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.

In September 1937 Shirer began a series of radio broadcasts for CBS from Europe. Up to this point Hitler was confining his reign of terror to Germany. As 1937 drew to a close, events leading up to Armageddon were developing in Germany. This episode covers Shirer’s notes from 5 September to the end of the year.

BERLIN, September 5

Did my trial broadcast this Sabbath day. Just before it began I was very nervous, thinking of what was at stake and that all depended upon what a silly little microphone and an amplifier and the ether between Berlin and New York did to my voice. Kept thinking also of all those CBS vice-presidents sniffing at what they heard.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 81). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

By this time Shirer’s wife Tess was pregnant, and the family was preparing for the birth in Europe. Shirer’s trial broadcast was well-received back home, and his position became “permanent.”

NUREMBERG, September 13

Murrow called and said I’m hired. Start October 1. Wired Tess. Celebrated a little tonight, I fear, on the very potent local Franconian wine. Prentiss Gilbert, our counsellor of Embassy, has been here, the first American diplomat to attend a Nazi Party Congress.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 82). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

During this period Hitler’s campaign of oppression began to be everywhere manifest:

BERLIN, September 27

Tess back, feeling fine, and we’re packing. We are to make our headquarters in Vienna, a neutral and central spot for me to work from. Most of our old friends have left— the Gunthers, the Whit Burnetts— but it is always that way in this game. Go to London next week, then Paris, Geneva, and Rome to meet the radio people, renew contacts with the newspaper offices, and, in Rome, to find out if the Pope is really dying, as reported. We are glad to be leaving Berlin.

To sum up these three years: Personally, they have not been unhappy ones, though the shadow of Nazi fanaticism, sadism, persecution, regimentation, terror, brutality, suppression, militarism, and preparation for war has hung over all our lives, like a dark, brooding cloud that never clears. Often we have tried to segregate ourselves from it all. We have found three refuges: Ourselves and our books; the “foreign colony,” small, limited, somewhat narrow, but normal, and containing our friends— the Barneses, the Robsons, the Ebbuttses, the Dodds, the Deuels, the Oechsners, Gordon Young, Doug Miller, Sigrid Schultz, Leverich, Jake Beam, and others; thirdly, the lakes and woods around Berlin, where you could romp and play and sail and swim, forgetting so much. The theatre has remained good when it has stuck to the classics or pre-Nazi plays, and the opera and the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, despite the purging of the Jews and the year’s disciplining of Fuertwängler (who has now made his peace with Satan), have given us the best music we’ve ever heard outside of New York and Vienna. Personally too there was the excitement of working here, the “Saturday surprises,” the deeper story of this great land in evil ferment.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 83-84). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The note from 27 September contains additional indications that Germany was at the time girding for war.

But Germany is stronger than her enemies realize. True, it is a poor country in raw materials and agriculture; but it is making up for this poverty in aggressiveness of spirit, ruthless state planning, concentrated direction of effort, and the building up of a mighty military machine with which it can back up its aggressive spirit. True, too, that this past winter we have seen long lines of sullen people before the food shops, that there is a shortage of meat and butter and fruit and fats, that whipped cream is verboten, that men’s suits and women’s dresses are increasingly being made out of wood pulp, gasoline out of coal, rubber out of coal and lime; that there is no gold coverage for the Reichsmark or for anything else, not even for vital imports. Weaknesses, most of them, certainly, and in our dispatches we have advertised them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 84-85). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Much of what is going on and will go on could be learned by the outside world from Mein Kampf, the Bible and Koran together of the Third Reich. But— amazingly— there is no decent translation of it in English or French, and Hitler will not allow one to be made, which is understandable, for it would shock many in the West. How many visiting butter-and-egg men have I told that the Nazi goal is domination! They laughed. But Hitler frankly admits it. He says in Mein Kampf: “A state which in an age of racial pollution devotes itself to cultivation of its best racial elements must some day become master of the earth…. We all sense that in a far future mankind may face problems which can be surmounted only by a supreme Master Race supported by the means and resources of the entire globe.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 85-86). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

He says in Mein Kampf: “A state which in an age of racial pollution devotes itself to cultivation of its best racial elements must some day become master of the earth…. We all sense that in a far future mankind may face problems which can be surmounted only by a supreme Master Race supported by the means and resources of the entire globe.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 85-86). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

During this time the Shirers left Nazi Germany for what they thought would be the safety of Austria.

I leave Germany in this autumn of 1937 with the words of a Nazi marching song still dinning in my ears:

Today we own Germany, Tomorrow the whole world.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 87). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Christmas day is the final entry in the diary for 1937:

VIENNA, December 25

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 89). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

VIENNA, December 25 Christmased this afternoon with the Wileys; John our chargé d’affaires here now. Walter Duranty there, as always, the Fodors, etc. Chip Bohlan, on leave from the Moscow Embassy, came with me to the studio of the Austrian Broadcasting Company to help me shepherd the youngsters of the American colony through a Christmas broadcast. A childish job and one that I do not like, being too much interested in the political situation at present.

We are nicely installed in an apartment in the Ploesslgasse, next door to the Rothschild palace. The owners, being Jewish, have removed themselves to Czechoslovakia for greater safety, though Schuschnigg seems to have the situation fairly well in hand here. Vienna, though, is terribly poor and depressing compared to our last sojourn here, from 1929 to 1932. The workers are sullen, even those who have jobs, and one sees beggars on every street corner. A few people have money and splash it at the night-clubs and a few fashionable restaurants such as the Drei Husaren and Am Franziskanerplatz. The contrast is sickening and the regime is resented by the masses, who are either reverting to their old Socialist Party, which is fairly strong underground, or going over to Nazism. The great mistake of this clerical dictatorship is not to have a social program. Hitler and Mussolini have not made that mistake. Still, there is more to eat here than in Germany, and the dictatorship is much milder— the difference between Prussians and Austrians! Next to Paris I love this town, even now, more than any other in Europe, the Gemütlichkeit, charm, and intelligence of its people, the baroque of its architecture, the good taste, the love of art and life, the softness of the accent, the very mild quality of the whole atmosphere. A great deal of anti-Semitism here, which plays nicely into the hands of the Nazis, but then there always was— ever since the days of Mayor Karl Lueger, Hitler’s first mentor on the subject when he was down and out in this city. Have had much good talk with Duranty, who is living here for a few months; the Fodors, she lovable as before, he a walking dictionary on central Europe and generous in telling what he knows; Emil Vadnai of the New York Times, a Hungarian of great charm, knowledge, and intelligence. Had Duranty broadcast the other day, though New York was afraid his voice was too high. Came a cable the same evening from Chicago: “… your clear, bell-like voice…” signed by Mary Garden, who ought to know.

We wait for the baby, due in seven weeks now, arguing the while over names.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 89-91). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

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One thought on “Years of Living Dangerously

  1. Pingback: Years of Living Dangerously | Skeptical Analysis

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