Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book.

This installment will cover the year 1935. It was during this year that Nazi Germany began to assert itself with overt rearmament and with moves to expand its territory. Here’s the first entry for 1935:

BERLIN, January 14, 1935

The good Catholics and workers of the Saar voted themselves back into the Reich yesterday. Some ninety per cent voted for reunion— more than we had expected, though no doubt many were afraid that they would be found out and punished unless they cast their ballot for Hitler. Well, at least one cause of European tension disappears. Hitler has said, and repeated in a broadcast yesterday, that the Saar was the last territorial

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 339-342). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Saarland was pivotal in the expansion of Nazi Germany. Wikipedia has the details:

In 1920 the Saargebiet was occupied by Britain and France under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. The occupied area included portions of the Prussian Rhine Province and the Bavarian Rhenish Palatinate. In practice the region was administered by France. In 1920 this was formalized by a 15-year League of Nations mandate.

The occupation rankled German nationalism at the time, and the return of Saarland was a key item on the Nazis’ political agenda, a cause that gave them considerable lift with their people.


The Germans formally occupied the Saar today. There has been a pouring rain all day, but it has not dampened the enthusiasm of the local inhabitants. They do have the Nazi bug, badly. But I shall come back here in a couple of years to see how they like it then— the Catholics and the workers, who form the great majority of the population. Hitler strode in this afternoon and reviewed the S.S. and the troops.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 349-352). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The French were supposed to be the enforcers of the partitioning, and there is general agreement that had they acted against the German incursion there would have been an immediate withdrawal into Germany. Some think that would also have spelled the end of Hitler’s political power. In  the event, no such action was taken by the Allies, and Hitler put the reoccupation of the Saar in his “win” column, one of an unbroken succession that was to continue until September 1939. Matters began to develop in diplomatic circles:

BERLIN, March 15

Simon, it’s now announced, will come here March 24. But all is not well. Göring has told the Daily Mail, which through Lord Rothermere, its owner, and Ward Price, its roving correspondent— both pro-Nazi— has become a wonderful Nazi mouthpiece and sounding-board, that Germany is building up a military air force.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 367-370). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

“Simon” was British Foreign Secretary John Simon:

In 1931, when the Liberals split once again, Simon became leader of the Liberal Nationals (later to become the National Liberals) who continued to support protectionism and Ramsay MacDonald‘s National Government after the departure of the mainstream Liberals under Herbert Samuel. Simon was never opposed by a Conservative candidate at Spen Valley after 1924, and over time, Simon’s Liberal Nationals became hardly distinguishable from the Conservatives, but some Conservative MPs continued to be known locally as “National Liberals” for decades after the Second World War.


Tonight the Wilhelmstrasse people protested against France’s increasing the period of conscription for the French army.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 371-372). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

France, which had taken no action in response to the reoccupation of the Saar, was beginning to acknowledge the heat of its historic nemesis across the border. The Nazi government, in calculated fashion, loudly disclaimed all actions by other powers in reaction to Germany’s increasingly threatening posture. Each time another government took defensive action, Goebbels’ propaganda mill ground out a response that worked to justify Germany’s increasingly aggressive moves. Later:

The Paris office told me tonight that the French were excited and were trying to get the British to do something, but that London was holding back.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Location 389-390). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Slack as the French were, the Brits were even less prone to react. There was a strong movement in the island nation to resist rearmament and to avoid additional conflict with Germany.

A theme began to be manifest, a theme with which all would grow to become accustomed:

BERLIN, March 17

The first paragraph of my dispatch tonight sums up this extraordinary day: “This Heroes Memorial Day in memory of Germany’s two million war dead was observed today amid scenes unequalled since 1914 as rebirth of Germany’s military power brought forth professions of peace mixed with defiance.”

