Zero Hour: A Summons to the Free

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This book was published in 1940, and it was a best seller, an alarm bell in the night if there ever was one which challenged American isolationism and naivete about Hitler after the fall of France. For me, the most arresting of the six essays is the one by Erika Mann, "Don't Make the Same Mistakes." It is an account of a conversation that she had with a young American while traveling by train across the U.S.A. to Los Angeles. The conversation inspired her to write an essay that she produced in one day and handed to the young man shortly before the end of the trip. They met a few days later to discuss its contents.
Erika Mann fled Germany in 1933 with her famous family. Her father was Thomas Mann.
This book is in its way a great book, and it is so because of its unique position in history. Did it change minds? Yes. Is it relevant today? Yes. Erika Mann's central theme is that the Nazis came to power because of what their many opponents did not do. Myriad factions talked, rationalized, said this or that but never with an urgency that admitted the true dimension of the threat. We are in the U.S.A. witnessing a frightening resurgence of fascism. We would all benefit from seeing ourselves through Erika Mann's not at all distant mirror, remember always Santayana's grim warning.

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