A radio broadcaster and journalist for Edward R. Murrow at CBS, William L. Shirer was new to the world of broadcast journalism when he began keeping a diary while on assignment in Europe during the 1930s. It was in 1940, when he was still virtually unknown, that Shirer wondered whether his eyewitness account of the collapse of the world around Nazi Germany could be of any interest or value as a book.
Shirer’s Berlin Diary, which is considered the first full record of what was happening in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich, appeared in 1941. The book was an instant success—and would not be the last of his expert observations on Europe.
Shirer returned to the European front in 1944 to cover the end of the war. As the smoke cleared, Shirer—who watched the birth of a monster that threatened to engulf the world—now stood witness to the death of the Third Reich. End of a Berlin Diary chronicles this year-long study of Germany after Hitler. Through a combination of Shirer’s lucid, honest reporting, along with passages on the Nuremberg trials, copies of captured Nazi documents, and an eyewitness account of Hitler’s last days, Shirer provides insight into the unrest, the weariness, and the tentative steps world leaders took towards peace.
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PART I Beginning of the Peace
New York, Thursday, July 20, 1944
Someone threw a bomb at Hitler, but Berlin claims he escaped with only minor injuries. The luck of the man! Still ... is it not the beginning of the end?
Lake Placid, Thursday, July 25
The mountains and the lake and the clear air and the smell of pines and the wild laughter of the kids and all the comfortable, well-off folk — and the bloody war so far away. ... My musician friends came over to the cottage to play chamber music and sip beer. They played Mozart's Quartet in F Major for oboe and strings — one of my great favorites. The oboe-player, a youngster from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, who kept telling me that oboe-players usually end up in the lunatic asylum, was magnificent — and quite sane.
New York, Sunday, August 20
Tomorrow at Dumbarton Oaks, an old Washington colonial mansion lately used by Harvard for early Christian and medieval research, there will be held the first of the most important international conferences that we shall ever see in my lifetime. Representatives of the United States, Britain, and Russia will sit down and attempt to do what human beings have never been able — in their monumental foolishness — to do in the long and sorry history of the human race: prevent war by collective action. ... The time is late. Another war, with its giant rockets and flying bombs — will no doubt finish the human race. This is probably our last chance to save ourselves!
New York, Wednesday, August 23
Paris, the glory of France, as Montaigne said, has been liberated! ...
New York, Sunday, August 27
Berlin is trying to frighten us with tall talk about an atomic bomb. Scientists do say that the explosive force released by splitting the atom is more deadly than any hitherto discovered. But a scientist who knows a great deal about the atom — Theodore Svedberg, a Swede and Nobel prize-winner for his work with atoms — said last week: "Talk about the atom bomb is so much hooey."
New York, Sunday, September 10
The Battle of Germany has begun! Today — for the first time in history, I believe — American artillery shells began hitting German soil.
New York, Monday, September 18
The Germans at last are facing something all of them — from generals to peasants — have feared above everything else for the last century: an all-out attack on the Fatherland from the east and the west. That they will fight tenaciously and even fanatically cannot now be doubted. But if you study the writings of the great German generals from Clausewitz down to the generals of this war, you will find that they, at least, never believed it possible for Germany to survive the ordeal of a two-front war....
New York, Friday, September 29
The Russian phase of the World Security Conference at Dumbarton Oaks has ended. ... From what I hear, there has been a wide divergence in the approach of the Soviets and ourselves to the whole problem of the peace structure. ...
London, Friday, October 6
It bucks you up to be back in battered, brave, grimy London even if it is just a stopover place on your way back to Germany, where you saw the war start and where — sooner or later — you will see it end, though not exactly as the Master Race calculated.
London seems as unshakable as ever. There is a stamina in its stout, smoke-covered walls and in its people that is incredible. Bruised though it is, and may be again, no doubt, it will go on until the end of time — one of the great cities of the world.
London, Sunday, October 8
Judith phoned at noon and said Wendell Willkie had died. This came as a great shock. I had written him a kidding note about his illness a few days before I left New York. Since returning home, I had come to have a warm affection for him and I liked what he stood for in America.
I wonder if Willkie ever solved his great dilemma: what to do before the election? He often spoke of how Dewey's election would be a "catastrophe." He wanted to remain effective in American political life; he wanted to keep the following of five million or so voters who stood for the things he did. If he came out against Dewey too flatly, he used to argue, they might conclude it was a case of sour grapes at his not having received the nomination. We often discussed it through the night.
London, Monday, October 9
Details of Dumbarton Oaks published in today's newspapers. The new League of Nations — man's last chance perhaps? — will be called simply "The United Nations" and it will have the teeth the League lacked, being empowered to take such air, land, or naval action as will be "necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security."
Paris, Thursday, October 19
And how different this Paris from the one I last saw in the tragic June days of 1940 (how distant they seem!) when I came in with the German army. The streets and the great boulevards were deserted then, the shutters down, the shops, cafés, and bistros closed. The streets belonged to the strutting Prussians. Today the pest is gone, the streets animated and full of bustling French, free again and drinking in lustily their freedom....
