William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when he left Europe in December 1940. This is being posted on the 80th anniversary of the events.
In November 1940 the war stagnated. There were no large movements, but the business of bombing and counter bombing became routine. During this month Shirer begins to pick up on an ominous turn of events, as the Nazis begin in earnest to make the name for themselves that will survive the Third Reich.
He begins to make plans to leave in December.
BERLIN, November 5
If all goes well, I shall leave here a month from today, flying all the way to New York—by Lufthansa plane from here to Lisbon, by Clipper from there to New York The very prospect of leaving here takes a terrible load off your heart and mind. I feel swell. It will be my first Christmas at home in sixteen years…
The United States is still out of the war and will remain so for another year after November. You can read Winston Churchill’s account of the war to comprehend the amount of cooperation between himself and Roosevelt during this time. All that would dissolve if Roosevelt failed to obtain an unprecedented third term. His Republican rival, Wendell Willkie was running on a platform of keeping America out of the war. The world’s fortunes turned as Roosevelt easily prevailed in November 1940.
BERLIN, November 6
Roosevelt has been re-elected for a third term! It is a resounding slap for Hitler and Ribbentrop and the whole Nazi regime.
Nazi bigwigs made no secret of this in private, though Goebbels made the press ignore the election so as not to give the Democrats the advantage of saying that the Nazis were for Willkie.
Because Roosevelt is one of the few real leaders produced by the democracies since the war (look at France; look at Britain until Churchill took over!) and because he can be tough, Hitler has always had a healthy respect for him and even a certain fear.
Hitler correctly sees in Roosevelt the death knell of his ambitions.
I’m told that since the abandonment for this fall of the invasion of Britain Hitler has more and more envisaged Roosevelt as the enemy in his path to world power, or even to victory in Europe.
But now the Nazis face Roosevelt for another four years—face the man whom Hitler has told a number of people is more responsible for keeping up Britain’s resistance to him than any other factor in the war except Winston Churchill. No wonder there were long faces in the Wilhelmstrasse tonigh t when it became certain that Roosevelt had won.
Armistice Day was and still is an significant event in America. Not so much for Germany. On 11 November 1918 Germany was worn completely down from four years of non-stop fighting, and its leaders recognized the inevitable. The armistice was more than that. It was a complete capitulation, and Germany was humiliated by the terms of the Versailles Treaty. This was the driving force for the rise of Nazism.
BERLIN, November 11
Roosevelt’s Armistice Day speech was completely suppressed here. We broadcast from coast to coast every utterance of Hitler, but the German people are not permitted to know a word of what Roosevelt speaks. This is one of the weaknesses of democracy, I think, though some people think it is one o! its strengths.
Yes, the Molotov cocktail is named after Vyacheslav Molotov. Besides having a hand-made fire bomb named after him, he was the Soviet Union Minister of Foreign affairs from 1939 to 1949. He survived the rough and tumble world of upper-level Soviet politics during this period and died in 1986.
BERLIN, November 12
A dark, drizzling day, and Molotov arrived, his reception being extremely stiff and formal. Driving up the Linden to the Soviet Embassy, he looked to me like a plugging, provincial schoolmaster. But to have survived in the cut-throat competition of the Kremlin he must have something.
America’s 31st president presided in the country’s slide into depression and was defeated on that score by Roosevelt in 1932. His positions and his actions regarding America and the war are worth noting.
During a 1938 trip to Europe, Hoover met with Adolf Hitler and stayed at Hermann Göring’s hunting lodge. He expressed dismay at the persecution of Jews in Germany and believed that Hitler was mad, but did not present a threat to the U.S. Instead, Hoover believed that Roosevelt posed the biggest threat to peace, holding that Roosevelt’s policies provoked Japan and discouraged France and the United Kingdom from reaching an “accommodation” with Germany. After the September 1939 invasion of Poland by Germany, Hoover opposed U.S. involvement in World War II, including the Lend-Lease policy. He rejected Roosevelt’s offers to help coordinate relief in Europe, but, with the help of old friends from the CRB, helped establish the Commission for Polish Relief. After the beginning of the occupation of Belgium in 1940, Hoover provided aid for Belgian civilians, though this aid was described as unnecessary by German broadcasts.
During a radio broadcast on June 29, 1941, one week after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Hoover disparaged any “tacit alliance” between the U.S. and the USSR, stating, “if we join the war and Stalin wins, we have aided him to impose more communism on Europe and the world… War alongside Stalin to impose freedom is more than a travesty. It is a tragedy.” Much to his frustration, Hoover was not called upon to serve after the United States entered World War II due to his differences with Roosevelt and his continuing unpopularity. He did not pursue the presidential nomination at the 1944 Republican National Convention, and, at the request of Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey, refrained from campaigning during the general election. In 1945, Hoover advised President Harry S. Truman to drop the United States’ demand for the unconditional surrender of Japan because of the high projected casualties of the planned invasion of Japan, although Hoover was unaware of the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb.
BERLIN, November 14
According to the German radio and the Warsaw Zeitung, Mr. Hoover’s American representative here has offered his congratulations to Dr. Frank, the tough little Nazi Governor of Poland, on the anniversary of his year in office. He congratulates him for what he has done for the Poles!
My information is that there will be no polish race left when Dr. Frank and his Nazi thugs get through with them. They can’t kill them all, of course, but they can enslave them all.
Hans Frank was tried for war crimes and executed in October 1946.
The month is winding down and so is Shirer’s stint as a correspondent in Nazi Germany.
