This is Berlin, William L. Shirer

This is Berlin, William L. Shirer


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This is Berlin, William L. Shirer

This is Berlin, William L. Shirer

Reporting from Nazi Germany, 1938-40

This is a fascinating book. William Shirer was working as a radio journalist in Germany at the start of the Second World War. He is most famous for his great work of history, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, one of the best general histories of the war.

This book contains the scripts for his radio broadcasts from Germany. The result is a most unusual view of the early part of the war. Shirer was exposed to the German propaganda, and had little or no access to other points of view. His short visits to Switzerland made him realise just how biased and inaccurate the German news was. Towards the end of the book, the situation has become so bad that Shirer no longer felt he was doing anything useful by remaining in Germany.

The second great feature of this book is that we really get to watch events unroll as they were reported at the time. There are no glances forward, no explanations of what was really happening. As the tension builds in the summer of 1939 we see what the German public saw. If you want to get an understanding of how a totalitarian regime can mislead its people, then this is an invaluable book.

Author: William L. Shirer
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 478
Publisher: Overlook
Year: 2002 reprint



William L. Shirer Collection

As a pioneering correspondent for CBS News, William Shirer reported from Germany during the period before the beginning of WWII through the early Nazi triumphs, and later wrote about the period in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

16 old time radio show recordings
(total playtime 4 hours, 8 min)
available in the following formats:

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Although there were many influential voices (both within and outside of government) calling to maintain a policy of American Isolationism, by the time War-clouds in Europe broke in 1939, most Americans realized that Hitler was a force of evil in the world who would have to be dealt with. Naturally, we preferred that the European nations would be the ones to deal with him, but if necessary (and as the months passed, it became more obvious that it would be necessary), American forces would have to step in and "deal with" Nazism.

America's education about Hitlerism came from reports from journalists working on the Continent. Print journalists provided a detailed and nuanced picture of what was happening in Berlin and beyond, but few of them had the influence and reach of the newly-formed CBS News Department and "Murrow's Boys". No reporter, before or after the War, provided as clear a picture of Hitler and his methods and intentions, then the first of "Murrow's Boys", William Shirer.

When Edward R. Murrow joined William Paley's "Tiffany Network" in 1935, CBS did not have a dedicated news department. Murrow was hired as director of talks and education, and his job was to line up newsmakers who would talk about issues of the day. CBS announcer Bob Trout, who helped to organize FDR's "Fireside Chats during the Great Depression and created the position of anchorman, became Murrow's mentor and taught him the importance of creating a sense of intimacy with the listening audience. Murrow was sent to London in 1937 to head up the network's new European division. One of the first things he did was to tour the continent to get a feel for the land, meet important persons, and hire a few experienced American correspondents to help him present Europe to the American audience.

William Shirer was born in Chicago, 1904, where his father had been a lawyer and eventually an assistant district attorney. When his father was killed by peritonitis in 1913, his mother took William and his younger brother to live with her parents in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Shirer did well at Washington High School and Coe College in Cedar Rapids, working on the student newspaper and writing for the sports page of the Cedar Rapids Republican . When he graduated from college, he worked his way across the Atlantic, pitching hay on a cattle boat. He intended to visit Europe for six months, he stayed for the next 15 years.

After touring England, Belgium, and France, and nearly out of money, Shirer wandered into the Paris offices of the Chicago Tribune . There was an undeniable vibrancy to life in post-WWI Paris, made even more so by the American expatriate community, which included luminaries like Hemingway, James Thurber, Isadora Duncan, the Fitzgerald's, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. Such company made Shirer realize how isolated his Mid-Western upbringing had been, and he began studying European history at the College de France. He covered Lindberg's arrival in Paris for the Tribune as well as the IX Olympic Games in Amsterdam. The paper also sent him to cover the Near East and India and he met and became friends with Mohandas Gandhi.

In 1931, Shirer married photographer Theresa Stiberitz in Vienna and she became his assistant when he was promoted to head the Tribune 's Central European division. Unfortunately, the paper shut down the division as the Depression deepened. The couple lived on savings and shared a villa with guitarist Andres Segovia for a time. The Hearst Syndicate wire service, Universal News Service, hired Shirer in 1934, but let him go in 1937. On the same day Universal gave his notice, Shirer was contacted by Ed Murrow.

Murrow and Shirer struck up an immediate friendship, and it was decided that Shirer would open an office in Vienna, pending an audition broadcast so the CBS brass could get a feel for Shirer's on-air voice. In March 1938, after weeks of political pressure from Nazi Germany on the Austrian government, Shirer called Murrow in London to tell him about the beginning of the Anschluss , Germany's annexation of Austria. Shirer complained that the Austrian radio facilities, where he would have normally transmitted his report, had been taken over by Nazi forces who would have censored his report. Murrow instructed Shirer to fly to London to make the report while Murrow flew to Vienna to take his place. Shirer's report was one of the first eyewitness accounts of the German takeover of Austria, and the next day CBS Headquarters tasked Murrow and Shirer with organizing and European News "Round Up" of reports from various capitals, hosted from New York by Murrow's mentor, Bob Trout. The broadcast was organized over sketchy telephone connections in eight hours and revolutionized broadcast news.

Shirer changed his base of operations from Vienna to Berlin and attended many Nazi Party functions and Rallies. When German forces invaded Poland in the fall of 1939, signaling the beginning of WWII , Shirer was with the troops to report the effectiveness of the new Blitzkrieg form of warfare. From his base in Berlin, Shirer reported on the invasion of Denmark and Norway in March 1940 and became an expert in using American slang and inflection to get the truth past Nazi censors who had been trained in formal British English.

In what would be a terrific journalistic triumph, Shirer even managed to "scoop" Hitler himself at the signing of the German armistice with France on June 22, 1940. Shirer was part of the press corps that followed the triumphant German Army as it advanced during the Battle of France. Hitler chose to symbolically accept the French surrender at Compiègne Forest, the site where the Germans signed their "humiliating" capitulation at the end of the First World War. To ensure that the German press would be the first to spread the news of the French defeat, Hitler ordered that the foreign press corps be returned to Berlin, but Shirer left the hotel early that morning and hitched a ride to Compiègne with a German officer whom he knew despised Hitler. By staying unnoticed on the fringes of the activities, Shirer became a witness to one of the pivotal moments of the War. "I have seen that face [Hitler's] many times at the great moments of his life. But today! It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph."

After the Armistice was signed, Shirer tried to place a call to CBS headquarters to record his report for broadcast after the German press released their report. Thinking that he must have permission to send the transmission, German technicians put the broadcast over the shortwaves. When CBS heard what they were receiving, they immediately put the report out over the American network, and Shirer managed to scoop the Nazi propaganda apparatus by six hours.

As the War progressed, and especially after British bombing raids began to hit German cities, German censorship tightened to the point that Shirer was forced to call his bosses at CBS to tell them he could no longer send meaningful reports. Before leaving the country, he was tipped off that the Gestapo was building an espionage case against him which would have carried a death sentence. He left Germany in December 1940.

As important as William Shirer's reporting from Germany was, his real contributions to history came with his books written and published after the War. Many were based on his direct experiences as recorded in his notes and diaries, but his most important work, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) combined these with evidence gleaned from secret Nazi documents seized at the end of the War.

Shirer's personal political leanings were always liberal, but he denied ever being a Communist sympathizer. He was named in Red Channels because he had once signed a Friend of the Court brief for the Hollywood 10. Unable to work during the blacklisting, he was able to keep his children in school by lecturing on the college circuit, which he said was the last bastion of free speech during the Fifties.

William L. Shirer died at General Hospital in Boston on December 28, 1993. He was 89.


Berlin Diary by William L. Shirer

William Shirer opened the foreword to his published diary as follows: "Most diaries…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 pretense to being of that kind."

Shirer was already a well-regarded journalist when he took a job as a correspondent in Berlin for the Universal News Service, one of the wire services of the Hearst press empire. In his diary entry where he reports on this move, he notes he is going “from bad to Hearst.” In going to Berlin in 1934 he knew he'd have a story to tell, so from the very beginning, he was writing not just for the immediate news audience in America, but also keeping notes with a view to publishing some account later. The book he eventually wrote, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, is an excellent general history of Nazi Germany.

Inasmuch as he was a journalist, Shirer was a trained observer, constantly gathering information and attempting to make sense of the social and political trends of the day, and so this work does have an historic significance. This diary was published almost immediately upon Shirer’s return to the States (in early 1941), months before Japanese bombers hit Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war. And in reading these observations jotted down at the time, even if somewhat modified in the writing or in the later move to publication—Shirer admits that not all of his notes made it out of Germany, and that revisions were made before publication—one gets a contemporary view (from an American perspective) of the Third Reich prior to the US’ entry into the war.

Such a view, as one might expect, will not reflect knowledge of the extent of Nazi atrocity – Shirer is aware of harsh actions taken against the Jews, but he did not have knowledge of the Holocaust at the time, nor is it reflected in this. Even so, there are strange omissions – e.g. there is a total absence in this work of an account of the awful evening of Kristallnacht ("the Night of Broken Glass" – Nov. 9-10, 1938), in which Nazi thugs ravaged Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues.

Shirer is clearly amazed at what he sees as a German tendency to kowtow to authority, and he clearly believes that in other countries (the US, Britain, and Holland, for example) Hitler's lies would have been exposed before he could take power and do so much damage. As an American myself, I'd like to think so too, but in my own life I've seen plenty of examples here of people drinking the Kool-Aid pushed by those in power.

Shirer also glosses over the Berlin Olympics and the Winter Games at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, both of which he attended. He tells us little more than that he attended the events and was so worn out by the crowds that he begged off attending the 1936 Nurmberg Party Rally—he had attended previous years' rallies.

