The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich Summary
You can think of Book One of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as laying the intellectual groundwork for the pages that follow.
In these chapters, Shirer charts the early years of Adolf Hitler's life, and shows us how the young would-be Fuehrer went from being an Austrian "vagabond" to the discredited schemer of the infamous Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, his failed coup to take over the state of Bavaria.
Even more than that, Shirer uses Book One of TRFTR to explore the intellectual and political climate that made it possible for a man like Hitler to rise to power in post-WWI Germany. Like his readers, Shirer wants to know: How was the fanatical young Austrian ever allowed to rise to such great heights? What did he offer the German people, and why did they tolerate—even revere—his dictatorship? He examines Hitler's early life for clues about how he developed his anti-Semitism and his belief in German destiny.
Book Two charts the years between the Beer Hall Putsch and the beginning of Hitler's first international aggressions in 1938. Those fifteen years were busy ones for Hitler: he built up the Nazi Party, secured an appointment as Chancellor of the German Reich, and used his position as Chancellor to seize more and more power until he became the uncontested Fuehrer who haunts history.
Throughout Book Two, Shirer gives us a clear sense of the kinds of schemes, intrigues, manipulations, and full-on violence that Hitler used to secure power, and he also charts the slow but steady "Nazification" of German life. He wraps things up in 1937, the year that Hitler announced to his top Army and Navy brass that he intended to wage war against Austria and Czechoslovakia.
In Book Three, Shirer traces the "road to war" that Hitler paved for Germany and the world. Beginning with the German Army's armed occupation of the demilitarized Rhineland in 1936, Shirer gives us detailed accounts of Hitler's aggressions in Austria and Czechoslovakia. He then turns to the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the invasion that finally ignited the Second World War.
Despite Shirer's obvious interest in Hitler's warmongering, Book Three of TRFTR doesn't focus on military matters exclusively. Throughout these chapters, Shirer lavishes huge amounts of attention on the high-stakes international diplomacy and foreign relations work that went on before and after Germany's invasions of Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.
To get a sense of the scheming, manipulating, hedging, debating, waffling, double-timing, delaying, and posturing that Shirer describes, imagine Germany's foreign relations between 1936 and 1939 as a drawn-out, high-stakes poker scene in Casino Royale. Replace Mads Mikkelsen's devious "Le Chiffre" with the fanatical Adolf Hitler, and you'll get the idea.
Book Four chronicles the first two-and-a-half years of the Second World War, beginning with the Nazi occupation of Poland, and continuing until the German Army's staggering losses at Stalingrad, Russia and El Alamein, Egypt in the winter of 1942–1943.
Step by step, Shirer traces the early victories that the Nazis won in Europe—including the rapid seizures of Poland, France, Denmark, and Norway—as well as their thwarted hopes in the long months of naval and air battles against Britain. By the end of Book Four, Shirer has brought us up to the final "turning point" of the war. From that point on, he argues, the Nazis had nowhere to go but down.
As Shirer himself admits, Book Five is probably the most gruesome section in TRFTR. That's because it's the one in which Shirer takes his first hard look at the barbarities the Reich imposed on it conquered countries and the atrocities that we now refer to as the Holocaust.
After recording the murder and destruction of Jewish life in Europe—from restrictions to ghettoes to the horrors of the extermination camps—Shirer uses the second half of Book Five to explain how the Reich began to crumble. After describing the Allied invasion of Italy, he shifts back and forth between accounts of the anti-Nazi resistance movement within Germany and the ongoing Allied and Soviet invasions of Europe. He wraps things up with Nazi Germany on the brink of total ruin.
Finally, in Book Six, Shirer brings the final curtain down on the long sequence of events that he's recounted throughout the past 1000+ pages. He describes the swift and steady victories of the Allies in the West and the Soviets in the East, until finally the enemies of Nazi Germany meet in the middle, forcing Adolf Hitler to meet his end and his Maker.
In the Epilogue that follows, Shirer offers just a few final words about the historic Nuremberg trials that followed the Second World War, and lists the fates of the many German officers and Nazi henchmen and collaborators who were punished for their crimes.
Unfortunately, Hitler couldn't be punished. He shot himself in his underground Bunker as the Soviet Army advanced on Berlin.
The Nazi nightmare had finally ended.
- In his brief Foreword to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Shirer takes some time to explain why he was able to write such a comprehensive history of the Reich. He wants us to know that a lot of the research he includes in TRFTR was made possible by the fact that thousands of secret Nazi documents were captured by the Allies after the end of WWII.
- As Shirer tells us, he was able to draw on "confidential archives of the German government and all its branches, including those of the Foreign Office, the Army and Navy, the National Socialist Party and Heinrich Himmler's secret police," and he also had access to "private diaries, highly secret speeches, conference reports and correspondence, and even transcripts of telephone conversations of the Nazi leaders." (Foreword 2-10)
- That's a pretty impressive trove of documents. What Shirer's saying is that his access to those documents was basically the historian's version of a season ticket to Aladdin's Cave of Wonders. In other words, the documents represented a totally unprecedented wealth of knowledge about the defeated empire.
- In the second half of his Foreword, Shirer wraps things up by discussing his own perspective on Nazi Germany. Because he lived in the Third Reich for many years—he was stationed there as a journalist—he debates the pros and cons of writing about a historical moment that he witnessed firsthand. Too soon?
- Although he admits that some of his own prejudices and biases—Nazism sickened him—are probably present in the book, he emphasizes that he's tried to be objective and let the facts speak for themselves. From this point on, it'll be up to every individual reader to decide just how far he succeeded.
Chapter 1: Birth of the Third Reich
Book One: The Rise of Adolf Hitler
- In this first chapter of Book One: The Rise of Adolf Hitler, Shirer begins his narrative in medias res—that is, at a point in the middle of the story rather than at the beginning.
- The setting is January 1933. In Berlin, the Weimar Republic is about to take a heavy hit as a young National Socialist politician—Adolf Hitler—is appointed Chancellor of the German Reich.
- Shirer takes note of the political intrigues going on in Berlin as the days of Hitler's appointment approached, then describes the moment that Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor.
- Pre-planned celebrations erupted in Berlin, as tens of thousands of Nazi storm troopers marched in the streets, holding torches to light the dark January night.
The Advent of Adolf
- Having set the scene for the rise and fall of the Third Reich, Shirer backtracks to a point in time before the birth of the book's protagonist, and tells us a little bit about Hitler's genealogy.
- First, he gives us a few broad details about the would-be Fuehrer's birth and upbringing, paying particular attention to his birth in Austria and his obsessive belief that Austria and Germany should be united as one.
- (In fact, Hitler thought that all ethnic Germans should be part of a greater Germany, which is ultimately what led him to occupy Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria—lots of ethnic Germans lived there.)
- Shirer then goes on to trace the precise details of Hitler's birth, and provides a detailed account of the Hitler family tree.
- Hitler's original family name was Schicklgruber; his father changed it. Shirer wonders if Hitler would have risen to power with that name; he doesn't think people would have gone around saluting and saying "Heil Schicklgruber!"
The Early Life of
- Shirer tells us about the values, ideologies, and education that shaped young Adolf Hitler's mind, and he begins by discussing Hitler's boyhood years as a young student in Austria.
- Drawing on Hitler's autobiographical commentary in Mein Kampf, Shirer takes note of Hitler's early ambition to be an artist. He also records the young man's deep disdain for most of his childhood teachers, whom he tends to describe as "mentally deranged" or "honest-to-God lunatics." (1.1.48-52)
- Among his teachers, there was one whom Hitler did admire. His name was Dr. Leopold Poetsch, and he not only taught history to the young Adolf Hitler, but also seems to have nurtured the young man's fledgling fanatical nationalism.
- Shirer goes on to describe the after-effects of the death of Hitler's father, Alois Hitler, in 1903. Hitler wasn't quite fourteen years old at the time, but within two years—as he was nearing his sixteenth birthday—he'd dropped out of school.
- Hitler decided not to find work that would help him support his struggling, widowed mother, but instead dreamed of his future as an artist and spent his days relaxing on the banks of the Danube River. His mother supported him financially for three years. He loved those years.
- Does the phrase "teenage dirtbag" spring to mind?
- Shirer notes that by his mid-teens, Adolf Hitler already felt contempt for non-Germans in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as a total devotion to everything German.
- As Shirer puts it: "At sixteen he had become what he was to remain till his dying breath: a fanatical German nationalist." (1.1.70)
- Finally, Shirer says a few words about Hitler's decision to move to Vienna—a decision that he explores in more detail in the section to come.
Period of My Life"
- Shirer begins this section by noting that his four years in Vienna—from 1909 to 1913—turned out to be completely miserable for the young Hitler.
- Drawing largely from the pages of Mein Kampf, Shirer describes Hitler's poverty and vagrancy in Vienna, doing odd jobs, living on the streets or in hovels, and being constantly hungry.
- Poor Hitler.
- The young man was also reading voraciously at the time, already forming the fanatical ideas that the world would unfortunately soon come to know so well.
The Budding Ideas of Adolf Hitler
- During his years in Vienna, Hitler began to follow Austrian politics very closely. As he observed the politicians and political groups in the city, he took note of the strategies and tactics that were making and breaking the local political parties.
- Shirer argues that it was during these years of careful observation that Hitler learned the basic lessons that would shape Nazi Party politics in the years to come, including the importance of propaganda, the value of terrorizing the populace, and the importance of winning the support of powerful, established institutions like the church, the Army, or heads of state.
- It was during these years that Hitler learned the value of oratorical power.
- As he wraps up his words on Hitler's political "education" in Vienna, Shirer revisits the young would-be Fuehrer's anti-Semitism.
- In Mein Kampf, Hitler claims that it was during his time in Vienna that he first began to consider the significance of Jewish populations in Europe, but Shirer argues that this simply isn't true, that Hitler's anti-Semitism was pretty extreme long beforehe moved to Vienna.
- He admits, though, that Hitler certainly nurtured his hatred during those years. The young would-be Fuehrer immersed himself in the readily available anti-Semitic literature in Vienna.
- He couldn't stand living among the Jews, Poles, and Czechs in Vienna—just about anyone who wasn't German revolted him.
- He began to realize that ethnic Germans should be in control of those "inferior" races.
- He wrote that all young people in Austria believed that Austria and Germany were destined to be a single country.
- In 1913, at 24, Hitler moved to Germany; he said his heart had always been there. He arrived with confidence in himself and an oversized sense of mission and destiny.
- Shirer speculates that the real reason he left was to avoid being drafted into the Austrian army, where he'd have to serve alongside Slavs and Jews.
- Not long after his move to Germany, a major historical event gave the young would-be Fuehrer a chance for a new direction in his life. War broke out in 1914, and Hitler enlisted in the German Army right away.
Chapter 2: Birth of the Nazi Party
Book One: The Rise of Adolf Hitler
- In the second chapter of TRFTR, Shirer picks up where the First World War leaves off.
- He begins by describing the disappointment and anger that Hitler felt in November 1918, when he and millions of others learned that Germany had lost the war.
- Hitler was appalled to hear that not only had Germany been defeated in a particularly humiliating fashion, but a democratic Republic had been proclaimed in Berlin.
- Suddenly, the very face of his beloved Germany had changed, and Hitler—like many others—decided that the nation had been betrayed.
- Shirer explains that this sense of betrayal stemmed from an unsubstantiated belief that the government of the newborn Weimar Republic had forced the German Army to accept a truce rather than continue the war.
- Shirer demonstrates that the pressure to accept a truce came from the German Army itself, and not the republican government.
- The Weimar Republic was nothing more than a convenient scapegoat, he argues; but all the same, Hitler would use that scapegoat status to his own advantage in the years to come.
- As he draws this section to a close, Shirer describes Hitler's fateful decision—which he made while lying in a military hospital on the eve of the armistice—to go into politics.
- If Shmoop had a time machine, we'd go back to this moment and try our best to talk him out of it.
The Beginning of the
- Hitler was now thirty years old, and, as Shirer explains, he had no friends, no money, no job, and absolutely no political experience.
- He wasn't too fussed about it.
- After leaving the military hospital, Hitler decided to settle in Munich, the capital city of Bavaria.
- To give us a sense of the political climate that Hitler was heading into, Shirer explains that Bavaria had gone through a series of rapid political changes after WWI. It shifted rapidly from a monarchist state to a "People's State," then to a Communist Soviet Republic, and then to a moderate Social Democratic government that was more or less in line with the government of the Weimar Republic.
- But despite the nominal control of the Social Democrats, the real political power in Bavaria lay in the hands of the Right.
- The political right at the time consisted of the army, the monarchists, the anti-democratic conservative faction, and the demobilized soldiers who had nowhere to go and no prospects.
- Hitler himself was one of those demobilized soldiers, and the social unrest in Munich became the perfect breeding ground for his early political career.
- The would-be politician started out by using his Army connections to get a job with the Press and News Bureau of the Political Department of the German Army, and soon he was promoted to a new position as "educational officer."
- This position gave Hitler his first opportunity to develop his oratory skills, and he soon discovered that he was a very good public speaker.
- In September 1919, Hitler was sent to observe a small group that was calling itself the German Workers' Party. The existing party members persuaded Hitler to join the party and serve on its central committee.
- Shirer describes the important members of the party as a strange bunch of misfits.
- Under Hitler's new influence, Shirer explains, the German Workers' Party started to ramp up its propaganda and recruitment efforts. Slowly but surely, the would-be big-shot was building up an audience and increasing the party's public profile.
- In February 1920, the party hosted the biggest meeting it had ever held. It was organized by Hitler, natch, and it was the first time that the party had ever presented a formal program to the public.
- Less than two months later, the name of the party was officially changed to the National Socialist German Workers' Party—the "Nazi" Party for short—and its drafted party program became official too.
- Shirer explains how Hitler soon started to use of some of the political "lessons" he'd learned in Vienna.
- As Shirer argues, Hitler focused on two of those lessons in particular: he started to develop memorable iconography for the Nazi Party, and to experiment with acts of violence and aggression.
- It was during this time that the S.A.—the Nazi storm trooper (Sturmabteilung) force—was born.
- The storm troopers were originally used as bouncers, tossing out hecklers and protesters at Nazi Party meetings.
- Later, Hitler used them to attack and break up the meetings of other political parties throughout Bavaria who disagreed with them. It was during one of those attacks that Hitler himself was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison.
- Hitler served only one month of his sentence, and when he got out, he was more popular than ever.
- Shirer draws this section to a close by explaining how Hitler came up with the infamous symbol that would soon be synonymous with Nazism everywhere: the black swastika set in a white circle, glaring out from a background of scarlet red.
Advent of the "Fuehrer"
- In July 1921, Hitler took over the leadership of the National Socialist German Workers' Party.
- He demanded ultimate dictatorship over the party, and some other members weren't too happy about it.
- While Hitler was out of town at a meeting they circulated a paper condemning his tyrannical move.
- It got nowhere.
- With Hitler in absolute control, that moment marked the first entrance of the "Fuehrer" into the German political scene, and Hitler's new leadership role soon brought about big changes to the Nazi Party.
- Under Hitler's direction, the Nazi Party expanded quickly. It started to rake in sponsorship and funding, and it ramped up its propaganda efforts even more. Soon, Hitler had even established a daily newspaper to preach the party line.
- Some of the other men who would soon become key party players had joined the fold by this point too: Rudolf Hess, Alfred Rosenberg, and Hermann Goering.
- He then gives us the lowdown on Hitler's income during the early years of the Nazi party, 'cause who doesn't love getting the dirt on politicians' bank accounts?
- As he draws the chapter to a close, Shirer reminds us once more that the fledgling Nazi Party was taking shape during extremely tumultuous times.
- In April 1921, just a few months before Hitler took over the party, the Allies had presented Germany with a huge war reparations bill.
- The final tally boggled the minds of the German public, and it was clear to everyone that paying the bill would put a huge strain on Germany's already struggling economy.
- As you might imagine, this gave the nation another reason to feel betrayed by the Weimar Republic. The country was ripe for revolution.
- Hitler was now one of the new young leaders of the far right, and he was determined to guide the Nazi Party straight into the thick of things.
Chapter 3: Versailles, Weimar, and the Beer Hall Putsch
Book One: The Rise of Adolf Hitler
- Shirer begins this chapter by returning us to the state of Germany in November 1918, when the First World War was brought to a close.
- He provides a detailed account of how the Weimar Republic was born, and he offers his thoughts on some crucial mistakes that the first republican government made.
- He describes the new the republican constitution as "the most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had seen, mechanically well-night perfect, full of ingenious and admirable devices which seemed to guarantee the working of an almost flawless democracy." (1.3.20)
- Shirer seems to be asking an unspoken question: With a constitution like that on the table, how did it all go so horribly wrong?
The Shadow of Versailles
- That's one of the million-dollar questions that the full 1000+ pages of TRFTR have been crafted to answer, but Shirer takes a first stab at it here.
- As he explains, even before the Weimar Constitution had been fully drafted, the Treaty of Versailles had been signed.
- The terms of the treaty had shocked many Germans, who hadn't expected them be so harsh. Even the republican government had denounced them at first.
- But the German Army made it perfectly clear to the government that if the treaty was rejected, Germany couldn't withstand the Allied attack that would inevitably come.
- So, despite its dissatisfaction and misgivings, the government eventually decided to sign.
A House Divided
- "From that day on," says Shirer, "Germany became a house divided" (1.3.36).
- Neither the conservatives nor the Army would accept the peace treaty or the Republic that signed it.
- The wealthy conservative Right started to use its economic power to fund political parties—including the Nazi Party—whose goal would be to undermine the republic.
- In the meantime, the Army started to exert an increasing influence on the nation's foreign and domestic policies. Eventually, the republic depended on the cooperation of the Army officers for its continued existence.
- Even the German judiciary did its bit to undermine the Republic.
- So, what did all of these goings-on mean for the young and fiercely ambitious Adolf Hitler?
- Hitler understood all too well that he could ride this right-wing, anti-democratic wave to new heights of power.
- Surf's up, dudes.
- As if things weren't going badly enough for the fledgling republic, Germany's economy was in a downward spiral too.
- All of the hard knocks that Germany seemed to be suffering were great news for right-wing politicians like Hitler.
- At the end of the day, those hardships were giving the young would-be Fuehrer plenty of ammunition with which to attack the Weimar Republic and everything it seemed to stand for.
Revolt in Bavaria
- By 1923, the Nazi Party had grown enormously, but it still wasn't the most popular political party in Bavaria and remained relatively unknown outside of the state.
- Hitler was well aware of the limits of his fame, and so he started to ponder how he might become the leader of all the anti-republican forces.
- Never one for moderation, Hitler's long-term vision was to march those nationalist forces to Berlin—along the Regular Army—and bring down the Weimar Republic.
- Unfortunately for Hitler, Shirer explains, an unexpected international crisis threatened to change the anti-republican climate in Germany.
- When Germany defaulted on one of the reparations payments that it owed to France, French troops occupied the Ruhr.
- That minor incursion gave the German people a good reason to unify against a common enemy. Because the republican government was willing to support German resistance to the occupation, the people suddenly had good reason to get behind the government, too.
- Hitler, of course, did his best to make sure that pro-republican feeling didn't get too strong. He and the Nazi Party insisted the government were traitors.
- In the autumn of 1923, a newly-appointed Chancellor of the German Reich declared that Germans should stop resisting the French occupation in the Ruhr. Not surprisingly, the pro-government feeling started to fade pretty quickly.
- As anti-republican players denounced yet another betrayal of the German people, the republican President declared a state of emergency, and the Minister of Defense and Commander of the Army took over temporarily.
- In response, Bavaria declared a state of emergency of its very own, and in short order it established a new, anti-republican government for itself.
- As Shirer tells us, the new Bavarian government refused to obey any orders from Berlin, and soon the armed forces in Berlin were issuing warnings about the use of force for any misbehavior.
- Hitler was still a political small-fry, but in characteristic fashion put himself right in the thick of things, trying to convince men who were more powerful than him to do what he wanted them to do.
- Specifically, he wanted the new Bavarian government to stage an all-out coup in Berlin.
- The new Bavarian government was a dictatorial triumvirate: Gustav von Kahr, General Otto von Lossow, and Colonel Hans von Seisser. When Hitler started to get the impression that they were going to shilly-shally over the question of armed rebellion, he decided to take control of the situation himself.
- What exactly did he do?
- He cooked up a hare-brained scheme "to kidnap the triumvirate and force them to use their power at his bidding." (1.3.68)
The Beer Hall Putsch
- In this section, Shirer provides a detailed account of that attempted kidnapping, which has gone down in history as the infamous Beer Hall Putsch.
- On November 8, 1923, Hitler and the S.A. stormed a beer hall where Gustav von Kahr was speaking to a packed room.
- "The National Revolution has begun!" Hitler yelled, and he hustled Kahr, Otto von Lossow, and Colonel Hans von Seisser into a nearby room.
- There, he informed them—deceitfully—that General Erich Ludendorff, one of Germany's most beloved war heroes, had agreed to form a new national government with him.
- He tried to persuade them to dissolve both their own government in Bavaria and the republican government in Berlin, and to join the provisional national government that he was about to create.
- Can you say "chutzpah"?
- Hitler managed to get General Ludendorff to put in an appearance at the Beer Hall—despite the fact that the general had known nothing about the young would-be Fuehrer's plans for a coup.
- After Ludendorff spoke to them, Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser appeared to cave.
- Hitler returned to the main part of the hall to make a self-congratulatory speech and declare his new government to the bewildered audience, but as the meeting broke up, Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser all managed to slip away.
- Meanwhile, the Army Command in Berlin ordered the German Army in Bavaria to put down the putsch.
- By dawn on the morning of November 9, the offices of the War Ministry—which the Nazis had seized—were surrounded by Regular Army troops, and the Nazis suddenly found themselves facing a violent confrontation.
- On top of that, Kahr was more than a little miffed about Hitler's attempted coup, and he circulated a proclamation declaring that the National Socialist German Workers' Party was officially kaput.
- Hitler was at a loss. He'd hoped to be working with, not against, the Army in his coup attempt.
- General Ludendorff stepped in with a suggestion. He proposed that he and Hitler just march into the city and take it over.
- As Shirer tells us, Ludendorff believed that German soldiers and police would never fire on him, a hero of WWI, and would join him and fight.
- Unfortunately for him, he was wrong.
- The march ended in a bloody shoot-out, and although Hitler managed to escape the fray, he was soon found and arrested.
- The putsch was a fiasco and the Nazi party was dissolved. Hitler seemed totally discredited and his career over.
- End of story, right?
- If only.
Trial for Treason
- In the final section of this chapter, Shirer explains how Hitler managed to turn his trial for treason to his own advantage, using it as an opportunity to pontificate on a national and international stage.