BERLIN, November 20
Today was Busstag, some sort of German Protestant holiday. Feeling low, I went to a candlelight concert in the Charlottenburg castle and heard a string quartet play Bach nobly. I am definitely getting away from here by plane to Lisbon on December 5 if I can get all the necessary papers in time. The Foreign Office, the police, the secret police, and so on must approve my exit visa before I can leave. And getting Spanish and Portuguese visas is proving no easy job. Harry Flannery has arrived from St. Louis to take over.
Julius Streicher was executed along with Hans Frank on 16 October 1946l
BERLIN, November 23
I hear from party circles that Julius Streicher, the sadistic, Jew-baiting czar of Franconia and notorious editor of the anti-Semitic weekly Stürmer, has been arrested on orders of Hitler.
Much like America’s current Trump administration, the Nazis of Germany were not so steeped in ideology they would not dip their hands into the till.
If Hitler cared much, he could make some additional investigations. He could look into the little matter of how it came about that so many party leaders acquired great country estates and castles.
The grim reality of Nazi inhumanity is played out in Shirer’s final news posting of significance. The Nazis are killing undesirables. Here are some selected excerpts.
BERLIN, November 25
I have at last got to the bottom of these “mercy killings.”æ It’s an evil tale.
The Gestapo, with the knowledge and approval of the German government, is
systematically putting to death the mentally deficient population of the Reich. How
many have been executed probably only Himmler and a handful of Nazi chieftains
know. A conservative and trustworthy German tells me he estimates the number
at a hundred thousand. I think that figure is too high. But certain it is that the figure
runs into the thousands and is going up every day.
Pastor von Bodelschwingh returned to Bethel. The local Gauleiter ordered him to
turn over some ofhis inmates. Again he refused. Berlin then ordered his arrest. This
time the Gauleiter protested. The pastor was the most popular man in his province.
To arrest him in the middle of war would stir up a whole world of unnecessary trou-
ble. He himself declined to arrest the man. Let the Gestapo take the responsibility;
he wouldn’t. This was just before the night of September 18. The bombing of the
Bethel asylum followed. Now I understand why a few people wondered as to who
dropped the bombs.
This last notice is signed October 5, indicating that the authorities delayed three weeks in delivering the ashes. Twenty-four such advertisements, I’m informed, appeared in the Leipzig papers the first fortnight of last month.
No wonder that to Germans used to reading between the lines of their heavily censored newspapers, these notices have sounded highly suspicious. Does sudden death come naturally after “weeks of uncertainty”?
“We regret to inform you that your—, who was recently transferred to our institution by ministerial order, unexpectedly died on—of. All our medical efforts were unfortunately without avail.
“In view of the nature of his serious, incurable ailment, his death, which saved him from a lifelong institutional sojourn, is to be regarded merely as a release. “Because of the danger of contagion existing here, we were forced by order of the police to have the deceased cremated at once.”
But these notices have a strange ring to them, and the place Of
death is always given as one of three spots: (1 ) Grafeneck, a lonely castle situated
near Mtinzingen, sixty miles southeast of Stuttgart; (2) Hartheim, near Linz on the
Danube; (3) the Sonnenstein Public Medical and Nursing Institute at Pirna, near
Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten, October 26: “JOHANN DIEITRICH, FRONT SOL-
DIER 1914-1918, HOLDER OF SEVERAL WAR DECORATIONS, BORN JUNE 1, 1881,
DECEASED SEPTEMBER 23, 1940. AFTER WEEKS OF UNCERTAINTY, 1 RECEIVED
THE UNBELIEVABLE NEWS OF HIS SUDDEN DEATH AND CREMATION AT GRAFE•
NECK IN WURTTEMBERG.”
This is hardly a reassuring letter, even for the most gullible of Germans, and some of them, upon its receipt, have journeyed down to the lonely castle at Grafeneck, it seems, to make a few inquiries. They have found the castle guarded by black-coated S.S. men who denied them entrance. Newly painted signs on all roads and paths leading into the desolate grounds warned: “Seuchengefahr!” (“Keep away! Danger of pestilence!” ) Frightened peasants nearby have told them how the S.S. suddenly took over and threw a cordon around the estate. They told of seeing trucks thundering into the castle grounds—but only at night. Grafeneck, they said, had never been used as a hospital before.
Other relatives, I’m told, have demanded details from the establishment Hartheim, near Linz. They have been told to desist, and that if they talk, severe punishment will be meted out.
X, a German, told me yesterday that relatives are rushing to get their kin out of private asylums and out of the clutches of the authorities. He says the Gestapo is doing to death persons who are merely suffering temporary derangement or just plain nervous breakdown.
The third motive seems most likely to me. For years a group of radical Nazi sociologists who were instrumental in putting through the Reich’s sterilization laws have pressed for a national policy of eliminating the mentally unfit.
If the insane are killed off, it is further argued by the Nazis, there will be plenty of hospital space for the war wounded should the war be prolonged and large casual, ties occur.
It’s a Nazi, messy business—
To the west, Germany now occupied the once sovereign countries of France, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, and Norway. Multiple volumes would be required to detail the continued resistance the Nazis faced until the time the Allied invasion forced them out.
BERLIN, November 27
Many stories about increasing sabotage in Holland, The Germans are furious at the number of their men, in both the army and police, who are being shoved into the numerous Dutch canals on these dark nights and drowned.
I will conclude this review of Berlin Diary next month with Shirer’s account of his journey home.