There are some striking moments, as when Shirer talks about tricks he used to get material on the air and past the censors – most of the censors had learned English in England, and so did not pick up on some of Shirer's significant use of American slang. Here too, he seems to think that he'd have a freer hand in reporting war time activity in the US or in Britain, but the Allies were also quite careful about what made it on the air.

One story he told that I found especially striking was at some event in Goering's honor. He dishes dirt about the hostile relationship of Goering and Goebbels, and how Goebbels dared the press to print various unflattering remarks about Goering, but none did (even Shirer did not take the bait here). At another event, he shares how Goering, who had a pretty good relationship with the press—he came across as an affable guy—is stung when the press laughs when Goering talks of how the Nazis treated their enemies humanely. Goering sputtered that it was no laughing matter and that he, at least, was humane.

There is no clear sense in the book that America will enter the war – remember the book was published before Pearl Harbor. Though it is clear that Roosevelt and his allies are clearly sympathetic to the British and hostile to the Nazis, Shirer is constantly amazed at the isolationist camp in the US, led by Charles Lindbergh, and people like Hamilton Fish and William Borah in the US Senate, and at the number of American businessmen who feel the press has been too hard on Herr Hitler.

Shirer had the good fortune of being at the right place at the right time. He was also fortunate in being tagged by Edward R. Murrow to be part of CBS’ European team, the best American news team in Europe. He is quite frank in his reporting, even noting that foreign correspondents (himself included) in Germany practiced a pretty vigorous self-censorship prior to the outbreak of war (when the government in Berlin was much stricter in its censorship of the press). Still, he had remarkable access – witnessing the Anschluss first-hand, and seeing Paris after France surrendered to Germany.

This is not an unexpurgated document of Shirer’s experience in Germany, but it still remains a remarkable reflection of what many well-informed American observers saw and believed at the time regarding Hitler and his government. And, as such, it is a fascinating document.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.


William L. Shirer

When the Third Reich fell, it fell swiftly. The Nazis had little time to destroy their memos, their letters, or their diaries. William L. Shirer’s sweeping account of the Third Reich uses these unique sources, combined with his experience living in Germany as an international correspondent throughout the war.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich earned Shirer a National Book Award and continues to be recognized as one of the most important and authoritative books about the Third Reich and Nazi Germany ever written. The diaries of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, as well as evidence and other testimony gained at the Nuremberg Trials, could not have found more artful hands.

Shirer gives a clear, detailed, and well-documented account of how it was that Adolf Hitler almost succeeded in conquering the world. With millions of copies in print, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is a chilling and illuminating portrait of mankind’s darkest hours.

By the late 1930s, Adolf Hitler, Führer of the Nazi Party, had consolidated power in Germany and was leading the world into war. A young foreign correspondent was on hand to bear witness.

More than two decades prior to the publication of his acclaimed history, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer was a journalist stationed in Berlin. During his years in the Nazi capital, he kept a daily personal diary, scrupulously recording everything he heard and saw before being forced to flee the country in 1940.

Berlin Diary is Shirer’s first-hand account of the momentous events that shook the world in the mid-twentieth century, from the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia to the fall of Poland and France. A remarkable personal memoir of an extraordinary time, it chronicles the author’s thoughts and experiences while living in the shadow of the Nazi beast. Shirer recalls the surreal spectacles of the Nuremberg rallies, the terror of the late-night bombing raids, and his encounters with members of the German high command while he was risking his life to report to the world on the atrocities of a genocidal regime.

American journalist and author William L. Shirer was a correspondent for six years in Nazi Germany—and had a front-row seat to Hitler’s mounting influence. His most definitive work on the subject, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, is a riveting account defined by first-person experience interviewing Hitler, watching his impassioned speeches, and living in a country transformed by war and dictatorship.

Shirer was originally commissioned to write The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler for a young adult audience. This account loses none of the immediacy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich—capturing Hitler’s ascendence from obscurity, the horror of Nazi Germany’s mass killings, and the paranoia and insanity that marked the führer’s downfall. This book is by no means simplified—and is sure to appeal to adults as well as young people with an interest in World War II history.

The Bismarck wasn’t just any warship. Its guns were much stronger and more accurate than any others in its day—meaning it could easily sink enemy ships without getting in range of their fire. It was one of Hitler’s most powerful weapons, and the Allied forces had to put it out of commission—before they lost the war. With the fate of the world in the balance, Allied forces chased the Bismarck across the stormy North Atlantic—culminating in a thrilling sea battle that changed the course of World War II.

Unfolding with the taut suspense of a blockbuster movie, this book brings the excitement and danger of World War II to younger audiences—and demonstrates William L. Shirer’s mastery as a writer of history and a spinner of tales.

In the second of a three-volume series, William L. Shirer tells the story of his own eventful life, detailing the most notable moments of his career as a journalist stationed in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich. Shirer was there while Hitler celebrated his new domination of Germany, unleashed the Blitzkrieg on Poland, and began the conflict that would come to be known as World War II. This remarkable account tells the story of an American reporter caught in a maelstrom of war and politics, desperately trying to warn Europe and the United States about the dangers to come.

This memoir gives readers a chance to relive one of the most turbulent periods in twentieth century history—painting a stunningly intimate portrait of a dangerous decade.

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.

A renowned journalist and author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer chronicles his own life story—in a personal history that parallels the greater historical events for which he served as a witness. In the first of a three-volume series, Shirer tells of his early life, growing up in Cedar Rapids, and later serving as a new reporter in Paris. In this surprisingly intimate account, Shirer details his youthful challenges, setbacks, rebellions, and insights into the world around him. He offers personal accounts of his friendships with notable people including Isadora Duncan, Ernest Hemingway, and Sinclair Lewis.

In the last book of a three-volume series, William L. Shirer recounts his return to Berlin after the Third Reich’s defeat, his shocking firing by CBS News, and his final visit to Paris sixty years after he first lived there as a cub reporter in the 1920s. It paints a bittersweet picture of his final decades, friends lost to old age, and a changing world.

As a young foreign correspondent, William Shirer reported briefly on Gandhi—but the year was 1931, when India's struggle for independence peaked and Gandhi scored perhaps his greatest political success. The year before, he had led a 200-mile march to the sea to pick up a lump of salt—a violation of the British salt tax and this symbolic act (like—he reminds Shirer—the Boston Tea Party) had propelled the Indian masses into nonviolent civil disobedience on a large scale. To check its spread, Gandhi had been arbitrarily imprisoned. Now he was out of prison and negotiating with the British viceroy: if Gandhi would call off the civil-disobedience campaign and attend an upcoming London conference, the British would make concessions too.

These, however, were so limited and vague that many Indian nationalists regarded Gandhi's agreement as a sell-out but Shirer underlines history's judgment of its wisdom with Gandhi's own words. More importantly, he notes, the British had finally been forced "to deal with an Indian leader as an equal." Along these lines, Shirer also witnessed British discomfiture at Gandhi's arrival—complete with loin cloth, spinning wheel, and goat’s milk he saw the sensation Gandhi caused in London—and heard him address Lancashire millhands thrown out of work by the Indian boycott of British cotton. And he saw him at home, subsisting on four-hours' sleep and "frenzied acclaim." This book is sure to press upon readers the worldwide force of Gandhi's example.


Talk:William L. Shirer

Note: The last two sentences of the above paragraph [The Post War Years] are unclear. Was it during a visit by Shirer to Morrow's farm (and if so, why did Shirer take the initiative and visit if he was unwilling to reconcile), or was it during a visit by Morrow to Shirer's farm (in which case the situation falls together). Can someone please clarify? Thank you.

It was Murrow who wanted a reconciliation (before it was too late). Shirer wasn't interested in any reconciliation as he felt what happened could never be undone. However, Shirer did accept Murrow's invite to his farm considering he was dying. But Shirer (before they went) told his wife that he didn't want to discuss their break. It was the last time he saw Ed as he died the next year. Shirer said (in Volume III of his memoirs) that it was a "good reunion" but they never settled up completely over their break in '47.Rja13ww33 (talk) 23:16, 19 August 2020 (UTC)

Why does the name Rachel R. Shirer occur under his picture and at the article Header?

In this site: [Kr] you can read at the end:

"A psychiatrist named Foster Kennedy gave an address to the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in 1941. In it, he strongly advocated not only for the forcible sterilization of the mentally retarded, but for killing them, especially if they fell below a certain functional level. Because he assumed that such individuals were in constant suffering and would be better off dead, he referred to this killing as euthanasia or mercy killing. His address was published in the Journal of the American Psychiatric Association in July of 1942. In the same issue an opposing viewpoint by another psychiatrist, Leo Kanner, was also published, along with an editorial. While Kanner had no objection to sterilization, he did object to euthanasia. He also questioned the validity of assuming that people of low IQ would necessarily beget children who were also mentally deficient, but did not spend any time exploring the ramifications that would ensue for his philosophy if this were indeed the case. He believed that sterilization should be reserved only for those who could not perform useful work. He feared that stopping more functional people of low intelligence from reproducing might lead to a labor shortage in unskilled occupations which would adversely affect the functioning of society. Of note is the fact that by July of 1942, psychiatrists were already aware of what was going on in Germany. Kanner noted, “If [journalist and historian] William Shirer’s report is true – and there are reasons to believe that it is true – in Nazi Germany the Gestapo is now systematically bumping off the mentally deficient people of the Reich…”"Agre22 (talk) 19:11, 31 January 2010 (UTC)agre22

  • Rosenfeld, Gavriel D. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 29, No. 1 (January 1994). "The Reception of William L. Shirer's the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in the United States and West Germany, 1960–62."