- As Shirer puts it, by the time the month-long trial was finished, Hitler had ruined the reputations of Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser, impressed the German people with his nationalistic fervor and oratorical skills, and familiarized his name to the world.
- Even more than that, Hitler used his first catastrophic mistake as yet another "lesson" along the road to political expertise.
- So, what exactly did Hitler learn?
- He realized that you can't just overthrown the old government without having a new one ready to take its place.
- As the remaining chapters of TRFTR will show, the Nazis remembered that lesson well.
Chapter 4: The Mind of Hitler and the Roots of the Third Reich
Book One: The Rise of Adolf Hitler
- It was in prison that Hitler first began to compose and dictate the materials that would eventually be published as Mein Kampf, which means "My Struggle."
- Having brought his narrative up to the point of Hitler's prison sentence, Shirer takes this opportunity to pause and assess the cultural and intellectual underpinnings that informed Mein Kampf—not to mention Nazi ideology more generally.
- Shirer begins by telling us a little bit about Mein Kampf itself, including the details of its early sales. As he notes, the book did OK in its first seven years on the shelves, but sales really rocketed in 1933 after Hitler became Chancellor of the Republic.
- With that said, Shirer adds, it's more that likely that many Germans who bought Mein Kampf never bothered to read it. Even some of Hitler's close associates admitted to having trouble getting through its rambling pages.
- As he turns to the actual contents of Hitler's autobiographical/political treatise, Shirer emphasizes a crucial point that he'll return to multiple times throughout TRFTR: "whatever other accusations can be made against Adolf Hitler, no one can accuse him of not putting down in writing exactly the kind of Germany he intended to make if he ever came to power and the kind of world he meant to create by armed German conquest." (1.4.5)
- So, what?... Thanks for the heads up?
- Shirer's point is this: If Hitler made his intentions clear, why did his actions come as a shock to so many? And more importantly, why was he ever allowed to go as far as he did?
- Turning to the actual contents of Mein Kampf, Shirer offers a detailed description of the kind of Germany that Hitler describes in its pages.
- Among the many disturbing ideas that Hitler shares, Shirer emphasizes a few in particular. Among them are Hitler's desire for a final decisive struggle with France; his belief that Germany should expand eastward at Russia's expense; his obsession with finding new Lebensraum ("living space") for the German people; his belief that Germans were the master race; and his pseudo-Darwinist belief in the survival of the fittest.
- In these pages, Shirer introduces us to the German word Weltanschauung, which he defines as "view of life," and he discusses Hitler's personal Weltanschauung at length.
- As he does, he takes stock yet again of the would-be Fuehrer's deep-seated racism, and also discusses his lack of historical knowledge and his obvious appreciation of both genocidal and eugenicist practices.
- He concludes, however, that as sadistic and crazy as Hitler's ideas were, they weren't unique.
- Ultimately, he argues, they had deep historical roots in German experience and thought. (1.4.55)
- In fact, he takes that argument one step further, and declares: "Nazism and the Third Reich […] were but a logical continuation of German history." (1.4.55)
- That forms this basis of Shirer's controversial thesis.
The Historical Roots of the Third Reich
- Shirer is making a pretty provocative argument here, and so he needs to back it up. Throughout this section, he does his best to do so, starting with the historical premises that he needs to support his claims.
- He begins by noting that the Nazi Party actively promoted a public perception of Hitler as the fateful "successor" of historical German luminaries like Frederick the Great, Otto von Bismarck, and President Paul von Hindenburg.
- He then explains what Hitler meant by the concept of the "Third Reich"
- The first glorious Reich had been the medieval Holy Roman Empire; the second was formed by Bismarck in 1871 after Prussia defeated France. More glory.
- But the Weimar Republic, according to Nazi propaganda, had dragged that glory through the mud.
- The Third Reich restored it, a logical continuation of the glorious German history.
- To offer some counterpoints to the Nazi argument, Shirer takes note of some of the less glorious aspects of German history.
- Throughout the pages that follow, he argues that the German admiration for "great" men like Frederick the Great, Bismarck, Hindenburg, and Hitler came with a high price.
- In order to glorify "great" men, he argues, the Germans learned to diminish the value of average, or "lesser" men.
- Shirer begins by considering the cultural, political, and religious legacy of Martin Luther.
- Although Shirer concedes that Luther had a few pretty good qualities, he emphasizes the fact that Luther's political influence in sixteenth-century Germany reduced the German people to poverty, in subservience to the state.
- Nice going, Luther.
- Now, that "subservience" is something that Shirer is going to come back to (once or twice... or maybe ten or twenty times) throughout the next 1000+ pages of TRFTR, so make a mental note of it.
- Whereas Shirer lays a fair bit of blame on Luther, he isn't the only one to get the finger pointed at him.
- Shirer turns to the legacies of the Thirty Years' War and the Peace of Westphalia—seventeenth-century events that re-imposed serfdom throughout Germany, and even introduced it to areas where it hadn't been previously known.
- According to Shirer, this degrading situation lived on in Germany throughout the centuries that followed.
- As he puts it: "Germany never recovered from this setback. Acceptance of autocracy, of blind obedience to the petty tyrants who ruled as princes, became ingrained in the German mind. The idea of democracy, of rule by parliament, which made such rapid headway in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and which exploded in France in 1789, did not sprout in Germany." (1.4.62)
- According to Shirer, all of this has to be understood in order to comprehend the catastrophic and distorted road that modern Germany took.
- Shirer now turns his attention to Prussia, which he says controlled the destiny of Germany in the mid-nineteenth century.
- He charts Prussia's changing relationship with the German Empire throughout the nineteenth century, paying particular attention to the legacy of Bismarck, who, as he explains, destroyed the divided Germany which had existed for nearly a thousand years and replaced it by force with Greater Prussia.
- Shirer characterizes von Bismarck as an "apostle of blood and iron"—a characterization that could apply just as easily to Hitler, as Shirer no doubt expects us to notice. (1.4.68)
- Shirer sketches the outline of Bismarck's career, noting the role he played in establishing King Wilhelm I of Prussia as the Emperor of Germany in 1871.
- He then offers a political analysis of the Reichstag (parliamentary government) that existed in Germany up until the end of the First World War, characterizing it as a façade of democracy.
- In reality, he writes, the German Empire was an autocracy, with the King of Prussia as its ruler. The King, who was also the Emperor, claimed divine right of rulership and no need to consult the Parliament.
- As Shirer demonstrates, Hitler thought very highly of this system, and sought to restore it—or something very much like it—when he came to power himself.
Roots of the Third Reich
- Having discussed the historical roots of the Third Reich, Shirer turns now to its intellectual underpinnings.
- In this section, Shirer argues that Hitler's ideological obsessions were neither unique nor original, but were spawned by philosophers, historians, and teachers who were influential during the century before Hitler.
- Their ideas had consequences that were disastrous, as it turned out, not only for the Germans but for the whole world.
- Shirer singles out a number of well-known and not-so-well-known names for attention:
- Johann Gottlieb Fichte, George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Heinrich von Treitschke, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Count Joseph de Gobine
au, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain.
- Each of these thinkers contributed something unique to Germany's cultural character, and he reviews each of their contributions in turn.
The Strange Life and
Works of H.S. Chamberlain
- Because Houston Stewart Chamberlain stands out to Shirer as a particularly rare historical oddity, Shirer devotes an entire subsection to his life and works.
- Chamberlain was a British-born immigrant to Germany, and was a prolific thinker and writer who wrote many books, some of which had a huge influence on Wilhelm II, Adolf Hitler, and ordinary Germans.
- Many of those books were on the subject of race and history—two themes that obviously obsessed Hitler. As Shirer puts it, Chamberlain's treatise Foundations of the Nineteenth Century "sent Wilhelm II into ecstasies and provided the Nazis with their racial aberrations." (1.4.120)
- Shirer goes on to explain that when the Nazis came to power, Chamberlain was celebrated as the spiritual founder of Nazi Germany.
- Not only did his racial theories and beliefs about the destiny of the German nation and people inspire Nazi nationalism, he writes, but Chamberlain was also one of the first in Germany to believe that Hitler had a great future.
- In the passages that follow, Shirer attempts to consolidate all of the historical, cultural, and intellectual context that he's been discussing throughout this chapter, and to demonstrate how it all helped to pave the way for Hitler's rise.
- He argues that Hitler's megalomaniacal feeling that he was destined to lead the German people to glory was bolstered by a culture that did two crucial things simultaneously: it glorified great men who could demonstrate willfulness and power, and it glorified the contented servitude of the masses, who would gladly accept that power.
- Shirer adds that Hitler's "studies" had also taught him that great men who are destined to lead are above the laws and morals of ordinary men.
- Looks like he never read Crime and Punishment.
- As he draws the chapter to a close, Shirer gives us a recap on how things stood for Hitler when he was released from prison in 1924.
- The Nazi Party and its press were banned; there was dissent among it's former leaders; Hitler was forbidden to make public speeches.
- Other roadblocks stood in his way as well: he was facing deportation to Austria, the Weimar Republic seemed to be thriving, and Germany's economy was on the upswing.
- Any other politician might have found another profession.
- But Hitler wasn't easily discouraged. In prison, he saw his destiny even more clearly and now had no doubts about his mission.
- Shirer ends the chapter by reiterating one more time that the twisted furrows of Hitler's mind were rooted deep in German life and thought, and that the political "blueprint" he established in Mein Kampf possessed a certain degree of logic.
- Hitler's vision, according to Shirer, offered a continuation of German history and a road map to its destiny.
Chapter 5: The Road to Power: 1925 – 1931
Book Two: Triumph and Consolidation
- In this chapter, Shirer begins TRFTR's second book by telling us a little bit about Germany's booming economy in the years between 1925 and 1925. When he gives us his own impression of Berlin and Munich in those years, things seem pretty rosy.
- Things were lively, modern, and free. The intellectual climate was open and buzzing.
- No one had heard heard of Hitler or the Nazis except as butts of jokes. Everyone knew about the disastrous Beer Hall Putsch.
- All the same, the Nazi Party was growing. Hitler had managed to have it reinstated, and as Shirer explains, the would-be Fuehrer had decided that rather than trying to overthrow the Weimar Republic through an armed rebellion, he'd eat away at it from the inside by getting Nazi Party members elected to the Reichstag.
- Shirer goes on to tell us that in February 1925, the Bavarian government banned Hitler from speaking in public after he made threats against the state in a speech delivered to four thousand people.
- The other German states banned him too, for good measure.
- Despite the fact that Hitler wasn't allowed to speak in public anymore, he furiously began to expand the National Socialist German Workers' Party.
- Shirer describes the complex infrastructure that Hitler built for the Nazi Party in those years, explaining how Hitler divvied Germany up into territories, assigned prominent Nazis to oversee the party efforts in each region, and formed a number of committees, ministries, and organizations within the party itself.
- Hitler also oversaw the reorganization of the S.A. during this period, along with the creation of the dreaded SS.
- Many influential men began to join Hitler's efforts.
- He then describes the birth of the Nazi Party's "Committee for Investigation and Settlement," which was essentially the Party's judicial body for the settlement of accusations and disputes—or, as Shirer puts it, the "hushing up" of accusations and disputes.
- Finally, Shirer ends the first section of this chapter by telling us a little bit about Gregor Strasser, a Nazi Party member who would eventually pose a political threat to Hitler since, in Shirer's words, he didn't accept Hitler's domination.
The Emergence of Paul Joseph Goebbels
- It was Gregor Strasser who first discovered and hired Paul Joseph Goebbels, who'd go on to become one of Hitler's most faithful acolytes, as well as the head of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry.
- In this section, Shirer tells us a little bit about Goebbels's family history, his physical appearance and personality, and even his love life.
- After aiming a few low blows at Goebbels's girl troubles, Shirer gets serious again as he explains why Strasser and Goebbels hit if off.
- Unlike Hitler, both of them were actually invested in the "socialist" aspect of National Socialism, and Shirer argues that they genuinely wanted to build a party that would serve the working class.
- This made Hitler wary of the two of them. In Shirer's words, their views were heresy to Hitler, and he was dead-set against allowing them to build a radical proletarian party.
- A showdown eventually erupted between Strasser and Hitler; Hitler managed to use it to his advantage in order to bring Goebbels over to his side.
- By April 1925, Shirer writes, Goebbels became Hitler's most loyal follower and remained so until his dying day. Spoiler alert: In 1945, he killed himself, his wife, and their six children rather that living in a world without his beloved Fuehrer.
An Interlude of Rest and Romance for Adolf Hitler
- Having devoted some attention to the rising Nazi stardom of Paul Joseph Goebbels, Shirer now turns to the only real love affair of Hitler's life.
- Shirer had mentioned earlier on in TRFTR that Hitler had a short-lived but apparently passionate affair with his niece Geli Raubal, who was the daughter of his half-sister Angela Raubal. Now we get that story in all of its scandalous detail.
- In 1928 Hitler rented a villa near Berchtesgaden, a small village in the Bavarian Alps.
- Once there, he asked his half-sister to come and "keep house" for him, and when Angela came, she brought her daughter Geli with her.
- Shirer describes Geli as being a blond beauty with a cheerful disposition.
- Hitler fell hard for Geli and began a three-year relationship with her.
- In September 1931, Geli was found dead of a gunshot wound in her room in Hitler's apartment in Munich.
- Her death was determined to be a suicide, although there was some speculation that Hitler had her killed. Nothing came of that, though.
- Hitler was reported to be inconsolable with grief after her death.
- Shirer says a few words about a letter that Hitler was said to have written to Geli—one in which Hitler apparently expressed some sexual desires and needs that Shirer found unusual, to say the least.
- Finally, he closes out the section by discussing the would-be Fuehrer's finances throughout the mid-to-late 1920s.
The Opportunities of the Depression
- In this section, Shirer explains why Hitler's ride on the road to power started to get smoother when the Great Depression hit.
- Hitler used the fear and despair of the German people to his advantage by making it seem like he was the only solution to Germany's problems.
- Shirer starts by tracing the brief-but-fateful Chancellorship of Heinrich Bruening, whom he describes as unwittingly destroying German democracy and paving the way for Hitler.
- When Bruening couldn't get the Reichstag to approve his financial program, he forced an election. It had unforeseen—and, from the point of view of history, disastrous—results.
- Overnight, the Nazi Party jumped from having twelve members in parliament to having more than one hundred seats. Talk about an unintended consequence…we bet Bruening would have loved a do-over.
- The Nazi Party was now the second largest political party in the Reichstag, and this gave Hitler a kind of political leverage that he'd never enjoyed before.
- He used that leverage to his own advantage, of course, and started to woo the German Army as well as Germany's powerful financiers and industry leaders.
- Shirer explains why those two groups were so important to Hitler's ambitions, especially the armed forces.
- In Shirer's view, Hitler's efforts were beginning to have their desired effect. The German Army generals now began "to ponder whether National Socialism might not be just what was needed to unify the people, restore the old Germany, make the Army big and great once more and enable the nation to shake off the shackles of the humiliating Treaty of Versailles." (2.5.126)
- Shirer turns back to the industry magnates and big financiers in Germany, and traces Hitler's success in gaining their trust, too.
- Hitler managed to get financial backing from much of the German business world.
- As this chapter draws to a close, Shirer takes a few moments to pause and review the rising careers of Hitler's closest cronies in the Nazi Party, saying a few brief words about Herman Goering, Gregor Strasser, Ernst Roehm, Wilhelm Frick, Paul Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolph Hess, Hans Frank, and Alfred Rosenberg.
- Finally, he closes by describing the brief life and sudden death of Horst Wessel: a young Nazi who was killed in an altercation with Communists in 1930, and who'd written a song which, after his death, became the official song of the Party and later the second official anthem of the Third Reich.
Chapter 6: The Last Days of the Republic: 1931 – 1933
Book Two: Triumph and Consolidation
- Shirer begins this chapter by introducing us to General Kurt von Schleicher, a man who Shirer believes was more responsible than anyone for putting the final nail in the coffin of the Weimar Republic.
- Schleicher played a major role in getting Heinrich Bruening appointed as Chancellor, and in arranging talks between Chancellor Bruening, President Paul von Hindenburg, and Hitler.
- Because Hindenburg's term as President was set to end in 1932, there were questions about what should be done when his term was over.
- Bruening wanted to restore the Hohenzollern monarchy and pair it with a constitutional democracy like Great Britain's, but Hindenburg wasn't game.
- Bruening was also concerned that if presidential elections were called in 1932, Hitler might run for the position and actually win.
- Since he didn't want that to happen, Bruening hit upon a scheme that he thought might solve his problems for the time being: he asked the leading members of the Reichstag (Hitler included) to agree to a proposal that Hindenburg's term as President be prolonged.
- As he figured, no new elections would mean no new opportunities for the Nazi Party to claim even more power than it already had.
- While Chancellor Bruening was doing his political wheeling and dealing, Hitler was doing some scheming of his own.
- Because they were at cross-purposes, they couldn't come to a mutually satisfactory agreement, and in the end, an election was called when the end of Hindenburg's term as President drew nigh.
- Hitler obsessed for a while about whether he should run for president.
- Hitler feared that if Hindenberg decided to run again and beat Hitler in the election, then Hitler's reputation as invincible would be damaged. Also, he wasn't even a German citizen yet.
- Goebbels kept urging him to run, but Hitler kept vacillating.
- All this indecision made Goebbels so anxious that he went to see a Greta Garbo movie just to get his mind off things. (This is the kind of detail that makes the book so interesting and unique.)
- Once Hindenberg declared his candidacy, Hitler decided to run for President.
- Shirer tells us that Hitler's campaign was a bitterly fought, confusing effort. It was also groundbreaking.
- Germany had never seen a propaganda campaign like it: they distributed eight million pamphlets and twelve million copies of their party newspapers; held three thousand meetings a day (huh?); propaganda films and gramophone records were broadcast from loudspeakers on trucks.
- In case you didn't catch it, let's have one of those facts again: three THOUSAND meetings a day.
- Talk about psychological bombardment…
- Despite all that propaganda noise, Hitler didn't win. Hindenburg collected 49.6% of the votes to Hitler's 30.1%.
- But because Hindenburg had failed to win a majority, a second election would have to be called.
- Hitler started campaigning again right away, and in the second election he increased his vote by roughly 6.5%.
- It wasn't enough, though. Hindenburg had also increased his vote, and he now had the absolute majority that he needed to be declared President for another term.
- As Hitler considered what to do next, the republican government struck back.
- Germany's national and state governments got their hands on secret documents that suggested the Nazis were going to take over by force and terrorize the citizens.
- Together, Chancellor Bruening and one of the German Army generals convinced President Hindenburg to sign a decree that would official suppress Hitler's own paramilitary force.
- The decree was signed in April 1932, and Hitler—to the surprise of some of his cronies—decided not to offer any resistance.
- In the meantime, General Schleicher was scheming behind the scenes to undermine the position of the German Army general who had supported the decree.
- Schleicher's motivations weren't clear to anyone other than himself at this point, and it wasn't until much later that his aims became obvious.
- First, he wanted to incorporate the S.A. into the German Army to bring it under his control.
- Second he wanted to bring Hitler into the government, where he could be controlled, too.
- Shirer explains how Schleicher's schemes eventually resulted in the resignation of the German Army general in question, as well as the dismissal of Chancellor Bruening. The way was now clear for the next stage of his plan.
Fiasco of Franz von Papen
- At this point, Shirer re-introduces Franz von Papen: a figure who made a brief appearance in the opening chapter of TRFTR, where Shirer briefly recounts the flurry of political activity that swirled around Berlin in the days before Hitler became Chancellor of the German Reich.
- Through General Schleicher's political scheming, Franz von Papen became the newest Chancellor of the German Reich in July 1932.
- Schleicher himself was named Minister of Defense, and three of Chancellor Papen's first official acts were to dissolve the sitting government, call new elections, and reverse the former ban on the S.A.
- The lifting of the ban on the S.A. resulted in a brutal wave of political violence and murder. The Nazi storm troopers fought in the streets with Communists, and there were multiple riots. Schleicher knew that mayhem on the streets could only benefit the cause of an authoritarian takeover. Tensions were particularly high in Prussia.
- In response, Papen did three significant things: he banned political parades; he kicked out the Prussian government and appointed himself Reich Commissioner for Prussia; and he declared martial law in Berlin.
- Papen's actions removed any chance that the forces of the Left or even of the center would put up resistance to the overthrow of the democratic republic.
- Like Chancellor Bruening before him, Chancellor Papen was unwittingly readying the ground for Hitler.
- In the days leading up to the July 1932 elections, the Nazis campaigned hard. When the numbers came in on the big day, it was a huge victory, winning two hundred and thirty seats in the Reichstag.
- The Nazis were now the biggest party in Parliament, but they still didn't have a majority.
- Despite increasing his votes by millions in just a few years, in this latest election Hitler had still won only 37% percent of the vote. Most Germans didn't support him.
- But now that his party was the largest in the Reichstag, Hitler felt that he had considerable bargaining power. He presented a list of demands to his co-schemer Schleicher, and was confident that he'd be given whatever he wanted.
- Hitler's hopes were disappointed. Suddenly, Schleicher seemed to be waffling. Once again, political tensions began to rise in Berlin.
- New rounds of political scheming and manipulation began in the summer of 1932, all of which led to yet another election being called in the autumn of that year.
- The election of November 1932 produced a less definitive win for the Nazis: they lost 34 seats in the Reichstag, which took them down to a total of 196.
- With that in mind, Chancellor Papen reached out to Hitler, but Hitler wasn't yet ready to play by Papen's rules. The would-be Fuehrer was still intent on seizing more power for himself. Why are we not surprised?
- More schemes and intrigues ensued: General Schleicher convinced Papen to resign because he couldn't form a stable government; President Hindenburg offered Hitler an appointment as Chancellor if he'd agree to certain caveats; Hitler refused to accept Hindenburg's conditions.
- Finally, Schleicher himselfstepped into the Chancellorship, which had apparently been his end-game all along.
Schleicher: The Last
Chancellor of the Republic
- As Shirer tells us, Chancellor Schleicher stayed in power for roughly two months before all of his political intriguing blew up in his face.
- He began by offering to make Gregor Strasser his Vice-Chancellor—hoping, no doubt, to "split the Nazis" by sowing the seeds of dissension in their party.
- Strasser didn't take the bait—not at first, anyway—but the changing political landscape did lead to a major blowout between Strasser and Hitler that had life-changing consequences for Strasser.
- When it became clear that he and Hitler had fundamentally different views about the direction the Nazi Party should take under Schleicher's new government, Strasser resigned all his positions in the party and told the newspapers all about it.
- Strasser's resignation could have spelled the ruin of the Nazi Party, as he had a considerable following of his own and might easily have formed a new political party to rival Hitler's.