Hitler and his henchmen were in the royal box, but he himself did not speak. General von Blomberg spoke for him, though it seemed to me that he was uttering words certainly penned by the Führer. Said Blomberg: “The world has been made to realize that Germany did not die of its defeat in the World War. Germany will again take the place she deserves among the nations. We pledge ourselves to a Germany which will never surrender and never again sign a treaty which cannot be fulfilled. We do not need revenge because we have gathered glory enough through the centuries.” As Hitler looked on approvingly, the general continued: “We do not want to be dragged into another world war. Europe has become too small for another world-war battlefield. Because all nations have equal means at their disposal for war, the future war would mean only self-mutilation for all. We want peace with equal rights and security for all. We seek no more.”

Not lacking was a battalion of air-force men in sky-blue uniforms who goose-stepped like the veterans they undoubtedly are— but are not supposed to be.

Every German I’ve talked to today has applauded these lines. One of the Germans in my office, no Nazi, said: “Can the world expect a fairer offer of peace?” I admit it sounds good, but Ebbutt keeps warning me to be very sceptical, which I hope I am.

Tomorrow, according to our office, the Times will take a conciliatory line. My guess is that Hitler has got away with it.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 407-452). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The restoration of German honor, the sense of righting historic wrongs, eventually the demand for lebensraum, would come to be justification for attack, invasion, subjugation, and mass murder. The product of years of covert military buildup increasingly showed through.

Ten years later, minus ten days, American forces crossed the Rhine at Remagen.

Shirer continues to observe the desperate plight of German Jews:

BERLIN, April 11

Many Jews come to us these days for advice or help in getting to England or America, but unfortunately there is little we can do for them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 466-472). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

BAD SAAROW, April 21 (Easter)

Taking the Easter week-end off. The hotel mainly filled with Jews and we are a little surprised to see so many of them still prospering and apparently unafraid. I think they are unduly optimistic.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 473-475). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Hitler continues to preach peace and to deny that which he is steadfastly planning:

BERLIN, May 21

Hitler made a grandiose “peace” speech in the Reichstag this evening and I fear it will impress world opinion and especially British opinion more than it should. The man is truly a superb orator and in the atmosphere of the hand-picked Reichstag, with its six hundred or so sausage-necked, shaved-headed, brown-clad yes-men, who rise and shout almost every time Hitler pauses for breath, I suppose he is convincing to Germans who listen to him. Anyway, tonight he was in great form and his program— of thirteen points— will convince a lot of people. It’s rather an amazing program, at that; very astutely drawn up. Leading up to it, Hitler screamed: “Germany needs peace…. Germany wants peace…. No one of us means to threaten anybody.” As to Austria: “Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria, or to conclude an Anschluss.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 481-488). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Continuing, something all tyrants find necessary. His 13-point program, which he laid out this day, included an interesting point number 12:

12. Something should be done to prohibit the poisoning of public opinion among the nations by irresponsible elements orally or in writing, and in the theatre or the cinema.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 506-507). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

If anybody had not already noticed, it was now proclaimed that disagreeing with der Führer was not only unpatriotic, but also criminal.

Shirer notes that British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin has, on this day, replaces Ramsay MacDonald.


The British continue to make concessions to appease Hitler:

BERLIN, June 18

It’s in the bag, signed today in London. The Wilhelmstrasse quite elated. Germany gets a U-boat tonnage equal to Britain’s. Why the British have agreed to this is beyond me. German submarines almost beat them in the last war, and may in the next.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 523-525). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer tells of a conversation that day with a fellow correspondent.

Usually Norman Ebbutt presides, sucking at an old pipe the night long, talking and arguing in a weak, high-pitched voice, imparting wisdom, for he has been here a long time, has contacts throughout the government, party, churches, and army, and has a keen intelligence. Of late he has complained to me in private that the Times does not print all he sends, that it does not want to hear too much of the bad side of Nazi Germany and apparently has been captured by the pro-Nazis in London.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 529-533). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Wikipedia elaborates:

During his time in Berlin Norman Ebbutt became well acquainted with top government officials and counted Chancellor Heinrich Brüning among his friends. He was distrustful of Hitler and disliked the Nazis. In April 1933 he wrote in The Times: “Herr Hitler, in his speeches as Chancellor, has professed a peaceful foreign policy. But this does not prove that the underlying spirit of the new Germany is a peaceful one. Germany is inspired by the determination to recover all it has lost and has little hope of doing so by peaceful means. Influential Germans do not see ten years elapsing before the war they regard as natural or inevitable breaks out in Europe. One may hear five or six years mentioned.”