Verdun, Monday, November 6
A pouring rain, the mud outside ankle-deep, the barracks bitterly cold and lacking even latrines — why could the French, who built this camp after the last war, not give their soldiers more decent quarters? ...This is headquarters of 12th Army Group, comprising the Third, First, and Ninth armies.
Curious, coming back to Verdun, the glory of France in the last war though it was a ghastly graveyard. Do you remember the last time you were here, the June days many years ago, bicycling with Camille?
Already — 1926 it was — the grass was beginning to grow where there had been such massive, savage slaughter, and you two had looked on the "sacred trench" where the bayonets of the poilus had stuck out after they had been buried alive by what one shell had done, and on the ruins of Forts Douaumont and Vaux, where courageous Frenchmen had hurled back the flower of the Crown Prince's army — you had looked on them as museum pieces, relics of the last great war of our time.
The last great war! And for you two, you thought, there would be always peace and always June days in the country like this, you idiots, with the wondrous June evenings and a friendship turning to love, maybe, now that summer was come.
Spa, Belgium, Tuesday, November 7
Here Hindenburg and Ludendorff on September 9, 1918, came to call on the Kaiser at his quarters in the Hotel Britannica to tell him that the jig was up, the war lost — the very Hotel Britannica that I found this evening, after stumbling through the blacked-out streets, to be the headquarters of General Hodges, commander of the U.S. First Army.
Aachen, Germany, Wednesday, November 8
I came back to Germany today for the first time since the end of 1940, when I had left Berlin. Then I had said to myself: "I never want to see this city again or this German country or these German people." But fate — and your job — would have it otherwise.
I saw these people again today — a few of them — and a tiny corner of their land and this former Imperial city. There is not much left of the city but a mass of rubble. The people, once so arrogant, once so sure of world mastery, are a sorry specimen to behold. Beaten they are; whipped. And they know it and proclaim it, as they dig in the rubble and, as night comes, crawl down to their holes in the cellars.
My first impressions of this day will go into a dispatch to the New York Herald Tribune syndicate, which must be written first, since my deadline is tonight:
Here in the city of Charlemagne, where your correspondent once heard Adolf Hitler boast that his Third Reich would last a thousand years, if not longer, one can see Nazism dead amongst the ruins.
Bent and broken Germans of all ages, but mostly old, dig in the debris which is all there is left of this once proud city of 160,000 inhabitants. American artillery thunders from behind the town and shells explode in the German lines not far away. Occasionally a German shell comes over, adding its might to the utter destruction of this German town. Civilians, a little shell-shocked still from the bombardment and bombings and shocked, too, that the war which Hitler waged so long in distant lands should return to lay waste to their German homes, pause in their digging to curse "the brown pest," meaning the Nazis. They dig and curse, and as night falls they crawl down to their cellar holes, dark and cold and damp, to prepare a sparse evening meal.
Pitiful specimens of humanity, you think. And yet I saw them in this same historic town exactly four years ago. They were not bent or broken or shell-shocked then. They did not curse the "brown pest" then. They cheered it. For it had, they thought — and some of them admitted it to me today — won them a great war. Swastika flags flew from their windows and the citizens greeted one another with a resounding "Heil Hitler!"
Today when Hitler is mentioned it is with a curse. And for a very simple reason. He has brought ruin to Germany — ruin they never dreamed was possible four years ago....
Paris, Saturday, November 11
This has been a memorable day — and, for once, a happy one — in my life!
In my younger days I had often gone over to the Champs-Élysées on Armistice Day, walked up the broad avenue to the Arc de Triomphe, glimpsed the eternal flame burning over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the arch, and watched the French troops parade past the great crowds. Usually it would be a raw, dark, drizzly autumn day, and as the years went by and memories faded, the event was not so memorable as it once had been. One forgot so much: the dead in the war and why they died.
My own generation, nurturing its cynicism, did not believe in war. It was pretty sure the dead of 1914-18 had died in vain. If that unknown fellow under the great tomb were alive, he would agree, we thought. It was all for nothing, his sacrifice. Look at our slimy, selfish, quarreling, crooked, putrid world. Was it any better for all the dead men in the war? The unknown one — if you were honest about it — hadn't had a choice anyway. Probably he had not had the slightest wish to make the sacrifice of himself. Maybe he had even found life worth living. He had been drafted away, like everyone else in France, given a gun, and ordered to the front. Then a bullet or a shell splinter had stopped him, toppling him over into the mud. A great accident had made him a hero, albeit an unidentified one. And homage to him had become a cult — especially on the Eleventh of November each year.
But each year, I seemed to notice, less people turned out on the Champs-Élysées on Armistice Day. They stayed at home and got caught up on their sleep, or played with their kids or maybe went out to a bistro or a café or a bar and got drunk and picked up a girl. It got to be more and more like that. Finally I stopped turning out altogether. The hell with these war holidays....