That is the most important source for The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I don't know it, but I have copied it here with a format change. The other article makes clear that it's the source for Carey-Thomas Award(*) but is not clear to me regarding Book of the Month Club, two-thirds of more than a million hardcover sales(*) and Reader's Digest, perhaps 12 million readers of selections(*).

(*) I have imported Carey-Thomas and Book of the Month Club to this article but not mentioned Reader's Digest. --P64 (talk) 20:06, 19 March 2012 (UTC)

I added a link to Rosenfeld's paper and material in the article about sales & reception. There's plenty more to be gleaned there. --DadaNeem (talk) 01:58, 2 December 2012 (UTC)

According to the lead, "he became known for his broadcasts from Berlin, from the rise of the Nazi dictatorship through the first year of World War II".

Last hour I passed over that clause except to specify the latter date (1940). But "rise of the Nazi dictatorship" seems misleading to me, after visiting This is Berlin at Amazon.com, whose Book Description limits his Berlin and first-hand Nazi coverage for CBS to 1938-1940.

(quote) "His first major Berlin broadcast was an eyewitness account of the Anschluss--the fall of Austria to Nazi Germany in 1938. Soon after, Shirer covered Neville Chamberlain's betrayal of Czechoslovakia and that country's subsequent capitulation.

For the next eighteen months [clearly understatement], Shirer's broadcasts covered . the Battle of France, the Battle of England, and the threatened German invasion across the Channel.

This Is Berlin's reportage offers rich insights into the very last days before total gloom descended and World War II began.

(end quote) Elsewhere we give Anschluss March 1938, Battle of France May 1940, so 18 months is great understatement, but ours is great overstatement by mainstream interpretation of Nazi dictatorship. --P64 (talk) 20:22, 19 March 2012 (UTC)

The lead-in describes him as inter alia a historian but doesn't cite any actual training in historiography…is it simply because he penned an account which was categorized as a history book? (Rise and Fall of Third Reich) From what I've heard it's not taken seriously by (real) historians. Historian932 (talk) 16:51, 29 December 2012 (UTC)

"popular historian" would be better. Johnbod (talk) 17:48, 29 December 2012 (UTC) Please cite what you've read about contemporaneous and modern reception of his histories. This article is probably not the place to lay down the law about what defined a "real" historian in the mid-20th-century -- a category that's still contested today, when Shirer would still likely qualify. Ben (talk) 02:29, 31 December 2012 (UTC)

I plan to elaborate (a bit further) on the Murrow-Shirer split. I was re-reading Volume III of Shirer's memoirs the other day and I think there is more to add.


End of a Berlin Diary

If you&aposve already gotten the chance to read W.L.S&aposs last text, "Berlin Diary", then I strongly suggest you pick up this concluding piece that compliments and brings full-circle the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of the writer that were left off in 1940 with his departure from Nazi Germany.

Overall, I believe the piece to be a fantastic source of primary info from the post-WWII wasteland that was mainland Europe, unfiltered as it mostly is from the need to make his musings better fit newspaper g If you've already gotten the chance to read W.L.S's last text, "Berlin Diary", then I strongly suggest you pick up this concluding piece that compliments and brings full-circle the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of the writer that were left off in 1940 with his departure from Nazi Germany.

Overall, I believe the piece to be a fantastic source of primary info from the post-WWII wasteland that was mainland Europe, unfiltered as it mostly is from the need to make his musings better fit newspaper guidelines or deadlines. You'll be along with Shirer as he moves from coast-to-coast in the US during the closing days of the war in Europe, hear first hand about the negotiations and fateful founding of the United Nations, and follow with as he heads back to Europe for his final trip through the recovering cities in the United Kingdom, France, and, of course, Germany.

Shirer's personal repertoire with many of the Nazi higher-ups, gleaned from his time as a correspondent serving for years in Berlin, along with his more intimate understanding of "normal" German society serves as an interesting backdrop as he comes to terms and releases an extraordinary amount of dislike for the corruption and degradation that he witnessed and now resents as an inherent German character flaw.

There are quite a few flaws from Shirer this time around than in the first installment, namely that his entries, once mostly short, succinct, and interesting, have now evolved into sections that can cover 20-30 pages at a time as he attempts to fit in large sections of German secret documents being revealed during the Nurnberg trials. His prose suffers a bit as he lapses, perhaps expected given the mood of the time, into discussing more and more about what the War, and its aftermath, means for humanity's soul. I can't question if I wouldn't do the same thing if I was in his shoes, but it can border on tediousness how much time he gives to analyzing every small move of the San Francisco summit on the UN, for example.

W.L.S also begins to embrace some of the normal overtones of many Americans in the post-WWII era, though he vehemently despises the US trend of setting into the Cold War, direct conflict with the Soviets, and the growing "Red Scare" back in the States. He berates throughout German society and the arrogance of Germans that apparently permeated throughout the nation following their defeat.

While I do suggest reading this if you've read his first piece, I'd caution that you may need to prepare to slog through some sections in order to get to the more interesting parts scattered throughout his written thoughts. Whether this book suffered from higher levels of editor oversight in the process of being published is a fair question, especially in comparison with "Berlin Diary", which if I recall was rushed into publication fairly quickly upon W.L.S's return to the US in 1940.

If I could, I'd give "End of a Berlin Diary" a 3.5, but we all know Goodread's fickle system won't allow that, so a 4 star riding largely on the fantastic insight of "Berlin Diary" seems appropriate. . more

This is the MUST read conclusion to A Berlin Diary 1934 - 1941.
William Shirer with his return to Berlin after its fall and occupation, in his absence of a mere few years, is to witness the reaping of the whirlwind.

A total transformation awaited him in the total destruction of a familiar city, a society and a political system that brought exactly that to most of its neighbours.Now he will witness the survivors at the Nuremberg Trials,the ruins of a proud city and its people&aposs attempts to survive This is the MUST read conclusion to A Berlin Diary 1934 - 1941.
William Shirer with his return to Berlin after its fall and occupation, in his absence of a mere few years, is to witness the reaping of the whirlwind.

A total transformation awaited him in the total destruction of a familiar city, a society and a political system that brought exactly that to most of its neighbours.Now he will witness the survivors at the Nuremberg Trials,the ruins of a proud city and its people's attempts to survive a bitter and murderous defeat.It is an anti-climatic climax of the most sobering kind and filtered through the keen intelligence of someone who was so perceptive about the Whole Situation in 1934, an eyewitness and one whose finger was on the pulse even then,
this is the sort of first-hand account that is a rarity.

I read an old copy on an inter-library loan, which made me wonder whether it is even in print anymore. which would be a shame. . more

William Shirer&aposs definitive Rise And Fall of Third Reich was so very well known, so unquestionably acknowledged to be THE book to read on the topic if one were to read just one, that one sort of postponed it when reading other stuff on the topic - after all, the horrors of the second world war, especially the genocide related ones, are precisely what a young person aware of the general history would not go into, for fear of drowning in the then recent past, who knows with what result! So instead William Shirer's definitive Rise And Fall of Third Reich was so very well known, so unquestionably acknowledged to be THE book to read on the topic if one were to read just one, that one sort of postponed it when reading other stuff on the topic - after all, the horrors of the second world war, especially the genocide related ones, are precisely what a young person aware of the general history would not go into, for fear of drowning in the then recent past, who knows with what result! So instead one read other books of his, such as Nightmare Years, with unexpected benefits of discovery.

This book, one that a reader picks up naturally after reading his Berlin Diary, is unexpected in a different direction - where one expects him to pick up where he left off his Berlin sojourn in the previous book, and relate the horrors of devastation Germany in general and Berlin in particular went through, which was not trivial at all, he gives that in short too, but much, much more. This too being a diary, one goes with him on his travels as a journalist and reporter while he attend to the important, the very significant events of that year. And that was a lot.

What's more he gives much of the various speeches and documents of importance, from those related to events such as early and unexpected demise of Roosevelt, to the birth of UN and its charter set forth amidst struggles by allies with their conflicting agenda - and these conflicts, as one knows, grew only worse as far as the two powerful nations across the north pole, US and USSR, went.

Shirer, the seasoned and by then cosmopolitan albeit very American, gives an unexpected view in that he sees the various bumbling US personnel as a bit crude, less aware and more impatient to get home, than the patient, suave, knowledgeable counterparts in Europe, particularly USSR. Perhaps this is what earned him the subsequent wrath of his nations' authorities in the McCarthy era, from which he rose with his stupendous definitive work he is known for.

One should count oneself fortunate if one reads this, although it does include some documents horrific - he gives a very small selection of what documents were discovered when allies found the fourteen hundred tons of meticulously documented details of everything nazis had done, decided, and so forth, penned with typical Teutonic thoroughness as Shirer points out.

But even more fortunate one feels is about reading this book not only for its documents quoted but for the comments by its author, the sensitive and intelligent person whose awareness of the world went far beyond his limits of selfish interests - he and a few others such as he (FDR, Upton Sinclair come to mind, among those known generally) guided humanity into the illuminated path of thinking that has been generally acknowledged as the high road since, despite the not quite gone totalitarians including nazis who were not only able to take refuge in various countries around the world but actively sought out by likes of Peron of Argentina and Stroessner of Paraguay, for their preferences lay with the racist and fascist ideology.

Shirer writes about the allies marching in, battling their way into Germany, about death of Roosevelt and the reaction of the then still battling Germans who rejoiced with the impression that they had been granted a reprieve, about the birth of UN and about US insisting - despite USSR opposition - on inclusion of a very fascist Argentina that was an ally of Germany, about Berlin destroyed (and its residents, like other Germans too, upset with their leaders then only about the losing the war, not about having started it or having caused destruction and havoc and genocides that affected others), and about the Nuremberg Trials that - again - the residents of the city and others across Germany then took as theater by victors punishing the losers. About the horrendous facts that came out with documents that showed intention and plans by the nazis, and more.

