Shirer Examines the Rise of Nazi Ideology in

In Berlin Diary, William L. Shirer produced a firsthand account of the development and spread of Nazi ideology in Germany leading up to World War II. The book was a precursor to his more comprehensive history of the nazi regime, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich—a hauntingly accurate assessment of the evils of Nazism

Summary of Event

The first entry in William L. Shirer’s Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 (1941) is dated January 11, 1934, and was written in Lloret De Mar, Spain, where Shirer and his wife, Tess, had been loafing for a year. Shirer had come to Paris in 1925, wandered Europe, caught malaria and dysentery in India and Afghanistan, and survived a skiing accident in the Alps that cost him an eye. His book provides an account of the next eight years of the journalist’s career. Berlin Diary (Shirer)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];German domestic experience
[kw]Shirer Examines the Rise of Nazi Ideology in Berlin Diary (1941)
[kw]Nazi Ideology in Berlin Diary, Shirer Examines the Rise of (1941)
[kw]Berlin Diary, Shirer Examines the Rise of Nazi Ideology in (1941)
Berlin Diary (Shirer)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];German Domestic Experience
[g]North America;1941: Shirer Examines the Rise of Nazi Ideology in Berlin Diary[00060]
[g]United States;1941: Shirer Examines the Rise of Nazi Ideology in Berlin Diary[00060]
[c]Publishing and Journalism;1941: Shirer Examines the Rise of Nazi Ideology in Berlin Diary[00060]
[c]political Science;1941: Shirer Examines the Rise of Nazi Ideology in Berlin Diary[00060]
[c]World War II;1941: Shirer Examines the Rise of Nazi Ideology in Berlin Diary[00060]
Shirer, William L.
hitler, Adolf
[p]hitler, Adolf;nazism
Murrow, Edward R.

Shirer left Spain to accept a “bad offer” from the Paris Herald and arrived in the French capital just in time to witness, on February 7, 1934, the riots protesting the government of the new prime minister, Édouard Daladier Daladier, Édouard . The following August, Shirer accepted a job with Universal Services in Berlin, a perfect vantage point from which to monitor the raving and posturing of Adolf Hitler in such acts as his restoration on March 16, 1935, of Universal military service in defiance of the Versailles Treaty, a daring move that was followed a year later by his tearing up of the Locarno Treaty, which had demilitarized the Rhineland.

When Universal Services folded in August, 1937, Shirer welcomed distinguished newsman Edward R. Murrow’s offer of a new career as a broadcast journalist for the Columbia Broadcasting System (Cbs). Transmitting mainly from Berlin, Shirer was well positioned to observe the major events in Hitler’s campaign to overrun Europe, but He struggled constantly with the Nazi censors. The Wehrmacht (German Army) invaded Austria in the Anschluss of March, 1938, but Shirer was forbidden to broadcast the story from his location in Vienna.

A sobbing Murrow called Shirer from Warsaw and sent him to London, where he could transmit uncensored “Our First European Radio Round-up,” with Murrow contributing from Vienna, Pierre Huss huss, Pierre from Berlin, and Edgar Mowrer mowrer, Edgar from Paris radio;foreign Correspondents . Six months after the collapse of Austria, Daladier and British prime minister Neville Chamberlain chamberlain, Neville signed the notorious Munich Agreement giving the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia to Hitler. Shirer described Chamberlain as looking “like the black vultures I’ve seen over the Parsi dead in Bombay.”

The early months of 1939 were dominated by concern over Hitler’s plans for Poland. The Soviet-German Nonagression Treaty announced on August 23 convinced Shirer that Stalin was inviting Germany “to go in and clean up Poland,” and he wondered if Stalin’s intention was not to incite war between Germany and the West, creating a chaos that would allow Communism to flourish in the remains of Europe. More drama followed quickly: Hitler demanded Danzig (Gdańsk) and the Polish corridor, and it was announced that ration cards would be issued for food, soap, shoes, textiles, and coal. Shirer described the announcement as a sobering “blow.”

The suspense over Poland finally ended with the news, on September 1, that Poland had been invaded in what Hitler called a “counterattack.” Two days later, England declared war on Germany, and Shirer reported that the stunned German people “cannot realize yet that Hitler has led them into a world war.” The first British air raid came on September 5 against Cuxhaven and Wilhelmshaven, prompting Hermann Göring’s threat of “terrible revenge,” and Warsaw fell on September 27 after “a heroic but hopeless stand.” These events were accompanied by lying headlines Propaganda;Germany , such as “German memorandum proves England’s guilt.”

