This Is Berlin: Radio Broadcasts from Nazi Germanyby William Shirer, John Keegan, Inga Shirer Dean
William Shirer, the acclaimed journalist whose The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich quickly became, and still remains, the standard work on Nazi Germany, was a masterful chronicler of the events in Europe that led up to World War II. "This is Berlin" gathers together two-and-a-half years worth of his daily CBS radio broadcasts that described the menacing steps Germany took toward World War II, just as America and the world heard them. Here is a vivid, compelling, and urgent narrative, one of the great first-hand documents of the Second World War.
An introduction by noted historian John Keegan and a preface by Shirer's daughter, Inga Shirer Dean, put Shirer's life and work into context.
"It would be almost impossible to overstate the importance of William L. Shirer's broadcasts from Germany . . . Mr. Shirer's descriptions . . . read as well as they were heard 60 years ago." (Dallas Morning News)
"Shirer's broadcasts . . . are models of eloquence and subterfuge . . . any reader will find it hard to put down." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
"His broadcasts . . . have an enduring freshness." (Sunday Times)
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This Is BerlinRadio Broadcasts from Nazi Germany
By William L. Shirer
Overlook PressCopyright © 2002 William L. Shirer
All right reserved.
Berlin September 19, 1938
[By the time of the Munich Crisis, Shirer had left Vienna and shifted his base to Berlin.]
Hello America. This is Berlin calling.
Germany, like the rest of Europe, is waiting on Prague tonight.
But if I judge the temper of the people in the street right -- and I've talked with many of them since flying up here from Prague this morning -- they are waiting with a sense of relief.
Whereas three weeks ago when I was last here -- or even a week ago -- the people were wondering what could be in store for them, tonight they seem sure of one thing. That there will be no war.
"Isn't it wonderful," I've been told a hundred times today by scores of people who did not hide their sense of relief. "Isn't it wonderful. There's to be no war. We're going to have peace."
And today as the news came in that Britain and France -- Britain and France, mind you -- had agreed on a settlement which would hand over most of the Sudetenland to this country, thesense of elation among the people you saw about was very marked.
Not only National Socialist Party members, but others. They all felt that Chancellor Hitler had brought them undoubtedly the greatest victory of his career.
"And mind you," a German newspaperman said to me tonight. "It's a bloodless victory."
That's a feeling that's very deep in the minds of these people here tonight. That Chancellor Hitler appears to have achieved what he wanted without bloodshed.
"Like the occupation of the Rhine. Like the Anschluss with Austria. Done peacefully, without war." I've heard those phrases from a dozen people in the course of today.
None here that I've talked to today seems to doubt for a single moment that the Czechs will accept the Franco-British proposals.
Last night in Prague -- and this morning, just before I left, talking with Czechs, I wasn't so sure. But tonight in Prague may be a different story. I have no definite last minute information. It is a very grave decision they're taking in Prague. But, as I said, here in Berlin the Germans seem to think that it can only be acceptance. The ordinary little man doesn't seem to think it can be anything else. And he's glad.
As a matter of fact, it appears that even yesterday people here made up their minds that there would be no war. Friends of mine tell me that thousands -- it was a lovely warm, summer-like day -- drove down in their cars to the Sudeten frontier, and picnicked while they gazed over the frontier at the lovely, blue Sudeten mountains.
And while the people in the Berlin streets going home to work tonight seemed relieved and pleased with the turn of events, the excitement on the Sudeten frontier -- especially among the Sudetens who've come over to this side -- was at a feverish pitch.
I sat most of this evening at the side of a loudspeaker, listening to the broadcast of a great Sudeten mass-meeting at Dresden tonight where thousands crowded into a great hall went literally mad with excitement.
It was really indescribable.
I happened to be stationed in this country at the moment of Chancellor Hitler's first two great achievements. The tearing up of Versailles in 1935 when he proclaimed conscription and set out to build up the modern German army.
I thought I had seen the peak of mass enthusiasm that day.
A year later when he reoccupied the Rhineland I went up and down the Rhine, and the enthusiasm, as the troops marched in, was even greater. Unbelievable sometimes.
But tonight. Well, I don't know any words to describe it. It was simply a terrific mass hysteria. For two hours 10 or 15 thousand people, mostly Sudeten Germans who crossed over into the Reich -- Dresden is near the border, remember -- yelled themselves hoarse. The yelling in a big stadium at homecoming when your side makes the winning touchdown would be nothing compared to what we heard tonight.
There seemed to be two yells, and they were not unlike some of our college yells at home.
Adolf Hitler, roach uns frei
Von der Tschechoslowakei.
Translated it would be: Adolf Hitler, free us from Czechoslovakia. But in German it rhymes and has a popular swing.
The other was the more familiar one:
One Reich, One Folk, One Fuhrer.
And they yelled and yelled it, until you would have thought that their voices would have given in, or the roof of the building fallen through.
