Saturday, April 14, 2012

Berlin Diary

Colorized Photo of Hitler Accepting Surrender of French
in Marshall Foch's Rail Car, 1940
In the evenings, ensconced in my motel room in San Bruno, I have continued reading "Berlin Diary" by William L. Shirer.  Shirer was a radio correspondent for CBS in the early days of World War II, before the US was involved.  As a journalist, the Nazis gave him interviews and tours of battlefields and he was able to witness the events of 1938 - 1940 first hand.  He witnesses speeches by Hitler and  other top Nazis in person, and is in a constant fight with Nazi censors over the contents of his broadcasts.

The book makes well-known historic events seem very here and now.  I am disgusted with the Nazis rationalizations and excuses and propaganda.  They invaded Holland and Denmark "to preserve the freedom and independence" of those countries (from the Allies), even as their invasion was destroying those two things.  Shirer describes scenes in Poland, Belgium and France; destroyed houses, dead soldiers, masses of homeless refugees, dead horses bloating and stinking up roadways.

Shirer is disgusted at how easily the Nazis march into Holland and France, how quickly they defeat the allies (including the British).  In those early days, the allies were woefully unprepared for war.  Their airforces were very weak; they had no war strategy, and their early attacks on Germany were tepid.  They appeared to be a disorganized mob, while the Nazis were highly disciplined, motivated, innovative, well equipped and bold.  Shirer notes that France didn't fight the Nazi invasion, they just kept retreating until there was no more rear.  At least the Brits fought like devils at Dunkirk, before most escaped to sea in a flotilla of small boats, to fight again another day.

After defeating France, Hitler takes his revenge for Germany's defeat in 1918.  He orders the French commanders to sign an armistice in the very same rail car where Germans signed one, in defeat, 22 years earlier.  The rail car was the private car of Marshall Foch, preserved in a museum as a national shrine for France.  The Nazis took out a wall of the museum so the car could be taken out and placed in the exact same spot in the woods where the 1918 armistice was signed.  Hitler will occupy the very same chair where Marshall Foch sat, at the very same table in 1918, while the French sign the peace terms dictated to them.  It is Hitler's revenge for Germany's previous humiliation.  Shirer describes Hitler's approach to the car as it happened:
Then he strode slowly towards us, towards the little clearing in the woods. I observed his face. It was grave, solemn, yet brimming with revenge. There was also in it, as in his springy step, a note of the triumphant conqueror, the defier of the world. There was something else, difficult to describe, in his expression, a sort of scornful, inner joy at being present at this great reversal of fate—a reversal he himself had wrought.

Shirer, William (2011-10-23). Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 418-419). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
"Berlin Diary" is a very intriguing book, and I am only halfway through it.  There will be many more days and nights following Shirer through the Third Reich.  I highly recommend it.


Always On Watch said...

I might include this book on my summer reading list.

Stogie said...

AOW, I finished the book last night and regretted that it was finished. I really enjoyed reading it!