- He never got the chance to do it, though, because when he left Germany for a short vacation in Italy, Hitler swooped in and took over the political territories and organizations that his rival had built up for the Nazis.
- In the meantime, Franz von Papen—so recently ousted from his position as Chancellor—began his own behind-the-scenes plotting.
- He arranged a "secret" meeting with Hitler, in which Hitler learned that President Hindenburg hadn't given Chancellor Schleicher the power to dissolve the Reichstag.
- That meant that the Nazis could overthrow Schleicher whenever they wanted.
- Hitler also learned Papen had arranged for certain German businessmen to take on the Nazi Party's considerable debts, which was a huge an unexpected help to the financially-struggling party.
- Schleicher, in the meantime, worked to convince the German public that they should be happy to see him in power.
- He announced a number of plans to redistribute German land and wealth, and explained that although they'd benefit the average German, they'd be detrimental to the wealthy landowners and industrialists who benefited from the capitalist system.
- The wealthy landowners and industrialists weren't too thrilled about that, and they whipped up an outcry of their own.
- Schleicher and Hitler each tried to get the upper hand.
- Finally, after shady back-room dealings, Hitler was appointed Chancellor, and his cabinet approved.
- I was a fateful event for Germany, and eventually, for the rest of the world.
- Shirer wraps up this chapter by noting that the Nazis were still, at this point, a minority in the government, and he offers a detailed review of the state of the Reichstag in the winter of 1933.
- Shirer's description of this shows what a tragedy he thinks this is: "In this way, by way of the back door, by means of a shabby political deal with the old-school reactionaries he privately detested, the former tramp from Vienna, the derelict of the First World War, the violent revolutionary, became Chancellor of a great nation." (2.6.144)
Chapter 7: The Nazification of Germany: 1933 – 1934
Book Two: Triumph and Consolidation
- Hitler had now achieved a fair bit of success in his plan to become Germany's dictator, but he still shared his political power with three other authorities in Germany: The President, the Reichstag, and the armed forces.
- With that in mind, Hitler's goal was to get rid of them and make himself, as head of the party, the absolute authoritarian head of state.
- First, Hitler manipulated both the parliamentary members of the Reichstag and President Paul von Hindenburg into calling another election.
- In these elections, the Nazi Party had more influence and resources at its disposal than it ever had before. Not surprisingly, it made full use of them.
- Hitler and his cronies were now convinced that the time had come to squash the "Red terror" once and for all—not only because they opposed Communist ideology, but because the Communist Party stood in the way of further Nazi gains in the polls.
- The government, under Hitler, began to ban Communist meetings and the Communist press, and also banned or broke up Social Democratic rallies, among others. During this period, at least 51 "anti-Nazis" were murdered.
- On top of that, Hermann Goering—whom Hitler had made Minister of the Interior of Prussia—removed hundreds of members of the republican government and replaced them with S.A. and S.S. members.
- As Shirer explains, the Nazis were trying to provoke a Communist revolution—one that they could then shoot down. When it didn't materialize, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
The Reichstag Fire
- In February 1933, the Reichstag was set on fire.
- The Nazis immediately declared that it was the work of Communists, and set about rounding up Communist officials to punish.
- Although Shirer admits that the we'll never know the whole truth about the fire, it's pretty clear that the Nazis were the arsonists.
- Shirer pieces together what can be known for sure about the Reichstag fire, arguing that the idea for it almost certainly started with Goebbels and Goering.
- He then describes the public fallout from the fire, and explains how Hitler used it as an excuse to remove the German people's civil liberties.
- On February 28, the day after the fire, President Hindenburg signed a decree which not only suspended all sections of the constitution which guaranteed individual and civil liberties, but also empowered the Reich to impose the death penalty for crimes such as seriously disturbing the peace.
- Very scary.
- Not only was Hitler now able to arrest his opponents at will, but he made sure that the people would be so afraid of a Communist takeover that they'd vote or the Nazi Party in the next elections.
- As the Nazi election campaign continued, there were mass arrests of Communists, Social Democrats, and liberal leaders.
- Meanwhile, the Nazis continued to disseminate their own propaganda, holding rallies and parades plastering posters everywhere, and making good use of the state-controlled radio.
- Even with all the propaganda and intimidation, most Germans still rejected Hitler at the polls.
- The Nazi Party had increased its votes, but it still won only 44% percent of the grand total.
- In the end, however, the seats won by the Nationalists and the National Socialists combined gave Hitler enough of a majority in the Reichstag to be in control of the day-to-day operations of the government.
Gleichschaltung: The 'Co-Ordination' of the
- Hitler convinced the Reichstag to grant him even more power than he already had.
- "The plan was deceptively simple," Shirer writes, "and had the advantage of cloaking the seizure of absolute power in legality. The Reichstag would be asked to pass an 'enabling act' conferring on Hitler's cabinet exclusive legislative powers for four years. Put even more simply, the German Parliament would be requested to turn over its constitutional functions to Hitler and take a long vacation." (2.7.41)
- A long vacation for sure.
- As Hitler plotted the upcoming downfall of the Reichstag, he also made a grand symbolic gesture—totally false, of course—that was meant to demonstrate his respect for German tradition.
- As Shirer explains, he decided to stage an elaborate ceremony to open the new Reichstag (which he was about to destroy) in the Garrison Church at Potsdam.
- This church had been the parish church of the Prussian royals, so Hitler hoped the ceremony would bring back Germans' memories of the good old days of German glory and grandeur.
- Shirer then turns back to the Nazi "Enabling Act," and explains the political and legal powers that it gave to Hitler. When it passed, Shirer argues, that was the end of parliamentary democracy in Germany.
- Germany's other institutions rapidly dissolved, and Hitler took control of Germany's individual states by deposing their governments and replacing them with Nazi regimes.
- It took Hitler just two weeks to abolished the separate powers of the German states and subordinate them to the Reich, which he now controlled.
- Next, Hitler oversaw the dissolution of Germany's other major political parties, so that by the end of July 1933, only the Nazi Party remained.
- After Germany's non-Nazi political parties, the trade unions were the next to go.
- At this point, though, tensions started to brew in the Nazi Party once more, as there were still some factions that believed in the "socialist" aspect of the party's name.
"No Second Revolution!"
- In this section, Shirer explains how Hitler stamped out the remaining factions in the National Socialist Party who still believed that the party should take its "socialism" seriously.
- He sums up the political situation in the summer of 1933: "The Nazis had destroyed the Left, but the Right remained: big business and finance, the aristocracy, the Junker landlords and the Prussian generals who kept tight rein over the Army. Roehm, Goebbels and the other 'radicals' in the movement wanted to liquidate them too." (2.7.86)
- But did Hitler? Not so much. The would-be Fuehrer had no truly socialist values, and he preferred to appease the leaders of Germany's remaining institutions—for the time being, at least. Hitler was savvy enough to know that he should not do anything that might bankrupt the country and put his regime at risk.
- With this in mind, Hitler commanded the Nazi Party's members to abandon any ideas about a "second revolution"—i.e., a revolution that would redistribute land and capital in Germany in a socialist action.
- Tensions were also rising between Hitler and Ernst Roehm, who was running the S.A. Roehm wanted to do away with the traditional German Army and put the Nazi S.A. in its place, creating a new fighting force which he himself would lead.
- Hitler, on the other hand, knew that he'd only come to power because the Army had allowed it, and that they could depose him at any time.
- He also knew that he'd need their support when the time came for him to seize even greater power—a time that he predicted would occur when the aging President Hindenburg finally died.
- Hitler and Roehm, close friends, were at odds in this power struggle.
The Beginnings of
Nazi Foreign Policy
- In this section, Shirer examines how the "Nazification" of Germany affected the nation's foreign policy.
- He begins by reviewing Germany's relationship to the world at large, and to Europe especially, noting that in 1933, the Third Reich was isolated and had little power on the world stage. Its army was small compared to others in Europe.
- Hitler developed a strategy that would aim to reassure and confuse his international counterparts.
- What was that strategy? Lies, natch.
- He decided to begin by giving speeches about peace and disarmament.
- One of his first tactical maneuvers was the "Peace Speech" that he delivered in May 1933.
- The American President Franklin D. Roosevelt had recently sent out a statement to the leaders of 44 nations about disarmament and peace.
- Hitler's speech responded in kind, and declared to the world that Germany was totally willing to participate in disarmament.
- In return, he demanded that Germany be treated equally to other nations, especially in their acquisition of arms.
- If that demand wasn't met, he'd pack up his briefcase and go home, withdrawing from the League of Nations and any disarmament agreements.
- In other words, Hitler was announcing his refusal to abide by the dictates of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany would disarm if everyone else did, but in the meantime, it demanded the right to arm itself like everyone else.
- In Shirer's view, this subtle warning was forgotten because other nations were happily surprised at how reasonable Hitler sounded.
- The rejoicing was premature, of course—a fact which became obvious just five months later, when the Allies made it clear that they'd bring their military resources down to Germany's level—in about eight years.
- Hitler seized the Allied announcement as the excuse he needed, and announced Germany's withdrawal from both the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations.
- Although Hitler was now openly in defiance of the Versailles conditions, no international sanctions were applied to Germany.
- In Shirer's view, this was one of the many opportunities that the Allies lost in the years when they could have curbed Hitler's ambitions without resorting to bloodshed.
- Hitler now began to set the stage for his future dealings with Poland.
- In the middle of November 1933, the German and Polish governments issued a joint communiqué in which they declared their intentions to deal with their problems diplomatically and set aside the use of force.
- As Shirer reminds us, Hitler's ultimate goal was to destroy Poland, but before he could do that, he'd need to make sure that the country's alliance with France was ended.
- By pretending to lay the groundwork for strong one-on-one relations between Germany and Poland, Shirer argues, Hitler hoped to create rifts in Europe's united front.
- Shirer sums up this section by recapping all of Hitler's significant accomplishments during his first year as Chancellor.
- He concludes that not only had Hitler managed to quickly bring "under Nazi rule the political, economic, cultural and social life of an ancient and cultivated people," he'd done it all with next to no resistance. (2.7.123)
The Blood Purge of June 30, 1934
- Hitler may not have met with strong resistance during his first year as Chancellor, but by the summer of 1934, Shirer tells us, clouds were gathering on the horizon.
- As Shirer explains, those clouds were caused by three unresolved issues: the radical wing of the party clamoring for the socialist revolution; the rivalry between the S.A. and the Army; and the question of who would succeed President Hindenburg.
- Ernst Roehm—whom Hitler had recently appointed to a cabinet position—had continued to agitate for the creation of a new People's Army. The officers of the actual German army were appalled.
- Hitler himself refused to satisfy his friend's ambitions, and, as Shirer explains, he was finding himself in a politically sticky situation.
- President Hindenburg was obviously on his last legs, and Hitler knew that both the President himself and many other powerful conservatives wanted to see the Hohenzollern monarchy restored after the Hindenburg passed away.
- Hitler didn't want to see the monarchy restored: he wanted to claim absolute power for himself. In order to do so, he'd need the German Army's backing, and he knew it.
- Not only was Hitler unwilling to support Roehm's proposal to create a People's Army, but he was willing to do almost anything to ensure that the Army would help him to gain the power he wanted.
- As Shirer explains, Hitler arranged to meet with the top brass of Germany's armed forces, and he assured them that if they'd support his bid for power after President Hindenburg's death, he'd drastically reduce the S.A. and guarantee the Army and Navy they'd be the only armed force in Germany.
- The ruse worked.
- The most senior officers of the German Army unanimously endorsed Hitler as President Hindenburg's successor.
- Hitler was now faced with a difficult decision. Roehm and Goebbels were still pushing for the second revolution. Other struggles for power were erupting within the Nazi Party, and the party's stability was being threatened from the outside, too.
- Shirer describes the measures that Hitler took during the last weekend of June 1934 to rid himself of his troublesome problems once and for all.
- Those measures have gone down in history as a "blood purge": a weekend of death and terror in which Hitler arranged for the murder of any people—Roehm among them—who stood in his way.
- It's hard to give us a precise figure for the number of murders that occurred during the purge, but Shire estimates it to be anywhere from 77 to over 1000.
- What's certain is that Roehm, General Schleicher, Gregor Strasser, and Gustav von Kahr were among the dead.
- As Shirer notes, most of the murdered were killed because of their opposition to Hitler or because they knew too much about Hitler's underhanded dealings.
- Although Hitler, Hermann Goering, and Heinrich Himmler claimed that Roehm had been planning to carry out an armed coup with the Nazi Storm Troopers, Shirer argues that there's no evidence to support this.
- Hitler received no condemnation for his actions. In fact, he received the hearty congratulations of President Hindenburg, who, having swallowed the lies about Roehm's planned coup, thanked Hitler for having rescued the German people from the danger posed by all these traitors.
- Shirer concludes this section by evaluating the actions of the Army in encouraging, and then condoning, an unprecedented massacre. He wonders again about how the German Army ever thought it could control Hitler.
The Death of Hindenburg
- Three hours after Hindenburg's death, a public announcement declared that a law had been passed merging the offices of Chancellor and President and that you-know-who had installed himself in that position. Interestingly, the law had been passed the day before.
- Hitler had no plans to call himself the President of the Republic, and instead took the title of Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor. He was now the head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
- Shirer spends some time discussing the political testament that the late President Hindenburg had left behind, and explains that Hitler suppressed aspects of it from public view—like the fact that Hindenburg had called for a restoration of the Hohenzollern monarchy.
- Next, Shirer notes that although Hitler's law merging the offices of the Chancellor and the President was illegal, no one in any position of power seems to have raised any objections.
- He then recounts the plebiscite that Hitler held in August 1934, in which 90% of the voters approved Hitler's annexation of total power.
- At a Nuremburg rally in early September 1934, the Nazis declared triumphantly that the German way of life was now set for the next thousand years.
Chapter 8: Life in the Third Reich: 1933 – 1937
Book Two: Triumph and Consolidation
- Shirer begins this chapter by noting that it was in the summer of 1934 that he arrived in Germany and began his reporting on the Third Reich.
- Throughout the pages that follow, he'll paint a picture of what daily life was like for the German citizens who lived and worked under Hitler's dictatorship.
- He found that a surprising majority of Germans didn't seem to him to mind "that their personal freedom had been taken away, that so much of their culture had been destroyed and replaced with a mindless barbarism, or that their life and work had become regimented to a degree never before experienced even by a people accustomed for generations to a great deal of regimentation." (2.8.1)
- Of course, the Gestapo and the constant threat of being sent to a concentration camp also helped keep people in line—at least, those people who weren't already being arrested for their political affiliations or racial, religious, and ethnic identities.
- Although he did meet some individual Germans who made it clear that they were disgusted by Hitler's persecution of the Jews, they did nothing to stop it.
- Likewise, he writes that despite international denunciations of German anti-Semitism, the German public couldn't help but notice that those denunciations didn't stop tourists from visiting Germany in droves.
- In August, 1936, Berlin hosted the Olympics and the Nazis had the opportunity to dazzle the world.
- Shirer records that international visitors, especially the British and Americans, were greatly impressed by what they saw: apparently a happy and friendly people, united in their admiration for Hitler.
- It was a very different picture, they thought, from what they'd read in the newspapers.
- Against this background of Hitler's success in pulling the wool over the eyes of the Western world, Shirer records the grim details of the Nazis' flagrant violations of civil and human rights.
- Specifically, he describes the intentions and consequences of the anti-Jewish Nürnberg Laws, and notes that by the time the Olympics were being held in 1936, Jewish people in Germany had been all but excluded from any kind of employment, so that half of them had no way to support themselves.
- In addition to explicit anti-Jewish laws, Jews also had to contend with public displays of hatred that made it difficult for them to acquire even basic necessities.
- As Shirer writes, many grocery stores, butcher shops, and dairies had signs over the doors: "Jews Not Admitted."
- In many communities Jews couldn't buy milk or bread even for their young children. Pharmacies refused to sell them medicine.
- This was just a prelude to Hitler's real plan—the total destruction of the Jews of Germany and Europe.
The Persecution of the Christian Churches
- In 1933, Hitler had promised to uphold the rights of German Christians, but he soon reneged on that promise.
- Shirer begins this section by reviewing the Nazi persecution of German Catholics in a few brief paragraphs, then turns to the Nazi Party's relationship with German Protestants.
- He offers an account of the Nazi Party's struggle to consolidate and seize control of Germany's Protestant churches, and he argues that the party's ultimate goal was the destruction of Christianity in Germany in favor of a new Nazi paganism modelled on old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods.
The Nazification of Culture
- Book burnings began in the spring of 1933, and other measures were taken to ensure that the German public read only what the Nazis wanted them to read.
- Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, was also the father of the Reich Chamber of Culture, which was mandated to direct the moral intellectual development of the people and the professions.
- If a person wanted to work in any of the fields that the Reich Chamber of Culture controlled, like the press or the arts, they had to prove their Nazi bona fides.
- The result was that many writers and artists fled the country rather than be forced to further to philosophy and propaganda of the new regime.
- Germany's vibrant art and literary culture was quickly being destroyed by the Nazis.
The Control of Press, Radio, and Films
- Given his profession, it's not surprising that Shirer would devote an entire section to Nazi control over press, radio, and film in Nazi Germany.
- Each morning, editors of the Berlin daily newspapers and the press correspondents of papers published elsewhere in the Reich had to meet at the Propaganda Ministry, where Dr. Goebbels or one of his assistants told them what news to print, what to suppress, and how to write it.
- Non-Nazi and anti-Nazi journals and journalists were removed from the publishing and broadcasting world; the Nazis made a fortune through their total control over German presses, radio, and film.
- Shirer had firsthand experience of the propaganda machine. He admits that even he sometimes found that steady exposure to lies and distortions could eventually make an impression on the mind.
- He says that nobody who hasn't lived inside a totalitarian regime can even imagine the scope and force of this kind of propaganda.
Education in the Third Reich
- Shirer begins this section by summing up Hitler's vision for education in the Third Reich.
- Education wasn't to be limited to the classroom. Rather, it permeated all aspects of life.
- Youth were indoctrinated in social groups and were required to participate in compulsory labor, followed by enlistment in the army.
- One of the clearest aims of Hitler's new educational program was to indoctrinate Germany's youth in Nazi ideology.
- The Nazi educational system was organized from German primary and secondary schools all the way up to the universities.
- Shirer then turns to the Hitler Youth movement and examines the uniquecontributions that it made to the "education" of Germany's youth. All youth programs except Hitler Youth were discontinued.
- What, no Boy Scouts?
- There were three specialty schools that the Nazi Party developed in order to train young Nazi elites.
- Shirer concludes this section by making a pretty shocking comparison between Germany's youth and the young people of other European nations.
- Even though their minds were being poisoned, the regime emphasized physical health and well-being.
- He admitted that the youth of all economic and social classes (except Jews, of course) grew up with a sense of camaraderie and pride in their country.
- He thought of that later when he'd happen to see young British POWs, who looked emaciated and dispirited—the result of their neglect by their home country.
- As Shirer notes more than once throughout TRFTR, examples like this made it easy to see why so many Germans were willing to accept Hitler's totalitarian rule.
The Farmer in the Third Reich
- Shirer describes the early measures that Hitler took to safeguard the livelihoods of German farmers.
- In 1933 the Nazis passed a law instituting a program that was a lot like the old feudal system.
- As he puts it, the law was a combination of pushing the laborers back to medieval times and protecting them from being financially disadvantaged by the modern economy.
The Economy of the Third Reich
- In this section, Shirer offers a broad overview of the Nazi Party's economic management of Germany in the years leading up to the outbreak of war.
- Although he gives some credit to the economic wizardry of Dr. Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht, Shirer argues that Germany's economic recovery depended on rearmament.
- War can be very good for an industrialized nation's economy, and Germany was no different.
The Serfdom of Labor
- Shirer turns his attention to the nation's working class, who had lost their unions, and with them, right to strike or bargain.
- This turned the worker into a serf, just like in medieval times, tied to his employer.
- Although unemployment levels in Germany dropped under Nazi Party governance, it was the capitalists and businesses who benefitted most, not the working people.
- German workers may have had jobs, he explains, but on average they were bringing home less pay—in large part because of various dues, taxes, contributions, and "optional" charity gifts that the Nazi Party expected them to contribute.
- Laborers in Nazi Germany also had less freedom of movement, because strict regulations bound employees to their places of employment and made it hard for them to seek work elsewhere.
- Shirer describes how the working class was distracted from its loss of rights by a Nazi program of "regimented leisure." This was a system of clubs and organized travel opportunities that the German people were encouraged to take part in, in order to nurture "Strength through Joy." (2.8.138-41)
- Even though the working classes had less freedom under the Nazis than they'd had before, the Nazis had given them a degree of economic security, so the trade-off didn't seem quite so bad.
- Shirer makes one more point about Hitler's treatment of the working classes. It made sure that when the time came, he had a body of workers who were ready, willing, and able to produce the necessary supplies for war.
Justice in the Third Reich
- Shirer believes that starting in 1933, Germany under the Nazis stopped being a society based on laws. Arbitrary arrests, assaults, and murders became the norm.
- In Nazi Germany, he concludes, Hitler himself was the law.
- Shirer reminds us that even before the Nazis rose to power, the German courts were extremely biased against the Weimar Republic and its supporters.
- He suggests that—in some ways at least—Germany's judicial system was already aligned with key Nazi interests even before Hitler grabbed the reins completely.
- The Nazis steadily consolidated power over the courts throughout the 1930s, first by dismissing all Jewish professionals from the judiciary—along with anyone whose commitment to Nazism wasn't complete—and then by packing the courts with officials sympathetic to the regime.
- The Nazis also created new courts, such as the People's Court, which became Germany's most feared court.
- Shirer discusses the dreaded Gestapo, which began as a secret police service employed by Goering to arrest and murder the regime's political opponents of the regime.
- Over time, it became a complex, well-organized group that held "the power of death and life over every German." (2.8.157)
- Shirer also offers brief descriptions of the concentration camps that were established early on in Hitler's reign. By the end of 1933, there were at least 50 camps under the control of the SS and the S.A.
- Next, Shirer describes the formation of the Nazi SD (Security Service, or Sicherheitsdienst), which began as the S.S.'s intelligence branch.
- In 1936 the Nazis created a unified German police force, and Hitler put Himmler in charge of it.
- In Shirer's view, this moment signaled the fact that Nazi Germany had finally become a police state.
Government in the Third Reich
- Shirer argues that because Hitler found the details of day-to-day governance boring, he left most of the work to the bureaucratic management system that Nazi Party had established.
- The result was a top-down government with a large bureaucracy, totally corrupt and inefficient, and living in constant terror of the Gestapo.
- Perched at the very top was Hitler, who, after only a few years in office, had unified the state, taken control of the culture, destroyed civil freedoms, and reinvigorated industry.
