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 covers the period 10 May to 20 August 1937, 80 years ago. There are few entries, but some are telling. In May Shirer completed the first draft of what he called “the Indian novel.” A short search does not turn up any such published work. In subsequent weeks German involvement in the Spanish Civil War escalated, and his journal entries dwelt on significant events:
BERLIN, May 30
I have rarely seen such indignation in the Wilhelmstrasse as today. Every official I saw was fuming. The Spanish republicans yesterday bombed the pocket-battleship Deutschland at Ibitza with good result, killing, according to the Germans, some twenty officers and men and wounding eighty. One informant tells me Hitler has been screaming with rage all day and wants to declare war on Spain. The army and navy are trying to restrain him.
Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 950-954). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
BERLIN, May 31
I feel like screaming with rage myself. The Germans this day have done a typical thing. They have bombarded the Spanish town of Almería with their warships as reprisal for the bombing of the Deutschland. Thus Hitler has his cheap revenge and a few more Spanish women and children are dead. The Wilhelmstrasse also announced Germany’s (and Italy’s) withdrawal from the Spanish naval patrol and from the non-intervention talks. Dr. Aschmann called us to the Foreign Office about ten a.m. to give us the news. He was very pious about it all. I was too outraged to ask questions, but Enderis and Lochner asked a few. Perhaps today’s action will end the farce of “non-intervention,” a trick by which Britain and France, for some strange reason, are allowing Hitler and Mussolini to triumph in Spain.
Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 954-961). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
The following month brought home the grim realities of Nazi rule, a portent of much to come:
BERLIN, June 4
Helmut Hirsch, a Jewish youth of twenty who was technically an American citizen though he had never been to America, was axed at dawn this morning. Ambassador Dodd fought for a month to save his life, but to no avail. It was a sad case, a typical tragedy of these days. He was convicted by the dreaded People’s Court, a court of inquisition set up by the Nazis a couple of years ago, of planning to murder Julius Streicher, the Nuremberger Jew-baiter. What kind of trial it was— no American or outside representatives were present— can only be imagined. I’ve seen a few trials before this court, though most of them are in camera, and a man scarcely has a chance, four of the five judges being Nazi party boys (the fifth is a regular judge) who do what they’re expected to do.
Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 961-967). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
Shirer’s surmise was that Hirsch was entrapped, provided with bomb materials and guns, then arrested when he crossed the border into Germany. Neat people, those Nazis.
There was church opposition to Hitler and the Nazis, and there were notorious repercussions:
BERLIN, June 15
Five more Protestant pastors arrested yesterday, including Jacobi from the big Gedächtniskirche. Hardly keep up with the church war any more since they arrested my informant, a young pastor; have no wish to endanger the life of another one.
Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 983-985). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
In July Shirer began to entertain prospects of new job opportunities. Jay Allen with the Chicago Tribune (“Chicago Daily News”) gave him Edward R. Murrow‘s card. Murrow was director of European operations for CBS. On 14 August Shirer’s position became tenuous:
BERLIN, August 14
Universal Service has folded after all. Hearst is cutting his losses. I am to remain here with INS, but as second man, which I do not like.
Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 1002-1003). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
Difficulties reporting from Nazi Germany escalated as the Nazi’s played power games with foreign correspondents:
BERLIN, August 16
Norman Ebbutt of the London Times, by far the best correspondent here, left this evening. He was expelled, following British action in kicking out two or three Nazi correspondents in London, the Nazis seizing the opportunity to get rid of a man they’ve hated and feared for years because of his exhaustive knowledge of this country and of what was going on behind the scenes. The Times, which has played along with the pro-Nazi Cliveden set, never gave him much support and published only half of what he wrote, and indeed is leaving Ebbutt’s assistant, Jimmy Holburn, to continue with the office here.
Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 1004-1008). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
Shortly thereafter Shirer lost his job due to cutbacks in the International News Service European staff. He then began his career with CBS, on the path that would shortly take him to international notoriety.
BERLIN, August 20
I have a job. I am to go to work for the Columbia Broadcasting System. That is, if…. And what an if it is! It is this way: It is crazy. I have the job if my voice is all right. That’s the catch. Who ever heard of an adult with no pretentions to being a singer or any other kind of artist being dependent for a good, interesting job on his voice? And mine is terrible. I’m positive of it. But that’s my situation tonight.
Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 1027-1031). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
Future posts will chronicle Shirer’s radio news postings with CBS in collaboration with Ed Morrow. The world was about to view the onset of another world war in nearly real time. It was a first for this planet.