In the spring and summer of 1938, a third-generation German Canadian took an unforgettable road trip in Europe. Franklin Wellington Wegenast drove through Austria, Italy, France, Luxembourg, and Germany. He stopped to talk to people along the way and offered rides to those requesting them. He listened to what his passengers had to say about their lives, the conditions they lived under, and their views on what was happening in Europe. Wegenast heard Hitler speak in Innsbruck, and so witnessed first-hand Nazi power as Austria’s independence crumbled. In his journal he noted “the sheer animal force in the cries of the crowd,” and foresaw the “collision course” that was shaping up between the Germans who supported Hitler’s ideology and the rest of the world.
Wegenast was unable to publish the journal he kept on his journey, and at the time of his death in 1942 it was in an unorganized state. It is published here for the first time alongside commentary that puts the entries in the contexts of Wegenast’s life experiences, the prevailing attitudes of the day, both in North America and Europe, and modern scholarship on Germany in the 1930s. The book includes correspondence Wegenast had with a young German for a few months after his return to Canada, correspondence that reveals even more clearly the intensity of his feelings and his fear for the future.
Newly released government documents and diaries kept by Germans during the interwar period have meant a considerable outpouring in recent years of material on German sentiment in the 1930s. Wegenast’s diaries and letters corroborate modern assessments of German thinking and add insightful commentary, providing an outsider/insider view on the brewing conflict.
"Liberty Is Dead leaves the reader with both a greater understanding of this time in Europe and of what common people were thinking in and around Germany. ... The book is a significant addition to the chronicle of this period. The historical information Derry provides in addition to Wegenast's journals and letters enriches the reader's understanding of the context for his writings, and Derry's choice of entries weaves together a captivating narrative of Wegenast's experiences. "- Kristen M. Hetrick, SGAS Yearbook of German-American Studies, Volume 47, 2012
"This is a well-edited volume that gives historians a rare insight into everyday life in prewar Nazi Germany as well as into the views held by well-informed Canadians at the time. The book is suitable for undergraduate and graduate courses. "- Alexander Freund, German-Canadian Studies (blog)
"Much has been written about the Third Reich, but even today it is hard to fully comprehend the actions, views, and beliefs that led to destruction and war and to the hurting and killing of millions of people. Liberty Is Dead, the 1938 diary and correspondence of Franklin Wegenast about his travels in central Europe, gives voice to the perspective of a contemporary Canadian. Margaret Derry's careful editing and contextualization brings out a narrative that says as much about the political and ideological atmosphere in pre-World War II Germany and Austria as it does about views and beliefs held by well-educated and politically interested Canadians at that time. "- Mat Schulze, director, Waterloo Centre for German Studies, University of Waterloo