In December 2003, a story appeared in this column relevant to a children’s book written by Hamburg native, Dorothy Thompson, world renowned playwright and former foreign correspondent for the New York Herold Tribune. The book “Once on Christmas” was written in response to a question from her young son, Michael, about what Christmas was like in Hamburg when she was his age. The book is a nostalgic trip back to an old-fashioned Christmas in old Hamburg and is a treasure for any child who reads the book today.
In this week’s story, Hamburg resident Ed Beck once again visits my column in an interesting story about the life and times of Ms. Thompson.
“I finally got it right!”
Those words were spoken by Hamburg native, journalist Dorothy Thompson, assessing her final marriage. Her second husband, Nobel Prize Winner Sinclair Lewis, was the most famous of the three, and made Mr, and Mrs. Lewis an international celebrity couple between the years of 1928 and 1942.
However, rest assured that even without Sinclair Lewis, Dorothy Thompson would have gained fame for her courageous journalism and edgy world associations.
Raised on Union Street in the Village of Hamburg, and born in 1893, Thompson was the daughter of Margaret and the Reverend Peter Thompson, a minister who came to Hamburg to be the pastor of the Hamburg Methodist Church. His wife Margaret died in 1901, and the grieving pastor soon wed the church’s organist, Elizabeth Abbott.
The former Miss Abbott, however, was apparently something of a fairy-tale style stepmother, which meant that eventually Dorothy was shipped off to Chicago to live with her maiden aunts. There she would feel loved and wanted, as was the intention of her pastor father.
Dorothy received a rather good education, particularly for a young woman of the day, at Syracuse University. She graduated in 1914 with strong feelings about women’s suffrage and other social issues of the day. Thompson brought that focus to an early job in Buffalo, before finally heading off to Europe, where she would establish her credentials as a freelance journalist. Ultimately Thompson’s achievements landed her posts in Vienna and Berlin, and she would become the first woman to head a major overseas news bureau.
Dorothy Thompson’s reputation gained strength by interviewing controversial leaders of the times, among them was Adolph Hitler.
Her book “I Met Hitler,” created such a stir abroad, that in 1934 Thompson was expelled from Germany, the first journalist forced to leave the Nazi-held nation. Her book warned of the dangers of the fascists, and specifically of Hitler himself; calling him “formless, almost faceless...a caricature” with a body that seemed “cartilaginous, without bones... inconsequent...ill-poised and insecure.”
These published epithets, of course, did not settle all that well with the Fuhrer and Dorothy was kicked out of the country.
“As far as I can see, I was really put out of Germany for the crime of blasphemy,” she said of her expulsion. “My offense was to think that Hitler was just an ordinary man, after all. That is a crime in the reigning cult in Germany.”
Later Thompson would make major news by uncovering the truth about “Crystal Night,” when German synagogues were smashed and burned at the hands of Nazis.
Thompson was named by “Time” as the most popular and influential woman in America, second only to the president’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. Her radio broadcasts of the mid-1930s was one of our nation’s most popular programs. When the Nazi’s invaded Poland in 1939, Dorothy Thompson kept the world informed –on the air– for 15 consecutive days and nights.Photo– Hamburg resident Ed Beck, who also wrote this article
Reference: Internet Encyclopedia
This column is usually written each week by Hamburg Town Historian Jim Baker.
Anyone wanting to submit photographs and/or materials can call the Town Historian Jim Baker at the Hamburg Town Hall on either Wednesday or Thursday between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at 649-6111 ext. 2400.
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