Later journalist and author Douglas Reed described the article as “a masterpiece of careful political forecasting, based on expert knowledge.”  However, Ebbutt felt his message about the real mood of Germany was not being fully conveyed to the British public, because of The Times and its editor Geoffrey Dawson.

A recalcitrant British press poorly served its readers during this period.

By October the reality of war was becoming impossible to ignore. Benito Mussolini’s fascist state was Hitler’s inspiration, and we owe much to Mussolini for the germination of Nazism and the rise of Adolph Hitler, an early spiritual follower. At the conclusion it was Hitler that showed the muscle and who became fascist Italy’s foster father, indulging enormous succor, ultimately fatally, as Mussolini’s failures dragged down the Nazi war effort.

The year wraps up with a recognition of journalistic reality in Nazi Germany:

BERLIN, December 30

Dodd called us in today for a talk with William Phillips, Under Secretary of State, who is visiting here. We asked him what action Washington would take if the Nazis began expelling us. He gave an honest answer. He said: None. Our point was that if the Wilhelmstrasse knew that for every American correspondent expelled, a German newspaperman at home would be kicked out, perhaps the Nazis would think twice before acting against us. But the Secretary said the State Department was without law to act in such a case— a lovely example of one of our democratic weaknesses.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 562-566). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

William E. Dodd was the American ambassador to Germany. He served a critical role during a critical time:

On October 12, 1933 Dodd gave a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Berlin, with Joseph Goebbels and Alfred Rosenberg in attendance, and used an elaborate analogy based on Roman history to criticize the Nazis as “half-educated statesmen” who adopted the “arbitrary modes” of an ancient tyrant.[42] His views grew more critical and pessimistic with the Night of the Long Knives in June–July 1934, when the Nazis killed prominent political opponents including many dissenters within the Nazi movement. Dodd was one of the very few in the U.S. and European diplomatic community who reported that the Nazis were too strongly entrenched for any opposition to emerge. In May 1935 he reported to his State Department superiors that Hitler intended “to annex part of the Corridor, part of Czechoslovakia, and all of Austria.” A few months later he predicted a German-Italian alliance. Feeling ineffectual, Dodd offered to resign, but Roosevelt allowed him only a recuperative visit to the U.S. The President wrote to U.S Ambassador to Italy Breckinridge Long in September 1935 that he and Dodd had been “far more accurate in your pessimism for the past two years than any of my other friends in Europe.” In a note to Assistant Secretary of State R. Walton Moore that same month, he wrote of Dodd: “we most certainly do not want him to consider resigning. I need him in Berlin.” Dodd reported to Secretary of State Hull in September 1936 that Hitler’s domestic economic policies, rearmament, and Rhineland initiatives had consolidated his support to the point that he could count on the support of the German people for a declaration of war “in any measure he might undertake.”

Following a U.S. vacation of several months in 1936, Dodd devoted the fall to testing German reaction to a personal meeting between Roosevelt and Hitler, an initiative the President proposed, or a world peace conference. After a series of rebuffs, Dodd produced a report for the State Department dated November 28, 1936, which Assistant Secretary Moore commended and forwarded to Roosevelt. He decried the tendency of Europeans to refuse to believe that Hitler meant to carry out the expansionist plans he had outlined in Mein Kampf. He described Hitler’s success in outmaneuvering France and Great Britain diplomatically and forging ties with Italy and Spain. Assessing the current situation he wrote: “there does not appear to be any vital force or combination of forces which will materially impede Germany in pursuit of her ambitions.”

1936 was year that saw Germany start to exercise its military might, beginning with the re-militarization of the Rhineland. This was also the year Germany and Italy worked to tip the scales decisively in favor of the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. Coverage of 1936 will begin in the next installment of this review.


One thought on “Years of Living Dangerously

  1. Pingback: Years of Living Dangerously | Skeptical Analysis

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