Study Guide

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich Flock and Herd Imagery

By William L. Shirer

Flock and Herd Imagery

Speaking of "flocking" under the Nazi banner...

Throughout TRFTR, Shirer uses "flock" and "herd" imagery to describe the German people. As he tries to explain the unprecedented degree of power that Hitler was allowed to seize for himself, Shirer implies that the German people were little more than sheep being led by the whims of a mad, megalomaniacal shepherd.

Let's take a look at one of the most striking passages where herd imagery comes into play in TRFTR:

By a hypnotism that defies explanation—at least by a non-German—Hitler held the allegiance and trust of this remarkable people to the last. It was inevitable that they would follow him blindly, like dumb cattle but also with a touching faith and even an enthusiasm that raised them above the animal herd, over the precipice to the destruction of the nation. (5.29.379)


Hitler himself used herd imagery on occasion. Even the title that he chose for himself calls up certain associations: The German word Fuehrer means "Leader," after all. Shirer quotes from Mein Kampf: "If the German people had possessed that herd unity which other peoples enjoyed, the German Reich today would doubtless be mistress of the globe" (1.4.51).

Hitler's own use of herd imagery can help us to understand Shirer's better, because Hitler and Shirer are engaging with this rhetoric in two very different ways. Hitler's words on "herd unity" in Mein Kampf appear in a long passage on the "folkish" state—that is, the Aryan master nation that he envisioned as his ideal. Hitler's concept of "herd unity" went hand-in-hand with his desire to keep the German race "simon-pure"—that is, untainted by what Hitler considered to be interracial mixing (1.4.51).

Shirer's own use of "flock" and "herd" imagery is totally different. Unlike Hitler, he uses it the same way that our parents do when they gripe: If all of your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?

For millions of Germans, Shirer suggests, the answer seems to have been yes.