William L. Shirer

American journalist (1904–1993)

William Lawrence Shirer (February 23, 1904 – December 28, 1993) was an American journalist and war correspondent. He wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a history of Nazi Germany cited in scholarly works since publication. Originally a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and the International News Service, Shirer was the first reporter hired by Edward R. Murrow for what would become a CBS radio team of journalists known as "Murrow's Boys". He became known for his broadcasts from Berlin, from the rise of the Nazi dictatorship through the first year of World War II (1940).

William L. Shirer in 1961



(full text)

  • In our new age of terrifying, lethal gadgets, which supplanted so swiftly the old one, the first great aggressive war, if it should come, will be launched by suicidal little madmen pressing an electronic button. Such a war will not last long and none will ever follow it. There will be no conquerors and no conquests, but only the charred bones of the dead on an uninhabited planet. (Preface)
  • I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state.
  • It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons.
  • Chamberlain's stubborn, fanatical insistence on giving Hitler what he wanted, his trips to Berchtesgaden and Godesberg and finally the fateful journey to Munich rescued Hitler from his limb and strengthened his position in Europe, in Germany, in the Army, beyond anything that could have been imagined a few weeks before. It also added immeasurably to the power of the Third Reich vis-à-vis the Western democracies and the Soviet Union.
  • On September 12, 1938 Hitler gave one of his typical, fanatical speeches at Nuremberg. It was regarding the Czech president's refusal to cede the Sudetenland to Germany. Shirer reports:
  • Though brutal and bombastic, and dripping with venom against the Czech state and especially against the Czech President, the Fuehrer's speech, made to a delirious mass of Nazi fanatics gathered in the huge stadium on the last night of the party rally, was not a declaration of war. He reserved his decision -- publicly at least, for, as we know from the captured German documents, he had already set October 1 for the attack across the Czech frontier. He simply demanded that the Czech government give "justice" to the Sudeten Germans. If it didn't, Germany would have to see to it that it did.
  • At eleven o'clock that same night Neville Chamberlain got off an urgent message to Hitler: "In view of the increasingly critical situation I propose to come over at once to see you with a view to trying to find a peaceful solution. I propose to come across by air and am ready to start tomorrow.
    "Please indicate earliest time at which you can see me and suggest place of meeting. I should be grateful for a very early reply."
  • The surrender that was to culminate in Munich had begun.
  • "I have fallen from Heaven!" ("Ich bin vom Himmel gefallen!") Hitler exclaimed when he read Chamberlain's message. He was astounded but highly pleased that the man who presided over the destinies of the mighty British empire should come pleading to him, and flattered that a man who was sixty-nine years old and had never travelled in an airplane before should make the long seven hours' flight to Berchtesgaden at the farthest extremity of Germany. Hitler had not had even the grace to suggest a meeting place on the Rhine, which would have shortened the trip by half.
  • [William Shirer writes in his works Berlin Diary and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich that on the morning on September 22, 1938, prior to Hitler's meeting with Neville Chamberlain over the future of Czechoslovakia] Hitler was in highly nervous state. On the morning of the twenty-second I was having breakfast on the terrace of the Hotel Dressen, where the talks were to take place, when Hitler strode past on his way down to the riverbank to inspect his yacht. He seemed to have a peculiar tic. Every few steps he cocked his right shoulder nervously, his left leg snapping up as he did so. He had ugly, black patches under his eyes. He seemed to be, as I noted in my diary that evening, on the edge of a nervous breakdown. "Teppichfresser!" muttered my German companion, an editor who secretly despised the Nazis. And he explained that Hitler had been in such a maniacal mood over the Czechs the last few days that on more than one occasion he had lost control of himself completely, hurling himself to the floor and chewing the edge of the carpet. Hence the term "carpet eater." The evening before, while talking with some of the party leaders at the Dreesen, I had heard the expression applied to the Fuehrer -- in whispers, of course.