The principal speaker at this meeting in Dresden tonight was Herr Sebekovsky, the young Sudeten deputy. His voice, as it came roaring through the radio, choked with emotion. It was hard for me to think that it was this same young man, Herr Sebekovsky, with whom I talked quietly not two weeks ago in the Sudeten headquarters in Prague. In Prague, the afternoon we talked, he struck me as a quiet, young, business-like type. Then he talked and argued earnestly about the Carlsbad demands for autonomy within Czechoslovakia.
That was two weeks ago! It seems like an eternity.
Herr Sebekovsky addressed most of his words to his fellow Sudetens across the frontier, many of whom, no doubt, were listening to him on their radios.
"Sudeten brothers at home," he roared. "Keep your courage! The hour of your liberation nears!" And then there was a pandemonium of yelling in the hall for several minutes before he could say: "Keep your courage. And we will come to you. And this time, not without arms."
Knowing from my personal experiences in Sudetenland how many Sudetens felt, how they came out last week when we passed on the road and asked us nervously: "When are they coming? Are they coming? And when?" I imagine his words and his promise cheered quite a few people.
So much for the Sudetens.
Here in Berlin the press is full of little other news. I've got some of today's papers with me here and I'd like to give you an idea of what is in them.
Here's the Angriff: a typical headline about alleged conditions in Czechoslovakia. It says: Women and Children mowed down by armored cars. Sudetens complain. Another headline in the same paper: Czechoslovakia written off. Result of the London cabinet meeting.
The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung has a front page headline, or will have in its edition tomorrow morning -- I just got a copy -- Under the blood regime. New Czech murders of Germans. And the editor of the paper has a two column editorial entitled: Desperadoes. I take it he refers to the Czechs.
The Borsen Zeitung's front page leads off with the headline: Poison Gas Attack on Aussig? And the story alleges a Czech plan to use poison gas on the German inhabitants of the town of Aussig. Special agents of Moscow are blamed.
The Hamburger Fremdenblatt, one of the leading provincial papers has this headline: Extortion. Plundering. shooting. The Czech terror in German Sudetenland grows worse from day to day.
And the Nachtausgabe, a widely-read evening paper carries this frontpage headline: Dangerous chaos in Prague. Moscow hopes for catastrophe in Sudetenland.
And practically all the papers play up the story about the alleged gas attack plans for Aussig.
Now I'm not here tonight to tell you how I personally see the situation in Czechoslovakia. But I think perhaps you will be interested in seeing how the picture is presented in the newspapers here in Berlin.
The day after tomorrow there is to be the meeting at Godesberg between Prime Minister Chamberlain and Chancel[or Hitler. That little town is a hive of activity tonight.
A friend of mine -- one of the advance guard of the army of foreign correspondents who will descend on the little town tomorrow -- was down there today and he has just phoned an idea of what it looks like.
The whole town, he reported, was being gaily decorated with pine-tree branches and bunting and thousands of flags. Not only the Swastika flag. The Union Jack too. Thousands of Union Jacks.
The good people of the little town officially of course are not supposed to know exactly who the decorations are for -- the meeting hasn't been publicly announced yet. But of course they have a pretty good idea.
The little Hotel Dreesen where Chancellor Hitler went to stay way back in 1926 after his release from prison, and whose proprietor became his friend, was also getting a dressing-up today.
The hotel lounge was refurbished this afternoon and decorated with bowls of flowers and German and British flags.
Chancellor Hitler will occupy the little suite which is reserved for him the year around. And probably the meetings will be held there.
Mr. Chamberlain probably will stay in a hotel in nearby Petersberg, one of the seven famous Rhine mountains.
One thing is certain: Mr. Chamberlain will certainly get a warm welcome.
In fact I get the impression in Berlin today that Mr. Chamberlain is a pretty popular figure around here.
Cologne September 21, 1938 23.35
Hello America! This is Cologne, Germany, calling.
I want to tell you tonight about the beautiful, peaceful, sleepy little Rhineland town of Godesberg where Chancellor Hitler and Mr. Chamberlain are to have their historic meeting tomorrow. Chancellor Hitler is due to arrive by special train at 10 in the morning and Mr. Chamberlain by air from London shortly after noon.
I left Godesberg a half hour ago to drive over here to Cologne.
Driving down the Rhine today you get a curious sensation. It's the sight of the British Union Jack floating over the Rhine. Side-by-side with the Swastika. It appears to be a very popular combination in this part of the world tonight.
Godesberg itself, a town of some 24,000 tranquil souls, seemed to be rubbing its eyes today.
It has seen Chancellor Hitler before, to be sure, both before he became this country's greatest figure, and afterward. For 12 years he has had a suite reserved for himself at the Hotel Dreesen.
But never before have the good inhabitants of Godesberg had the chance of seeing not only the ruler of the German Reich, but the head of the British Empire. And they're plenty excited about it.
This afternoon I strolled down the river to the Hotel Dreesen where Chancellor Hitler will stay. It's a building of nondescript architecture, like many another hotel of its kind which line the banks of the Rhine. Made of white brick and stucco. And on the river side is painted on it a huge sign which says: RHINE HOTEL DREESEN -- SUMMER AND WINTER STOPPING PLACE.
