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Authors: William L. Shirer

Berlin Diary

BOOK: Berlin Diary

Berlin Diary

The Journal of a
Foreign Correspondent

William L. Shirer


Berlin Diary
Copyright © 1941, renewed 1968 by William L. Shirer
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2011 by RosettaBooks, LLC

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Electronic edition published 2011 by RosettaBooks LLC, New York.
Cover jacket design by Alexia Garaventa
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795316982

To Tess
Who Shared So Much



Part I—Prelude to War

January 11, 1934—December 2, 1934

January 14, 1935—December 30, 1935

January 4, 1936—December 25, 1936

April 8, 1937—December 25, 1937

February 5, 1938—December 26, 1938

January 11, 1939—September 1, 1939

Part II—The War

September 1, 1939, Later—December 31, 1939

January 1, 1940—December 13, 1940



Most diaries, it may well be, are written with no thought of publication. They have no reader’s eye in view. They are personal, intimate, confidential, a part of oneself that is better hidden from the crass outside world.

This journal makes no pretence to being of that kind. It was recorded for my own pleasure and peace of mind, to be sure, but also—to be perfectly frank—with the idea that one day most of it might be published, if any publisher cared to commit it to print. Obviously this was not because I deemed for one second that I and the life I led were of the slightest importance or even of any particular interest to the public. The only justification in my own mind was that chance, and the kind of job I had, appeared to be giving me a somewhat unusual opportunity to set down from day to day a first-hand account of a Europe that was already in agony and that, as the months and years unfolded, slipped inexorably towards the abyss of war and self-destruction.

The subject of this diary therefore is not, except incidentally, its keeper, but this Europe which he watched with increasing fascination and horror plunge madly down the road to Armageddon in the last half of the 1930’s. The primary cause of the Continent’s upheaval was one country, Germany, and one man, Adolf Hitler. Most of my years abroad were spent in that country in proximity to that man. It was from this vantage point that I saw the European democracies falter and crack and, their confidence and judgment and will paralysed, retreat from one bastion to another until they could no longer, with the exception of Britain, make a stand. From within that totalitarian citadel I could observe too how Hitler, acting with a cynicism, brutality, decisiveness, and clarity of mind and purpose which the Continent had not seen since Napoleon, went from victory to victory, unifying Germany, rearming it, smashing and annexing its neighbours until he had made the Third Reich the militant master of the Continent, and most of its unhappy peoples his slaves.

I jotted down these things from day to day. Unfortunately some of my original notes were lost; others I burned rather than risk them and myself to the tender mercies of the Gestapo; a few things I dared not write down, attempting to imprint them in my memory to be recorded at a later and safer date. But the bulk of my notes and copies of all my broadcasts, before they were censored, I was able to smuggle out. Where there are lapses, I have drawn freely upon my dispatches and radio scripts. In a few cases I have been forced to reconstitute from memory the happenings of the day, conscious of the pitfalls of such a method and the demands of ruthless honesty.

And, finally, certain names of persons in Germany or with relatives in Germany have been disguised or simply indicated by a letter which has no relation to their real names. The Gestapo will find no clues.

Chappaqua, New York
April 1941

Prelude to War

, S
11, 1934

Our money is gone. Day after tomorrow I must go back to work. We had not thought much about it. A wire came. An offer. A bad offer from the Paris
. But it will keep the wolf away until I can get something better.

Thus ends the best, the happiest, the most uneventful year we have ever lived. It has been our “year off,” our sabbatical year, and we have lived it in this little Spanish fishing village exactly as we dreamed and planned, beautifully independent of the rest of the world, of events, of men, bosses, publishers, editors, relatives, and friends. It couldn’t have gone on for ever. We wouldn’t have wanted it to, though if the thousand dollars we had saved for it had not been suddenly reduced to six hundred by the fall of the dollar, we might have stretched the year until a better job turned up. It was a good time to lay off, I think. I’ve regained the health I lost in India and Afghanistan in 1930–1 from malaria and dysentery. I’ve recovered from the shock of the skiing accident in the Alps in the spring of 1932, which for a time threatened me with a total blindness but which, happily, in the end, robbed me of the sight of only one eye.

And the year just past, 1933, may very well have
been one not only of transition for us personally, but for all Europe and America. What Roosevelt is doing at home seems to smack almost of social and economic revolution. Hitler and the Nazis have lasted out a whole year in Germany and our friends in Vienna write that fascism, both of a local clerical brand and of the Berlin type, is rapidly gaining ground in Austria. Here in Spain the revolution has gone sour and the Right government of Gil Robles and Alexander Lerroux seems bent on either restoring the monarchy or setting up a fascist state on the model of Italy—perhaps both. The Paris that I came to in 1925 at the tender age of twenty-one and loved, as you love a woman, is no longer the Paris that I will find day after tomorrow—I have no illusions about that. It almost seems as though the world we are plunging back into is already a different one from that we left just a year ago when we packed our clothes and books in Vienna and set off for Spain.