If only these works by Shirer were prescribed reading for schools, students would graduate and arrive at colleges far better educated than they have for the better part of century past. . more


Berlin Diary

Berlin Diary ("The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934–1941") is a first-hand account of the rise of Nazi Germany and its road to war, as witnessed by the American journalist William L. Shirer. [2] Shirer covered Germany for several years as a radio reporter for CBS. Feeling increasingly uncomfortable as the Nazi press censors made it impossible for him to report objectively to his listeners in the United States, Shirer eventually left the country. The identities of many of Shirer's German sources were disguised to protect these people from retaliation by the German secret police, the Gestapo. It provided much of the material for his subsequent landmark book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

The book was published in New York by Alfred A. Knopf on June 20, 1941, [1] almost six months before Germany declared war on the United States, and simultaneously in Canada by Ryerson Press, when Canada was already at war with Germany. [1] It was "the first attempt by a big-name American journalist to shed light on what was really happening in Nazi Germany" [3] and sold almost 600,000 copies in the first year of its publication. [4] The book was widely praised by academics and critics at the time of its publication. [3] A recent literary study comparing the original diary in Shirer's literary estate with the published text revealed that Shirer made substantial changes, such as revising his early favourable impressions of Hitler. Much of the text about the period before the war (1934 to 1938) was written retroactively. [5]

In 1947, End of a Berlin Diary continued the story of the Third Reich, from July 20, 1944, to the Nuremberg Trials.

  1. ^ abc Shirer, William L. (June 20, 1941). Berlin Diary . New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  2. ^
  3. "William L. Shirer, Author, Is Dead at 89". nytimes. New York Times . Retrieved 8 April 2015 .
  4. ^ ab
  5. Ken Cuthbertson (2015-05-01). The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. McGill-Queen's Press. ISBN978-0-7735-4544-1 . Retrieved 13 June 2017 .
  6. ^
  7. Ken Cuthbertson (2015-05-01). The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. McGill-Queen's Press. ISBN978-0-7735-4544-1 . Retrieved 13 June 2017 .
  8. ^
  9. Strobl, Michael (2013). "Writings of History: Authenticity and Self-Censorship in William L. Shirer's Berlin Diary". German Life and Letters. 66 (3): 308–325. doi:10.1111/glal.12018.

This article about a non-fiction book on Nazi Germany is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.


Primary Sources

(1) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959)

At eighteen, several thousand of the girls in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (they remained in it until 21) did a year's service on the farms - their so-called 'Land Jahr', which was equivalent to the Labour Service of the young men. Their task was to help both in the house and in the fields. The girls lived sometimes in the farmhouses and often in small camps in rural districts from which they were taken by truck early each morning to the farms.

Moral problems soon arose. Actually, the more sincere Nazis did not consider them moral problems at all. On more than one occasion I listened to women leaders of the Bund Deutscher Mädel lecture their young charges on the moral and patriotic duty of bearing children for Hitler's Reich - within wedlock if possible, but without it if necessary.

(2) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959)

Despite his harassed life, the businessman made good profits. The businessman was also cheered by the way the workers had been put in their place under Hitler. There were no more unreasonable wage demands. Actually, wages were reduced a little despite a 25 per cent rise in the cost of living. And above all, there were no costly strikes. In fact, there were no strikes at all. The Law Regulating National Labour of January 20, 1934, known as the Charter of Labour, had put the worker in his place and raised the employer to his old position of absolute master - subject, of course, to interference by the all-powerful State.

(3) William Shirer, CBS Broadcast from Berlin (26th September, 1938)

Well, at least on this fateful evening for Europe, we know where we stand.

Most of you, I take it, heard Chancellor Adolf Hitler's speech five hours ago at the Berlin Sport Palace.

If you did, you heard him say in a tone, and in words which left no doubt whatever, that he will not budge an inch from his position and that President Benes must hand over to him Sudetenland by Saturday night, or take the consequences.

Those consequences - in this critical hour you almost hesitate to use the word - are war.

It's true Herr Hitler did not use the word himself. At least amidst the fanatical yelling and cheering in the Sport Palace I did not hear it, and I sat but fifty or sixty feet from him.

But no one in that vast hall - or none of the millions upon millions of Germans who gathered tonight in every town and village of Germany to hear the speech broadcast through community loudspeakers, or who sat quietly in their homes listening - had any doubts, so far as one can find out.

This is what Herr Hitler said, as I jotted his words down as they were being spoken: "On the Sudeten problem, my patience is at an end. And on October 1, Herr Benes will hand us over this territory."

Those are the Chancellor's words, and they brought the house down with a burst of yelling and cheering the like of which I have never before heard at a Nazi meeting.

(4) William Shirer, CBS Broadcast from Berlin (2nd October, 1938)

Just as Hitler promised and Mussolini, Chamberlain and French Premier Daladier agreed, the German army marched into Czechoslovakia at two o'clock yesterday afternoon. I went with it.

It was a very peaceful occupation. Not a shot was fired. Only once did we run into the slightest danger - of which more later. The whole thing went off like a parade, even to the military bands and regimental flags and Sudeten girls tossing bouquets of flowers at the troops and throwing kisses at them.

And yet this was the German army which forty-eight hours ago was girded for war. Today it functioned with that clock-like precision which has given the Reichswehr its reputation. And it was ready for all eventualities. Only none of them occurred.

It's not true that Germans marched in a minute after midnight Friday night and with tremendous force.

I stood on the Czech-German frontier at Sarau, thirty-five miles east of Passau, general headquarters of the army occupying district number one on the south-west tip of Czechoslovakia, and from where we set out at noon. At exactly 2 p.m., by synchronized watches, the march began. And though the roads from Passau to the frontier were lined with troops, artillery and supply trains, only a handful took part in the occupation today.

It was truly a symbolic occupation. The Czech forces had withdrawn during the night, taking their arms and military supplies with them, but nothing else, and observing the conditions of withdrawal perfectly. There was no contact in my sector on the extreme right wing of the German army throughout the day. Even with field glasses we saw no Czech troops.

(5) William Shirer, CBS Broadcast from New York (14th July, 1939)

There is one reason which would seem to rule out the possibility of an alignment between German and Soviet Russia. It's this: Hitler's goal is the occupation and annexation of a vast part of Russia. How are you going to play ball with a man who covets your house and intends to settle in it if he can, even if he has to hit you over the head with his bat? And moreover says so.

Because he does in Mein Kampf, that Nazi bible which we all have to go to to divine what the Fuhrer may have in his mind next. Hitler in Mem Kampf says very plainly that Germany will only be a great nation when it acquires a much larger territory in Europe. From where is that territory to come? Hitler very obligingly gives us the answer. It is: From Russia.

A second reason is that if Hitler were to make a deal with Russia, the Japanese alliance, or whatever you call their present understanding, falls through automatically. Now the strange tie-up between Japan and Germany is not so strange as it seems, if we look into it for a moment. It's - valuable to Germany first as a part of a general threat to Britain and France - and to a lesser extent, the U.S. - in the East. Secondly, if and when Russia is to be conquered, it confronts Russia with a war on two greatly distant fronts, thus making Germany's job of conquering European Russia much easier. This second point is also the reason for Tokyo's friendship with Berlin - that is, if Japan is to get the Russian maritime provinces as well as Mongolia and a big slice of Siberia, Germany's military effort on the Western Front is absolutely necessary. Unless Japan ruins itself as a Great Power in China, and thus can no longer threaten the three Democracies in the Far East, there is little evidence that Hitler will ditch Tokyo. Along the path that he has apparently chosen, it is too valuable an ally.

(6) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959)

The Zyklon-B crystals that killed the victims in the first place were furnished by two German firms which had acquired the patent from I. G. Farben. These were Tesch and Stabenow of Hamburg, and Degesch of Dessau, the former supplying two tons of the cyanide crystals a month and the latter three quarters of a ton. The bills of lading for the deliveries showed up at Nuremberg.

The directors of both concerns contended that they had sold their product merely for fumigation purposes and were unaware that lethal use had been made/of it, but this defence did not hold up. Letters were found from Tesch and Stabenow offering not only to supply the gas crystals but also the ventilating and heating equipment for extermination chambers. Besides, the inimitable Hoess, who once he started 'to confess went the limit, testified that the directors of the Tesch company could not have helped knowing how their product was being used since they furnished enough to exterminate a couple of million people. A British military court was convinced of this at the trial of the two partners, Bruno Tesch and Karl Weinbacher, who were sentenced to death in 1946 and hanged. The director of the second firm, Dr Gerhard Peters of Degesch of Dessau, got off more lightly. A German court sentenced him to five years' imprisonment.

Before the postwar trials in Germany it had been generally believed that the mass killings were exclusively the work of a relatively few fanatical S.S. leaders. But the records of the courts leave no doubt of the complicity of a number of German businessmen, not only the Krupps and the directors of the I. G. Farben chemical trust but smaller entrepreneurs who outwardly must have seemed to be the most prosaic and decent of men, pillars - like good business men everywhere - of their communities.

How many hapless innocent people - mostly Jews but including a fairly large number of others, especially Russian prisoners of war - were slaughtered at the one camp of Auschwitz? The exact number will never be known. Hoess himself in his affidavit gave an estimate of 2,500,000 victims executed and exterminated by gassing and burning, and at least another half million who succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total of about 3,000,000. Later at his own trial in Warsaw he reduced the figure to 1,135,000. The Soviet government, which investigated the camp after it was overrun by the Red Army in January 1945, put the figure at four million.