  • [According to Shirer, on August 22, 1939 the day after the Nazi-Soviet Pact was formed between Hitler and Stalin, Hitler had this to say at his military conference in anticipation of the invasion of Poland:] Four days ago I took a special step which brought it about that Russia announced that yesterday that she is ready to sign. The personal contact with Stalin is established. Now Poland is in the position which I wanted her...A beginning has been made for the destruction of England's hegemony. The way is open for the soldier, now that I have made political preparations.
  • The way would be open for the soldiers, that is, if Chamberlain didn't pull another Munich. "I am only afraid that some Schweinehund (dirty dog) will make a proposal for mediation."
  • Adolf Hitler was the third son and the fourth of six children of Alois Hitler (born Schicklgruber) (1837–1903), a minor customs official, and Klara Pölzl (1860-1907), his second cousin, and third wife. Alois was born illegitimate and for the first thirty-nine years of his life bore his mother's name, Schicklgruber. The name Hitler appears in the maternal and paternal line. Both Hitler's grandmother on his mother's side and his grandfather on his father's side were named Hitler, or rather variants of it, for the family name was variously written as Hiedler, Huetler, Huettler and Hitler. Because Adolf's mother was his father's second cousin, an episcopal dispensation had to be obtained for the marriage.
  • Hitler's native district in the Waldviertel, is a hilly, wooded country of peasant villages and small farms, and though only some fifty miles from Vienna it has a somewhat remote and impoverished air, as if the main currents of Austrian life had passed it by. The inhabitants tend to be dour, like the Czech peasants to the north of them. Intermarriage is common, as in the case of Hitler's parents, and illegitimacy is frequent."
    • pp. 6, 7
  • In the summer of 1928, Hitler aged 39, was the Nazi party leader, and he fell in love with Geli Raubal, his 20 year old niece, the daughter of his widowed half-sister, Angela Raubal. He took her everywhere, to meetings and conferences, on long walks in the mountains and to the cafés and theaters in Munich. Gossip about the party leader and his beautiful blond niece was inevitable in Munich and throughout Nazi circles in southern Germany. By 1931, some deep rift whose origins and nature have never been fully ascertained grew between them.
  • Whatever it was that darkened the love between the uncle and his niece, their quarrels became more violent and at the end of the summer of 1931 Geli announced that she was returning to Vienna to resume her voice studies. Hitler forbade her to go. The next morning Geli Raubal was found shot dead in her room. The coroner reported that a bullet had gone through her chest below the left shoulder and penetrated the heart; it seemed beyond doubt that the shot was self-inflicted. Yet for years afterward in Munich there was murky gossip that Geli Raubal had been murdered — by Hitler in a rage, by Himmler to eliminate a situation that had become embarrassing to the party. But no credible evidence ever turned up to substantiate such rumors."
    • pp. 131, 132
  • On March 19, 1945 Hitler issued a general order that all military, industrial, transportation and communication installations as well as all stores in Germany must be destroyed in order to prevent them from falling intact into the hands of the enemy. The measures were to be carried out by the military with the help of the Nazi gauleiters and "commissars for defense." "All directives opposing this," the order concluded, "are invalid."
  • Germany was to be made one vast wasteland. Nothing was to be left with which the German people might somehow survive their defeat.
  • Hitler told Albert Speer, the Minister for Armament and War Production:
  • If the war is lost, the nation will also perish. This fate is inevitable. There is no necessity to take into consideration the basis for which the people will need to continue a most primitive existence. On the contrary, it will be better to destroy these things ourselves because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one and the future will belong solely to the stronger eastern nation [Russia]. Besides, those who will remain after the battle are only the inferior ones, for the good ones have been killed.
  • This "scorched earth" directive was followed the next day, on March 23 by an equally monstrous order by Martin Bormann, the Fuehrer's secretary. Speer described it on the stand at Nuremberg: "The Bormann decree aimed at bringing the population to the center of the Reich from both East and West, and the foreign workers and prisoners of war were to be included. These millions of people were to be sent upon their trek on foot. No provisions for their existence had been made, nor could it be carried out in view of the situation. It would have resulted in an unimaginable hunger catastrophe.
