NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nearly 90 years after an American teenager visited Germany on a Boy Scout trip and documented his travels in a journal, his daughter wrote a historical fiction book, "The Road We Took: 4 Days in Germany 1933," based on the haunting scenes he described six years before the start of World War II.
He was in Europe for the Boy Scouts of America Fourth World Jamboree in Hungary in 1933 but made stops in other countries including Germany.
"I'd had this suitcase in the journal in my possession since 1995 when my dad passed away but I never really took time to investigate it and see what was in it," explained Cathy Lewis, the daughter of the U.S. Army Captain veteran.
In 2018, Lewis had downtime from her career and decided to open the suitcase. Inside, she found her father's journal he kept during his boy scout trip.
"So, I started investigating the contents of the suitcase and the journal and there was one verse in the journal [from his time in Germany] that really struck me," she explained, "No Austrian or German boy could attend the jamboree. And they were, it was compulsory to join Hitler Youth because they were becoming the paramilitary. My dad wrote about meeting this young [German] man. And then he wrote, ‘I found him to be a fine fellow.’ That really struck me because I thought, Okay, what my dad doesn't know, at 16 and a half is 10 years later, he's gonna meet my mom who was a Jewish immigrant whose extended family was murdered by the Nazis."
"[At that point] most Germans had bought into the lies that Hitler propagated about the Jews being, you know, the scourge of the world and they were the cause of their defeat in World War I and they had—were the reason behind their, you know, failure as a nation economically. And so, he [Hitler] talked the people into believing that by exterminating them all, Germany will have a chance to become the greatest nation in the world," stated Lewis.
She said her father wrote about seeing demonstrations in the streets and rallies with 'Hitler youth' six years before the start of WWII.
"It was that four days that he spent in Germany, that really fascinated me because he encountered Nazis everywhere. They came upon in Munich, a huge rally of Nazis, with tanks and trucks and all of these things that were violating the Treaty of Versailles. And so the rest of the world had no idea that was going on at that time. And then as they were going through Germany, they came upon another rally and it was 40,000 Hitler Youth," Lewis explained. "And he wrote about it and just said that, you know, just the way they were so disciplined in their marching and all these things that Boy Scouts could like, take tips from like, look at how they march so perfectly, because Boy Scouts march but it was very, you know, fascinating, six weeks of his life."
After his trip, her father went home to New York, graduated from the University of Rochester and ended up enlisting in the U.S. Army. She said he learned he was sent to the wrong base as there was a mix-up with another man who had his same name. He should have been at Pearl Harbor but was instead sent to the Panama Canal Zone.
"The fact that he ended up in Panama, my mom came from Ecuador, to Panama to the Canal Zone to look for a job and found a job on the Army base. They met and fell in love and six months later were married," she said with a smile. "To me, it really shows just how we have very little control over the things that happen in our life and that in a way we you know, it's kind of overwhelming to think about that he could have been sent to Pearl Harbor, but he wasn't. And so this was all supposed to happen the way it unfolded."
"I never really asked him about his thoughts between 1933 and then to like, 1967 where he started talking to me about the whole trip. But, he said that looking back historically, he saw this start to unfold but didn't realize what it was at the time because he was 16 and he was only there for four days and didn't really understand the how serious or how big this was," she said. "He couldn't he couldn't really relate to just the the overwhelming transformation that was going on, because he didn't have anything to go on before that previously."
But during his time in the Panama Canal Zone as a captain working in Central Intelligence, he was able to draw from that Boy Scout trip years earlier for unique perspective and motivation.
Lewis said her father "desired us to win and to completely annihilate the Nazis and to make sure that that would never happen again. So he was really very, very direct and in his communicating that to us as kids how there warfare, the German warfare and the the, the the war itself, the reason for it and the purpose of the war was so important that we defeated that kind of hatred. So that kind of hatred could never rise again."
Following the war and her parents move to New York, Lewis did not know of her mother's heritage for more than a decade.
"I didn't find out I was Jewish until I was 11 years old. I had no idea. No idea. And so they kept that hid was very anti-Semitic time in the United States in 1944. And there was a lot of animosity into the Jews. And so my grandparents thought, for the sake of his, their son and new daughter-in-law, they would not tell anyone that he had married a Jewish woman," Lewis explained.
This reality for Lewis coupled with growing up a Veteran's daughter watching war movies was a "preparation meets opportunity" moment for Lewis when she found her father's 1933 journal in 2018.
She said, "one of the reasons I felt so strongly about writing the book was to convey that this kind of brutal hatred rises very easily in the world. And if we don't do something to stamp it out, it can happen again."