Inside the hotel there was a great deal of bustle. Flowers and pine-tree branches were being brought in. Union Jacks and Swastikas strung up.
From the Chancellor's rooms -- from the room in which he and Mr. Chamberlain will meet tomorrow -- there is a magnificent view across the Rhine to the famous Siebenbergen -- the seven mountains which rise steeply from the opposite bank of the river. On the top of one of them you could see the ruins of the famous castle of Drachenfels -- or, the Lair of the Dragons -- a historic landmark.
But the view from Chancellor Hitler's hotel was nothing compared to the view we got from Mr. Chamberlain's hotel. The British Prime Minister is to stay across the river, on the Petersberg, one of the seven mountains, rising a thousand feet about the water.
I took lunch there today.
Now Godesberg is not an important enough town for a bridge and so we had to ferry over. Incidentally, driving down to the ferry, I noticed many horse-and-buggies. Godesberg is that kind of a town. Once across the river, we sped past the horse-and-buggies, around several hair-pin bends, and in ten minutes were on top of the mountain and being ushered into the Petersberg hotel where Mr. Chamberlain will stay.
The view was superb. The Rhine flowed like a narrow ribbon between the mountains. Ruined old medieval castles stood perched on the mountain tops like worn jewels. The air was clear and we could see 30 miles up the river to the range of the Eifel mountains. It was the landscape that inspired Beethoven, who was born at Bonn, five miles down the river; and Goethe.
And Mr. Chamberlain's rooms are so placed as to give him the best possible view of this noble landscape.
I saw them today -- the three rooms. The assistant manager of the hotel took me all through them.
In Mr. Chamberlain's sitting room, he pointed out a large Louis Quinze table. A stream-lined telephone with an automatic dial stood incongruously on one corner of it. Back of the table on the wall was a large painting, one of those Victorian, or perhaps pre-Victorian works that I suppose modern critics would call amusing and slightly sentimental. Someone said the title of it was: "The Torn Letter". That was the idea, anyway.
The room was full of bowls of immense yellow and pink chrysanthemums. A door led from the sitting room to an immense veranda, a hundred feet wide, from which Mr. Chamberlain can get the wonderful view which I just described.
The other rooms, a breakfast room and the bedroom were just nice, pleasant hotel rooms.
And so back to Godesberg. Godesberg, by the way, is a watering place, a cure-place. People come here for cures from the springs here. What kind of cures, you may ask? This evening one of the town fathers gave me some literature. I'll just read from that: "The Godesberg baths," it says, "are generally acknowledged to be of the greatest value in cases of heart disease, and in nervous cases where a tonic effect is desired."
Godesberg September 22 1938 18:15
Hello America! This is Godesberg, Germany, calling.
We're Speaking to you from the Hotel Dreesen in Godesberg. In a room just above us here the Chancellor of the German Empire and the head of the British Empire have been holding their historic conference most of the afternoon.
I say historic, and probably it is, though events are moving so fast that some people here are beginning to think that the meeting between the two statesmen will be little more than a formality -- that is, to fix up the details.
Because the word coming in here today is that the Sudetens, backed by the Reich, have already moved into Czechoslovakia. And that the Swastika flag tonight flies from those two Sudeten strongholds in Czechoslovakia, Aasch and Eger.
It does look from here as if the avalanche cannot be stopped.
Now as to the meeting upstairs in the Dreesen Hotel here.
Chancellor Hitler arrived this morning at 10 o'clock by special train. Mr. Chamberlain, flying from London, landed at Cologne at thirty-six minutes past noon. Most of us were at the airport to meet him, but, as was expected, he had nothing to say. I thought he had a very serious look on his face, and little time was lost in formalities. Mr. Chamberlain was naturally preoccupied with the business at hand, so much so that he forgot his umbrella in the plane, and it had to be retrieved. Incidentally it was a beautiful day, with the sun out and very warm.
A guard of honor from Hitler's own personal bodyguard -- crack S.S. troops in black uniforms and steel helmets -- presented arms to Mr. Chamberlain and he acknowledged it by raising his arm.
Mr. Chamberlain did not meet Chancellor Hitler at once. He drove directly to his hotel on top of the Petersberg and after admiring the view had lunch with the British ambassador, Sir Nevile Henderson. At the hotel he remarked to friends: "I had a good flight. Weather was fine. We flew low and I could enjoy the landscape."
A little before 4 p.m., our time, Mr. Chamberlain climbed into one of Chancellor Hitler's Mercedes, drove down to the Rhine, and crossed on the ferry which we all use here to get across the river. The German Foreign Minister, Herr Ribbentrop, accompanied him.
At the Hotel Dreesen here, Herr Hitler was out on the terrace to meet his guest. They shook hands warmly and the Chancellor then conducted Mr. Chamberlain upstairs to the little conference room. After five minutes of formalities everyone withdrew, both the German and English advisers, and Mr. Chamberlain and Herr Hitler were left absolutely alone to talk and decide whatever fate they choose to impose upon Europe.