(7) Sally J. Taylor, Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990)

William Shirer, born in Chicago, raised in Cedar Rapids, streetwise and country-boy shrewd, was one of a new breed who had turned up in Paris in the mid-1920s to take their chances. On the surface, he seemed a mild-mannered, ineffectual type who wore thick spectacles and puffed away blandly on his pipe, giving an appearance completely at odds with his complicated temperament and awesome intelligence. By the time he was thirty, he had worked his way up to the position of chief of the Central European bureau of the Chicago Tribune. In the following few years, he would report from practically every major capital on the Continent, as well as locations as far flung as India and Afghanistan. Quite simply, Bill Shirer knew everybody in the newspaper business in Europe.

On the same day his wire service gave him notice that his position had been cut back, Shirer received a telegram from Edward R. Murrow of Columbia Broadcasting suggesting the two of them have a talk over dinner. Until then, radio had been viewed mainly in terms of its entertainment potential, with an emphasis on oompah concerts and "You-Are-There" travelogues. Now, Murrow told Shirer, the medium was about to change its role dramatically. He and a handful of other men were trying to put together a series of linkages between the major capitals of Europe in a hurry in time, they hoped, to cover a war that was rapidly approaching. With the built-in prejudices of any hard-boiled newspaper man, Shirer might not even have taken the trouble to listen to Murrow's spiel if he hadn't been out of a job.

That was in August 1937. By December, Shirer had become an old hand at arranging broadcasts out of Berlin, and sometimes Vienna.

Shirer had known Walter Duranty for years, an acquaintanceship that grew into friendship through their mutual regard for John Gunther. Shirer was also close to John and Irena Wiley, Duranty's frequent companions and traveling partners. Then too there was the Knickerbocker connection. As a wire-service man stationed in Berlin, Shirer had worked side by side with Knick, bumping into Duranty frequently at bars and restaurants.

Now deeply involved in what would become a legendary team of war-time broadcasters, Shirer was shuttling between cities, learning everything he could about transmitters, time zones, and telephone lines, taking on stringers, and generally familiarizing himself with the bumpy ride of transatlantic broadcasting.

Christmas of 1937 found him in Vienna, at the Wileys' house for the traditional feast. John Wiley was serving a term there as the U. S. Charge d'Affaires, and Duranty, "as always," was also present. Many years later Shirer seemed to have the hazy recollection, maybe it was only something overheard, of a lengthy discussion regarding Walter Duranty's Russian son. Duranty was apparently trying to get his boy out of Russia, and the Wileys had agreed to help, maybe even to adopt Michael, to try to facilitate the matter. But there had been resistance from unexpected quarters, Shirer remembered. The boy's mother didn't want to leave the Soviet Union, and she was resisting letting her son go without her. Michael was turning out to be extraordinarily bright, and maybe that was why Duranty had begun to think about his future. The boy, not quite four years old, had already begun reading in Russian, and had picked up some English along the way. Otherwise, after dinner, Shirer and Duranty holed up for a time to discuss the political situation in Moscow.


End of a Berlin Diary

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.


This is Berlin, William L. Shirer - History

By Roy Morris Jr.

On the evening of August 7, 1937, two neophyte radio broadcasters went to dinner together at the luxurious Adlon Hotel in Berlin, Germany. Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer had never met before that night. Murrow, newly arrived in London as the European director for the Columbia Broadcasting System, was looking for an experienced reporter to cover the growing unrest on the Continent sparked by the bristling reemergence of Germany as a military power. In the unprepossessing, Chicago-born Shirer, Murrow had found just the man he was looking for, although other CBS executives did not know it at the time.
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William Shirer: A Savvy Journalist

Murrow and Shirer were physical opposites: Murrow was tall, dark, handsome, and impeccably groomed even his hair looked shellacked into place. Shirer was mid-sized, bespectacled, balding, and rumpled. He constantly smoked a pipe and gave off the air of a vaguely distracted English professor at a small Midwestern university. In both cases, looks were deceiving. Murrow was no mere pretty-boy broadcaster, as Shirer first thought, but a tenacious and instinctive newsman with a first-rate mind and a quick grasp of political realities. Shirer, for his part, was no airy academic, but a savvy professional journalist who had covered news events from Paris to Afghanistan for more than a decade. In the course of his career, he had written about such luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Lindberg, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Isadora Duncan, and the glowering new strongman of Europe, Adolf Hitler. He spoke fluent French and German and could get by in Spanish and Italian.

Despite his background, Shirer was out of a job when Murrow asked to meet him. After five years as chief Berlin correspondent for William Randolph Hearst’s Universal Service, Shirer had been let go in a belt-tightening move by the company. With a pregnant wife and a dwindling bank account, he was preparing to return to the States to look for work in New York City when Murrow’s telegram arrived unexpectedly on his desk like a gift from the gods. At their meeting, Murrow offered Shirer a new job on the spot, at the same $125 a week he had earned with Universal Service.

Shirer accepted—he had little choice if he wanted to remain in Europe—and Murrow mentioned casually that he would have to do a voice test for the CBS brass before the job became official. A week later, in a makeshift Berlin studio, a nervous Shirer alternately squeaked and mumbled through a disastrous audition, made more difficult by the fact that he had to climb onto a packing crate in order to reach the microphone dangling seven feet in the air. CBS balked Shirer sounded less like a broadcaster than a bookkeeper who had been caught with his hand in the company safe. Murrow stood firm—he needed Shirer’s mind and experience, he argued, not his voice. Eventually, the executives caved in. The most fortuitous and influential journalistic partnership of the era had begun.

Edward Murrow: “Director of Talks”

Edward R. Murrow.

Murrow’s handling of the Shirer affair revealed his innate ability to identify talent, act quickly and decisively, and exert an irresistible but not overbearing charm on others to get his way. Born dirt-poor in rural North Carolina in 1907, Murrow moved with his family across the country to the Pacific Northwest, settling in the lumber town of Blanchard, Washington. The youngest of three boys, he excelled both academically and athletically, putting his six-foot-two-inch height to good use on the championship Edison High basketball team. Summers spent working as a lumberjack enabled the ambitious youth to save enough money to put himself through Washington State College in Pullman.

Once again Murrow excelled, getting elected student body president, starring in amateur theatricals, and attracting the attention of the school’s talented and formidable—if physically stunted—speech professor, Ida Lou Anderson. With the help of Anderson, who had been crippled by polio as a girl, Murrow honed his speaking skills to the point that he was twice elected president of the National Student Federation of America (NFSA). After graduation, he parlayed that position into a full-time job with the NSFA in New York City. His radio career (and lifelong CBS connection) began when he spearheaded the NSFA-sponsored “University of the Air,” an educational program that featured such celebrated guests as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, German President Paul von Hindenburg, and British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald. This, in turn, led to Murrow’s hiring by CBS as “director of talks” in 1935.

Two years later, CBS executives decided to put out to pasture their chief European correspondent, Cesar Saerchinger, a music critic by trade whose greatest accomplishment as a journalist involved the live broadcast of a nightingale’s song in a Kentish garden. In April 1937, Murrow and his sophisticated wife, Janet, who could trace her ancestry back to the Mayflower, moved into an apartment at 84 Hallam Street in London, four blocks from Broadcasting House, the Art Deco-style headquarters of the British Broadcasting System.

The former Pacific Coast lumberjack settled easily into his new surroundings, buying his suits from expensive Savile Row tailors and immersing himself in English culture. He moved away from Saerchinger’s pretentious coverage of the Royal Family, fancy horse races, and promenades, and instead introduced the American public to colorful Cockneys from the East End docks, fiery speakers at Hyde Park, and pub-crawling dart throwers in Essex. At the same time, he was turned down for membership by the American Foreign Correspondents Association, who did not consider radio broadcasters legitimate newsmen. Murrow worked hard to change that perception.

Shirer’s First Scoop: Anschluss

It did not take long for his hiring of Shirer to pay dividends. In early March 1938, Shirer’s first scoop fell literally into his lap. Austrian-born Adolf Hitler had been demanding for months that his homeland become part of a greater Germany. When the Austrians scheduled a referendum to vote on the issue, Hitler strong-armed Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg into canceling the vote, resigning from office, and, in effect, handing over his sovereign nation to the ungentle embrace of Nazi Germany. Shirer happened to be in Vienna at the time, arranging for a radio broadcast of a children’s choir, when the long-threatened Anschluss (annexation) of Austria began. The first inkling he had of the move was a shower of propaganda pamphlets dropped from circling airplanes. On the streets below, mobs of Swastika-wearing thugs paraded through the city, shouting “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” and “Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Führer.” Shirer knew immediately what it all meant.

Rushing to the office of the state-run radio, Shirer attempted to file an on-air report, but bayonet-wielding Nazis turned him away. He tried again two hours later—still no luck. In despair, he telephoned Murrow, who was on his own talent-scouting trip to Warsaw, Poland. Murrow advised Shirer to fly to London and broadcast his scoop from the CBS studio there. Meanwhile, Murrow chartered a Lufthansa flight—he was the only passenger on the 27-seat plane—and flew in to Vienna to cover Hitler’s expected triumphant arrival. The next night, March 13, 1938, at 8 pm, CBS made broadcasting history when Murrow, Shirer, and a quickly organized team of correspondents in Paris, Rome, and Berlin went on the air with the first-ever multilocation live broadcast, reporting on the Austrian Anschluss and the reaction to it in other European capitals.

Murrow had not intended to go on the air personally, but he could not find anyone else to appear on such short notice. Speaking in a clipped, staccato baritone that would quickly become his trademark, Murrow told listeners that Vienna was in a festive frame of mind. “Many people are in a holiday mood they lift the right arm a little higher here than Berlin and the ‘Heil Hitler’ is said a little more loudly,” he reported. “Young storm troopers are riding about the streets, singing and tossing oranges out to the crowd.” It was the first radio broadcast of Murrow’s soon to be legendary career.

