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 1937 up through 7 May, 80 years ago. The first part of 1937 has few entries for Berlin Diary, the first one being 8 April:

BERLIN, April 8, 1937

April here and no Hitler surprise this spring yet. This may be a year of Nazi consolidation, building up the armed forces, assuring Franco victory in Spain, cementing relations with Italy (support for the Duce in Spain and the Mediterranean in return for his giving Germany a free hand in Austria and the Balkans), and giving the nerves of the German people a little rest.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 911-914). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And that was to be the case. During 1937 Germany’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War intensified. Shirer left Universal Services and joined forces with Edward R. Murrow in reporting the early weeks of the coming war.

BERLIN, May 3

Gordon Young of Reuter’s and I ran into Lord Lothian about midnight in the lobby of the Adlon. He arrived here suddenly yesterday to confer with Nazi leaders. Young asked him why he had come. “Oh, Göring asked me to,” he replied. He is probably the most intelligent of the Tories taken in by Hitler, Göring, and Ribbentrop. We wanted to ask him since when he was under orders from Göring, but refrained.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 926-930). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Lord Lothian will be an unfamiliar figure to all but historians. Here’s from his Wikipedia entry:

Philip Henry Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, KT CH PC DL (18 April 1882 – 12 December 1940), known as Philip Kerr until 1930, was a British politician, diplomat and newspaper editor. He was private secretary to Prime Minister David Lloyd George between 1916 and 1921. He played a major role in the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, and was responsible for including the War Guilt Clause which he later felt was a bad mistake. After succeeding a cousin in the marquessate in 1930, he held minor office from 1931 to 1932 in the National Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald. In the late 1930s, he was a leading advocate of appeasement of Germany, emphasizing the harshness of the Versailles Treaty and the dangers of Stalin’s communism. From 1939 until his death in December 1940 he was Ambassador to the United States, Proving highly successful in winning Americans support for the British war effort, most notably the Lend Lease program, which passed Congress after his death.

By this time German President Paul von Hindenburg had been dead for over two years. On this day, 80 years ago, the great airship named after him came to a fiery end:

BERLIN, May 7

Hillman awakened me with a phone call from London about four a.m. today to inform me that the Zeppelin Hindenburg had crashed at Lakehurst with the loss of several lives. I immediately phoned one of the men who designed it, at Friedrichshafen. He refused to believe my words. I telephoned London and gave them a little story for the late editions. I had hardly gone back to sleep when Claire Trask of the Columbia Broadcasting System phoned to ask me to do a broadcast on the German reaction to the disaster. I was a bit ill-tempered, I’m afraid, at being awakened so early. I told her I couldn’t do it and suggested two or three other correspondents. About ten she called back again and insisted I do it. I finally agreed, though I had never broadcast in my life.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 930-936). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer’s tenure with Universal Service was to come to an end later in the year, as the Hearst conglomerate folded its operations to cut its losses.

From this point forward I will post on the 80th anniversary of a related entry. Entries are sparse for 1937, but from 1938 going forward events in Europe were coming to a boil. Shirer’s first-hand look has been hard to duplicate. Juxtaposed against the official history, it often provides chilling insight.

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