The only other person present was Professor Schmidt, Herr Hitler's interpreter.
It is too early yet to say with any authority what was said or decided.
Now, Mr. Chamberlain, it appears, came with some plans of his own to propose. They were said to be three.
1. An international commission for Sudetenland to arrange for the withdrawal of the Czechs and the transfer of the two populations.
2. An appeal by the four Western Powers for a period of peace and tranquility during which the present situation in Europe could be cleared up.
3. An international guaranty for what remains of Czechoslovakia.
That gives you an idea of what's in the air, but we'll have to wait a couple of day to see what comes of it.
And now for the news from the other side of Germany. According to reports here, the Czech troops and police withdrew today from the Eger sector, and it was immediately occupied by the Sudeten Legion, which crossed the Czech frontier from Germany where it had been arming all week.
Coming down to the hotel a few minutes ago I bought a copy of the evening edition of the Kolnische Zeitung. I want to read you the first story phoned by the correspondent of that paper from what until yesterday was Czechoslovakia but since today has become a part of the ever-swelling Reich. He dates his story from Graslitz, near Eger.
"This is the first telephone conversation to Cologne made from the Eger district since the Germans took over law and order," he phoned. "We German journalists crossed the former Czech border at 8.20 this morning, though with some difficulty.
"At 6.20 this morning it became known on our side that the Czechs were withdrawing. A terrific feeling of joy came over the people in the Klingen Valley, both Reich Germans and the Sudeten German refugees. With cries of 'The frontier is free! Sudeten Germany is free!' crowds stormed through the streets of Klingenthal." (Klingenthal is the town on the German side of the border.)
"We journalists," he goes on, "drove slowly down the road towards Graslitz, with the Swastika flag flying from our radiator. The streets through which we drove were crowded with people, shouting continually Heil! Heil! Heil! We could drive through the mass of people only very slowly. After a quarter of an hour we finally reached the market place, where a delirious crowd stopped any further progress of our car. We had to climb out of the car, and just then we saw the first Swastika flag being hoisted over the Czech district offices. I'm telephoning this from the local telephone central."
And then he describes how the last Czechs pulled out at 8.20 this morning, tanks forming the rear-guard.
And here's a proclamation to the population of Eger, which just comes in from the official German news agency, DNB.
"To the German people of the Eger district: 'Our homeland is free, and we join the Reich. In this great hour we ask all comrades to maintain absolute quiet and Order. Our police service, in agreement with the Czech state, takes over the organization of the front-fighters. The orders of the front-fighters are to be absolutely followed. To guarantee the handing over of our homeland without trouble, the entire population is asked for the time being to remain in-doors. German people of Eger, who through so many hard years have maintained themselves through strict discipline, in these last hours before the complete liberation, continue to maintain law and order.'"
From that official communique it appears as if the whole thing was done in agreement with the Czech authorities. And it was done peacefully.
Another DNB report from Eger also speaks of negotiations for the withdrawal having been worked out with the Czech police and military.
But there was one group of Czech soldiers which apparently did not withdraw immediately from Eger. The DNB reports that the cemetery there was still being guarded by Czech troops.
The DNB also emphasizes that the whole occupation today was carried out peacefully and orderly.
Well, events do move quickly. Just a week ago today I stood in the streets of Eger gazing at the front of the Hotel Victoria which had been partially demolished by machine-gun bullets and hand-grenades. Czech police and troops and armored cars and tanks were everywhere.
Just as week ago, that was.
Godesberg September 22/23, 1938 01:25
Hello America. This is Godesberg, Germany, calling
For the second time today, I'm talking to you from the Hotel Dreesen in Godesberg where for more than three hours this afternoon Chancellor Hitler and Prime Minister Chamberlain were in conference together.
What was decided or even what was discussed in the little room just above us here has not been made known.
All we know is that the talks did not come to an end after the first meeting, as they did at Berchtesgaden last week. An official communique said they would be continued tomorrow.
And then we have the appeal of the British Prime Minister issued from his mountain hotel above the Rhine tonight, pleading that there be no incidents in Sudetenland.
Shortly after Mr. Chamberlain left Chancellor Hitler's hotel at 7:15 this evening, his private secretary convoked the correspondents to his hotel on the summit of the Petersberg. The ferry wasn't working, we drove five miles down the river to Bonn to find a bridge, and arrived all breathless on the mountain top a half hour later. I'll read to you the statement from Prime Minister Chamberlain which we were given:
"The Prime Minister had a conversation with the German Fuhrer which, beginning at 4 o'clock, was continued until shortly after 7 p.m. It is intended to resume the conversations tomorrow morning.
"In the meantime, the first essential, in the opinion of the Prime Minister, is that there should be a determination on the part of all parties and on the part of all concerned to ensure that the local conditions in Czechoslovakia are such as not in any way to interfere with the progress of the conversations. The Prime Minister appeals most earnestly therefore to everybody to assist in maintaining a state of orderliness and to refrain from action of any kind that would be likely to lead to incidents."