Chapter 9: The First Steps: 1934 – 1937
Book Three: The Road to War
- In this first chapter of Book Three: The Road to War, Shirer explains how Hitler managed to re-arm Germany while at the same time preaching his love of peace to his international listeners.
- Before he gets to that, though, he describes one early misstep: the Nazi murder of the Austrian Chancellor in June, 1934, as part of an attempted coup.
- Hitler pretended that he had nothing to do with the murder—which had been carried out by SS members disguised in Austrian Army uniforms—but Germany had been supplying Austrian Nazis with the weapons that the Austrians needed in order to wage terrorist warfare.
- On top of that, Hitler had also overseen formation of an Austrian Legion, several thousand soldiers camped along the Austrian border and ready to invade when the timing was right.
- Shirer concludes that the murder of the Austrian Chancellor was a failed Nazi putsch—one from which Hitler distanced himself when he saw that the coup had failed. As usual, the bloody-minded Fuehrer was willing to bide his time.
The Breaching of Versailles
- Aside from swelling the ranks of the German Army, developing submarines, and building up a military Air Force (which would be headed by Hermann Goering), Hitler was also working to develop the rubber and gasoline industries.
- Although the Nazis assumed that they were keeping things pretty well under wraps, Shirer records that Germany's rearmament was known to the Allies.
- Shirer charts some of the early negotiations that opened up between Britain, France, and Germany in the mid-1930s, as the Western powers attempted to strike a fine balance between giving Hitler some leeway while also guaranteeing the safety of nations like Russia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.
- With his usual penchant for political scheming, Hitler decided to see if he could divide and conquer the Western powers—or, at the very least, distract and evade.
- Hitler decided to test the waters of European international relations by allowing Goering to leak the fact that Germany now had a military Air Force, in direct contravention of the Treaty of Versailles. He wanted to see what the Allies would do.
- Not only had the Allies already known about the Luftwaffe (Air Force), but they decided not to sanction Germany even after the Nazis admitted it openly.
A Saturday Surprise
- Hitler decided to push things further. In March 1935 he passed a law requiring mandatory military service and creating a standing peacetime army.
- Unless France and Britain did something about it, this meant the end of the Versailles military restrictions on Germany.
- They didn't.
- The only responses were formal protests and angry letters, as well as the signing of pacts of mutual assistance between France and Russia, and Russia and Czechoslovakia.
- Meanwhile, Hitler continued to preach his public message of peace and continued to reassure his international audience that Germany wasn't interested in the least in expanding its territory or invading anyone else's country.
- In a speech that he delivered in May 1935, he even outlined "thirteen specific proposals for maintaining the peace." (3.9.33) The rest of Europe found them very convincing. Really.
- Shirer argues that Hitler was doing a great con job on the British nation.
- Not only that, but he managed to sow discord between Britain and France.
- In June 1935, Britain agreed to strike a new arms agreement with Germany, one that would allow the Nazis to build up the German Navy far beyond the limits of Versailles.
- The Brits didn't bother to consult the French—nor their mutual allies the Italians—before they did it.
- Watching from the sidelines was Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy.
- When Britain established its new arms agreement with Germany, Mussolini figured that he might as well get while the getting was good. So he invaded Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia), and waited to see what Britain and France were going to do about it.
- Neither nation did anything more than issue sanctions.
- Shirer concludes that not only had Hitler succeeded in driving a wedge between Britain and France, but he'd had the good luck to see Italy's alliance with the two Western powers fall apart as well.
- The Nazis were particularly happy about Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia, because they figured that one of two things would happen.
- Mussolini might be defeated in Africa, in which case Hitler could march on Austria, which Mussolini had been protecting.
- If Mussolini won, then he could partner with Hitler against the rest of Europe and Britain.
- A win-win.
A Coup in the Rhineland
- In this section Shirer describes another of the "tests" that Hitler administered as he worked to get a read on his international adversaries.
- The allies had withdrawn from the Rhineland as part of the Locarno Pact of 1925, which forbade Germany from militarily occupying that region. The region was demilitarized.
- In March of 1936, the German Army invaded the territory. The Nazi Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath contacted ambassadors of France, Britain, and Italy and told them what had just happened in the Rhineland.
- He criticized the Locarno Treaty (which Hitler had just broken), and put forth his own plan for peace in the region.
- Once again, Hitler had broken a formal treaty and immediately offered to renegotiate the peace on his own terms. Once again, the Western powers chose not to do anything.
- Shirer examines the British and French governments' reasons for choosing not to take military action against Hitler, and states unequivocally that had the French Army retaliated, it would have succeeded in reclaiming the territory.
- Hitler won this gamble, and Shirer writes that the long-term consequences would be catastrophic beyond imagining.
- The occupation of the Rhineland completely changed the balance of power in Europe.
- Shirer now turns away from the Rhineland in order to catch up with events in Austria. Meanwhile, Austria's new Chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, decided that after the events in the Rhineland that they had to throw Hitler a bone.
- In July 1936, Germany and Austria signed a treaty guaranteeing Austria's sovereignty and declaring that Germany wouldn't meddle in its neighbor's internal affairs.
- But as Shirer notes, the treaty also contained a number of secret clauses and concessions to Nazi Germany, which, in Shirer's words, would soon spell doom for Austria.
- Shirer puts that doom aside for the moment, though, and trains his eyes on Italy and Spain, catching us up with Mussolini's ongoing aggressions in Abyssinia and describing the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
- He explains how Hitler turned the Spanish Civil War to his own military and political advantage, then describes the early negotiations between Germany and Italy that would soon lead to their partnership as "Axis" powers.
- He then discusses German-British and German-Japanese relations in the mid-1930s, making special note of the Anti-Comintern Pact (Comintern was an international Communist organization) that Japan and Germany signed together in the autumn of 1936. Italy signed the pact in 1937.
- Hitler was now feeling more and more sure that he could do what he wanted in Europe—up to a point—without worrying whether Britain and France would get involved.
- Shirer concludes on an ominous note (his favorite kind), writing that Great Britain and France failed to recognize that everything Hitler had been doing was a preparation for war. He thinks that the majority of the German people didn't realize it, either.
1937: "No Surprises"
- 1937 brought no surprises for Germany's international observers. Instead, Hitler used the year o consolidate the gains he'd made up until then and continue preparations for war.
- He continued to strengthen his relationship with Mussolini throughout 1937, and also developed a new foreign policy relationship with Belgium.
- Meanwhile, important changes were happening in the British government. In May 1937, Neville Chamberlain replaced Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister, and Chamberlain was now very anxious to reach some kind of settlement with Germany.
The Fateful Decision of November 5, 1937
- In November 1937, Hitler held a fateful meeting.
- He gathered his Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, his Commander in Chief of the Army, his Commander in Chief of the Air Force, and his Commander in Chief of the Navy.
- He explained to his chiefs that Germany must be ready for war by 1938, and by 1943-45 at the very latest.
- Austria and Czechoslovakia would be first on his hit list
Chapter 10: Strange, Fateful Interlude: The Fall of Blomberg, Fritsch, Neurath and Schacht
Book Three: The Road to War
- After Hitler announced his plans to invade Czechoslovakia and Austria in the not-so-distant future, just three of the men present at the "fateful" meeting in November 1937 dared to question him.
- Each of them soon found himself out of a job.
- The men who dared to question Hitler's plans were Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, Hitler's Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces; General Freiherr Werner von Fritsch, the Commander in Chief of the Army; and Baron Konstantin von Neurath, Hitler's Foreign Minister.
- Shirer writes that Hitler's decision was so shocking to Baron von Neurath that the Foreign Minister had several heart attacks in the days that followed. Despite his poor health, he consulted with General von Fritsch and General Ludwig Beck. The three men agreed that they should try to talk Hitler out of his plans for war.
- General Fritsch met with Hitler soon after the meeting, didn't get anywhere.
- Neurath tried to arrange an appointment, but had to wait until January 1937.
- According to his own testimony, Neurath explained to Hitler that his actions would lead to another world war, and, when Hitler refused to listen to him, Neurath warned the Fuehrer that he'd have to find another Foreign Minister to replace him.
- Hitler had already decided to do just that.
- Before giving us the story of Neurath's "fall," Shirer starts with that of Dr. Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht, who in 1937 retired from his position as Hitler's Minister of Economics and Plenipotentiary for War Economy.
- Schacht resigned voluntarily after Hitler began to give Hermann Goering more and more responsibility in Germany's economic planning.
- Schacht seems to have found it impossible to do his job while duking it out with Goering at the same time—the two men didn't exactly see eye to eye—and so he retired.
The Fall of Field Marshal von Blomberg
- Having related the relatively unscandalous story of Schacht's retirement, Shirer turns to Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg.
- In 1937, Marshal Blomberg married a young woman by the name of Fräulein Erna Gruhn. Hitler and Hermann Goering were the witnesses at the wedding, and for a short while everything seemed hunky-dory. But while Blomberg and his bride were on their honeymoon, a scandal erupted.
- It came to light that Fräulein Gruhn had a criminal record. She'd grown up in a brothel managed by her mother, and had previously been arrested for prostitution and posing for pornographic photos.
- When the news reached Hitler, he flipped out. The Fuehrer felt that Blomberg had made a fool of him, since Hitler stood up for the couple at their wedding.
- Blomberg seemed to be just as surprised as everyone else, and he promptly offered to divorce his wife. Goering, however, insisted that just a divorce wouldn't cut it, and he informed the unhappy Blomberg that he'd have to resign.
- In the last week of January 1937, just two weeks after the wedding, Hitler dismissed Blomberg from his position as Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
The Fall of General Freiherr Werner von Fritsch
- Next up: General Freiherr Werner von Fritsch.
- Fritsch was an obvious successor to Blomberg, but Hitler remembered how Fritsch had opposed his plan to invade Austria and Czechoslovakia.
- Someone else in the upper echelons of the Nazi Party who had a bone to pick with Frits, too. Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the S.S., had a beef with Fritsch because the general had never bothered to hide his hostile feelings about the S.S.
- Shirer explains how Himmler—with the help of his buddy Reinhard Heydrich—succeeded in framing Fritsch for homosexual activity that was considered criminal under the German criminal code.
- When Hitler became convinced that the charges were true, he sent Fritsch on indefinite leave of absence. In other words, b'bye.
- The Army conducted its own investigation and quickly determined that Fritsch was the victim of a frame-up by the S.S. But before the Army officers could decide what to do about it, Hitler jumped one step ahead of them.
- In the first week of February 1938, Hitler announced that he himself would be taking over the complete command of the armed forces.
- If that wasn't enough, Hitler dismissed another sixteen senior generals from their positions, and transferred 44 others whom he felt weren't enthusiastic enough in their devotion to the party.
- In that same first week of February, Hitler got rid of Baron von Neurath, and appointed Joachim von Ribbentrop in his place.
- Shirer concludes the chapter by arguing that February 1938 was a turning point in German history. The Nazi revolution was complete, since Hitler had managed to get rid of anyone who stood in the way of the Third Reich.
Chapter 11: Anschluss: The Rape of Austria
Book Three: The Road to War
- While Captain von Trapp and Maria were on their honeymoon, Hitler invaded Austria.
- Oops, sorry. Wrong story.
- OK. Shirer is actually in Vienna when Nazi troops invaded and annexed Austria on March 12. He has a first-hand look at the event.
- Shirer then backtracks to fill in the gaps between Austria in 1936—when he last took a good look at it—and Austria in 1938.
- In those two years the Nazis had been working hard to undermine independent Austria and bring about a union with Nazi Germany. His M.O., in part, was a terror campaign of bombings and violent demonstrations.
The Meeting at Berchtesgaden: February 12, 1938
- As Shirer's section title announces, Shirer now offers an account of the fateful meeting between the Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg and the German Fuehrer in February 1938.
- Schuschnigg was presented with a draft of Hitler's demands, and saw it for what it was: an ultimatum to hand over Austria to Hitler. In about a week.
- Although Schuschnigg had no authority to accept the agreement without the Austrian President's approval, he eventually signed it, and promised Hitler that he would do his best to get it ratified by the President.
- Von Papen reassured him that even though Hitler appeared harsh and demanding that day, he was really quite charming and would no doubt refrain from invading Austria.
- Shirer takes this opportunity to share some thoughts about the actions of men who are operating under extreme duress.
The Four Weeks' Agony: February 12—March 11, 1938
- Shirer describes the pains that Schuschnigg went through to convince Austria's President, Wilhelm Miklas, to capitulate to Hitler's terms.
- He introduces us to Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Austrian politician who was doing his utmost to undermine his country's government and hand Austria to Hitler on a silver platter.
- After describing slimeball Seyss-Inquart, Shirer describes how Hitler declared in the Reichstag that Germany would do whatever it took do to guarantee the well-being of Germans in other countries.
- Chancellor Schuschnigg hit back by declaring in an address to the Austrian government that Austria never, ever give up its independence of its own free will.
- Hitler's and Schuschnigg's speeches ignited demonstrations and riots in Austria's streets. As civil unrest continued to spread, Chancellor Schuschnigg grasped at straws and Hitler—true to form—prepared his army for an invasion.
- As he did, Hitler took some time to write a pack of lies, er… letter to Benito Mussolini, in which he attempted to explain his reasons for the imminent invasion.
The Collapse of Schuschnigg
- Hitler demanded Chancellor Schuschnigg's resignation, and ordered that Seyss-Inquart be appointed Chancellor in Schuschnigg's place. He announced his plan to send the German Army into Austria.
- President Miklas reluctantly accepted Chancellor Schuschnigg's resignation, but refused to appoint Seyss-Inquart.
- In the face of President Miklas's defiance, the German Army ramped up their threats and ultimatums. Miklas held firm.
- A growing mass of Nazi demonstrators was gathering in Vienna's streets on the evening of March 11, 1938. Chancellor Schuschnigg made an emotional broadcast to the Austrian people that night as he explained his reasons for stepping down.
- Shortly before midnight on the same evening, President Miklas finally gave in and appointed Seyss-Inquart as Austria's new Chancellor.
- Hitler soon journeyed to Austria and met with a raucous welcome from the people who supported him.
- While he was there, he saw to it that Austria declared itself a part of the German Reich and accepted him as President.
- Hitler had announced that he'd hold a plebiscite on the question of Austrian annexation, and over the next month traveled all over Germany and Austria whipping up support for the vote.
- He was also on the campaign trail, as German elections were coming up and he was determined to keep up the appearance of holding a "democratically-elected" position.
- When the plebiscite returned a resounding "yes" to annexation, Austria began to be incorporated into the German Reich.
- In the days following annexation, Austrians became a little less enthusiastic as the Nazis unleashed violence and disorder in the streets of Vienna. Shirer calls it an "orgy" of sadism.
- Jewish Austrians were often the targets of this violence.
- Jews were thrown in prison for no reason; their household goods and personal belongings were stolen; they were subjected to humiliating public treatment as crowds of Austrians and S.S. looked on and jeered.
- Shirer also describes the creation of the Nazi Office for Jewish Emigration, which was the only place Jews could get permits to leave the country.
- The office began as a front for the Nazis' business in letting Jews leave only if all their assets were confiscated.
- Eventually, though, the Office for Jewish Emigration "was to become eventually an agency not of emigration but of extermination and to organize the slaughter of more than four million persons, mostly Jews." (3.11.178)
- Shirer makes a sudden—and deliberately ironic—shift to the subject of tourism, and explains that Germany's newest province soon became a popular tourist destination for Germans.
- It also turned into a real-estate free-for-all, as German businessmen and bankers rushed up to buy the confiscated Jewish and other non-Nazi businesses at rock-bottom prices.
- By this time, former Austrian Chancellor von Schuschnigg was now a prisoner of the Nazis.
Chapter 12: The Road to Munich
Book Three: The Road to War
- Alright, Shmoopers: it's time to strap yourselves in for the longest chapter of the book.
- In this chapter, Shirer offers a blow-by-blow account of Hitler's drawn-out invasion of Czechoslovakia.
- He begins by explaining the main routes that Hitler could take if he wanted to justify an invasion of Czechoslovakia, and notes that Hitler's preference, in the beginning, was to engineer a political assassination that would justify retribution by Germany.
- He then offers a brief history of the Republic of Czechoslovakia, and gives particular attention to the approximately 250,000 Sudeten Germans who represented one of Czechoslovakia's many minority populations.
- After Germany's annexation of Austria, a Czechoslovakian Nazi named Konrad Henlein went to Berlin to meet with Hitler.
- In Berlin, Henlein was instructed to stir up trouble in Czechoslovakia by making demands of the Czech government—specifically, demands which the government would be totally unable to satisfy.
- In this way, Hitler intended to drum up justification and sympathy for the military aggression he intended to carry out. By making it seem as though he'd been provoked by the plight of his fellow Germans, he'd have a convenient excuse to invade Czechoslovakia.
The First Crisis: May 1938
- When some of Hitler's provisional plans for attack in Czechoslovakia were leaked, Czechoslovakia began to get ready for war; Britain, France and Russia reaffirmed their alliance in case Germany decided to invade anywhere else.
- This period was called the "May Crisis."
- Shirer offers an account of the German military plans that were being developed for "Case Green," which was the code name of the planned attack on Czechoslovakia.
- He draws special attention to the Nazis' plans for a propaganda war and economic warfare, and notes that this was the Nazi M.O. for much of the war until the world woke up and realized what Hitler was doing.
- Although the British government warned Hitler of the gravity of the situation, it never stated explicitly that German aggression in Czechoslovakia would be met with British Arms.
- Shirer shares his personal view that if Chamberlain had told Hitler that the British would respond with military action to the invasion, Hitler might have thought twice about it.
- World War II might have been avoided. Oh, well.
- The Germans informed the Czechs that they actually had no intentions of invading, that the reports German troops on the Czech border were totally false.
- The European governments breathed a sigh of relief.
- Meanwhile, Hitler moped about it.
- On May 28, 1938, Hitler went to Berlin, called the officers of the Wehrmacht to the Chancellery, and announced that Germany would invade Czechoslovakia within six months.
Wavering of the Generals
- Because a number of the generals believed that Germany still wasn't ready to defend itself against the Western powers, tensions were brewing yet again.
- General Ludwig Beck, Chief of the Army General Staff, spent a good chunk of the summer of 1938 trying to convince his fellow officers to oppose the Fuehrer's plans.
- Shirer describes the ins and outs of the Army's reluctant preparations over the summer, and notes that General Beck finally chose to resign from his position in August 1938.
- He brings the section to a close by introducing General Franz Halder, who not only became Hitler's new Chief of the Army General Staff, but also became the major player in the first serious plot to overthrow Hitler.
Birth of a Conspiracy Against Hitler
- The only group really equipped to overthrow Hitler was the army.
- Among the leading lights of the anti-Nazi conspirators was General Ludwig Beck, who soon became a person that both the generals and the civilian resistance could rally around.
- The plan was to take Hitler into custody as soon as he gave the order to invade Czechoslovakia. They'd haul him into court claiming that anyone who was about the lead Germany into a war in Europe wasn't competent to govern.
- Shirer thinks that while General Beck was sure that an invasion of Czechoslovakia would plunge Germany into an all-out war with France and Britain, and possibly Russia, Hitler felt sure that they wouldn't intervene.
- Hitler was right this time.
- The German Army generals were still worried about their chances if Britain and France decided to intervene on behalf of Czechoslovakia, and their concerns were irking Hitler.
- Meanwhile, the anti-Nazi conspirators were putting out feelers in Britain.
- They warned Britain about the plans to invade Czechoslovakia, and said that if Britain would commit to opposing Hitler, they'd promise to do their best to prevent the invasion.
- Although Winston Churchill was willing to issue a firm statement that Britain would go to war if Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, Prime Minister Chamberlain was not.
- In September 1938, the Czechoslovakian President, Eduard Beneš (no relation to Elaine Benes), made a public declaration that he'd grant all of the Sudeten German Party's demands.
- This was the last thing the Nazis wanted, since it robbed them of their reason to invade. So, Hitler saw to it that Konrad Henlein broke off negotiations with the Czech government, giving some excuse about about the Czech police.
- Tensions rose in Czechoslovakia, noting that the railroad station was filled with Jews trying to escape to safer parts of Europe.
- In the middle of September 1938, at the annual Nuremberg Party Rally, Hitler delivered a speech that demanded justice for Sudeten Germans.
- The speech provoked a revolt in the Sudetenland, and the Czech government suppressed the revolt and instituted martial law.
- Watching from the sidelines, the French Premier Édouard Daladier asked the British Prime Minister Chamberlain make a bargain with Hitler.
- That very night, Chamberlain sent a message to Hitler, in which he offered to come to Germany to discuss the situation.
Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden: September 15, 1938
- The British public thought that Chamberlain was going to warn Hitler about the dire consequences of invading Czechoslovakia, but Hitler didn't believe that.
- Hitler was pretty sure that Britain and France wouldn't intervene on Czechoslovakia's behalf.
- Unfortunately, he was right again.
- Chamberlain was willing to negotiate the annexation of the Sudetenland in exchange for Hitler taking no action unless he conferred with Chamberlain.
- While Chamberlain returned to England to bring everyone around to his decision to accept the surrender of the Sudetenland, the German Army prepared for war.
- Two of the former generals who were currently plotting against Hitler came out of retirement retirement and were assigned to head armies.
- Meanwhile, the Nazis were encouraging the Hungarians and the Polish to get ready to get in on the action against Czechoslovakia and divide up the spoils.
- The British and French governments continued to discuss what they should do.
- They didn't even bother to consult the Czechs. Instead, they simply presented the threatened nation with terms they drew up together, and which they expected the Czechoslovakian government to accept.
- Not surprisingly, the Czechoslovakian government rejected the terms, stating that giving up the Sudetenland would put them on a slippery slope towards eventual domination by Germany.
- The governments of Britain and France each declared that if Czechoslovakia stood firm, each nation would withdraw from any support to the country.
- Under that kind of pressure, the Czechs were forced to agree to the terms that the British and French had drawn up on their behalf.
Chamberlain at Godesberg: September 22-23
- By late September 1938, Hitler seemed very nervous about the international stew he was cooking up.
- Chamberlain was feeling the pressure, too. Given the concessions that he and Daladier had managed to wring out of the Czechoslovakian President Beneš, he was flabbergasted to discover that their proposals weren't good enough for Hitler.
- In fact, Hitler informed Chamberlain that he was determined to occupy the Sudetenland by October 1.
- Based on Chamberlain's report from the first day of meetings with Hitler, the British and French governments agreed to inform the Czechs that they could no longer tell the Czechs not to mobilize for war.
- At this point, Shirer offers an analysis of Hitler's motivations at this particular point in time. He argues that Hitler had decided not only to destroy Czechoslovakia as a free and independent nation, but also to do so in the most humiliating and aggressive way.