  • And had all the other orders of Hitler and Bormann — there were a number of supplementary directives -- been carried out, millions of Germans who had escaped with their lives up to then might well have died. Speer tried to summarize for the Nuremberg court the various "scorched earth" orders. To be destroyed he said were: "All industrial plants, all important electrical facilities, water works, gas works, food stores and clothing stores; all bridges, all railway and communication installations, all waterways, all ships, all freight cars and all locomotives."
  • That the German people were spared this final catastrophe was due to — aside from the rapid advances of the Allied troops, which made the carrying out of such a gigantic demolition impossible — the superhuman efforts of Speer and a number of Army officers who, in direct disobedience (finally!) of Hitler's orders, raced about the country to make sure that vital communications, plants and stores were not blown up by zealously obedient Army officers and party hacks.
    • pp. 1103, 1104
  • The Treaty of Guarantee came out of a proposal by Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, at the allied conference of Paris as a compromise to Marshal Ferdinand Foch's insistence that the Franco-German border be pushed back to the Rhine. Foch felt that this new border would prevent another German invasion into France. The Germans had invaded France from across the Rhine five times within a century in 1814, 1815, 1870, 1914, and 1918. Its terms called for solemn guarantees by Britain and America of the French frontier against future German aggression.
  • Along with Foch, the French Premier, Georges Clemenceau had demanded that Germany's Western border be fixed at the Rhine. Clemenceau relented when the Treaty of Guarantee was proposed. However Foch insisted that the French occupation of the Rhineland was crucial to halting future German aggression.
  • What the French wanted above all else from the peace settlement was a guarantee of their security, and for reasons difficult now to comprehend their chief allies, Great Britain and the United States, never quite understood this — perhaps because Woodrow Wilson, the American President, and Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, lacked a sure grasp of European history. The French could not ignore that history. They could not forget that since the days of the Huns invaders had broken into their fair country some thirty times from across the Rhine.
  • What Wilson and Lloyd George failed to see was that the terms of peace which they were hammering out against the dogged resistance of Clemenceau and Foch, while seemingly severe enough, left Germany in the long run relatively stronger than before. Except for the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France in the west and the loss of some valuable industrialized frontier districts to the Poles, form whom the Germans had taken them originally, Germany remained virtually intact, greater in population and industrial capacity than France could ever be, and moreover with her cities, farms, and factories undamaged by the war, which had been fought in enemy lands. In terms of relative power in Europe, Germany's position was actually better in 1919 than in 1914, or would be as soon as the Allied victors carried out their promise to reduce their armaments to the level of the defeated. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had not been the catastrophe for Germany that Bismarck had feared, because there was no Russian empire to take advantage of it. Russia, beset by revolution and civil war, was for the present, and perhaps would be for years to come, impotent. In the place of this powerful country on her eastern border Germany now had small, unstable states which could not seriously threaten her and which one day might easily be made to return former German territory and even made to disappear from the map.
  • By 1922, General Hans von Seeckt, commander of the German armed forces, was secretly advising his government: "Poland's existence is intolerable, incompatible with the essential conditions of Germany's life. Poland must go and will go". He added that Poland's obliteration "must be one of the fundamental objectives of German policy...With the disappearance of Poland will fall one of the strongest pillars of the Versailles Peace, the hegemony of France."
  • There was much idle talk at the Conference of Paris about the disappearance of four mighty empires, German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Turkish. But the cynical Clemenceau, at the head of the French delegation knew that the strongest of them remained — even though it had reluctantly become a Republic. His task at the peace parleys, as he saw it, was to see that Germany was permanently weakened, or, if this could not be achieved, confronted for at least a generation with an Allied coalition which, having won the war, would keep the peace by guarding France's northeastern border to make sure that any future invasion from across the Rhine would be met with overwhelming force.
  • Prodded by the implacable Foch, Clemenceau at first demanded that Germany's western border be fixed at the Rhine, with the French army standing guard on the left bank and the German population on that side formed into an autonomous state dominated by France. Lloyd George and Wilson would have none of it. "You're trying to create another Alsace-Lorraine," Wilson charged."