A subdued crowd in Prague watches as Germans roll into the Czech capital.

In Vienna, Murrow observed firsthand the growing power of the Nazis and what it meant for the Jewish residents of Austria and, by extension, the rest of Europe. He paced the streets restlessly as mobs smashed and looted Jewish stores, dragged men and women into the streets, and savagely beat anyone who attracted their malign attention. One night in a Viennese bar, he personally witnessed a young Jewish man cut his own throat with a razor. Returning to London, Murrow sounded a cautionary tone on the air. “It was called a bloodless conquest, and in some ways it was,” he told listeners. “But I’d like to be able to forget the haunted looks on the faces of those long lines of people outside the banks and travel offices. People trying to get away. I’d like to forget the tired futile look of the Austrian army officers, and the thud of hobnail boots and the crash of light tanks in the early hours of the morning in the Ringstrasse. I’d like to forget the sound of the smashing glass as the Jewish shop streets were raided, the hoots and jeers at those forced to scrub the sidewalk.”

“Hello, America. This is Berlin Calling.”

For the next few months, Murrow’s warnings seemed overly dire. After the Anschluss crisis faded from public consciousness, American radio listeners grew bored with the European status quo. Once again, CBS focused its broadcasts on such harmless pastimes as orchestra concerts, children’s choirs, and royal parades. Murrow and Shirer spent much of their time crisscrossing the Continent booking lightweight entertainment the nightly news roundups were discontinued. When Shirer went to Prague in September 1938 to report on the impending crisis between Germany and Czechoslovakia over the disputed Sudetenland, a mountainous border province that was home to thousands of German-speaking Czechs. CBS executives made him promise to give up his five-minute broadcasts if there was not enough news to fill them out.

“My God,” Shirer remembered later. “Here was the old Continent on the brink of war— Hitler might start it within twenty-four hours, Prague might be wiped off the map overnight by the big bombers—and the network was most reluctant to provide five minutes a day from here to report it!”

Events would force the network to rethink its initial reluctance. Shuttling back and forth between Prague and Berlin, Shirer filed daily reports, beginning each one with a jaunty opening: “Hello, America. This is Berlin calling.” The greeting may have been jaunty, but the news was not. Emboldened by his grab of Austria, Hitler now insisted on great swaths of Czechoslovakia as well. Shirer observed the German Führer closely and saw what many others at the time did not: a morose, high-strung dictator who walked with a noticeable tic and sported dark circles under his eyes.

“This man is on the edge of a nervous breakdown,” Shirer confided to his diary. Hitler was playing a high-stakes game, but in the end it was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain whose nerves gave out first. Shirer reported the series of meetings between Hitler and Chamberlain at the Rhine resort of Bad Godesberg, where local buildings were decorated with thousands of Swastikas and Union Jacks. “Mr. Chamberlain is a pretty popular figure around here,” he noted dryly.

For weeks, the world waited as Hitler upped his demands and threatened war. At CBS headquarters in New York, veteran announcer Hans von Kaltenborn, now going by the slightly less German-sounding name H.V. Kaltenborn, slept on a cot in the office and delivered some 102 broadcasts and news bulletins on the worsening situation. Murrow, in London, coordinated reports from the various European capitals, noting that in the English capital “trucks loaded with sandbags and gas masks were to be seen. The surface calm of London remains, but I think I notice a change in people’s faces. There seems to be a tight strained look about the eyes.”

“Peace in Our Time”

When Chamberlain returned to London from Munich after negotiating the sellout of Czechoslovakia, waving the infamous piece of paper above his head that guaranteed “peace in our time,” Murrow went to the Czech embassy to seek out his friend, Jan Masaryk, the foreign minister. Together, they sat all night waiting for a call from the British government that never came. “As I rose to leave,” Murrow recalled later, “the gray dawn pressed against the windows. Jan pointed to a big picture of Hitler and Mussolini that stood on the mantel and said: ‘Don’t worry, Ed. There will be dark days and many men will die, but there is a God and He will not let two such men rule Europe.’”

Neville Chamberlain stands in front of a welcoming crowd upon his return from negotiating with Hitler in Munich.

Winston Churchill, a leader of the opposition to Chamberlain in the House of Commons, was not so sure. Characterizing the agreement as “sordid, squalid, sub-human, and suicidal,” he told the prime minister: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.”

While the world waited for Germany’s next demands, Murrow returned to New York to discuss expanding his staff. He returned to London in the spring of 1939, having gotten network approval to add more correspondents to his team. First hired was Thomas Grandin, a Yale-educated academic with a wispy voice but a firm grasp of European politics. Murrow installed Grandin in Paris and tabbed Eric Sevareid, a 26-year-old, North Dakota-born reporter for the Paris Herald, as Grandin’s assistant.

Meanwhile, William Shirer continued broadcasting from an increasingly militant Berlin, where Hitler was beginning to make noises about annexing part of Poland to ensure German access to the Baltic Sea. Unlike Czechoslovakia, Poland had been assured by the British and French governments that they would come to Poland’s defense in the event the Nazis attacked, and Shirer correctly inferred that war was inevitable. In the midst of the darkening situation, CBS Vice President Paul White, a longtime foe of Murrow’s, ordered the European correspondents to produce a change-of-pace broadcast, “Europe Dances,” from various continental cabarets. Murrow, risking his job, refused outright. One week later, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. World War II had begun. The question of dancing was suddenly moot.

SS troops round up Polish Jews the day after Poland surrenders.

A hasty decision by NBC and Mutual Broadcasting to suspend their European broadcasts left CBS with an open field. Murrow moved into the void, hiring additional staff to report from various capitals. Among those coming aboard that fall were Mary Marvin Breckinridge, an old college friend of Murrow’s who would become the first female national broadcaster Cecil Brown, a journalist and former merchant mariner Larry LeSueur of United Press Winston Burdett of Harvard by way of the Brooklyn Eagle Charles Collingwood, a Cornell alumnus and Howard K. Smith, a champion hurdler from Tulane. They fanned out across the Continent while Shirer held down the fort in Berlin, harassed by no fewer than three Nazi censors before each broadcast. He got around the censors, to a degree, by using colloquial American phrases and an ironic tone in his voice. Sometimes he would simply quote directly from Hitler’s speeches, confident that the audience back home would read into them the same brutish posturing that Shirer did.

CBS President Willam Paley complained that Shirer was becoming too noticeably anti-Nazi in his broadcasts, but the journalist was unrepentant, then or later. “Nobody could have lived in that country as long as I and not have hated the Nazis,” he reasoned.

Covering the War in France

Throughout the winter and spring of 1939-1940, the so-called Phony War dragged on, with German, English, and French troops watching each other warily across France’s supposedly impregnable Maginot Line. That changed suddenly on May 10, 1940, when Germany launched a simultaneous invasion of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. A new word, blitzkreig, was introduced to the world. Eric Sevareid, returning to Paris from Cambrai, heard German artillery and saw flashes of explosions like lightning in the distance. It was, he told listeners, “truly a lightning war, a war of sudden sounds and flashing machines. It comes and is gone before you can move, and the men you rarely see.”

Shirer, in Berlin, took a broader view. “The blow in the West has fallen,” he announced. “The battle which will decide the future of Germany for a thousand years caught everyone here completely by surprise.”

As the German Army rolled relentlessly toward Paris, Mary Marvin Breckinridge reported on the steady stream of refugees in the French countryside: “Baby carriages full of quilts, and bicycles with boxes tied all over them with bits of string. One little girl carried a black cat, and several families brought their dogs with them. One woman, who arrived alone and looked less tired than the rest, was questioned by a little group of people: ‘What happened to my town? Was my home bombed?’” Breckinridge, who was engaged to an American diplomat, soon left CBS to join her fiancé in Berlin, her place in journalism history—as the only girl among “Murrow’s boys” —assured. In London, Murrow described a somber mood. “I saw more grave solemn faces today than I have ever seen in London before,” he told listeners. “Fashionable tea rooms were almost deserted the shops in Bond Street were doing very little business people read their newspapers as they walked slowly down the streets. I saw one woman standing in line for a bus begin to cry, very quietly. She didn’t even bother to wipe the tears away.”

In Paris, Eric Sevareid drove up an eerily deserted Champs Elysees normally bustling cafés sat empty, their wicker chairs turned upside down on tabletops. One final customer sat alone at his table finishing his wine, while a waiter, with true Parisian savoir faire, stood by patiently, towel over his arm. Sevareid barely made it out of town ahead of the Nazis in an endless line of escaping cars, trucks, and wagons. Refugees trudged along the roadside on foot, he reported, “like a stream of lava flowing past, the unstoppable river which came from the unimaginable eruption somewhere to the north.”

Larry LeSueur hitchhiked 150 miles from Belgium to Paris, then attempted to board an English troopship that was evacuating Nantes. Stopped literally on the gangplank—there was no more room—LeSueur turned and walked away. A few minutes later, a German dive- bomber dropped a bomb neatly down the ship’s smokestack, killing hundreds of soldiers. LeSueur shuddered at his near escape.

“Days of Pain and Mourning”

Shirer, to his immediate regret, accompanied the German Army when it entered Paris on June 17. Along the way he noted in his diary: “Verdun taken! Verdun, that cost the Germans six hundred thousand dead the last time they tried to take it. This time they take it in a day. What has happened to the French?” Coming into Paris with the victorious Nazis, Shirer recalled, “was no fun for me. As we drove down the familiar streets where I had spent the gold years of my mid-twenties (in the mid-twenties) I felt a gnawing ache in the pit of my stomach, and I wished I had not come. To make it worse, my German companions were in high spirits at the sight of the beautiful city.” The defiantly named Paris newspaper, La Victoire, carried the headline, “Days of Pain and Mourning,” and concluded its final editorial: “Vive Paris! Vive la France!”