- He then turns back to his discussions of the Godesberg meetings, and notes that on the second day of the meetings, Chamberlain made some new proposals to Hitler.
- In return, Hitler presented the British Prime Minister with a harsh ultimatum.
- In the midst of their tense discussions, the two leaders learned that a general mobilization was underway in Czechoslovakia.
- The news inspired a huge argument between Hitler and Chamberlain, because Hitler was now insisting that the Czechs had made the first aggressive move.
- Eventually, Chamberlain and Hitler both calmed down enough to come to an agreement. Ultimately, the agreement was entirely in Hitler's favor, and when Chamberlain returned to England, he found it impossible to convince the British Parliament to agree to its terms.
- The French Ministers soon arrived in London for further talks, and together the British and the French were informed that the Czechoslovakian government wouldn't accept the Godesberg proposals either.
- The shifting political landscape finally seemed to be turning in Czechoslovakia's favor. For the first time throughout the long negotiations, the French finally confirmed that they'd come to the aid of Czechoslovakia if Hitler attacked.
- The Brits, for their part, reminded Hitler that their treaties with France assured that they'd come to France's aid in any aggression against her.
- But since he really didn't want to take Britain to war, Chamberlain decided to try one more time to change Hitler's mind.
- Chamberlain tried to convince Hitler to continue the negotiations, and Hitler tried to convince Chamberlain that his own position was perfectly reasonable.
The Eleventh Hour
- On September 27, 1938, the British fleet was being mobilized, a state of emergency had been declared, and the Auxiliary Air Force had been called up.
- Chamberlain had also warned President Beneš that a German invasion would be imminent if the Czechs continued to reject Hitler's ultimatum.
- The British Prime Minister also issued a public broadcast that night, and, as Shirer states, "most people in Britain went to bed that night believing that Britain and Germany would be at war within twenty-four hours." (3.12.268)
- Late that night, Chamberlain received word from Hitler that he was willing to continue the negotiations. Chamberlain jumped at the chance to avoid war.
- He quickly responded with yet another offer to come to Hitler—this time with representatives from Czechoslovakia, France, and Italy. The British Prime Minister was deliberately excluding the Soviet Union from the ongoing negotiations.
"Black Wednesday" and the Halder Plot Against Hitler
- Meanwhile, the anti-Nazi conspirators were hatching a plot to overthrow Hitler before his invasion of Czechoslovakia could ignite another world war.
- The conspirators were still working to convince other generals that Hitler's actions really would start a war that Germany couldn't hope to win.
- As they discovered, many German Army officers were reluctant to act because it seemed as though Britain and France wouldn't do anything about an invasion of Czechoslovakia; therefore, no world war.
- The conspirators ran into other obstacles as they tried to decide whether or not to act. Meanwhile, the Western powers were still trying to decide what to do.
- When when the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and Germany finally settled on a place and time to meet, they decided to leave Czechoslovakia's government out of the discussions.
- When the negotiations finally moved forward, the anti-Nazi conspirators called off their plans for a coup. Some of them even blamed the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for "saving" Hitler at the last minute.
- Shirer argues that the real problem was the conspirators' lack of committed leadership.
The Surrender at Munich: September 29-30, 1938
- Before Hitler and his Nazi henchmen sat down with the representatives from Britain and France, Hitler met privately with Mussolini to try to forge an alliance.
- English and French representatives didn't bother to do the same, and Shirer argues that it seemed as if Chamberlain didn't want anyone to stand in the way of his agreement with Hitler.
- Shirer now describes the talks themselves as just a formality—they gave Hitler everything he wanted.
- Although Hitler wouldn't allow any Czech representatives to sit in one the meeting itself, two waited in the adjoining room.
- That night, after Germany, Italy, England, and France had reached a deal among themselves, they announced the terms of their agreement to the Czechs.
- Prime Minister Chamberlain visited Hitler once more before he left Munich, and he convinced the Nazi Fuehrer to sign a brief which announced the British and German governments' mutual desire that their two peoples would never go to war with one another again.
- Shirer describes Chamberlain's triumphant return to London, where he was greeted as a conquering hero. The mood in Prague was a little different.
- In short order, President, Eduard Beneš was forced to resign, the Polish and Hungarian governments stepped in to claim Czechoslovakian territories for themselves, and the country was forced by Berlin to install a pro-German fascist-leaning government.
- Czechoslovakia was now at Hitler's mercy.
The Consequences of Munich
- Although the German people could see perfectly well that Hitler had made stunning victory, the governments of Britain and France didn't seem to understand the long-term effects of what they'd just done.
- Only Winston Churchill seemed to get it, and nobody paid any attention to him.
- Shirer believes that if England and France had stood their ground, they could've quickly and easily defeated the German Army had a war broken out then and there.
- He admits that he can't be sure just how much Britain and France actually knew about the relative weakness of the German Army at that time, but he does feel sure about one thing: The Munich Agreement didn't help the Western powers at all. All it did was give the Nazis even more time to strengthen their position.
- Shirer reiterates that the Munich Agreement was a disaster for everyone but Hitler.
- (You know, just in case we hadn't figured that out by now.)
- Still, in spite of Hitler's victory in negotiating the surrender of Czechoslovakia and humiliating the Western powers, he was still miffed that he didn't get the opportunity to take Czechoslovakia by force.
Chapter 13: Czechoslovakia Ceases to Exist
Book Three: The Road to War
- Since Chamberlain's diplomatic interventions had fouled up his plans to invade Czechoslovakia, Hitler decided that he wasn't done yet.
- Less than a month after the Munich Agreement was signed, Hitler was getting the German Army ready for an operation that would produce a total conquest of Czechoslovakia.
- Shirer notes that this moment in history represented a turning point for the Reich.
The Week of the Broken Glass
- Growing violence was being directed against Jews in Germany and the newly Nazi-occupied territories.
- The evening of November 9-10, 1938, has gone down in history as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), or Night of the Broken Glass. It was the most violent pogrom in the Reich up to this point.
- Although the Propaganda Ministry described the pogrom as a "spontaneous" reaction to the murder of a German Embassy official in France, Shirer's research proves that not only did Goebbels order the demonstrations, but Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich issued clear directives for the burning down of synagogues, the destruction of property, and the mass arrests of German Jews.
- 7500 Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed, 267 synagogues were torched, and 91 Jews were killed.
- The destruction of property became a serious cause of concern for the Nazis, who suddenly realized that German insurance firms would be on the hook for the smashed and gutted buildings that had been occupied by Jews, but owned by Gentiles.
- The Jewish community got a bill for the damage, since they started it. Of course.
- Hermann Goering and the other Nazi officials who were managing Germany's economy began to discuss how best to remove Jews from the German economy, seize their property, and evict them from the country.
- Although the German Jews had been subjected to violent oppression before the Kristallnacht, the November pogrom represented the first pogrom carried out by the German government itself.
Slovakia Wins Its "Independence"
- Hitler's plans for what remained of Slovakia were two-pronged. On the one hand, he intended to separate Slovakia from Prague, and at the same time, he intended to liquidate of what remained of the state by occupying the other Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia.
- By the winter of 1939, Germany still hadn't provided a formal guarantee of the smaller nation's borders.
- By March, the Czech government was finding itself in a sticky situation. Strong separatist movements were stirring up trouble in Slovakia and Ruthenia, and the government knew that Czechoslovakia was at risk for breaking up.
- On the other hand, it also knew that if the government tried to put down the rebellion, Hitler could take advantage of the situation by marching into Prague
- The Czech government decided to put down the revolt anyway.
- Hitler did his best to encourage the separatist movement and pave the way for a German invasion.
- By the middle of March 1939, Hitler was ready to sit down with the new Czech president, Emil Hácha.
The Ordeal of Dr. Hácha
- On the night of March 14, 1938, President Hácha arrived with his family in Berlin. Although the Germans gave him the formal honors appropriate to a head of state, their apparently perfect protocol became an ironic backdrop to a massive political travesty.
- Shirer writes that the meeting was "a pitiful scene at the outset." (3.13.98)
- Hácha "groveled" before Hitler, but to no avail. Soon after the meeting began, Hitler informed the Czech president that he had already given the order to invade Czechoslovakia and annex it into the Third Reich.
- Not only that, but Hitler emphasized the wreckage and ruin that would be caused by his armies if the Czechs didn't cooperate.
- He advised Hácha to make sure there was no resistance.
- The Czechoslovakian leader eventually capitulated.
- As Germany occupied its new territory, neither Britain nor France did anything at all to intervene.
- Shirer thinks that despite sitting on the sidelines as Czechoslovakia was destroyed, the two nations seemed to be finally waking up to Hitler's true nature.
- On March 17, just two days after the German Army had marched into Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain made a public declaration that the British wouldn't tolerate any other "adventures" by the Fuehrer.
- Two weeks later, he made another thing clear:
- "In the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence," he declared, "and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty's Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power." (3.13.160-61)
- The French concurred.
Chapter 14: The Turn of Poland
Book Three: The Road to War
- The next nation on Hitler's hit list was Poland.
- By the end of October 1938, the Nazi Foreign Minister Ribbentrop had begun to lay the groundwork for some kind of settlement between Germany and Poland.
- Poland had just occupied a strip of Czech territory for itself, thanks to Hitler's urging, and the two nations were on friendly terms for now.
- By the middle of November, the Polish government rejected Germany's settlement requests, noting that they went against strong assurances that Hitler had given to Poland just recently. Among other things, the Nazis wanted the free city of Danzig, which had a large population of ethnic Germans, to "revert" to Germany. They also wanted to build a highway and railroad across Poland, which would give them easier access to both Danzig and East Prussia.
- On November 24, Hitler issued a directive to his top military commanders, instructing them to begin preparations to occupy Danzig with a surprise invasion.
- Although the Polish Foreign Minister, Józef Beck, had made it perfectly clear to Hitler that this would lead to an armed conflict, Hitler was sure that he could get his way without it.
- Early in the winter of 1939, Hitler and Foreign Minister Beck met to discuss their situation. Hitler seemed a little more conciliatory than he'd been with the Czechs.
- Still, the Polish Foreign Minister told the Nazi Fuehrer that he saw no agreement whatsoever on the Danzig situation.
- If Foreign Minister Beck was pessimistic at the start of the new year, his mood was worse by spring of that year.
- As the months went by, the Nazis continued to press for Danzig, as well as for the Polish government to sign the Anti-Comintern Pact against Russia.
- By late February, Beck really started to understand what was happening, especially after he saw Hitler occupy Bohemia and Moravia and send his troops to annex Slovakia.
- A hubbub of diplomatic activity sprang up in late March as Britain, France, Poland, and Russia were beginning to monitor the Nazis' attitudes toward Poland with a very close eye.
A Slight Aggression By the By
- In this short section, Shirer offers an account of the German occupation of the Lithuanian district of Memel in late March, 1939.
- As he explains, the occupation meant that still another of the terms of the Versailles Treaty had been ignored as Hitler engineered a bloodless conquest of Lithuania.
- "Although the Fuehrer could not know it," he concludes ominously, "it was to be the last." (3.14.37) The last bloodless conquest, that is.
The Heat on Poland
- The German occupation of Memel finally convinced the people of Poland that they might be next on Hitler's list. The Polish Army started to call up its reserves, and Hitler debated what to do.
- To his frustration, Hitler soon discovered that he couldn't intimidate the Polish government as easily as he'd intimidated the leaders of Austria and Czechoslovakia.
- Poland had an advantage that the Austrians and the Czechs hadn't been able to enjoy: they could rest assured that Britain and France were finally on their side.
- When Hitler learned that Britain had made a formal guarantee of Poland's safety, it threw him into a rage. Rage seems to be his default mode.
- He then goes on to describe "Case White": the "top-secret directive" that laid out Hitler's plans for war against Poland.
- Hitler soon began to collect intelligence on Poland's military strengths and weaknesses, trying to determine what kind of resistance he might encounter.
- Meanwhile, Mussolini was still at it in the Mediterranean. In early April, Italy's forces invaded Albania, which gave the fascist dictator a base of operations to continue aggression against Greece and Yugoslavia. The small countries of Europe were getting nervous.
- In response, France and Britain signed treaties with Greece and Rumania. The two sides were starting to form more clearly.
- From across the Atlantic Ocean, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was perking his ears up too.
- In the middle of April, he addressed a telegram to both Mussolini and Hitler, asking them to guarantee the safety of thirty-one independent nations, including Poland, the Baltic States, Russia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Great Britain.
- Hitler promised that he'd reply in a speech delivered in the Reichstag at the end of the month. In the meantime, he sent messages to the states mentioned by Roosevelt (except Poland, Russia, Britain, and France) and asked them if they felt threated by him and if they'd encouraged Roosevelt to make that proposal of safety.
- As Shirer records, most of the countries answered "no" to both questions. They were afraid to antagonize the Fuehrer.
- Soon enough, their replies would become ammunition for Hitler.
Hitler's Reply to Roosevelt
- Shirer describes the speech that Hitler delivered in the Reichstag at the end of April 1939 as his most brilliant speech ever.
- He denounced the Anglo-German naval treaty of 1935, and declared that Poland, not Germany, had broken the nonaggression pact.
- Hitler told the Reichstag that he was willing to negotiate replacement treaties.
- The Fuehrer then launched into a long, highly sarcastic response to President Roosevelt's telegram, and managed not to answer the American president's question regarding Poland.
- Less than a week later, the Polish government responded to Hitler's speech by delivering one of its own. In it, Foreign Minister Beck made it perfectly clear that Poland had no plans to give in to Hitler's bullying anytime soon.
The Intervention of Russia: I
- In this section, Shirer describes Hitler's wavering attitude towards Soviet Russia, and notes that by the spring of 1939, the Fuehrer was abandoning his anti-Russian efforts.
- Drawing on captured documents, Shirer presents a detailed description of how Germany and Russia began to draw closer throughout the winter and spring of 1939.
- While Britain and France seemed to want to keep the Soviets at arm's length, the Nazis were realizing that they could be valuable allies. The Soviets seemed interested, too.
- By May 1939, French intelligence was reporting that Germany was in the process of making or maybe had already made, proposals that would draw Russia into a planned partition of Poland.
The Pact of Steel
- At the same time, Hitler was also working on a formal military alliance with Italy—one that would guarantee that if Germany went to war, Italy would follow suit.
- Because Italy wanted to avoid a full-on European war for at least another few years, Mussolini and his government were worried that Hitler was about to get them into a risky situation.
- But when Foreign Ministers Count Galeazzo Ciano and Joachim von Ribbentrop met together in early May, Ribbentrop assured Ciano that Germany wasn't interested in an immediate war, either.
- With that assurance in mind, Mussolini decided to throw his lot in with Hitler. In Shirer's view, the decision was impulsive. Up to that time, Mussolini was pursuing his own national interests without being involved with Germany's.
- The German-Italian alliance was signed in late May, and it came to be known as the "Pact of Steel."
Hitler Burns His Boats: May 23, 1939
- As captured notes from a top-secret meeting reveal, Hitler was ready to admit that blood would have to be spilled if Germany was going to conquer more territories.
- Although he was clear about the need to restrict the war to Poland, he wavered back and forth between different sets of plans.
- One set declared what Germany would do if Britain and France entered the war, and another declared how things would go if the Western powers stayed out of it.
- Hitler was simultaneously admitting that Germany couldn't win the war if Britain and France attacked, and insisting simultaneously that it would win if they did.
- Still, none of the officers in the room offered any opposition to his ideas. Instead, they began to draw up their plans for attack.
The Intervention of Russia: II
- By the summer of 1939 the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had finally agreed discuss a mutual assistance agreement with the countries threatened by Nazi Germany. Although the Russians had been pushing for such talks for some time, the Western powers had been putting them off.
- The Soviets let it be known that they were still open to the discussions, but made it clear that they weren't impressed by the waffling of the Western democracies.
- They also made it clear that they had no plans to cancel their business relationships with Italy and Germany in the meantime.
- Hitler decided to ramp up his own efforts to woo the Soviet Union before it got too close to Britain and France. But by the end of June, he broke off talks with the Soviets.
Plans for Total War
- Shirer speculates that the Nazi Fuehrer may simply have been too preoccupied with his plans for war with Poland to think about an alliance with the Soviets.
- As he explains, although the quarrel over Danzig was just a convenient excuse for Hitler's war, it continued to be a hot-button issue throughout the summer of 1939.
- Throughout June, July, and August, both Germany and Poland continued to keep close eyes on the region, and to assert their respective rights and powers.
- At one point the tensions erupted in an exchange of messages between Berlin and Warsaw that were so violent that they couldn't even be made public.
- Finally, by the autumn of 1939 Hitler was practically chomping at the bit to get to war.
- He'd also made a firm decision regarding the Russians, and was now convinced that he wanted them on his side.
The Intervention of Russia: III
- By the middle of June, the Russians had proposed a new trade agreement with Germany.
- Soon, the two nations were discussing further friendly relations, and by the end of July, the Germans had become more urgent in their negotiations.
- Shirer explains that this was because, on July 23, France and Great Britain had agreed to military-staff talks with Russia to discuss how to deal with Hitler's armies.
- He notes that while the British approached the talks skeptically, and not entirely in good faith, the Russians appeared to have taken them much more seriously.
- While the British dawdled in their attempts to come to an agreement with Russia, the Germans acted much more swiftly.
- While there was still time, Hitler tried to secure a formal agreement with Russia before his Western adversaries could.
The Hesitation of Germany's Allies
- In this very short section, Shirer describes the anxiety in Italy and Hungary as each nation pondered Germany's apparent eagerness to go to war... and to go to war soon.
Ciano at Salzburg and Obersalzberg: August 11, 12, 13
- In the middle of August 1939, the Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano paid a visit to the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.
- There, Ciano received what Shirer calls "the shock of his life." (3.14.354)
- What exactly did Ribbentrop spring on Ciano? Oh, nothing much. Just the info that Hitler didn't care a bit about the Danzig, but simply wanted war.
- Although Ciano attempted to convince Ribbentrop that any war against Poland would turn into an all-out European war, Ribbentrop just put him off.
- The same thing happened when Ciano met with Hitler the next day.
- At his meeting with the Fuehrer, Ciano gave Hitler a detailed account of Italy's military strengths and weaknesses. According to Shirer, it must have convinced him that Italy would be pretty much useless in the coming conflict.
- Although Ciano urged Hitler to sign a public declaration that Italy and Germany were still committed to peace, Hitler wouldn't sign. Instead, he gave Ciano a rough sense of his projected timeline for the invasion of Poland.
- As Ciano left Germany, he recorded in his diary that he was revolted by what Hitler and Germany was doing.
Chapter 15: The Nazi-Soviet Pact
Book Three: The Road to War
- By the middle of August 1939, Ribbentrop was proposing a visit to Moscow to discuss German-Russian relations.
- Ribbentrop's proposal had insinuated that Germany would be willing to divvy up Eastern Europe, including Poland, with the Soviets if it was conquered.
- In Shirer's view, Hitler was confident that the Soviets would take the bait.
The Military Conference at Obersalzberg: August 14
- In a mid-August conference with his top Army and Navy brass, Hitler assured his worried audience that Britain and France weren't going to intervene when Germany attacked Poland.
- Hermann Goering had recently been given good reason to believe that Britain would intervene if the Nazis attacked Poland, but he didn't raise any objection to Hitler's plans.
- By now, the mobilization of soldiers and arms was already underway, and other plans were in the making, too.
- The Nazis had devised a plan to give themselves a justification for an invasion of Poland. They'd dress up concentration camp inmates in Nazi uniforms and have them stage an attack on a German radio station near the Polish border. Cute.
- By the middle of August, Hitler had ordered the German Navy to send 21 submarines and 2 battleships toward British waters. Just in case.
The Nazi-Soviet Talks: August 15-21, 1939
- Hitler's command to the Navy came only after the Russians agreed to a non-aggression pact.
- The Russians knew that they had the upper hand, and they used it to their advantage.
- Finally, after Hitler humbled himself before Stalin, the discussions progressed and the Germans were given a promise that a formal non-aggression pact would soon be signed by their two nations.
The Military Conference of August 22, 1939
- Another military conference took place in late August 1939.
- It began with a lecture by Hitler about how awesome he was—a description that Shirer supports with ample evidence from captured transcriptions of the meeting itself.
- Hitler then went on to discuss the Italians and the Spanish (whom he described as being not as great as him, of course), then provided his top Army and Navy brass with his rationale for the war he was about to lead them into.
- Finally, he revealed his trump card: the new relationship he'd engineered with the Soviet Union.
- The the conference broke for lunch at this point, and when it resumed, the lecture focused on encouraged the military chiefs for the task ahead.
- Finally, Hitler informed his men that his official order for the beginning of hostilities would probably be given on August 26. The very next day, that date was confirmed.
Allied Stalemate in Moscow
- By the middle of August, the military talks between the Western democracies and the Soviet Union had pretty much stopped.
- The Russians were unpleasantly surprised to learn that the British and French armies were much smaller than they had supposed.
- Another sticky issue was the fact that the Polish government was dead-set against allowing Russian troops to cross Polish borders in the event of war, despite the fact that it would be the best and easiest way for Russian troops to meet the enemy.
- Shirer offers his analytical take on the Russians' frame of mind at this point, and asks if they were really negotiating in good faith. Ultimately, he seems to conclude that they were... or at least, they were in the beginning.
Ribbentrop in Moscow: August 23, 1939
- The final round of negotiations that took place between Germany and Russia in late August 1939 seemed to go off without a hitch. The delegates and their hosts spent quite a lot of their time in a friendly discussion about the world's political situation at genteel parties and soirées where the Nazi and Soviet statesmen mingled.
- The non-aggression pact that the two nations signed on August 23 gave Hitler exactly what he wanted: an immediate agreement not to join up with Britain and France if they honored their treaty obligations to aid Poland in case Germany invaded.
- Shirer examines the "price" that Hitler paid for the treaty, noting the states and territories that Germany had agreed to recognize as Soviet spheres of interest once the invasion had begun. In the same way, he discusses what the Soviets got out of the deal.
- Shirer argues that Joseph Stalin's actions in August 1939 could seem understandable in certain lights, but shouldn't be condoned.
- He believes the Soviet dictator made the biggest mistake of his life in allowing Hitler to begin a war that would escalate into a global conflict.
Chapter 16: The Last Days of Peace
Book Three: The Road to War
- The news about the German-Soviet non-aggression pact prompted a letter from the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to Hitler himself.
- Chamberlain stated in no uncertain terms that Britain wouldn't be intimidated by the new developments in German-Russian relations.
- The letter threw Hitler into a rage. Shirer describes Hitler's response to Chamberlain as a bunch of the same lies and exaggerations he'd been peddling to everyone else.
