An Amer­i­can in Hitler’s Berlin: Abra­ham Plotk­in’s Diary, 1932 – 33

Cather­ine Col­lomp and Bruno Grop­po, eds. and intro.
  • Review
By – December 5, 2011
Dur­ing a stay of sev­er­al months in Berlin, from fall 1932 to spring 1933, Plotkin, an Amer­i­can Jew­ish orga­niz­er for the Inter­na­tion­al Ladies Gar­ment Work­ers Union (ILGWU), kept a diary. The edi­tors res­cued his impres­sions from the obscu­ri­ty of the Kheel Cen­ter for Labor-Man­age­ment Doc­u­men­ta­tion and Archives at Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty in Itha­ca, New York. Plotkin went abroad pri­mar­i­ly to study the Ger­man trade union move­ment and its response to mass unem­ploy­ment and social insta­bil­i­ty. Plotkin’s vis­it coin­cid­ed with Germany’s descent from Weimar’s democ­ra­cy to Nazi total­i­tar­i­an­ism. This is a seri­ous work. Gen­er­al read­ers may find some sec­tions dry as Plotkin includes lengthy inter­views with promi­nent trade union­ists and Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­ers. How­ev­er, the diarist is an astute observ­er and cap­tures ever-chang­ing pub­lic moods. There are echoes here of Christo­pher Isherwood’s Good­bye to Berlin, lat­er made into Cabaret, and nov­el­ist Alexan­der Doblin’s Alexan­der­platz. Plotkin’s reports on mass ral­lies of Com­mu­nists, Nazis, and Social Democ­rats and his final entry on the burn­ing of the Reich­stag are high dra­ma. Plotkin is always aware of per­va­sive anti-Semi­tism and is, on occa­sion, its tar­get. 

There is empa­thy and some iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion, but this aspect of Plotkin’s expe­ri­ence remains a sec­ondary con­cern. The edi­tors have append­ed The Destruc­tion of the Labor Move­ment in Ger­many,” an essay by Plotkin, which was pub­lished in a union peri­od­i­cal after Plotkin’s return to the Unit­ed States. For aca­d­e­m­ic col­lec­tions of Euro­pean His­to­ry and Labor stud­ies. Black and white pho­tographs, chronology.

Lib­by K. White is direc­tor of the Joseph Mey­er­hoff Library of Bal­ti­more Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty in Bal­ti­more, MD and gen­er­al edi­tor of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries Newsletter.

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