But today the true glory of the day was restored. Standing in the crowd of a million Parisians who lined the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, an American could feel the resurrection of a great nation and of the people who belonged to it. It is difficult to describe with any accuracy the emotions of a great mass of human beings assembled in the street. But if you remembered what they had been through, the betrayal by their own leaders, the four years of slavery under the German savages, and then suddenly the liberation by their friends, you could begin to understand.
At first, during the early morning when they were gathering on the avenue, they struck me as being in a subdued state of excitement. They had to pinch themselves to believe that what they were doing and seeing this day, what they were — free again — was all true. They chatted quietly or not at all — and stood and waited.
Then suddenly something happened. All the pent-up feelings of years exploded. I don't think I had ever seen this before. It was just before the traditional hour of eleven a.m. Down toward the Place de la Concorde we heard the cheers break out. But it wasn't ordinary cheering. It was a mighty roar — even in the distance. Where I was, nobody knew why. Some snooty-looking limousines were slowly making their way up the avenue. De Gaulle would be in the first one, standing stiffly and saluting. He was popular because of what he had done. But he was not the sort of man to set crowds afire.
And then we knew. The cars approached. De Gaulle was in the first one all right, standing stiffly and saluting. It was what was at his side that set the sparks off. Standing at his side was Winston Churchill, his cherubic face lit up as I have never seen it before, his hands waving majestically to right and left. At this moment he became, for the moment, a great symbol to these people, the symbol of France's liberators. And because not a single one of the million people had expected to see him at this instant, the complete surprise and the lightning-sure recognition of the man they knew as the one who, above all others, had saved them, touched off the explosive materials that had lain long and deep in all of them. For security reasons — so that the Germans would not try to sneak through a fighter bomber or two — the public had not been told that Churchill was in Paris or even in France.
At the sight of him there was bedlam. Now you could really see human beings mad with joy. They shouted wildly, gripped by a wonderful hysteria. They shouted and stamped and gesticulated and crawled on one another so that their eyes would not lose view of the man. After he passed, there was a reaction. Several around me were in tears. ... Gratitude is not very plentiful in this world; but today the French, who are not noted for it, had it. Probably it would not last. Woodrow Wilson had been received like this in Milan and Rome after the last war; less than a year later the Italians were cursing him as a dirty betrayer. Churchill's fate might be similar. Today it did not seem to matter. The present was too overwhelming.
In the afternoon Sonia and I motored out to Compiègne Forest. There was to be a little ceremony there I wanted very much to see. I had seen the last one in this forest. I had been present that black day of June 22, 1940, when the Germans had dictated their armistice to France. Through the car windows of the little old French wagon-lit coach where the first armistice had been signed at five a.m. on November 11, 1918, I had watched the sickening ceremony. The Germans had been very arrogant, some of the French had cried, and I had very nearly lost all hope. But not all. Maybe I shall yet live to see the day, I permitted myself recklessly to think, when the Germans and French will again be back in this rickety old Pullman coach. And the third time will be like the first. It did not seem probable, but it could happen. History was so full of fantastic reverses. And Europeans, when they were on top, were so short-sighted.
On the late afternoon of June 22, four years ago, it had been my lot to be the first to broadcast to the world the news that France had signed the armistice and was, for the time being anyway, finished. It had begun to sprinkle soon after the broadcast. I had walked out to the clearing to glimpse the sky. An army of German engineers, shouting lustily, had already started to move the armistice car.
"Where to?" I had asked.
"To Berlin," they had said.
It had indeed been moved to Berlin and shown to all the gawking Herrenvolk as a symbol of their great revenge and their high triumph. Then an Allied bomb had destroyed it. Perhaps — I always liked to think — the superstitious Teutons had seen an evil omen in its destruction. Already the victory that seemed so certain in 1940 had begun to slip away.
It was nearly dusk when Sonia and I arrived at the little clearing of Rethondes in the Compiègne Forest. Some three thousand people, mostly from the neighboring villages, had gathered there. There was a platoon of French and another of American troops and a scattering of officials. I recognized the bearded face of old Jules Jeanneney, who had been president of the Senate and who had refused to go along with the perfidies of Pétain and Laval.
The clearing itself looked bare except for the statue of Foch in one corner. For some reason the Huns had spared it. All the other monuments they had dynamited and removed. Grass grew over the spot where the French monument to Alsace-Lorraine had been. It was in front of this one that I had watched Hitler step out of his car on the first afternoon of the June armistice negotiations. He had had it covered with German war flags so that he and his gang would not have to gaze upon the Allied sword sticking into a large, limp eagle that represented Imperial Germany in 1918. He did not want to see that nor read the lettering, which said: "To the Heroic Soldiers of France — Defenders of the Country and of Right — Glorious Liberators of Alsace-Lorraine."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "End of a Berlin Diary"
Copyright © 1947 William L. Shirer.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART I Beginning of the Peace,
PART II End of a Berlin Diary,