- He also told Chamberlain that Britain's promise to defend Poland wouldn't make any difference in his own actions.
- By August 25, Shirer reports that everyone in Berlin thought war was imminent; he could see German planes flying in the direction of Poland.
- Two events threw small wrenches into Hitler's plans.
- First, Britain and Poland signed a treaty of mutual assistance if Germany invaded.
- Hitler was unhappy about that.
Mussolini Gets Cold Feet
- The second event a letter from Mussolini announcing that, if Germany attacked Poland and Poland's allies counterattacked, Italy could start military operations.
- Mussolini also requested a boatload of military supplies from Germany; Italy wasn't prepared for war.
- These two events forced Hitler to delay the advance of German troops into Poland. Before he moved, he wanted to see if there was still some way to get rid of the risk of British intervention.
Joy and Confusion of the Conspirators
- It's been awhile since Shirer checked in on the band of anti-Nazi conspirators who indecisively and unsuccessfully plotted to overthrow Hitler, so in this section, he catches us up
- He begins by tracing the various plots and schemes that they'd been hatching throughout the summer of 1939, and he concludes that there was a sense of confusion and futility in their efforts.
- He then describes letters from international leaders who sent letters appealing to Hitler to keep the peace. In Shirer's view, those letters were just useless and pathetic as the plans of the anti-Nazi conspirators.
- Shirer was on his way back to Germany from a short trip to the U.S. and Paris. He'd picked up a few newspapers there. Everyone knew that Hitler was threatening to start a war with Poland. He tells us how the German people, with no access at all to non-Nazi papers, were convinced that Poland was the aggressor. The Nazis paper printed hysterical headlines with fabricated stories about millions of Polish soldiers about to invade.
The Last Six Days of Peace
- Soon after Hitler received Mussolini's letter, he responded by asking for a detailed list of the materials that Italy would need in order to take the initiative in a major military conflict in Europe.
- As he describes the military grocery list that Mussolini produced, Shirer argues that it couldn't have failed to let Hitler know that the Fascist leader wanted out of his obligations.
- Among other things, Mussolini's letter included an offer to help with the negotiations if Hitler was willing to pursue a peaceful solution. Shirer argues that it wasn't until this frank exchange of letters that Hitler finally told Mussolini straight up that he wanted war with Poland, whatever the cost.
- Warnings and replies were flying back and forth between Germany and France.
- The French—like the British—were continuing to make it perfectly clear to Hitler that they intended to come to Poland's aid if Germany attacked.
Germany and Great Britain at the Eleventh Hour
- Although the French may have been doing their best to make their commitments clear to Hitler, Shirer argues that Hitler was much more concerned about their English-speaking allies.
- Still, he pressed forward with his plan of attack. By now, the date for the invasion had been firmly set for September 1, 1939.
- Constant schemer that he was, Hitler tried to drive a wedge between Britain and Poland so that Britain would have an excuse to back out of her treaty obligations.
- Over the next several pages, Shirer recounts this story in all of its complex twists and turns, including the unlikely participation of the Swedish businessman and amateur diplomat Birger Dahlerus.
The Last Day of Peace
- What the British and Polish governments didn't know was that even as the "eleventh hour" negotiations were moving forward, Hitler had already made the decision that would throw the world into a bloody war.
- Here's the "propaganda trickery" that Hitler set in motion on the evening of August 31, 1939.
- First was a public broadcast that read out a series of generous proposals that Hitler claimed to have offered to Poland. Next was the manufactured attack of a German radio station in Poland—an attack which, as we've already seen, had been planned by the Nazis themselves using Germans dressed as Polish soldiers.
- On that final, fateful night before the war, Admiral Canaris told a colleague that this was the end of Germany.
Chapter 17: The Launching of World War II
Book Three: The Road to War
- Shirer begins this chapter by describing the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and he compares the terror of the Polish soldiers and civilians to the relative calm of the German public, who went about their day as if nothing important had happened.
- He also compares the apathy of German citizens to the excitement that they'd expressed when Germany went to war in 1914. Even Hitler himself seemed somewhat "dazed" by what he'd done.
- By noon on September 1, Britain and France hadn't yet presented their formal declarations of war.
- But by the early evening of that day, both nations had delivered messages to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop which stated that if Germany didn't halt its aggression and withdraw its forces, they would fulfill their military obligations to Poland.
The Last-Minute Intervention of Mussolini
- The Italian dictator was confronted with a difficult choice: he could immediately declare Italy's neutrality or risk an attack by Britain and France.
- He hedged.
- After asking Hitler to release him from the terms of the Axis alliance, Mussolini tried once more to set up negotiations between Germany, Britain, France, and Poland.
- As Shirer puts it, when those attempts failed, there went the last possibility of averting World War II.
The Polish War Becomes World War II
- Shirer describes the reaction in Berlin when the government announced at noon that Britain and Germany were now at war, and he describes the contents of the newspapers that started to circulate as soon as the news was announced.
- Shirer listened to Chamberlain's declaration of war on BBC radio, even though Hitler had made listening to foreign radio a crime punishable by death.
- Chamberlain was crushed knowing that his efforts to come to an agreement with Germany had been a huge mistake. (His policy of appeasement would haunt him, and the world, forever.)
- Although the British declaration had come through by noon on September 3, the French held out for a while, still hoping to strike a deal with Mussolini to persuade Hitler to keep France out of it.
- Hitler issued a new set of orders to his Army and Navy commanders now that the Western powers had decided to enter the war, and ordered the German economy to become a war economy.
- Hitler sent two letters on the night of September 3—the first to Mussolini thanking him for his support, and the second to Stalin.
- The letter to Stalin contained an explicit, but highly secret, invitation to the Russians to join the attack on Poland.
- Ten hours after Britain declared war, the British ocean liner Athenia, en route from Liverpool to Montreal with 1,400 passengers, was torpedoed by the German Navy. Over 100 passengers died.
- World War II was on.
Chapter 18: The Fall of Poland
Book Four: War: Early Victories and the Turning Point
- The first chapter of Book Four, War: Early Victories and the Turning Point, is a short one. Blink and you'll miss it.
- Could it be that its abbreviated length reflects the all-too-brief span of time that it took for Hitler's armies to conquer Poland?
- After less than a week, the German Army felt sure that Poland had been defeated.
- They weren't wrong.
- The strategies and tactics of the German Army caused overwhelming carnage in Poland.
The Russians Invade Poland
- Germany's swift attack and success in Poland paved the way for the Russian invasion that followed. Poor Poland.
- The Russians explained their actions to the world by stating that since Poland no longer existed, any agreements with the country were now void. Plus, they had to intervene to protect the Russian and Ukrainian brothers who were living in Poland from any chaos the Germans might cause there.
- Next, he describes Germany and Russia's ongoing communications and negotiations during their mutual invasion, and explains how the two conquering nations divvied up Poland.
- Shirer notes that in their negotiations, "Hitler and Stalin agreed to institute in Poland a regime of terror designed to brutally suppress Polish freedom, culture, and national life." (4.18.39)
- He argues that although Hitler won the war with Poland, Stalin had the better deal; he didn't have to fire a single shot.
- Although Hitler gave Stalin the territories that he demanded, he neither forgot nor forgave his Soviet ally for getting while the getting was good.
Chapter 19: Sitzkrieg in the West
Book Four: War: Early Victories and the Turning Point
- Nearly a week after the German invasion of Poland had begun, still nothing much had happened on the western front of the war.
- Many Germans had begun to call the Second World War the Sitzkrieg: that is, the "sit down war."
- Shirer himself took a trip up the Rhine river along the French border, and saw French troops hiding behind their fortifications and doing nothing while the Germans hauled up their weapons and supplies in plain sight.
- Later, on trial in Nuremberg, the German generals admitted being surprised that the French didn't attack.
- Shirer offers several reasons why the French hesitated to attack the Germans despite overwhelming French military superiority.
- He thinks they remembered all too the French blood shed in WWI and wanted to avoid a repeat of that horror if possible; the leadership was weak; they feared retaliation against French cities.
- Churchill had a different view. He thought the battle had already been lost when the Allies lost opportunity after opportunity to stop Hitler in his tracks as he violated the Treaty of Versailles and took steps towards aggression and war.
- The German Navy sunk 11 British ships in the first week of the war.
- Hitler eventually slowed down the naval attacks, noting the French and British hesitation in the war. He wasn't clear about what they were up to, and decided to hold off any further attacks on passenger ships until he was.
The Sinking of the Athenia
- As Shirer had noted earlier, the Athenia was torpedoed by the German Navy on the evening of September 3. However, at that time the source of the torpedo wasn't publicly known the Germans themselves weren't even sure—not at first, at least—that the Athenia had been sunk by one of their own.
- The Germans were worried about the U.S. response, since 28 Americans died during the attack.
- Shirer listened to a radio broadcast in which Goebbels accused Churchill of having sunk the Athenia.
- After the war, the Admirals admitted to destroying the records of the German orders to attack the Athenia. Hitler had personally ordered Goebbels' broadcast, and even though the admirals were appalled at the lie, they did nothing about it.
- This "doing nothing about it" stuff is getting pretty old.
Hitler Proposes Peace
- By the end of September, Hitler had begun to advocating peace between Britain, France, and Germany.
- Throughout Germany, Nazi newspapers and radio broadcasts asked why Britain and France should bother to fight now that the deed (invading Poland) was done and there was nothing left to fight about. "Germany wants nothing in the West," they proclaimed. (4.19.36)
- The Russians joined in the clamor for peace, and together the Nazi and Soviet Foreign Ministers signed a declaration for peace, claiming that now that the Polish question was settled, they wanted no additional conflict.
- If the west didn't agree, then any further war would be their fault.
- Hitler called for a peace conference with the Western nations so that millions of lives wouldn't be sacrificed in a global war. What a humanitarian.
- Shirer says he wrote in his diary that he doubted either French or the British would believe that Hitler was interested in peace.
- France needed more guarantees, and Chamberlain flat out said he didn't believe any more of Hitler's lies. He wanted actions, not words.
- Shirer offers an analysis of Hitler's motivations at this time. Drawing on the captured Nazi documents, he shows that Hitler had of course been planning for war in the West at the same time that he was advocating peace.
- Hitler's top military brass were once again frustrated by his unwillingness to hear reason.
- Although they tried to insist that Germany couldn't win a war against France and Britain, Hitler wouldn't listen.
- Shirer explains how Hitler's plans for war in the West had developed since the summer of 1939, and he concedes that the Fuehrer's plans showed an amazing understanding of military strategy and tactics.
- After that, Shirer gives us another account of the victories and losses that were sustained and suffered by the British and German navies throughout the autumn months.
- While the German Navy seemed happy to move forward with an attack against the Western powers, the Army was less keen on the idea.
The Zossen "Conspiracy" to Overthrow Hitler
- In this short section, Shirer turns once again to the group of would-be rebels who occasionally plotted to overthrow Hitler, but who rarely managed to put their plans into action.
- There's plenty of debate, discussion, disagreement, and hesitation, but comparatively little action on their part even though an invasion of France through Belgium was imminent.
- They stayed in contact with the British, fearing that if a coup did succeed, the allies might take the opportunity to swoop in and divide up Germany.
- Their plan was to send a memorandum to Hitler expressing their belief that the planned invasion of France would be disastrous for Germany and that army morale was terrible.
- All the memorandum did was send Hitler into a rage, threatening to execute anyone who refused to fight.
- This terrified the conspirators. Nothing was done except by one general, who contacted the Netherlands and Belgium and warned them of an imminent attack.
- Hitler ended up postponing the invasions from week to week, and during that time something surprising happened.
- A bomb just missed killing Hitler, but the conspirators had nothing to do with it.
A Nazi Kidnaping and a Beerhouse Bomb
- Throughout the autumn of 1939 and the winter of 1940, Hitler delayed his invasions of the Netherlands and Belgium.
- Shirer suggests a number of possible reasons for the delays, and describes an event that distracted Hitler from pursuing his plans, but was a huge propaganda victory for him within Germany.
- The event was a failed assassination attempt which killed twelve people and injured 63 others. A bomb exploded in a beer hall where Hitler had just delivered a speech.
- Hitler and his inner circle had uncharacteristically left the beer hall right after the speech, so they weren't there when the bomb exploded.
- The Nazi newspapers blamed the bomb on the British Intelligence Service, and in retaliation, two spies sneaked over the border into Holland and kidnapped two British intelligence operatives.
- The story was that the Brits hired Georg Elser, a German carpenter, to plant the bomb. Conspiracy solved.
- Shirer himself thought the idea was fishy, but he saw what they were trying to do: get support for the war by showing that the Brits had tried to murder the Fuehrer.
- Elser admitted to the assassination attempt and was sent to a concentration camp.
- He told one of the kidnapped British officers that was also interned at the camp that he was asked to make the bomb at the behest of some Nazi officials who wanted to get rid of some of Hitler's traitorous followers.
- But when he was given transportation by the Nazis to the border, he was arrested.
- Shirer's guess is that the assassination attempt was orchestrated by the Nazis themselves to increase Hitler's popularity and bolster the people's appetite for war.
- Although he concedes that many uncertainties surround the story, his analysis implies that it was as an attempt to give Hitler an air of invincibility, and to make it seem as though the Fuehrer had Providential protection.
- Right before the war ended, poor Georg Elser was killed in an Allied attack on the concentration camp.
- Not really.
- He was murdered by the Gestapo so he wouldn't tell his tale.
Hitler Talks to His Generals
- In this short section, Shirer describes another one of the many "pep talks" that Hitler gave to his top Army brass as the dates for the planned invasions of Holland and Belgium approached.
- He declared himself to be the irreplaceable leader who would restore Germany to greatness and annihilate all enemies.
- Even though many of the generals still felt an invasion of the West was an insane idea, no one said a word.
- This speech pretty much put an end to any hope of overthrowing the Fuehrer.
Nazi Terror in Poland: First Phase
- As Shirer explains, Hitler's end goal was the total destruction of Poland as an independent state, as well as the creation of a nation of "cheap slaves" who would contribute to the labor force of the Third Reich.
- Among other things, the violence and atrocity included unprecedented massacres of Jews, intelligentsia, nobility, and Christian clergy.
- Significantly, this section of TRFTR gives us Shirer's first mention of the term "final solution"—a phrase which would soon "become one of the most sinister code names bandied about by high German officials to cover one of the most hideous Nazi crimes of the war." (4.19.174)
- Hans Frank was a Nazi lawyer who became the vicious Governor General of Nazi-occupied Poland.
- Where other eminent Nazis had been ordered to oversee the "liquidation" of Jewish peoples in Poland, one of Frank's first tasks was to "liquidate" the intelligentsia.
- Frank ruthlessly went about his work.
- Even though he wasn't tasked to annihilate the Jews of Poland, he said in a speech that he could eliminate the lice and Jews in Poland in one year if given the opportunity. He was confident that the 3.5 million Polish Jews could be annihilated.
- As Shirer tells us, he was right.
- During the autumn and winter of 1939-1940, the Nazis began a brutal program of resettlement of the Polish Jews.
- He records that by February 1940, the Nazis had discovered a suitable place for a new quarantine camp: Oswiecim, Poland.
- In German, it's Auschwitz.
Friction Between the Totalitarians
- The alliance between Germany and Italy was a little shaky during the early months of the war.
- Mussolini "blew hot and cold" throughout the autumn and winter: at times he announced that he wanted Germany would be defeated; at others he spoke of joining the war on Germany's side.
- Italy felt that Germany hadn't kept its promises; Germany didn't like the fact that Italy still traded with the France and Britain.
- Although there were lots of reasons for tensions between the two nations, Shirer argues that the biggest cause of the tension was Hitler's pro-Russian policy.
- Russia's invasion of Finland caused no end of anti-German demonstrations in Italy.
- Germany's relationship with the Soviet Union was shaky by the winter of 1940.
- Back on the western front, there still hadn't been any substantial fighting on land by December 1939, but the German Navy had been keeping up a steady assault against the British at sea.
- In the first Christmas of the war, Hitler and Stalin exchanged friendly holiday greetings, and the rebel group of anti-Nazi conspirators continued to hatch new plans throughout the festive season.
- The season wasn't so festive for Germans, Shirer says he noted in his diary—few gifts, scarce food, the men away at war.
- Shirer gives us some more reasons why Hitler decided to delay the invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands until the spring.
- Hitler had two good reasons to hit pause for the moment: First, top-secret German plans for the invasion of Belgium had fallen into Belgian hands. Second, Hitler had come up with a new plan to invade two other neutral small countries.
Chapter 20: The Conquest of Denmark and Norway
Book Four: War: Early Victories and the Turning Point
- As Shirer explains, the invasion of Norway wasn't actually Hitler's idea.
- The German Navy played the decisive role, under the OKW, which coordinated all the armed services.
- Germany's naval officers knew that in order to wage a successful war on the seas, they'd need bases in Norway.
- Norway's geographical situation offered a lot of strategic benefits, but Hitler was hesitant at first to violate Norway's neutrality.
The Emergence of Vidkun Quisling
- The name Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Quisling was to become like Benedict Arnold—a synonym for "traitor."
- Shirer begins this section by describing Quisling's early life, as well as his careers in politics and the military, then explains how Quisling came to hatch a plan for a Nazi coup in Norway—one modeled on the coup that Arthur Seyss-Inquart had engineered in Austria.
- The Nazis soon decided that occupying Norway would be a good idea.
- The plan they cooked up soon included a plan for simultaneous aggression against Denmark.
- Hey, they were in the neighborhood, so why not?
- By the middle of March 1940, Hitler still hadn't set a firm date for the occupations of Norway and Denmark. Something else had distracted him.
Hitler Meets with Sumner Welles and Mussolini
- In March 1940 the U.S. Undersecretary of State, Sumner Wells, paid a visit to Berlin. He was on a mission from President Roosevelt to see if there was a chance of ending the war before it became a global Armageddon.
- Shirer describes Hitler's knowledge of the U.S. at this particular moment in time as "abysmal."
- Germany knew the U.S. was sympathetic to their enemies, but they didn't think the U.S. had the military strength to be much of a threat.
- Basically, they didn't take them very seriously.
- During Wells's visit to Berlin, the American diplomat mentioned that he'd recently spoken with Mussolini in Italy, who seemed to think that there was still a chance for peace in Europe.
- Shirer offers a detailed account of the conversations and negotiations that eventually resulted in Mussolini's firm decision to join Hitler's war.
The Conspirators Again Frustrated
- We're back with our hapless group of anti-Nazi conspirators who, try as they might, never seemed to get very far in their plans.
- Some of the German Army generals who'd been involved with the resistance up to this point didn't seem to be too interested in overthrowing Hitler anymore. Instead, their thoughts were focused on the upcoming invasions of Norway and Denmark.
The Taking of Denmark and Norway
- Both Denmark and Norway had been given warnings about the invasions, none of which were taken all that seriously.
- Hitler was serious, though. He had detailed plans for the invasion of three neutral countries.
- The Nazi invasion of Denmark was accomplished in next to no time. The Danish king was given a choice to accept the occupation or resist and risk much worse.
- He accepted Hitler's terms.
- It was only four years later, when it appeared that Germany might lose the war, that Danish resistance began.
The Norwegians Resist
- Germany easily seized Norway's harbors and ports.
- Shirer devotes several paragraphs to describing the actions that were taken by the Norwegian royal family and the Norwegian government as the Germans pressured them to surrender.
- While the Nazi invasion was going on, Vidkun Quisling was doing his best to orchestrate a coup.
- Ironically, it was Quisling's treachery that rallied Norway to resist the occupation and refuse to surrender.
- The Nazis attempted to murder the Norwegian heads of state by destroying the village where they were thought to be hiding.
The Battles for Norway
- In short order, Britain had entered the battle for Norway, and Shirer begins this section by describing the British Navy's offensive against the invading Nazi forces, as well as the Allied offensive on the ground.
- The ground offensive came to an abrupt halt in early June, when the German Army suddenly attacked on the Western front, and all the Allied forces were needed there.
- After thousands of Allied troops were quickly pulled out of Norway and brought to the Western front, the Nazis succeeded in taking Norway.
- Next up: Belgium and The Netherlands.
Chapter 21: Victory in the West
Book Four: War: Early Victories and the Turning Point
- It's now May of 1940, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was replaced by Winston Churchill in the second week of May.
- As he launches into his description of the Nazi invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands, he draws this section to a close with a little bit of foreshadowing.
- "Though they did not know it," he writes, "the Anglo-French armies sped directly into a trap that, when sprung, would soon prove to be utterly disastrous." (4.21.21)
The Rival Plans
- In this short section, Shirer takes a step back to describe the military tactics that the Nazis had drawn up for the invasion. On May 10, Hitler invaded the three small neutral countries of Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
The Six Weeks' War: May 10—June 25, 1940
- The Nazi invasion of the Netherlands lasted only five days.
- The Allies were blown away by the force of the Nazi tank divisions; even the German generals were amazed by the speed and extent of their victories.
- Shirer can't help wondering aloud why the German tactics should have surprised the Allies.
- Germany had used the same kinds of tactics in its recent invasions of Poland and Norway. Hadn't the allies learned anything from that?
The Conquest of the Netherlands
- Shirer uses this section for a more detailed account of the Nazi conquest in the Netherlands.
- He includes a description of the Luftwaffe's bombing of Rotterdam—an assault that cost the lives of nearly 1000 civilians, and that helped to secure the surrender of the Netherlands.
The Fall of Belgium and the Trapping of the Anglo-French Armies
- Germany used an unprecedented mass mobilization of tanks to break through enemy lines in their invasion of Belgium.
- Shirer provides a detailed account of the Allied defeat in Belgium, devoting particular attention to the fighting around Sedan, Fort Eben Emael, the Somme, and Dunkirk.
The Capitulation of King Leopold
- King Leopold of Belgium surrendered to the Nazis on the morning of May 28, 1940.
- He did so against the advice of his government, which unanimously opposed surrender.
- Shirer compares King Leopold's actions to those of the Belgian Army, who fought tenaciously and courageously against the Nazi invasion.
Miracle at Dunkirk
- In late May of 1940, hundreds of thousands of Allied troops were "miraculously" evacuated from the beach at Dunkirk before they could be taken by Nazi troops.
- The British managed to save more than 300,000 soldiers from the beaches using not only military vessels, but also many small boats, many of them manned by civilian volunteers from towns along the English coast.
- On June 4, 1940, as the last of the rescued from Dunkirk arrived to safety, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered one of the most iconic speeches of his lifetime. He promised to valiantly continue the fight against Germany, wherever it took them.
The Collapse of France
- Hitler continued to steamroll over Europe, invading France in the first two weeks of June 1940.