On January 9, 1940, Shirer observed in Nazi propaganda a new theme “to convince the German people that this is not only a war against the ’plutocratic’ British and French, but a holy struggle against the Jews Jews;in nazi Germany[nazi germany] .” At the same time, the Germans imposed a term of at least two years of forced labor on all Jews between fourteen and sixty. A German official’s remark that “right is what the Führer does” stirred Shirer’s contempt for German notions of honor and strengthened his conviction that all Germans were submissive and sought direction from a master. On May 6, 1940, he quoted the Nazi minister of education’s boast that “all the good things on earth are trophy cups. The strong win them. The weak lose them.” Ten days later, Shirer watched two uncensored newsreels of German bombing of towns, people, and animals, and upon hearing the announcer’s boast, “and thus do we deal death and destruction on our enemies,” he commented bitterly that the films “summed up the German people to me.” he was not heartened to learn that sales of Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf
Mein Kampf (Hitler) (1925-1926; english translation, 1939), had reached 5,950,000 copies.

In March, 1940, Shirer puzzled over why the Germans had not exploited their air superiority over the Allies, but on March 16 the Luftwaffe knocked out three British battleships at the British naval base at Scapa Flow, and three days later the British retaliated by strafing the German seaplane base on the island of Sylt. On April 19, Hitler occupied both Copenhagen and Oslo, as well as all the Norwegian ports vital to supplying Germany with Swedish iron ore. Shirer lamented that the allies mounted no serious resistance to the loss of Norway and concluded that air power had revolutionized war by demonstrating its superiority to naval power.

May 10, 1940, brought news that German forces had overrun Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg, and a week later the Maginot Line was breached and the German army was driving toward Paris. World War II (1939-1945)[world war 02];early german victories Shirer traveled around surveying battle scenes. He was especially distressed by the destruction of Louvain and its great university library, and as he witnessed some hard fighting in the Belgian countryside, he remarked bitterly, “how England and France are paying now for the criminal neglect of their aviation!”

Even more distressing for Shirer was the news on June 14 that Paris had fallen. A quick tour of the defeated city gave him “a feeling that what we’re seeing here in Paris is the complete breakdown of French society. . . .” he opined sadly that “France did not fight” and he suspected “either treachery or criminal negligence in the high command.” on June 21, Shirer watched through field glasses the ceremony in which Hitler celebrated the humbling of France. It was held in the same spot in the forest of Compiègne where the armistice ending World War I had been signed on November 11, 1918.

Much of the diary after the collapse of France recounts the heavy bombing attacks carried out by both the Germans and the British. Finally, on December 13, 1940, six months before the Nazi invasion of Russia and a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Shirer boarded the Excambion in Portugal and sailed for home.


The publication in 1941 of Berlin Diary was opportune. The broadcasts themselves had been record-setting reports, and Shirer’s succinct written accounts of the events all Americans had heard of gave vivid life to a war that everyone knew was soon going to change American life forever. His firsthand descriptions of, for instance, Paris after the fall, of Hitler in his braying harangues, and of the personal responses to the war of individual Germans were revelations for the average newspaper reader. As an act of journalistic observation, mixing fact and color, Berlin Diary was a triumph. For Shirer personally, Berlin Diary was a warm-up for the two tomes he later published, The collapse of the Third Republic
Collapse of the Third Republic, The (Shirer) (1969) and his massive The rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, The (Shirer) (1960). Berlin Diary (Shirer)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];German Domestic Experience

Further Reading

  • Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: a Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941. Translated by Martin Chalmers. New York: Random House, 1998. Klemperer was a professor at the Dresden Technical University and a Jew who survived the Holocaust years by being married to an Aryan. This is the first of three volumes of his diary and gives an account of the period from a viewpoint totally different from Shirer’s.
  • Shirer, William L. The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969. In Berlin Diary Shirer puzzles frequently over France’s failure to resist the German forces effectively in 1940. This long study is his answer.
  • _______. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1960. The whole story, in 1,245 pages.
  • Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs. Translated by Richard Winston and Clara Winston. New York: Macmillan, 1970. This memoir by a prominent member fo the Nazi elite close to Hitler provides an inside perspective on events that observers like Shirer and Klemperer could get only partial views of from the outside.

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Germany and Italy Declare War on the United States