That was Mr. Chamberlain's appeal.
The evening newspapers available here divide their front-page headlines and space tonight almost equally between Mr. Chamberlain's meeting with the German Chancellor and the reoccupation of the Eger district by the Sudeten Germans which, according to the papers, began this morning.
The German press says that this occupation took place in an orderly manner and according to agreement with the Czech military and police.
"Wonderful Discipline -- Indescribable Joy" -- was the headline about it in the Cologne evening paper tonight.
And you can imagine that there was considerable rejoicing among the populace here when the news came that the Nazi Swastika flag was being hoisted everywhere in this district which only yesterday belonged to Czechoslovakia.
I was at Eger just a week ago today, and of course not a Swastika was to be seen. Events indeed are moving rapidly.
But today, say the German papers, the Nazi flag went up in quick succession on the city-hall, the town's church, numerous public buildings and then the private dwellings.
Well, it's 1:30 in the morning here now. I see the lights in Mr. Chamberlain's hotel up on the mountain across the Rhine are mostly out. The good folk in this town of Godesberg have all gone to bed.
Berlin September 24, 1938 24.05
Hello America! This is Berlin calling.
At least tonight, we seem to know a little more where we stand.
We still have six days of peace ahead of us. And just exactly one week from tonight we shall know whether it is to be peace or war.
To the extent that we know that much, the talks between Mr. Chamberlain and Herr Hitler which ended at 1.30 this morning at Godesberg have cleared the air. There was some confusion amongst us all at Godesberg early this morning as to what the British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor actually had accomplished.
But tonight, as seen from Berlin, it seems clear that the position is this:
Herr Hitler has demanded that Czechoslovakia not later than next Saturday agree to the handing over of the Sudeten territory to Germany. Mr. Chamberlain has agreed to convey this demand to the Czechoslovak government. And by the very fact that he -- with all the authority of a man who is the political leader of the British Empire -- has taken upon himself the job of communicating Herr Hitler's demands to the Prague government is accepted here -- and I believe elsewhere too -- as meaning that he, Mr. Chamberlain, backs them up.
That is why few persons in Berlin tonight believe that Czechoslovakia will turn them down. That is why the German press tonight is coupling the names of Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain as the real rescuers of European peace. That's why the German people I talked with in the streets of Cologne at dawn this morning waiting for my plane, and in Berlin this evening, still seemed to believe that there would be peace after all. And that Germany would acquire three and a half million Sudeten Germans and their beautiful and rich territory without bloodshed.
As a matter of fact, what do you think the new slogan is in Berlin tonight? It's in all the evening newspapers. It's this: "With Hitler and Chamberlain for Peace."
Mr. Chamberlain, without doubt, has become a very popular figure here in Germany. The Diplomatic Correspondence, organ of the German Foreign Office, writes tonight, "The German nation thanks Mr. Chamberlain for the efforts which he has made to establish a basis for shunting the threatening conflict towards a peaceful separation of Czechs and Sudetens. The Prime Minister, within a short week, has accomplished a valuable work in the service of peace. He realizes that the German demands still keep within the limits of the principles of self-determination which have been recognized in all responsible quarters."
And Der Angriff, most outspoken of the Nazi evening papers in Berlin, says that the warm reception which Mr. Chamberlain was given in Cologne this morning before boarding his airplane for London was only "a further proof of how this clever and far-sighted statesman has conquered the best sympathies of the German people."
And the same paper goes on to say how Mr. Chamberlain and Chancellor Hitler, quote, "have been working night and day for peace."
For the German press, the Czech President Bene, on the other hand, has been working night and day for just the opposite, for war. And all the newspapers tonight which, as I said, publish the new slogan "With Hitler and Chamberlain for Peace," publish another one which they attribute to Czechoslovakia, and which runs like this: "With Bene and Stalin for War."
Let's look at the headlines of tonight's and tomorrow morning's Berlin newspapers.
The front-page headlines of Nachtausgabe say: Prague's Mobilization -- The Road to War. Adolf Hitler's Plan -- A Proposal for Peace.
The headlines in the Angriff put it this way: Prague's Rulers Sabotage Chamberlain. Germany, England and France Want to Save European Peace.
The Borsen Zeitung puts it even more simply: Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler for Peace. Only Prague Wants War.
Herr Hitler, to get back to the news, returned to Berlin by air this afternoon and held consultations with his chief followers, including Field Marshal Goring, who, it was announced today, had completely recovered from his recent illness.
Here in Germany, we've been completely cut off from Czechoslovakia. No trains or airplanes came through today at all. And the telephone and telegraph service has been stopped. It was officially denied here tonight that Germany, through which most of the telephone and telegraph lines from Czechoslovakia reach the outside world, had cut them. Officials here said that the Czechoslovak Ministry of Posts today informed the international postal office at Berne that in accordance with Article 27 of the Berne Convention, all private telephone and telegraph communication from or to Czechoslovakia was being stopped.