- Shirer notes only the bare-bones details of Germany's swift victory, along with the equally bare-bones details of the French government's request for an armistice. (4.21.119-20)
The Duce Plunges His Small Dagger into France's Back
- Mussolini entered the war only after France's defeat was assured, and he jumped in to get his share of the spoils.
- Shirer concludes that Mussolini didn't contribute all that much in the war against France.
- Hitler and Mussolini held a meeting to discuss the terms of the armistice that Germany would give to France.
The Second Armistice at Compiegne
- At Compiegne, the exact same spot where, on November 11, 1918 Germany surrendered to the Allies at the end of WWI, the Franco-German Armistice was signed.
- As Shirer sets the scene for us, his descriptions draw from old diary notes, as well as from the broadcast that he made from this very spot as the signing of the armistice went down in June 1940.
- Although it's a little bit crackly at times, you can give that broadcast a listen here. In it, Shirer describes the scene as a "turning back of the clock, a reversal of history."
- The terms of the armistice were harsh, and the French officials who signed it were angry and frustrated. They also signed an armistice with Italy.
- The only country left standing was Britain, who seemed to stand alone, "virtually unarmed, their island home besieged by the mightiest military machine the world had ever seen."
Hitler Plays for Peace
- Hitler expected that an easy peace with Britain would soon be achieved. He was convinced that Britain wouldn't fight on after France had capitulated.
- The Nazis used to a number of stratagems to discourage Britain from continuing the war, but Hitler still developed for an invasion of Britain, which would only be carried out if necessary. Whatever that means.
- Hitler made a final offer for peace (i.e., surrender) as he delivered as speech in the Reichstag in the third week of July 1940.
- The British response was almost immediate. They weren't going to quit.
- Shirer notes that despite all of Hitler's planning and boasting, the German Army and Navy had yet to come up with a solid plan for a war against Britain.
- As he argues, the Germans' lack of experience at sea was largely to blame, and would prove to be a significant weakness in the war to come.
Chapter 22: Operation Sea Lion: The Thwarted Invasion of Britain
Book Four: War: Early Victories and the Turning Point
- At first, Hitler's top Army, Navy, and Air Force brass weren't entirely convinced that any of the plans for invading Britain—"Operation Sea Lion"—would actually be carried out; some of them even claimed later that they had seen the strategizing just as a kind of game.
- But all the captured German records show that Hitler was deadly serious about it, and planned to invade if there was any possibility of success.
- He decided that the Luftwaffe would be given an opportunity to damage Britain's defenses as much as possible before final plans for the invasion were set.
- The early Luftwaffe bombings of London were some of the most devastating air attacks ever rained down on a city.
- Shirer provides a detailed account of the Nazis' attempts to weaken Britain's defenses, and also explains the countermeasures that the British Army, Navy, and Royal Air Force were taking to weaken Germany's armed forces.
- By the middle of October 1940, Hitler had decided to postpone Operation Sea Lion indefinitely. Two things caused Hitler to abandon the plan: the air component of the Battle of Britain was failing because of the success of the Royal Air Force; and Hitler was turning his sights eastward to Russia.
The Battle of Britain
- The Battle of Britain isn't just the favorite Holosuite program of Starfleet officers Julian Bashir and Miles O'Brien; it's the subject of one of the most rousing sections in Shirer's book.
- In this section, Shirer offers a detailed account of the prolonged air battle between the German Luftwaffe and the British Royal Air Force, and he compares the respective strengths and weaknesses of the two nations' fleets.
- A brand-new technology helped the British in winning the Battle of Britain: radar.
- German pilots were surprised to see British planes appear as soon as they entered British airspace. It was as if they knew they were coming.
If the Invasion Had Succeeded
- In this section, Shirer indulges himself in another one of his speculative moods.
- Drawing on the captured Nazi documents that inform so much of TRFTR, he explains what a Nazi occupation of Britain would have looked like. All the government officials would have been arrested by the Gestapo, and Churchill would have received "special" treatment.
- The British were prepared to go to any lengths to resist Nazi occupation—including using mustard gas if they had to.
Postscript: The Nazi Plot to Kidnap the Duke and Duchess of Windsor
- One of the more ridiculous plans that the Nazis cooked up during their thwarted invasion of Britain was a scheme to kidnap the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
- The Duke of Windsor had recently been King Edward VIII, but he'd abdicated in order to marry an American woman, and been replaced by his brother, King George VI. If you've seen The King's Speech, you'll know the score.
- The Nazis' basic plan was to kidnap the Duke and Duchess and persuade the Duke to work on a peace agreement between Hitler and Great Britain.
- The Duke was suspected to have Nazi sympathies, but it was still a crackpot idea and it didn't work.
- The Duke and his wife sailed to the British colony of the Bahamas, where he'd been appointed Governor.
Chapter 23: Barbarossa: The Turn of Russia
Book Four: War: Early Victories and the Turning Point
- The Russians used Germany's warmongering to their advantage as they carried out invasions in the Baltic States and the Balkans.
- The Nazis had formerly agreed that some of these territories were in the Russian sphere of interest, but others were clearly in theirs.
- Hitler was humiliated by Joseph Stalin's crafty maneuvering, but for the time being he couldn't do much about it.
- Hitler had hoped to annex some of the Baltic states himself. Guess occupying the rest of Europe just wasn't enough.
- He also worried that Russia might cut off his essential supplies of Rumanian oil.
- Winston Churchill was by this time trying to warn Stalin that Hitler was as dangerous to Russia as he was to Britain.
- Hitler made his final decision in 1940 attack the Soviets in the spring of 1941.
Molotov in Berlin
- By the autumn of 1940, things were pretty tense between Germany and Russia.
- In November, the Soviet Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov had arrived in Berlin to discuss the two nations' affairs.
- Molotov was being relentless in his attempts to hold the Nazis to account, and at the same time, to advance Russian interests.
- The British put in an appearance, too. British bombers flew over Berlin on the night of a party that Molotov threw for his German hosts.
- This was the Brits' not-so-subtle way of telling the Soviets that Britain was still in the game.
- As the Nazi Foreign Minister Ribbentrop sat with Molotov in a bomb shelter beneath Berlin, Ribbentrop tried to convince Molotov that Russia should get in on the agreement that had been struck between Germany, Italy, and Japan.
- Part of Ribbentrop's hard sell was to assure Molotov that Britain was on the brink of defeat.
- Molotov replied something like, "Oh yeah? Then why are we in this bomb shelter and who's bombs are these?"
- Molotov quickly realized that the terms of the agreement weren't in Russia's interests.
- After Molotov returned to Moscow and reported to Stalin, the Russians told the Nazis that they'd agree to join a four-power pact with Germany, Italy, and Japan—but only under certain strict conditions.
- Hitler wouldn't even consider these conditions, and he moved ahead with plans for war with Russia.
Six Months of Frustration
- Hitler didn't seem to understand what would be needed on the international stage to defeat Britain, and he underestimated British power in the Mediterranean.
- Hitler believed that assistance from Spain, Nazi-occupied France, and Italy would be necessary in order to defeat the British in the Mediterranean, but his hopes were dashed in all three cases.
- The German Navy developed plans for assaults against the British in Egypt and Gibraltar, and for incursions into the Spanish Canary Islands, the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands, and French territories in North Africa.
- However, despite the fact that the top Navy brass insisted to Hitler that North African territories would crucial to the outcome of the war, Hitler wasn't convinced.
- Even after the British defeated Italian forces in Egypt, the Fuehrer wasn't that upset about it. He was more focused on Russia.
The World Will Hold Its Breath
- In this short section, Shirer offers brief accounts of two meetings that were held in the winter of 1941: one between Mussolini and Hitler, and the other between Hitler and his top generals.
- At the war conference between Hitler and German Army brass, the Fuehrer and his followers discussed their plans for Operation Barbarossa: i.e., the invasion of Russia.
- Hitler proclaimed to his audience that once the invasion began, the world would hold its breath and do nothing.
- Before the invasion of Russia could get started, Hitler needed to secure the Balkans.
- Bulgaria decided to cooperate, hoping to get some territory from Greece. The Yugoslav Premiere and Foreign minister sneaked out of Belgrade to avoid protests, met up with Hitler and Ribbentrop, and signed on to the Tripartite Pact.
- The next day, back in Yugoslavia, the government was overthrown by a popular uprising led by top Air Force officers and supported by the army.
- Hitler flew in to one of the worst rages of his life—and that's saying a lot.
- He knew that the new government wouldn't accept being a puppet regime of Germany and he ordered the country attacked.
- Shirer argues that Hitler's decision to put down the coup was the biggest single mistake he ever made. It was a reckless decision sparked by Hitler's rage at the country's resistance.
- By sending German troops to the Yugoslavia, Hitler was forced to delay Operation Barbarossa by a month. That delay would extend the German invasion into the Russian winter, and, as history has shown, it would prove fatal to the German Army.
- Hitler crushed Yugoslavia and reduced its capital, Belgrade, to rubble. About 17,000 civilians were killed in the process.
- After describing the German assaults on Greece and Yugoslavia, Shirer turns his attention to the German Army's invasion of Libya, which the Italians had been trying, and failing, to secure.
- Next, he catches us up on the Nazis' ongoing propaganda war against the British.
- While Hitler was happy to insult the Brits, he continued to ignore the advice of the Army generals and naval commanders who were trying to convince him that Great Britain could only be defeated through war in the Mediterranean and Middle East.
- Hitler was still determined to focus on Russia rather than Britain.
- The Nazi Fuehrer seemed to have no understanding of the fact that at this very point in time, in the spring of 1941, and with a very small army, he could have caused severe damage to the British Empire and probably won the war right then and there.
The Planning of the Terror
- In this section, Shirer describes the plans that Hitler laid for the conquest of Russia, and he takes stock of the atrocities that Hitler had decided to commit against his former ally.
- Essentially, his plan was to starve to death the population of Russia. After the occupation, all the food produced would be sent to feed the Germans.
The Flight of Rudolph Hess
- In May 1941, Hess—the Deputy Leader of the Nazi party, stole a German fighter plane and flew to Scotland, apparently thinking that he'd be able to negotiate a diplomatic end to the war.
- Hess's actions convinced Hitler that his deputy leader and close confidant had lost his mind, and the Nazis soon spread that story to the German people.
- As for Hess, he was held in England as a prisoner of war. At the Nuremberg Trials, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the crimes of the Nazi Reich.
The Plight of the Kremlin
- In spite of all the evidence that Hitler was planning to attack, the Soviet leadership weren't prepared.
- Stalin had received warnings about the attack from the Churchill and the United States government.
- Not only did Stalin ignore the warnings, but the Soviets also broadcast and published a statement declaring that the rumors of an imminent German attack were totally groundless.
- But while the Soviets were denying the rumors, the Germans were busy preparing their invasion.
- Hitler had designed a brutal, terrifying war. The Fuehrer made a point of reminding his top Army brass that they would have to abandon traditional soldierly practices—the only ones permitted by international standards—in order to carry out a war against Russia that was unprecedented in its brutality.
- For example, a POW would just have to be brought to any officer, who would decide on the spot whether to shoot him or not.
- Even some of the Generals were appalled at this violation of international agreements.
- Shirer describes the justifications that Hitler gave to Mussolini as he informed him that Germany was about to launch an attack against Russia.
- Italy declared war against Russia, and the German troops moved across the Russian border.
- It's the third week of June, 1941.
Chapter 24: A Turn of the Tide
Book Four: War: Early Victories and the Turning Point
- By the fall of 1941, Hitler was convinced that it was all over for Russia.
- He was wrong.
- As Shirer describes the early weeks of the war in Russia, he explains why the Germans thought that things were going well. But they'd grossly underestimated the size and strength of the Russian Army.
- On top of that, Hitler at first ignored the urgings from his top brass to direct the German Army to press on towards Moscow while it could, so that it could take out the most important city of the Soviet Union swiftly and secure a quicker victory.
The Great Drive on Moscow
- By the beginning of autumn, Hitler had finally agreed to push the troops towards Moscow, but because he'd been following other objectives in the meantime, the Army's preparations for the drive on Moscow weren't ready until the beginning of October.
- Too late.
- As he describes the German advance toward Moscow—an advance that was quickly slowed down by the onset of Russia's rainy season—Shirer argues that it was at this point that the mood of war shifted.
- The rainy season soon turned to winter. By early November, the temperature dropped below freezing, and took an immediate toll on Germany's troops, who weren't well-equipped to handle Russia's winter weather.
- You don't want to be fighting in Russia in the winter.
- But despite these major setbacks, by the end of November 1941 Hitler and his generals thought that Moscow was still within their grasp.
- Wrong again.
- The German troops were driven back from Moscow, and Shirer argues that their defeat represented another major turning point for the Third Reich.
- Because of Russia's counter-offensive, it was all downhill from there for Hitler.
- After the defeat in Moscow, heads started to roll among the top generals, and Hitler took over the role of Commander in Chief.
- Hitler commanded the Army throughout the winter of 1941-1942 and refused to let his troops retreat from the advancing Soviet forces no matter how bad things got.
- On the other side of the planet, an event occurred that turned the war in Europe into World War II.
Chapter 25: The Turn of the United States
Book Four: War: Early Victories and the Turning Point
- As you might guess from this chapter's title, that world-changing event was the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
- In the spring of 1941, Hitler had made a promise to Japan—one that stated plainly that if Japan ever got into conflict with U.S., Germany would come to her aid.
- The promise was reckless because neither Hitler nor any of his closest advisors really understood the strength of the U.S. military.
- In the first two years of the war, Hitler saw Japan's role as keeping America out of the war until Germany was ready to declare war on the U.S. But Hitler later started to hope that his Pacific ally could play a key role in Britain's defeat.
- By 1941 Hitler still didn't want Japan to run the risk of provoking the United States to enter the war, but he did want his ally to strike at British interests in the Pacific—specifically, by attacking Singapore.
- Although the Nazis eventually began to look to Japan for help in their war against Russia, too, the Japanese government stuck firmly to the treaty of neutrality that it had signed with the Soviet Union.
"Avoid Incidents with the U.S.A.!"
- The German Navy believed that The U.S.'s neutrality wouldn't last for long.
- All the same, Hitler had commanded his admirals to avoid any conflict with the U.S.
- Despite escalating tensions between America and Germany throughout the summer and into the autumn of 1941, Hitler stuck to that order—although, as Shirer notes, he did eventually make it clear that he expected German vessels to defend themselves if they were attacked by American vessels.
Japan Plays Its Own Game
- In this section, Shirer takes a closer look at Japan's interests in the war, and examines the reasoning behind the Pacific nation's final decision to attack the U.S. rather than Britain.
- Japan felt it had to take out the U.S. fleet in its backyard (Pearl Harbor) before it could take on any attack against Russia or Britain, as Hitler had hoped.
- Also, Japan was interested in expanding its empire into British and Dutch-held areas of the South Pacific—another reason to consider attacking the U.S. fleet in Hawaii.
- The Japanese didn't tell Germany that a carrier fleet was headed towards Pearl Harbor on November 25. The Americans had some idea that Japan was cooking up something, because they had been able to decipher Japanese codes and could translate the communications. But they didn't know what or when.
- Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who'd been trying to negotiate agreements with Japan, went to the White House to warn the War Council about the possibility of a surprise attack.
- Meanwhile, the Japanese wanted reassurances from Hitler that if they did get involved in a war with the United States, Germany would enter the war as well. They got them.
On the Eve of Pearl Harbor
- The Nazis waffled as they considered whether or not to put their reassurances to Japan in writing.
- Limited—and in some cases downright faulty—naval intelligence kept the Americans in the dark about the fleet that was waiting just 300 miles from their coast.
- The British Admiralty told the U.S. they'd see a large Japanese fleet heading eastward, but they assumed it was after Thailand or Malaya.
- Roosevelt cabled the Japanese Emperor not to provoke an "unthinkable" situation.
- But as Roosevelt read the latest deciphered communications from Japanese Foreign Minister Togo, he acknowledged, "This means war."
Hitler Declares War
- The attack at Pearl Harbor surprised the Germans as much as it did the Americans.
- At this point, the Nazi agreement to join Japan hadn't yet been formally signed.
- Hitler didn't declare war on the U.S. right away, although he did give orders for the navy to attack American warships whenever they spotted them.
- Hitler's decisions were the result of a huge underestimation of America's military strength, and a correspondingly huge overestimation of Japan's.
- Back in the U.S., Roosevelt didn't declare war on Germany and Italy just yet.
- Shirer thinks that it would have been hard for the President to get Congress to agree to fight a war on two fronts.
- Consumed with hatred for the U.S., which he considered a mongrel, decaying state filled with Jews and blacks, Hitler was convinced of victory against them.
- Afraid that the U.S. would declare war first, he prepared his announcement.
Hitler in the Reichstag: December 11
- Hitler made a speech in the Reichstag on December 11, 1941, mostly devoted to demonizing Roosevelt, claiming that he provoked war to cover up the failure of his New Deal policy. He blamed Roosevelt and the Jews for starting a world war.
- Hitler was counting on those elements in American society that had also opposed Roosevelt and his policies.
- He didn't realize that after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, the nation was united in their support of their country like never before.
- Ribbentrop called in the American chargé d'affaires in Berlin, read him the declaration of war, and sent him packing back to the U.S.
- Hitler and his top Army and Navy brass had to rethink their plans as they came to terms with the fact that a powerful new enemy had entered the war. Would the U.S. attack Germany and Italy?
- But they figured that the U.S. would be tied up in the South Pacific for the time being, so they didn't give it all that much attention.
Chapter 26: The Great Turning Point: 1942—Stalingrad and El Alamein
Book Four: War: Early Victories and the Turning Point
The Conspirators Come Back to Life
- Shirer begins the book's twenty-sixth chapter by recapping the activities of the ineffective band of men who, throughout the past three years, had been conspiring to take Hitler down.
- As long as the German Army had been scoring easy victories, to the glory of the Third Reich, the conspirators couldn't interest many people in overthrowing Hitler.
- But once the tide of war began to turn, it was a different story.
- They thought the time was ripe for action, because the war hadn't been completely lost yet. Maybe they could stage a coup and still sign a pact with the Allies that might allow Germany to keep some of the land they'd gained during the war and avoid being completely demilitarized.
- As usual, they couldn't decide on a course of action. Kill Hitler? Arrest him?
- They also couldn't decide on the new government that they intended to create once Hitler had been removed. Some of the more conservative conspirators wanted a return to the monarchy; others pushed to appoint a regent; still others advocated a more democratic arrangement.
- Shirer writes that there was one person who did have a clear plan of action: Adolf Hitler.
The Last Great German Offensives of the War
- By the spring of 1942, both German and Russian troops were exhausted. Fighting slowed as Germany took account of the terrible losses it had suffered over the winter campaign.
- Hitler made plans to attack Russia to the south and take Stalingrad.
- Hitler needed help from Mussolini, so the two leaders met so Hitler could reassure Mussolini that things were going gangbusters with Russia and in Africa.
- The Duce's representative knew he was bluffing.
- Thanks to General Erwin Rommel, Germany had won particularly stunning victories in North Africa, but as Shirer explains, Hitler failed to take full advantage of them.
- He didn't give Rommel the reinforcements he needed to continue, and British continued to make inroads in the Mediterranean.
- Shirer argues once more that Hitler never really understood international warfare.
The German Summer Offensive in Russia: 1942
- Things went well for Hitler in the summer of 1942.
- U-boats were destroying British and American shipping in the Atlantic at an impressive rate.
- Axis powers were in control of much of the Mediterranean coast, and Hitler headed an empire from the Arctic Ocean south to Egypt; from France to the border of Central Asia.
- He had his sights on the oil fields of the Caucasus. He was convinced the Russians were finished.
- But the Axis attempt to seize Stalingrad met with strong Russian resistance and soon became a drawn-out, devastating defeat.
- Hitler's generals started to realize that his military strategy was becoming totally out of touch with reality. If he didn't like what he heard, he just fired the messengers.
The First Blow: El Alamein and the Anglo-American Landings
- Rommel had gains and losses throughout the autumn of 1942.
- Anglo-American forces won a huge victory at El Alamein, Egypt in early November, which Shirer calls the beginning of the end for Hitler.
- Other Anglo-American victories proceeded quickly throughout the autumn of 1942, including their occupation of French territories in Northwest Africa.
Disaster at Stalingrad
- Back in Stalingrad, the German offensive against the city wasn't exactly going as planned.
- By the third week of November 1942, it became clear to the Army commanders that the German troops outside of Stalingrad would soon be surrounded by Soviet armies if Hitler didn't order a retreat.
- True to form, Hitler angrily ordered his troops to stay put. Bad decision.
- The German troops outside of Stalingrad soon found themselves hemmed into the city, surrounded by Russian troops, and swiftly losing men.
- Mussolini piped up long enough to tell Hitler to "cut his losses in the East, make some sort of deal with Stalin and concentrate Axis strength on defending the rest of North Africa, the Balkans and Western Europe." (4.26.118-19) Hitler ignored him.
- By January 1943, the siege of Stalingrad was still continuing, and the Soviet Army had offered the Germans a chance to surrender. Hitler refused the offer, and ordered the troops to fight to the end.
- Germany and its allies lost nearly 200,000 men at Stalingrad, all because Hitler would rather see German soldiers die than surrender to an enemy.
- About 91,000 half-frozen, bloodied German soldier, including 24 generals, were marched in 24-below temps to POW camps in Russia.
- Hitler was angry that the Generals were still alive as opposed to knowing how to properly die for the Reich.
- The Nazis announced the defeat to the German public and Hitler declared four days of mourning.
- Shirer concludes that from Stalingrad on, the Germans were on the defensive and their allies were in control.
- Britain carried out massive bombing campaigns in German cities that gave German citizens their first experience of what their country was inflicting on the rest of the world.
Chapter 27: The New Order
Book Five: Beginning of the End
- In the first chapter of Book Five: Beginning of the End, Shirer describes Hitler's plans for a new organization of Europe.
- Hitler's "New Order" would be "a Nazi-ruled Europe whose resources would be exploited for the profit of Germany, whose people would be made the slaves of the German master race and whose 'undesirable elements'—above all, the Jews, but also many Slavs in the East, especially the intelligentsia among them—would be exterminated." (5.27.1)
- The Jews and Slavs were considered to be untermenschen—subhumans—who could be murdered without a thought. They had no right to live except to the extent that they could slave for the Germans.
- Europe was to become "Jew-free."
- In Shirer's words, this is the book's darkest chapter—just as the New Order itself was, for the people who lived through it or those killed, the darkest chapter in the history of the Reich.
- Shirer begins by describing the Nazi plans to exterminate or enslave the Slavic peoples east of Germany, and he focuses especially on the Nazis' treatment of the Russians throughout the long years of the war.
- Soviet POWs were subject to savage and barbaric treatment, and Russian men and women were kidnapped and shipped to Germany for slave labor.