We stumbled across Lloret de Mar on a hike up the coast from Barcelona. It was five miles from the railroad, set in the half-moon of a wide, sandy beach under the foot-hills of the Pyrenees. Tess liked it at once. So did I. We found a furnished house on the beach—three storeys, ten rooms, two baths, central heating. When the proprietor said the price would be fifteen dollars a month, we paid the rent for a year. Our expenses, including rent, have averaged sixty dollars a month.

What have we done these past twelve months? Not too much. No great “accomplishments.” We’ve swum, four or five times a day, from April to Christmas. We’ve hiked up and around the lower reaches of the Pyrenees that slope down to the village and the sea, past a thousand olive groves, a hundred cork-oak
forests, and the cool whitewashed walls of the peasants’ houses, putting off until tomorrow and for ever the climb we were always going to make to the peaks that were covered with snow late in the spring and early in the fall. We’ve read—a few of the books for which there was never time in the days when you had a nightly cable to file and were being shunted from one capital to another—from Paris and London to Delhi. Myself: some history, some philosophy, and Spengler’s
Decline of the West
; Trotsky’s
History of the Russian Revolution
War and Peace
; Céline’s
Voyage au bout de la nuit
, the most original French novel since the war; and most or all of Wells, Shaw, Ellis, Beard, Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Dreiser. A few friends came and stayed: the Jay Aliens, Russell and Pat Strauss, and Luis Quintanilla, one of the most promising of the younger Spanish painters and a red-hot republican. Andres Segovia lived next door and came over in the evening to talk or to play Bach or Albeniz on his guitar.

This year we had time to know each other, to loaf and play, to wine and eat, to see the bull-fights in the afternoon and Barcelona’s gaudy
Barrio Chino
at night; time to sense the colours, the olive green of the hills, the incomparable blues of the Mediterranean in the spring, and the wondrous, bleak, grey-white skies above Madrid; time too to know the Spanish peasant and worker and fisherman, men of great dignity and guts and integrity despite their miserable, half-starved lives; and at the Prado and Toledo just a little time for Greco, whose sweeping form and colour all but smote us down and made all the Renaissance painting we had seen in Italy, even the da Vincis, Raphaels, Titians, Botticellis, seem pale and anaemic.

It has been a good year.


A little dazed still from last night. About five p.m. yesterday I was twiddling my thumbs in the
office wondering whether to go down to the Chamber, where the new premier, Edouard Daladier, was supposed to read his ministerial declaration, when we got a tip that there was trouble at the Place de la Concorde. I grabbed a taxi and went down to see. I found nothing untoward. A few royalist
Camelots du Roi
Jeunesses Patriotes
of Deputy Pierre Taittinger, and
Solidarité Française
thugs of Perfumer François Coty—all right-wing youths or gangsters—had attempted to break through to the Chamber, but had been dispersed by the police. The
was normal. I telephoned the
, but Eric Hawkins, managing editor, advised me to grab a bite of dinner near by and take another look a little later. About seven p.m. I returned to the Place de la Concorde. Something obviously was up. Mounted steel-helmeted Mobile Guards were clearing the square. Over by the obelisk in the centre a bus was on fire. I worked my way over through the Mobile Guards, who were slashing away with their sabres, to the Tuileries side. Up on the terrace was a mob of several thousand and, mingling with them, I soon found they were not fascists, but Communists. When the police tried to drive them back, they unleashed a barrage of stones and bricks. Over on the bridge leading from the
to the Chamber across the Seine, I found a solid mass of Mobile Guards nervously fingering their rifles, backed up by ordinary police and a fire-brigade. A couple of small groups attempted to advance to the bridge from the quay leading up from the Louvre, but two fire-hoses put them to flight. About eight o’clock a couple of thousand U.N.C. (
Union Nationale des
) war veterans paraded into the
, having marched down the Champs-Elysées from the Rond-Point. They came in good order behind a mass of tricoloured flags. They were stopped at the bridge and their leaders began talking with police officials. I went over to the Crillon and up to the third-floor balcony overlooking the square. It was jammed with people. The first shots we didn’t hear. The first we knew of the shooting was when a woman about twenty feet away suddenly slumped to the floor with a bullet-hole in her forehead. She was standing next to Melvin Whiteleather of the A.P. Now we could hear the shooting, coming from the bridge and the far side of the Seine. Automatic rifles they seemed to be using. The mob’s reaction was to storm into the square. Soon it was dotted with fires. To the left, smoke started pouring out of the Ministry of Marine. Hoses were brought into play, but the mob got close enough to cut them. I went down to the lobby to phone the office. Several wounded were laid out and were being given first aid.

The shooting continued until about midnight, when the Mobile Guards began to get the upper hand. Several times the Place de la Concorde changed hands, but towards midnight the police were in control. Once—about ten o’clock it must have been—the mob, which by this time was incensed, but obviously lacked leadership, tried to storm the bridge, some coming up along the quais, whose trees offered them considerable protection, and others charging madly across the
. “If they get across the bridge,” I thought, “they’ll kill every deputy in the Chamber.” But a deadly fire—it sounded this time like machine-guns—stopped
them and in a few minutes they were scattering in all directions.

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