  • Lloyd George suggested a compromise. If France relinquished her claims on the Rhine, Britain and the United States would guarantee France's boundary against future German aggression. Wilson agreed and treaties to that effect were drawn up. Marshall Foch, pressed by the uncompromising Poincaré, (former French Premier), made one last desperate effort to save for France the only natural barrier there was against the hereditary enemy. On March 31, he demanded to be heard in person by the Big Four, Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and the Italian premier, Orlando, who were responsible for drawing up the peace terms.
  • "If we do not hold the Rhine permanently [Foch told them] there is no neutralization, no disarmament, no written clause of any nature, which can prevent Germany from breaking out across it and gaining the upper hand. No aid could arrive in time from England or America to save France from complete defeat."
  • It was a prophetic pronouncement. But Clemenceau gave in. In return for abandoning the Rhine he accepted solemn guarantees of his country's frontier from his two great allies. Neither ally kept its word. Both houses of the British parliament approved the Treaty of Guarantee in July 1919, but on the condition that the United States also ratify it. The U.S. Senate refused to approve either it or the Versailles Treaty, and the British assent was nullified.
  • The French regarded this as a betrayal. It was. They spoke of being cheated by their wartime allies. They were. Clemenceau whose outspoken sympathies for Britain and America (he had been a newspaper correspondent in the United States shortly after the Civil War, had learned American English and married an American) had earned charges from the Right before the war that he was an Anglo-Saxon "tool", was embittered and disillusioned. As the Premier who had pulled France together in the closing period of the war, he realized what so many Frenchmen tended to forget, that without British and American help the war could not in the end have been won. He saw too that without Anglo-American promises of military aid in the future it would be beyond France's power to repel the next German invasion. He had been promised that aid in return for giving up the security of the Rhine, which his generals had demanded. Now France had neither.
  • The deceit of the Allies would have fateful consequences. Germany, even under Hitler, would never have risked invading France again if her rulers and her generals had known in advance that Britain and America would oppose it by military force. The U.S. Senate's rejection of the Treaty of Guarantee brought a certain responsibility on the United States for the subsequent course of events which pushed western Europe to the brink of destruction by Germany, though this was scarcely recognized in America. The Senate's action did not spare the American republic in the end. It only made the reconquest of western Europe from the Germans, when the Second World War came, infinitely more costly in American lives and treasure than it would have been had a President's word been honored in the first place by the Senate. The United States, supremely complacent in its shortsighted isolation, was lost as a factor in guarding the peace of Europe it had helped to win, and in which its fate would always be intertwined."
  • Shortly after the British government had protested Hitler's violation of the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty on March 16 and then joined Italy and France in proclaiming their determination to uphold the sanctity of treaties, it had, behind the backs of its two Stresa allies, negotiated a naval agreement which violated the naval clauses of the Versailles Treaty and gave Hitler the right and encouragement to build all the warships his shipyards could construct for at least ten years.* The Naval Pact was signed in London on June 18, 1935, without the British government having the courtesy to consult with France and Italy, or later, to inform them of the secret agreements which stipulated that the Germans could build in certain categories more powerful warships than any the three Western nations then possessed. The French regarded this as treachery, which it was. They saw it as a further appeasement of Hitler, whose appetite grew on concessions. And they resented the British agreeing, for what they thought a private gain, to scrap further the peace treaty and thus add to the growing overall military power of Nazi Germany.
  • Germany agreed to restrict her Navy to one third the size of the British but was accorded the right to build submarines, explicitly denied her by the peace treaty, up to 60 percent of British strength, and to 100 percent in case she decided it was necessary to her security, which she shortly did. Germany also pledged that her U-boats would never attack unarmed merchant ships, a word that she went back on from the very beginning of the second war. As soon as the deal with Britain was concluded Germany laid down two battleships, the Bismarck and Tirpitz, with a displacement of over 45,000 tons. By the terms of the Washington and London naval accords, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States had to limit their battleships to 35,000 tons. Great Britain, as the French contended, had no legal right to absolve Germany from respecting the naval clauses of the Versailles Treaty. And, as many Frenchmen added, no moral right either.
    • Book Three, Chapter 15, Aftermath: Widening of the Gulf: 1934-1936, discussing the Anglo-German Naval Agreement.
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