More humiliation was coming for the French. Two days later, Shirer accompanied the Nazi high command into the countryside 45 miles north of Paris for a surrender ceremony orchestrated for maximum insult by Adolf Hitler. At Compiegne, the site of the German surrender in November 1918, German engineers tore down the museum wall housing the railway car in which the armistice had been signed. Hitler insisted that the same car, desk, and chair be used for the French surrender. Shirer observed Hitler with opera glasses through the train window.

“I have seen that face many times at the great moments of his life,” Shirer reported. “But today it is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph. He glances back at the monument, contemptuous, angry—angry, you almost feel, because he cannot wipe out the awful, provoking lettering with one sweep of his high Prussian boot.” Hitler did the next best thing after the surrender ceremony, he had his troops dynamite the French memorial. The infamous railway car was dragged back to Berlin and put on public display. Ironically, it would be destroyed by Allied bombing later in the war.

Germans inspect the French memorial at Compiegne, the site of Germany’s surrender in 1918. Hitler demanded that French forces surrender at the same site, in the same railway car used in 1918.

The actual signing was slated to occur the next afternoon. Hitler had ordered all foreign correspondents back to Berlin, where he intended to announce his triumph to the waiting world, but somehow Shirer was overlooked. Within 90 minutes of the signing, his matter-of-fact account of the most humiliating French surrender in its history went out live via short-wave radio to New York and across the United States and Europe. Murrow, picking up the broadcast in London, immediately called newly installed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with the news. Churchill, staying at his country home at Chequers, at first refused to believe it his government had received no prior warning of the surrender, he said. But it was true. Shirer heard later, through confidential sources, that the German high command had allowed his surrender broadcast to go out over the airwaves unimpeded as a way to prevent Hitler from taking sole credit for the army’s extraordinary victory in France. Returning to Berlin, Shirer wondered if he would be arrested for his scoop.

The Battle of Britain Begins

England braced for immediate invasion. It didn’t come. Hitler, in a colossal misjudgment, postponed plans for a cross-Channel attack, opting for a more limited air war that bombastic Field Marshal Hermann Göring, chief of the Luftwaffe, assured him would quickly bring the British to their knees. For six weeks in the late summer of 1940, German pilots slugged it out in the skies over England with the remarkably young pilots, average age 21, of the Royal Air Force.

Despite staggering losses, the RAF held its own, helped immeasurably by a pioneering system of radar that could pick up enemy planes approaching from 150 miles away. Mainly, however, it was the sheer bravery and pluck of the young English pilots in their Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters, who sometimes had to fly six sorties in one day. By the time Hitler called off the air war on September 17, they had saved the home island from invasion. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” Winston Churchill said of the pilots, with eloquent simplicity.

The shining success of the British pilots (along with a perhaps misguided decision by Churchill to bomb Berlin) provoked Hitler to shift his attention from the pilots and their airfields to the British home front. Ed Murrow, who recently had begun a nightly broadcast, “London After Dark,” to describe the air war to American listeners, was as surprised as anyone when Nazi bombers began heading straight for London on September 7. That morning, a Saturday, he had driven out into the English countryside with two other journalists, Ben Robertson of PM, a left-wing New York newspaper, and Vincent Sheean of the North American News Alliance, to get a better vantage point of the fighting.

Parking his Sunbeam-Talbot convertible on a plateau overlooking the Thames estuary, Murrow and his friends walked to the edge of a turnip field to watch the smoke rising from two burning oil tankers set on fire by German raiders the night before. Suddenly, air raid sirens began wailing, and the newsmen looked up to see wave after wave of German bombers, flying in tight V-formations of 20 to 25 planes each, sweep up the river, headed for London. Diving behind a haystack to escape the shrapnel that had begun raining down on them like hail from British antiaircraft guns, they watched the endless procession of enemy planes in the skies over England. After 12 straight hours of bombing, the East End of London was in flames, 3,000 city dwellers were dead or injured, and Edward R. Murrow was about to become a legend.

“The Blitz”

Returning to London, he filed his first report of what immediately became known as “the Blitz” on September 8, from Studio B4 in the basement of Broadcasting House. “There are no words to describe the thing that is happening,” Murrow began. “A row of automobiles, with stretchers racked on the roofs like skis, standing outside of bombed buildings. A man pinned under wreckage where a broken gas main sears his arms and face. The courage of the people, the flash and roar of the guns rolling down streets, the stench of air-raid shelters in the poor districts.”

For the next 56 days, as Nazi bombers mercilessly pounded the city, Murrow patrolled the rubble-strewn streets, painting (as he said) “pictures in the air” for the American public. He chain-smoked three packs of Camels per day, drank endless cups of coffee, and got by on little or no sleep. On the advice of his old speech teacher, Ida Sue Anderson, he began each broadcast with his dramatic, half-second pause between his opening words: “This … is London.” It instantly became his catchphrase.

From the first, Murrow concentrated on the average British man and woman on the street. He sensed instinctively that Americans would identify with ordinary people who were undergoing an extraordinary trial. Avoiding the underground bomb shelters because he was afraid he would get too used to them Murrow and his favorite sidekick, daredevil CBS correspondent Larry LeSueur, sped down the blacked-out avenues of London in search of telling vignettes for the people back home.

“One becomes accustomed to rattling windows and the distant sound of bombs, and then there comes a silence that can be felt,” Murrow said. “You know the sound will return—you wait, and then it starts again. The waiting is bad. It gives you a chance to imagine things.” One night he found himself standing in front of a smashed grocery store. “I heard a dripping inside. It was the only sound in all London. Two cans of peaches had been drilled clean through by flying glass, and the juice was dripping down onto the floor.” Another time, he went to buy a hat. “My favorite shop had gone, blown to bits. The windows of my shoe store were blown out. I decided to have a haircut the windows of the barbershop were gone, but the Italian barber was still doing business.” He went to buy batteries for his flashlight the storekeeper told him he didn’t have to buy so many at once, they would be open all winter. “What if you aren’t here?” Murrow asked. “Of course we’ll be here,” the storekeeper replied. “We’ve been in business here for a hundred and fifty years.” On another occasion, he came upon a man sitting calmly at a desk in a pile of bombed-out rubble. “He was paying off the staff of the store—the store that stood there yesterday,” Murrow reported, noting signs he had seen that read stoically: “Shattered But Not Shuttered” and “Knocked But Not Locked.”

Bringing the Blitz to America

Murrow used every trick he could think of to bring the war into American living rooms. He broadcast from ground level, holding his microphone down to the street to catch the sound of bombs hitting the pavement or the unhurried footsteps of London residents walking—not running—to underground shelters. “The girls’ light, cheap dresses were strolling along the streets,” he reported admiringly. “There was no bravado, no loud voices, only a quiet acceptance of the situation. To me those people were incredibly brave and calm.”

One night he went onto the roof of Broadcasting House, where he broadcast under fire during a Nazi air raid. “The searchlights now are feeling almost directly overhead,” he recounted. “Now you’ll hear two bursts a little nearer in a moment. There they are! That hard, stony sound, that faint-red, angry snap of antiaircraft blasts against the steel-blue sky, the sound of guns off in the distance very faintly, like someone kicking a tub.”

He even found time to look in on a well-to-do Mayfair hotel, where he observed “many old dowagers and retired colonels settling back on the overstuffed settees in the lobby. It was not the sort of protection I’d seek from a direct hit from a half-ton bomb, but if you were a retired colonel and his lady, you might feel that the risk was worth it because you would at least be bombed with the right sort of people, and you could always get a drink.” Following the example of BBC reporters, he did not write out his scripts in advance, but merely dictated what he was seeing to his secretary, Kay Campbell, as it was going on. The effect was electric. This, indeed, was London during the Blitz.

The ruins of a London street continue to burn after a December 14, 1941 raid.

Often, the bombs fell too close for comfort. One unexploded projectile, a hitherto unknown German airborne time bomb known as a UXB, flew through the seventh-floor window of Broadcasting House and crashed into the music library, where it lay inert for over an hour. Murrow was in the sub-basement at the time, and after the bomb exploded, killing or wounding four men and three women, he unflappably resumed his broadcast. Another night, Murrow and his wife were returning home from a broadcast Ed wanted to stop in at the Devonshire Arms, a popular pub favored by reporters, but Janet persuaded him to keep walking. A moment later, “a tearing, whooshing shriek seemed to be coming down on top of them. They wrapped their arms around their heads to protect their eyes and ears. The blast flung them against the wall.” A bomb had landed directly on the pub, killing 30 people inside.

Berlin Diary

The Murrows’ apartment on Hallam Street became a de facto clubhouse for CBS broadcasters, rival journalists, political exiles, visiting Americans, and bombed-out friends. Czech foreign minister Jan Masaryk was a regular house guest.

While Murrow was riding out the Blitz in London, William Shirer continued broadcasting, albeit under heavy censorship, from Berlin. “We’re over here to try to get the truth if possible, a very difficult assignment these days,” he told listeners. Censors forbade him from using such words as “aggressive,” “militaristic” or “counterattack.” “Please remember it was Poland which attacked us first,” they said. One night they quibbled so long over his use of the word “reprisal” that he missed the broadcast altogether.