Berlin September 25, 1938 23:40
Hello America. This is Berlin calling.
The news from Berlin tonight is that Chancellor Hitler is going to make what has been described here as a historic speech tomorrow evening at 8 o'clock, our time -- 2 p.m. New York time.
Preparations were being rushed through tonight to enable every single one of the 75,000,000 Germans in this country to hear by radio the words of the Fuhrer. It will also go out on short wave to many foreign countries. There will be few indeed, in Europe, or in the rest of the world who will not be able to hear the speech if they wish to. You can rather imagine that among the listeners will certainly be Mr. Chamberlain in London and M. Daladier in Paris.
In fact Chancellor Hitler's audience probably will be even greater than the one he had just two weeks ago tomorrow night when he made his famous speech at the closing session of the Nuremberg Party Congress. It was following that talk, you will remember, that events in Czechoslovakia and in Europe started marching with such bewildering speed.
The news that in this tense hour for Europe Hitler had decided to make a public speech burst suddenly at 5 o'clock this afternoon in Berlin.
I happened to be strolling up the Wilhelmstrasse a little before five on my way back from the American Embassy where I'd had a talk with our counsellor of embassy. Usually on a Sunday afternoon, the Wilhelmstrasse, on which, as you know, are located most of the government ministries, including Herr Hitler's Chancellery and the Foreign Office, -- usually the Wilhelmstrasse is a very dead and quiet street on a nice Sunday afternoon such as we had today.
All the government offices are usually closed.
But this afternoon I thought I detected considerable activity -- quite a bit of coming and going, as it were. I thought I saw the British ambassador, Sir Nevile Henderson, leaving the Foreign Office. And I knew that he usually did not call there on Sunday.
At about 8 o'clock tonight, early editions of tomorrow morning's papers were on the street and selling briskly. I bought one and this is the flaming headline I saw: The Fuhrer to Speak Monday at the Sport Palace. Community Loudspeakers to Carry it to Every Corner of the Land.
And then down one half of Page One in great black type was the following Proclamation to the People issued by Dr. Goebbels. It's interesting to note that he issued it not as Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, but as "Reichs Propaganda Chief of the National Socialist Movement."
Above the proclamation in half-inch high type is a heading: HISTORIC MASS MEETING.
And this is it. I quote:
"On Monday, the 26 September, at 8 o'clock in the Sport Palace in Berlin there will be a great Popular Mass Meeting. The Fuhrer will speak.
"This mass meeting will be broadcast by all German radio stations. Those who do not possess a radio apparatus will listen to it through community loudspeakers in every town and village in Germany. All party leaders in each district must begin immediately to prepare for the reception of the community broadcasts. There must not be a single person in Germany who shall not be a witness, by means of the radio, of this historic mass meeting."
Later on tonight the party leadership in Berlin added the following to the proclamation, addressed to the population of the capital:
"Entry to the Sport Palace mass meeting is free. The mass meeting will be broadcast by loudspeakers along the streets leading from the Fuhrer's Chancellery to the Sport Palace. The Sport Palace will be opened to the public at 5 p.m.
"People of Berlin! Come out to the great People's Mass Meeting! If there is no place for you in the Sport Palace, then make for the Fuhrer along his route a gigantic human wall and prepare for him a reception full of the feeling which moves us in these historic hours."
The Sport Palace, you may know, is the Madison Square Garden of Berlin. It seats about 15,000 people. In the days of the Republic, as since, it has been the scene not only of sporting events, but of great popular political meetings. Herr Hitler himself used to speak there before he rose to power, and I well remember that my first glimpse of him and indeed of his National Socialist movement was at a Nazi mass meeting at the Sport Palace six or seven years ago.
It seems curious to realize, incidentally, that at that time Berlin, which had a socialist and communist majority, did not take him very seriously. Outside of one newspaper, then edited by Dr. Goebbels, all the Berlin newspapers panned him the next day.
Well, that was all six or seven years ago.
Now, why did Chancellor Hitler suddenly decide to make a speech tomorrow? The newspapers here do not give an explanation, but here is one I heard in the Wilhelmstrasse tonight.
The Chancellor, it was said there, has decided to speak in order to answer a statement given out by the Prague radio station at 2.20 o'clock this afternoon. I did not hear that broadcast, but in Berlin it is charged that the Prague radio station accused Herr Hitler and Mr. Chamberlain of going further than the original terms of the Anglo-French agreement which was forced on Czechoslovakia last week.
Herr Hitler, I was told, will answer that accusation in his speech tomorrow night.
Now that brings us back to the famous German memorandum handed over to Mr. Chamberlain at Godesberg night before last.
According to German sources of information here, that memorandum merely follows the principles of the Anglo-French proposals for the partition of Czechoslovakia. On top of that, it is believed to demand the evacuation of the Sudeten territory by the Czechs within a certain time limit and the occupation by German forces. A study of Herr Hitler's own newspaper this morning, the Volkischer Beobachter, brings this out very clearly.
