up.”
“Well, let me have some photos.”
“That’s no good. I have looked you up and found you were last in Berlin in 1937 and your friends will say they were taken then. I have arranged tomorrow for you to take some cinema.”
I remonstrated; I knew it was a capital offense for a foreigner to use a camera, but he said all permits would be in order. Next morning a military jeep called for me and there was a photographer and a representative of the Foreign Department, listing the Berlin buildings which they claimed reports of British Broadcasting, as monitored in Germany, had announced as totally bombed. They let me take a few shots but mostly they had me walk up and down in front of these buildings (which were, of course, entirely intact) while the photographer shot pictures.
Next day I had to go to the War Ministry to secure censorship of the film and a terrible row ensued between representatives of the War and Foreign Department ministries. At one time I was sure the film was a goner—and perhaps me, too. But they compromised, some shots were eliminated and censorship granted for the balance.
That evening as I was packing to leave Berlin, a messenger came to my apartment and delivered a tin containing the 400’ of 16mm film and a letter on the stationery of the Foreign Ministry asserting that the film had been taken with permission and had received proper censorship. But I was much disturbed when the messenger later returned and asked for the letter back, because without the letter the film could put me in jeopardy at the many Nazi checkpoints which I would have to cross. I could not flush it down the toilet and if I left it under the mattress of my bed it would surely be found before I got to the other side of the Iron Curtain.
I was still deep in this dilemma when the messenger returned with the letter which now had typed at the base a directive to the Commandant at the last Nazi check-point. It commanded him to certify over his signature and mine that I had crossed the border with the film in my possession and the letter, with the two signatures, was to be returned to the Foreign Ministry.
Relieved, but still wondering how I would make out, I started my trek back—I was to return to Paris, then south to Spain, across Portugal to Lisbon, where I eventually got a Pan American flying clipper ship to New York.*

*Adam von Trott was arrested in the June, 1944 bomb plot on Hitler’s life. Our army subsequently captured the films made by the Germans of the trials and, in Washington, I was shown the recording of von Trott. There was no trial. Young von Trott stood up and confessed. He said he had helped in the attempt on Hitler’s life because of his love of his Fatherland, for which he would now gladly give his life. All of us viewing the film were reminded of our Nathan Hale. Then he was taken out into a courtyard and shot—all meticulously recorded on sound film.

Maybe it’s my liberal bias, but the infighting among groups, the paranoia, the fear, I just find too many parallels between the Trump transition process and… well, not really. I can’t imagine anyone there who loves their country enough to put it above their career, let alone their life.

No verse today. Oh, but here are some pics of the pages, for those who think I am making this up:

Page of Parlin memoir

Page of Parlin memoir

another page of Parlin memoir

another page of Parlin memoir


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Berlin buildings had been scratched but I had not seen the big-scale destruction which our press had reported.

    I’d’ve thought the BBC propagandists would’ve been slicker than that — but then I look at their 2016 work…

  2. AlexanderZ says

    I can’t imagine anyone there who loves their country enough to put it above their career, let alone their life.

    True, but it cuts both ways: no-one on Trump’s team is nearly as competent and precise as Hitler’s subordinates. Hell, just compare Trump to Hitler – Hitler was a highly decorated war veteran (essentially earning the highest honors for a non-German non-officer) who has written more book(s) than Trump has or will ever read.
    The only solace is that Trump’s rule will be closer to a failing mid-eastern dictatorship than to the well-oiled Nazi death machine. Whatever happens after Trump leaves office is different matter.
    On the other hand, history is full of genocides organized by incompetents.

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