German officials telegraphed Shirer’s bosses in New York: “REGRET SHIRER ARRIVED TOO LATE TONIGHT TO BROADCAST.” Shirer complained bitterly, but executives urged him to stay on, “even if only reading official statements and newspaper texts.” This was too much for the proud newsman, who replied that he could hire a Nazi-American student for $50 a week “to read that crap.” After receiving word from a confidential source that the Nazis were building a trumped-up case against him as a spy, Shirer left Berlin for good in December 1940, smuggling out his private diaries in a stack of censor-stamped radio broadcasts. A few months later, safely in New York, he published Berlin Diary, an instant bestseller that afforded American readers their first close-hand view of Hitler, Göring, and their henchmen during their decade-long rise to power. It made Shirer famous, but it effectively ended his friendship with Murrow, who felt with some justice that Shirer had deserted the home team in the middle of the game.

“You Laid the Dead of London at Our Doors”

By then, the German bombing of London had subsided to sporadic, if still deadly, attacks. Murrow’s tireless broadcasts had become legendary, and no less an authority than Winston Churchill credited him with personally rallying American public opinion to the British side. Statistics bore out Churchill’s belief, revealing that only 16 percent of Americans had favored sending aid to Great Britain before the Blitz began, while the number had risen to 52 percent one month later. Returning to New York for a brief visit in November 1941, Murrow was feted by 1,100 well-wishers at a dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Poet Archibald MacLeish paid tribute to the broadcaster, telling Murrow: “You laid the dead of London at our doors, and we knew that the dead were our dead. You have destroyed the superstition that what is done beyond three thousand miles of water is not really done at all. There were some people in this country who did not want the people of America to hear the things you had to say.” Murrow received a standing ovation.

Without a doubt, Murrow’s reporting of the Blitz was the high point of his career, but he returned to London in the spring of 1942 with a new purpose in mind—to direct the news coverage of America’s recent entry into the war. His young staffers, including Larry LeSueur, Eric Sevareid, Richard C. Hottelet, and Cecil Brown, went into the field to report on the progress of the war, often at great personal risk. Brown was torpedoed aboard the British battlecruiser Repulse in the South China Sea, 50 miles north of Singapore, but used his experience as a merchant mariner to leap to safety and remain afloat for an hour before being fished out of the water by rescuers.

Sevareid parachuted out of a nose-diving C-46 cargo plane while flying “the Hump” over Burma and endured a harrowing 120-mile jungle trek to safety, helped by Burmese headhunters who were “some of the world’s most primitive killers.” Hottelet, a German-American from Brooklyn, was arrested in Berlin by Gestapo agents for espionage and held for several weeks before being exchanged for two Nazi spies in custody in the United States. Although proud of his ancestry, he understandably admitted that he “hated the Nazis’ goddamn guts.”

Murrow himself ventured into the field in March 1943 to cover the American campaign in Tunisia, code-named Operation Torch, where he came upon a knocked-out enemy tank in a stream bed. “Two dead [were] beside it, and two more digging a grave,” he reported. “A little farther along a German soldier sits smiling against a bank. He is covered with dust and he is dead. On the rising ground beyond a British lieutenant lies with his head on his arms as though shielding himself from the wind. He is dead too.”

Returning to London, Murrow was surprised and flattered to be offered the directorship of the British Broadcasting System. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was behind the offer he considered Murrow nothing less than the voice of Anglo-American cooperation. Murrow gave the offer serious thought but opted in the end to remain at CBS.

“Orchestrated Hell”

Although saddened by the death of his young colleague Ben Robertson of PM, who had died in a plane crash in Lisbon Bay, Murrow lobbied to ride along with the Royal Air Force on a night bombing raid of Berlin. On December 2, 1943, he got his wish, climbing aboard a Lancaster bomber named somewhat prosaically D for Dog. His subsequent broadcast became a classic of wartime journalism, winning him the second of five Peabody Awards from the Overseas Press Club.

Entitled “Orchestrated Hell,” the account began in Murrow’s characteristic low key: “Last night some young men took me to Berlin.” It proceeded to paint an intense and sharply focused portrait of what it was like to fly through the pitch-black skies over the Nazi capital. “The small incendiaries were going down like a fistful of white rice thrown on a piece of black velvet. The cookies—the four-thousand-pound high explosives—were bursting below like great sunflowers gone mad. I looked down, and the white fires had turned red. They were beginning to merge and spread, just like butter does on a hot plate. It isn’t a pleasant kind of warfare. The job isn’t pleasant it’s terribly tiring. Men die in the sky while others are roasted alive in their cellars. Berlin last night wasn’t a pretty sight. This was a calculated, remorseless campaign of destruction.”

Despite pleas from CBS executives to leave the flying to professionals, Murrow eventually made 25 sorties over Europe. Given the odds, he should have been killed—as was the pilot of his first mission, Jock Abercrombie, who went down in flames one month later. Airmen said later that Murrow’s presence on a mission was considered lucky.

The Sounds of Combat

Murrow reluctantly agreed to stay behind on D-Day, when the Allies launched their long-anticipated invasion of Europe. He was personally selected to read Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower’s order of the day announcing the invasion and concluding: “We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck. And let us beseech the blessing of almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” After that, he coordinated the confused first reports from CBS correspondents Larry LeSueur, Charles Collingwood, and Richard C. Hottelet, who came ashore at Utah Beach, and Bill Downs, who landed with British forces at Sword Beach.

Collingwood, lugging a 55-pound tape recorder, sent back the first eyewitness report to London: “The first craft onto the beaches was a little LCT. They came in doggedly looking very small and gallant with their heads up. Offshore several miles loomed the silhouettes of the big ships.” Although resistance was light, he continued, “This beach is still under considerable enemy gunfire. These boys are apparently having a pretty tough time in here on the beaches. It’s not very pleasant.”

After D-Day, the Allied forces drove steadily through France toward Nazi Germany. Murrow joined the others on the Continent after Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944. (Collingwood prematurely announced the liberation two days before it occurred, a journalistic catastrophe that would have resulted in his immediate firing if Murrow had not supported him and blamed the mistake, erroneously, as it turned out, on military authorities.) At Aachen, Germany, Hottelet got a more legitimate scoop, recording for the first time the actual sounds of combat. “Right down below us,” he reported, “the houses still are in German territory, and if anybody is leaning out of a bay window and draws a bead on this recorder, you will probably never hear it.” Distorted but jarring machine-gun fire punctuated his broadcast.

Buchenwald: Reporting on the Holocaust

Murrow hopped back and forth between London and the Continent as the Allies withstood the German surprise attack at the Battle of the Bulge and drove deeper into Germany, crossing the Rhine on March 24, 1945. He was with General George S. Patton’s Third Army when it liberated Buchenwald concentration camp, a few miles outside the city of Weimar, two weeks later. It was Murrow’s last scoop of the war and the most personally wrenching. Although he had been among the first newsmen to broadcast rumors of the Nazis’ infamous Final Solution more than two years earlier, nothing could have prepared him for the firsthand sights of the death camp itself.

The corpses of hundreds of concentration camp inmates lie on the ground at Buchenwald.

“If you are at lunch, or if you have no appetite to hear what the Germans have done, now is a good time to switch off the radio, for I propose to tell you of Buchenwald,” he warned listeners on April 15. It had taken him three days to process the experience.

“There surged around me an evil-smelling horde,” he continued. “Men and boys reached to touch me and they were in rags and the remnants of uniform. Death had already marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes.” He entered a prison barracks—“the stink was beyond all description”—and ran into the wraithlike former mayor of Prague, whom he did not recognize at first. “As I walked down to the end of the barracks, there was applause from the men too weak to get out of bed. It sounded like the hand clapping of babies. As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others—they must have been over sixty—were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it but will not describe it.”

Inside a small garage, Murrow saw “two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised, though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled very little. All except two were naked. I tried to count them as best as I could and arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than five hundred men and boys lay there in two neat piles.” He concluded his broadcast: “I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words. If I’ve offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least bit sorry.”

He noted that many of the inmates had praised Franklin Roosevelt, who coincidentally died that same day at Warm Springs, Georgia. “To them the name ‘Roosevelt’ was a symbol, the code word for a lot of guys named ‘Joe’ who are somewhere out in the blue with the armor heading east. At Buchenwald they spoke of the president just before he died. If there is a better epitaph, history does not record it.”

Victory in Europe

Fittingly, Murrow was back in London for V-E Day, May 8, 1945. He reported several times, from various parts of the city, noting with his quick eye for detail that some of the people were strangely quiet. “They appear not to be part of the celebration,” he said. “Their minds must be filled with the memories of friends who died in the streets where they now walk.” He made his own pilgrimage down Hallam Street, where he remembered: “Your best friend was killed on the next corner. You pass a water tank and recall, almost with a start, that there used to be a pub, hit with a two-thousand-pounder one night, thirty people killed.” He closed reflectively: “Six years is a long time. I have observed today that people have very little to say. There are no words.”

Tapped by CBS President William Paley to head the postwar network back in New York, Murrow gave his last London broadcast on March 10, 1946. In it, he thanked the British people for their hospitality, courage, and commitment to democratic ideals. “They feared Nazism but did not choose to imitate it,” he said. “I am persuaded that the most important thing that happened in Britain was that this nation chose to win or lose this war under the established rules of parliamentary procedure [with] no retreat from the principles for which your ancestors fought.”

When he finished the broadcast, the BBC engineers in the studio presented him with the microphone he had used during the war, inscribed: “This microphone, taken from studio B4 of the Broadcasting House, London, is presented to Edward R. Murrow who used it there with such distinction for so many broadcasts to CBS New York during the war years 1939 to 1945.” In his hands, that microphone had been as much a weapon in the fight against Nazi tyranny as any rifle, pistol, or bayonet, and in the end, it had proved just as effective.

Comments

Edward R. Murrow went on to a distinguished career in the new medium of television. I have been a guest at the CBS Television Broadcast Center on W. 57th Street in New York City his photo is proudly hanging in the entrance lobby.



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