The chief foreign political expert of the Volkischer Beobachter, Dr. Theodor Seibert, also emphasizes that in his paper today. He calls the memorandum the "final peace proposals of the Fuhrer." He says, incidentally, that Mr. Chamberlain accepted the job of handing over the memorandum only with a heavy heart, and adds, quote, "We have a very full understanding for Mr. Chamberlain." Dr. Seibert goes on to say: "Prague's position could be understood if the question of the so-called integrity of the Versailles Czechoslovakia really was being questioned. But as a matter of fact, not only did most of the public opinion in the Western Democratic countries already accept the proposition that the amputation of Czechoslovakia was unavoidable, but Prague itself, Bene himself, accepted this fundamental before all the world. We understand that the new Sirovy government also notified London that it would stand by this acceptance."
That's the German version of the memorandum.
Now I want to say just a word about how the people look in Berlin in this critical hour.
A friend called me up from New York yesterday and wanted to know if there was any war feeling, any of this "On to Prague!" fever among the population of Berlin.
The answer is that there is none. In the old days on the eve of war, the crowd used to demonstrate angrily before the embassies of the enemy countries. I made a point of it today to go past the Czech Legation. Not a soul outside, not even a policeman.
There is no war fever among the people in Berlin at all. Today, for instance, what did they do?
Well, they did what they do every Sunday when it is warm and sunny like it was today. They left the city and flocked out to those lovely lakes and splendid woods which dot Berlin and which make it one of the most pleasant cities in Europe in which to live. Thousands went to the Wannsee for what was probably the last swim of the season. The subways and elevated lines which take you out to the lakes and woods were jammed. You could hardly find standing room.
This morning I strolled through the Tiergarten, Berlin's Central Park, in the very heart of town. The good citizens were sunning themselves on the park benches, or playing with their children on the grass.
You had to rub your eyes to think that anything at all was the matter with this old world, with this old Europe.
I return you now to the CBS studios in New York.
Berlin September 26, 1938 01.45
Hello America! This is Berlin calling.
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 Bene 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 Bene 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.
And if President Bene does not hand over the Sudetenland on Saturday? Herr Hitler had a very categorical answer to that too. In no unfirm voice and with the crowd again cheering wildly before he had hardly finished the phrase, he said:
"Bene has now in his hand, war or peace.
"He can grant the Sudeten Germans their freedom, or we will take it for them."
At this point, the 15,000 people leaped to their feet in a frenzy, raising their right hands in salute and yelling at the top of their voices in approval. It was a full minute before Herr Hitler could go on.
"The world must know," he went on, "that in my whole life I have never been a coward. I now go at the head of my people as its first soldier. No democratic phrases will suffice at this time. In this fateful hour, the whole German people are united behind me.
"We are determined. Herr Bene can choose."
Those were Chancellor Hitler's very last words, and those of you who were listening to the broadcast must have heard the frantic cheering that greeted them.
Then the crowd started to yell in unison -- much as our own college boys do at home -- "The Fuhrer commands, we follow." Over and over again they kept shouting it until I thought they'd take the roof off.
In good plain American, you can summarize it this way: Herr Hitler put it up to the Czechs to accept his demands by Saturday, or fight. And there we are.
There was a remarkable scene at the end. Herr Hitler sat down, and when the cheering had subsided, Dr. Goebbels arose and addressing the Fuhrer said, "The German nation stands behind you in blind obedience, willing to follow where you lead, and in the spirit of German honor." Then he added:
"And never will 1918 come again!"
At this point not only the house rose to its feet to cheer, but all the cabinet members on the platform stood up, and Herr Hitler stood up. Herr Hitler stood up -- he was facing in my direction, and I'll never forget the emotion on his face as Dr. Goebbels uttered those words that 1918 would never come again. Herr Hitler raised his right hand high up and brought it down in a gesture of approval and thankfulness, as if Dr. Goebbels had hit upon the right word to sum up the feelings in all of them. No 1918 ever again. No defeat like in '18.
It was a moment -- it lasted perhaps ten seconds in all -- that will remain in my mind the rest of my life, regardless of what is to come in the next days.
Now, don't think that after that unforgettable speech and the unforgettable scenes of enthusiasm which that speech evoked in the fifteen thousand people in the Sport Palace -- don't think that there is a lot of war fever in the streets of Berlin tonight. When I drove up here a few minutes ago to the broadcasting house two miles through the center of Berlin, there was hardly a soul in the street. It was 1.30 in the morning, and everyone had gone to bed.
After the speech, I followed the crowd out and walked with it up the Potsdamerstrasse to the Potsdamerplatz. I was very puzzled. Because I was listening to what the people were saying. And they were not talking about war at all, but about how to get home, and whether there was time for a beer in their favorite beerhouse, or a coffee at the favorite cafe. No yelling; no slogans; no shouting, "On to Prague!" They were a good-natured bunch of people and you could see that they neither wanted war, nor expected it.
Berlin September 27, 1938 18:00
Hello America. This is Berlin calling.
Chancellor Adolf Hitler has replied to President Roosevelt.
The reply was sent off by cable to Washington this morning and is said here to be the longest message of its kind ever dispatched by the German Fuhrer to the head of another state.
It gives an exhaustive analysis of the German position, and reviews the grievances of the Sudeten Germans since the war.
But the important thing for us is that Chancellor Hitler frankly informs President Roosevelt that he, that Germany, flatly rejects all responsibility if the present situation should come to a war. The responsibility, Herr Hitler maintains, is now with Prague.
Moreover, Herr Hitler tells Mr. Roosevelt in very plain words that a further postponement of the solution of the Sudeten question is impossible. "The possibilities," he informs our president, to quote him, "of arriving at a just solution by agreement are therefore exhausted by the German memorandum."
As you know that memorandum demands that the Czechs clear out of the Sudetenland by Saturday -- just four days from now.
"It does not lie in the hands of the German government," Herr Hitler concludes his long message to President Roosevelt, "but in the hands of the Czechoslovakian government to decide whether it wants war or peace."
In other words, the German Chancellor has told President Roosevelt what he told the German people in his broadcast last night: that Prague must accept his demands peacefully, or submit to war.
And in this message to our President, as indeed in his speech at the Sport Palace last night, Herr Hitler makes it clear that he has made up his mind, and that he will not budge an inch from his position.
If Prague accepts the German demands: Good. Peace.
If Prague does not accept: Good. War.
You couldn't ask for it any plainer, if I may put it that way, in this critical hour for Europe.
Hitler received Sir Horace Wilson this morning and handed to him his reply to Mr. Chamberlain's letter. What Herr Hitler's reply is has not yet been officially made known. But in the Wilhelmstrasse this afternoon there was still some optimism and it was said that Herr Hitler's reply gives "new hope for a peaceful solution."
The feeling here this afternoon was that if Mr. Chamberlain, as is reported, was willing to guarantee that the Sudetenland would be given over to Germany without undue delay, then the German Chancellor would accept this, and there would be no resort to force on Saturday, even if the Czechs are not out by that time.
But at the same time it was emphasized that something definite must be done by October 1.
Munich September 29, 1938 18:00
Hello America. Hello CBS. This is Munich, Germany, calling. William L. Shirer calling the Columbia Network from Munich.
The Big Four of Europe -- Herr Hitler, Signor Mussolini, M. Daladier and Mr. Chamberlain, have lost no time in getting down to the very serious business of trying to avert a world war over the Sudeten crisis.
Just a few minutes after Mr. Chamberlain landed at Munich airport at 11.55 today, and he was the last of the four to arrive, these four statesmen, who hold the destiny of Europe in their hands, got together in the Fuhrer's headquarters here in Munich and began their discussions. There was so much speed about it that Mr. Chamberlain didn't even have time to go to his hotel. He drove right from the airport to the Fuhrer's headquarters.
The first meeting was quite informal. It began at 12.30, our time. And the first feeling out of one another took place while the four statesmen nibbled at a buffet lunch, offered by Herr Hitler. It was what you might call a stand-up buffet lunch. The four men -- no they weren't alone, Foreign Ministers Ciano of Italy, and von Ribbentrop of Germany, Sir Nevile Henderson the British ambassador, and M. Francois Poncet, the French ambassador were there too. As was also Field Marshal Goring, whose role in these days must not be overlooked by any means.
They all stood around in a small reception room, eating a light lunch, and getting acquainted.
For instance, Mr. Chamberlain had never personally met the Duce before. He had written him personal letters, but had never met him face to face. They started off with a friendly little chat. M. Daladier had never personally met either of the leaders of the two totalitarian states. And he proceeded to get acquainted with them. Actually, I'm told that during a considerable time, M. Daladier and Hitler stood in one corner and had a very long heart-to-heart talk. Herr Hitler has a warm spot in his heart for anyone who, like himself, fought the last war in the trenches as a common soldier. M. Daladier had done just that, in the front lines in France. It may have been that the two fought literally opposite each other some time between 1914 and 1918. At any rate, they stood together today and had a long friendly chat.
After this stand-up buffet was finished, the four statesmen gathered around a table and discussed briefly how their work would proceed. The talks were necessarily slow because of language difficulties -- everything had to be translated in French, German and English.
It's generally believed that they decided to devote the day exclusively to trying to find a solution of the Sudeten problem.
Whether or not these four men on whom so much depends will be able to do any more than work out some agreement by which a world war can be averted at this eleventh hour over Sudetenland we do not yet know. And we won't know until later on this evening.
[The rest of Shirer's broadcasts covering events at Munich have been lost.]
Excerpted from This Is Berlin by William L. Shirer Copyright © 2002 by William L. Shirer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
William L. Shirer (1904-1994) was a newspaper correspondent and radio journalist in the years before and during World War II. He is the author of the critically acclaimed bestseller The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as well as Berlin Diary: The Nightmare Years and many other works.
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