- Hitler planned that the Baltics would be resettled with Germans, and Germany would annex the Crimea. Germany would appropriate all the natural resources for their own use.
- And if any riots broke out, bombing and shooting on the spot would take care of that.
The Nazi Plunder of Europe
- The Nazis accumulated enormous wealth during the war due to their plundering the riches and cultural treasures of Europe. The amount of loot was beyond belief.
- They looted gold and banknotes from conquered countries, as well extorting costs of the occupation from the occupied countries.
- He describes the monetary value of the goods and raw materials that were seized by the Nazis, including things like grains, meat, produce, oil, and steel.
- The Nazis seized property throughout the Reich, including millions of priceless art treasures throughout Europe, a topic that George Clooney and the gang take on in The Monuments Men.
- They also plundered human lives.
Slave Labor in the New Order
- By September, 1944, about 7.5 million Europeans were providing slave labor for the Third Reich.
- Almost all had been "rounded up by force, deported to Germany in boxcars, usually without food or water or any sanitary facilities, and there put to work in the factories, fields and mines. They were not only put to work but degraded, beaten and starved and often left to die for lack of food, clothing and shelter." (5.27.72)
- The Nazi slave labor force also included two million prisoners of war, a quarter of whom were put to work in munitions factories, in violation of The Hague and Geneva conventions.
- Why are we not surprised?
- The Nazis perpetrated atrocities like the kidnapping of children, the razing of villages (in order to seize their inhabitants), the murder of newborn infants, the starvation of slave laborers, and the housing of men and women in dog kennels.
- Shirer believes that this kind of enslavement and brutal treatment wouldn't have been limited to wartime. If the Nazis had been victorious in the war, the new world order would have seen a German master race enslaving the populations of Europe and Russia for the glory of the thousand-year Reich.
The Prisoners of War
- Roughly two million Soviet war prisoners died from disease and starvation.
- There were summary executions of war prisoners who belonged to targeted racial and political groups.
- The Nazi treatment of prisoners from Western nations was better than how the Russians were treated, but not by much. Captured flyers were often shot on sight or turned over to the S.D. to be tortured to death.
- Because of the success of Allied commando raids, Hitler gave orders that all captured enemy forces were to be shot—a literal take-no-prisoners order. The military commanders were too frightened to disobey.
Nazi Terror in the Conquered Lands
- The Nazis had a common practice of shooting hostages in conquered nations. The "Night and Fog Decree," ordered secret murders of persons who were made to vanish without a trace.
- Exterminations were carried out by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen—Special Action Groups, which was a euphemism for mobile extermination squads.
- They'd go around rounding up people and killing them en masse in various ways, like mass shootings and truck-mounted gas chambers.
- The Einsatzgruppen are known to be responsible for the deaths of roughly 750,000 people, the vast majority of them Jews.
- This number paled in comparison to the numbers of Jews killed in extermination camps.
"The Final Solution"
- The term "final solution" was the euphemism that the Nazis used for the extermination of all Jews and and the complete destruction of Jewish culture in Europe and beyond. It was the final solution to the "jewfish problem."
- Hitler had this plan in mind as early as 1939, but things really got going when Reinhard Heydrich decided in 1942 that the time had come to carry it out and finish the job.
- Heydrich estimated that there were 11 million Jews in all of Europe and Britain, and that all of them had to be exterminated.
- The initial plan? Send the Jews to eastern Europe, work to death people who could work, then kill the survivors.
- But this would take too much time. Himmler had a better idea: mass slaughter by the Einsatzgruppen.
- In one speech to the S.S. generals, Himmler congratulated them for being able to look at 1000 corpses lying side by side and still manage to remain "decent fellows."
The Extermination Camps
- Warning: What follows are some graphic descriptions of death at the camps.
- Shirer notes that all 30 or so concentration camps throughout Germany and the occupied countries were death camps, because millions of people died in them from starvation and torture.
- But extermination camps were specifically designed for killing and carrying out the Final Solution.
- Jews were systematically rounded up in occupied countries and deported to the camps.
- The camps had gas chambers in which millions of men, women, and children were gassed to death with carbon monoxide gas or Zyklon B. Shirer devotes particular attention to the mass killings at Auschwitz, where over a million people died, 90% of them Jews.
- At one point, 6,000 people per day were being gassed at Auschwitz.
- He cites the testimony of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess at Nuremberg that his gas chambers at Auschwitz were an "improvement" over the ones at Treblinka, that only held 200 people. Hoess's could hold 2,000 people at a time.
- Hoess described the now well-known system of selection of prisoners as they exited the freight cars at the camp. Those fit to work were sent to the camp, the others, including all children, were immediately gassed.
- He thought it was great that they could fool the inmates about their imminent fate by decorating the gas chambers with lawns and flower beds, and with signs that said "Baths."
- People were herded into the chambers waiting for water to come out of the showerheads. Instead, gas crystals were dropped in.
- After everyone inside was dead (the Nazis watched through portholes), Jewish prisoners hosed down the blood and feces and dragged the piles of corpses apart. Their teeth and hair were removed for collection by the Germans.
- Cremation chambers were designed to incinerate corpses in the extermination camps, and Shirer explains how German businessmen competed to win the contracts to build the crematoria.
- (The captured German records included letters from various companies touting their superior workmanship, their use of the highest-quality materials etc.)
- While he's on the topic of the complicity of German businessmen, he makes note of the companies competing to be the commercial suppliers of the Zyklon B used in the gas chambers.
- After making early estimates of the number of people who were murdered at Auschwitz, Shirer goes on to describe yet more forms of Nazi plunder: the removal of gold fillings from the ashes of the murdered victims, and the theft of those victims' personal belongings. (The inmates had been told to bring their treasured possessions and money for their new lives in the "resettlement" territories.)
- The Nazis took everything.
- Some of the jewelry and dental gold ended up in the vaults of branches of the Reichsbank. The bankers saw that a lot of it had come from Auschwitz and Lublin; they suspected the valuables had belonged to murdered Jews.
- They thought it was interesting.
"The Warsaw Ghetto Is No More"
- Jews in Warsaw and other cities throughout Europe had been forced into crowded ghettoes—walled-off areas of the city that were systematically starved as the people were waiting to be shipped off to extermination camps.
- In the spring of 1943, the 60,000 (out of 400,000) surviving Jews of the Warsaw ghetto mounted a valiant, desperate, and ultimately futile uprising against their Nazi oppressors.
- The uprising was detailed in an official account by Juergen Stroop, the S.S. officer who squashed the rebellion.
- The Jews held out for four weeks with some rifles, pistols, smuggled machine guns, and homemade grenades.
- Finally, the liquidation of the ghetto was ordered. (There's a long scene about it in Schindler's List.) The ghetto was burned down and survivors were ferreted out and shot.
- Shirer takes stock of a few different accounts of the final toll that the Nazis' "final solution" took on the Jews of Europe. He cites numbers that account for somewhere between four and six million deaths.
- This was the result of Hitler's obsession with the Jews: "There were some ten million Jews living in 1939 in the territories occupied by Hitler's forces. By any estimate it is certain that nearly half of them were exterminated by the Germans. This was the final consequence and the shattering cost of the aberration which came over the Nazi dictator in his youthful gutter days in Vienna and which he imparted to—or shared with—so many of his German followers." (5.27.301)
The Medical Experiments
- Another kind of atrocity the Nazis visited upon their concentration camp prisoners during the course of Hitler's reign was the use of prisoners in medical experiments.
- These practices were a result of the worst kind of sadistic brutality.
- Throughout the next several pages, Shirer offers grim accounts of the various kinds of "medical" tests that were conducted by the Nazis.
- Prisoners were put in pressure chambers until they stopped breathing; they were injected with typhus; they were put in icy water or exposed naked in the snow to see how long it took them to freeze to death.
- And these were just a few of the experiments.
The Death of Heydrich and the End of Lidice
- Reinhard Heydrich, one of the planners of the Final Solution, died in June 1942 after his automobile was hit by a small, hand-thrown bomb thrown at him by Czech resistance fighters.
- The Nazi retribution was brutal: over one thousand Czechs were executed on the spot, and three thousand Czechoslovakian Jews were taken from Theresienstadt and shipped to other camps for extermination.
- The Nazis destroyed the small Czech village of Lidice by executing all of its adult male inhabitants, shipping its women and children to concentration camps, and then burning the village to the ground.
- Shirer moves on to discuss other examples of Nazi atrocities and describes the similar destruction of villages throughout other Nazi-occupied territories.
- Shirer ends this gruesome chapter with the following conclusion: "Such, as has been sketched in this chapter, were the beginnings of Hitler's New Order; such was the debut of the Nazi Gangster Empire in Europe. Fortunately for mankind it was destroyed in its infancy—not by any revolt of the German people against such a reversion to barbarism but by the defeat of German arms and the consequent fall of the Third Reich." (5.27.408)
- You can see where he's going here with his thesis that the German people were complicit in the savagery.
Chapter 28: The Fall of Mussolini
Book Five: Beginning of the End
- By the summer of 1943, the Anglo-American armies were on Italy's doorstep.
- Even though he wasn't even sixty years old, Mussolini was exhausted, and maybe demented, by this time.
- After meeting with Hitler in July, Mussolini returned to a minor coup in Rome. Along with other members of the Fascist Party, Count Galeazzo Ciano forced Mussolini to convene the Fascist Grand Council.
- When he did, the council voted and carried a resolution demanding the restoration of a constitutional monarchy and Parliament and also calling for Mussolini to be stripped of the command of the armed forces.
- Mussolini's troubles weren't over yet: on July 25, the day after the Grand Council had met, he was arrested on the order of some generals and the King.
- "So fell," says Shirer, "ignominiously, the modern Roman Caesar, a bellicose-sounding man of the twentieth century who had known how to profit from its confusions and despair, but who underneath the gaudy façade was made largely of sawdust." (5.28.13)
- The Italian people were overjoyed at his fall, and that was the end of Fascism in Italy.
- After hearing the news about Mussolini, Hitler quickly began making plans for the worst-case scenario: that is, the strong possibility that Italy's new government would try to withdraw from the war
- In fact, in the second week of September 1943, Italy signed an armistice with the Western powers.
- True to form, Hitler invaded. In short order, he managed to occupy roughly two-thirds of Italy Next, he hatched a plan to spring Mussolini from prison before he could be turned over to the Allies.
- After the plan had been successfully carried out, Hitler convinced Mussolini to take revenge on the conspirators. Most of them—including Mussolini's son-in-law Ciano—were soon sentenced to death and executed.
- As he draws this chapter to a close, Shirer examines the political and military advantages that Hitler gained by occupying Italy and toppling the government that had ousted his Axis ally.
- There were other less victorious events that Germany experienced throughout the summer and autumn of 1943.
- The German Army suffered continuing losses in Russia; the German Navy likewise had continuing losses in the Atlantic; the German public lived through ongoing daily and nightly bombings by the British and American air forces.
- The morale of the German people was disintegrating steadily, and even Goebbels had begun to consider the possibility of finding some kind of political solution that would bring an end to the war.
- As 1943 drew to a close, everyone's favorite group of ineffectual conspirators had finally hatched a plan that would—they hoped—put an end to Hitler's regime once and for all.
Chapter 29: The Allied Invasion of Western Europe and the Attempt to Kill Hitler
Book Five: Beginning of the End
- Throughout 1943, more than a half-dozen attempts had been made on Hitler's life.
- Needless to say, none of them had worked.
- The conspirators made many unsuccessful attempts to draw powerful German Army generals and field marshals to the cause of assassinating the Fuehrer.
- There were disagreements and dissent within the resistance group, and conflicting opinions about what should be done to bring down Hitler.
- By now, Heinrich Himmler was also keeping a pretty close eye on the resistance, and even had some contacts on the inside.
- But Himmler was playing both sides, a game that would eventually result in the deaths of many of the conspirators.
- Shirer describes the conspirators' ongoing attempts to determine what kind of arrangement the Allies would agree to with a new non-Nazi German government.
- One of the early assassination attempts was designed under the codename "Operation Flash."
- If you've seen the Tom Cruise drama-rama Valkyrie, you'll recognize this one. The plan involved two packs of explosives that had been dressed up to look like bottles of brandy and stowed away in the Fuehrer's private plane.
- It didn't work. For some reason, the bomb had failed to go off.
- Luckily for them, the conspirators were able to recover the faulty bomb before it was discovered, so they lived to try again.
- The second attempt at Operation Flash was a suicide mission, in which one particularly self-sacrificing soldier would bear the responsibility for blowing up Hitler and his entourage.
- You guessed it: that plan failed too.
- Shirer says that he'll tell us about a few other "overcoat" operations—as the conspirators called them—but he pauses for a moment to describe a short-lived anti-Nazi youth movement that arose in 1943 and was swiftly and violently put down by the Nazis.
- The Nazi response to that movement became a message to the conspirators about the dangers of their own mission.
- The Gestapo ruthlessly investigated any German citizens who were suspected of treason; cruel fates awaited the ones that were caught.
- There were other unsuccessful attempts made on Hitler's life.
- As Shirer draws this section to a close, he gives us our first introduction to his man-crush Count von Stauffenberg, whose exploits he'll soon describe in more detail.
The Mission of Count von Stauffenberg
- Count von Stauffenberg may have been played by Tom Cruise in the historical drama Valkyrie, but personally, we think he had a bit of a Robert Pattinson vibe going on.
- Shirer begins this section with an uncharacteristically effusive description of Stauffenberg's breeding, intelligence, and Greek-god looks, qualities that Shirer seems to appreciate quite a lot, despite all of his homophobic commentary elsewhere.
- After explaining how Stauffenberg came to find himself at odds with Nazism and then seriously wounded in battle, Shirer explains that the hunky young soldier's long recovery had given him plenty of time to think.
- He came to the conclusion that he had a mission to complete: killing the Fuehrer.
- Stauffenberg came to join the anti-Nazi conspirators, and General Erwin Rommel—now a Field Marshal—found his way into the group as well.
- Using the code name "Operation Valkyrie" they designed a two-pronged plan that would begin with the assassination of Hitler, and end with an armed coup in Berlin and other major cities in the German Reich.
- Operation Valkyrie was set to move forward in July 1944.
The Anglo-American Invasion, June 6, 1944
- As the anti-Nazi conspirators honed their plans for "Operation Valkyrie," the Allied forces had been making some plans of their own.
- During the spring of 1944, the Germans had been trying to anticipate when and where the Allies might attempt to make a landing in Nazi-occupied France.
- However, they were caught unawares when the Allied invasion began in Normandy on June 6—the day that, in Allied nations, has gone down in history as the most important day of WWII.
- As the German Army officers tried to mobilize a resistance, Hitler created delays.
- Later, when it became clear that the invasion wasn't going to be put down easily, Hitler frustrated his Army officers again by refusing to let them withdraw.
- On the Eastern front, things were going just as badly for the German troops.
- Field Marshal Rommel was injured in an Allied attack on July 17, and his injuries were serious enough to sideline him. Shirer sees this as a disastrous occurrence for the conspirators.
The Conspiracy at the Eleventh Hour
- As the Allies moved forward with their invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, the anti-Nazi conspirators were faced with an important decision.
- Since the Allies were so close to victory, they wondered if an assassination attempt, and its risks, were worth it.
- Because the group was being infiltrated by the Gestapo, they knew they had to move quickly.
The Coup of July 20, 1944
- Count von Stauffenberg was now the main guy in the conspiracy, the one who wouldn't just carry out the assassination of Hitler, but who'd also lead an armed coup in Berlin.
- Before the fateful day of July 20, 1944, the conspirators had two failed attempts to carry out "Operation Valkyrie."
- The second failure was a particularly dangerous one, as it attracted suspicious attention from both the OKW and the Gestapo.
July 20, 1944
- After a huge buildup, Shirer provides a detailed account of Count von Stauffenberg's failed attempt to assassinate Hitler at his headquarters in Rastenburg.
- He begins by taking us up to the point of the bomb blast itself, and describes its immediate aftermath in and around the headquarters.
- Although Stauffenberg—watching from a safe distance—saw the bomb go off in Hitler's conference, he left the scene before making sure that Hitler had actually been killed.
- To be fair, he was in a hurry: not only did he need to escape before anyone put two and two together and realized that the bomb had come from him, but he also needed to get back to Berlin to command the armed coup of the city.
- By the time Stauffenberg made it to Berlin, he was unpleasantly surprised to discover that his fellow conspirators hadn't yet set the coup in motion. They'd lost three hours while they were waiting for him to return from Rastenburg.
- Back at Hitler's headquarters, the Fuehrer only sustained minor injuries in the blast. He and his officers began to figure out who was behind the attempted assassination.
- In Berlin, the conspirators were simply too disorganized and too slow to act; their hesitation and poor planning made them no match for the likes of Hitler and his cold and calculating henchmen.
- The principal conspirators, including noble and dashing Count von Stauffenberg, were swiftly executed.
- In the wake of the failed July Plot, Heinrich Himmler and his Gestapo rounded up thousands of German citizens who had either belonged to, or known about, the resistance.
- In his words: "There was a wild wave of arrests followed by gruesome torture, drumhead trials, and death sentences carried out, in many cases, by slow strangling while the victims were suspended by piano wire from meathooks borrowed from butchershops and slaughterhouses. Relatives and friends of the suspects were rounded up by the thousands and sent to concentration camps, where many of them died. The brave few who gave shelter to those who were in hiding were summarily dealt with." (5.29.295)
- Shirer offers a detailed example of the unfair trials, which continued into the winter of 1945.
- An American bomb fell on the courthouse on the morning of February 3, 1945. The presiding judge was killed and most of the court records destroyed.
- Most of the men who had participated in (or known about) the conspiracy were executed.
- Some of those who'd been arrested were eventually rescued by the advancing Allies.
- Several German Army generals who had been involved in the conspiracy chose to take their own lives rather than submit to the tortures of the Gestapo.
- Field Marshal Rommel, whose death was publicized to the German public as a sudden brain seizure, was forced to commit suicide with cyanide when his contact with the conspirators was discovered.
- Shirer describes how the rest of the German Army officer corps caved before Hitler in the wake of the Fuehrer's brutal revenge against the conspirators, with a number of them even participating in the drumhead trials and swift executions of their fellow officers.
- Shirer offers his own perspective on the reasons why the surviving German officers chose to renew their pledges to Hitler rather than resist the purge he was carrying out against them.
- Ultimately, he argues that "the mass of the German people, in uniform and out, were not ready for a revolution—in fact, despite their misery and the bleak prospect of defeat and foreign occupation, did not want it. National Socialism, notwithstanding the degradation it had brought to Germany and Europe, they still accepted and indeed supported, and in Adolf Hitler they still saw the country's savior." (5.29.376)
Chapter 30: The Conquest of Germany
Book Six: The Fall of the Third Reich
- We're almost there, Shmoopers. Extra credit for hanging in there.
- Shirer begins Book Six: The Fall of the Third Reich by describing the Allied and Soviet offensives that swept through Nazi-occupied Europe in the summer and autumn of 1944.
- By September 1944, many of the men in Hitler's top Army and Navy brass believed that the war had been lost, but Hitler was determined to continue the war.
- The German Army was scrambling to find new recruits as the Allied and Soviet forces converged on Germany itself. Yong teens and
- The Army also chose to institute extraordinary penalties for desertions. Clearly, desperation was setting in.
- But suddenly, in the middle of September 1944the Allied advances slowed, giving the Germans a much-needed chance to regroup.
Hitler's Last Desperate Gamble
- The sudden slowing of the Allied advance in September 1944 not only gave the German Army a chance to regroup, but allowed it launch a surprise offensive as Christmas approached.
- That surprise was the "last desperate gamble" that Hitler cooked up as he tried his best to win the war. It's gone down in history as the Battle of the Bulge.
- Hitler made plans for a big winter offensive, but the German Army generals were worried that their dwindling forces weren't strong enough to carry it out.
- The first days of the offensive began well for the Germans, but quickly took a turn for the worse.
- As usual, when the German Army generals realized that the battle wasn't going their way, Hitler refused to let his troops withdraw. Instead, he ordered that the battle be continued into the new year.
- All was definitely not quiet on the Western Front.
- By middle of January 1945, the German Army was forced back to the line where they started the offensive.
- There were staggering German losses in men, ammunition, and machinery.
- The defeat sealed the fate of Germany's forces on the Eastern front, which were now much too scarce to halt the advancing Russian troops.
The Collapse of the German Armies
- As Shirer says in the opening line of this section: "The end came quickly for the Third Reich in the spring of 1945." (6.30.84)
- Don't you want to cheer?
- Germany's dwindling fuel supplies gradually brought the nation's armies to a standstill, and the German supply chain was weakened by Allied attacks and Nazi mismanagement.
- It soon became clear, Shirer argues, that Hitler "was determined to go down, like Wotan at Valhalla, in a holocaust of blood—not only the enemy's but that of his own people." (6.30.91-99)
- Hitler's physical and mental health was worsening, and he ordered "scorched earth" policies in late March 1945.
- The directive ordered the destruction of "all industrial plants, all important electrical facilities, water works, gas works, food stores and clothing stores; all bridges, all railway and communications installations, all waterways, all ships, all freight cars and all locomotives" in Germany, with the intention of keeping them out of enemy hands. (6.30.125)
- It might have kept things out of enemy hands, but it also ensured that the German people would have nothing left after the end of the war to rebuild their nation.
- Shirer concludes by describing the Allied and Russian advances that finally succeeded in cutting off North and South Germany, and in trapping Hitler—once and for all—inside Berlin.
Chapter 31: Goetterdaemmerung: The Last Days of the Third Reich
Book Six: The Fall of the Third Reich
- The last three weeks of the Second World War were also the final three weeks of the Nazi Reich.
- Allied and Soviet troops continued to sweep through Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe.
- In Berlin, the Fuehrer was commanding the armed forces from a bunker fifty feet underground—below the Chancellery, which had been destroyed by Allied bombing.
- In worsening physical and mental health, the Fuehrer and Goebbels, were reassuring themselves that things would still turn out in their favor.
- Hitler's mistress, Eva Braun, came to join her partner in Berlin.
Hitler's Last Great Decision
- Hitler's final birthday gathering took place in the underground bunker on April 20, 1945.
- Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler left Berlin that night, each believing that the Fuehrer would be dead soon, and that they'd succeed him.
- Hitler wasn't dead yet, though; he ordered a counter-attack on April 21.
- Nothing ever came of it. When Hitler learned that the Russians had finally broken through to Berlin, the news propelled him into a furious rage.
- Shirer believes that it was around this time that Hitler decided to stay in Berlin and go down with his rapidly-sinking ship.
- He started to get his affairs in order. He arranged for certain documents to be destroyed, and he ordered Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and General Alfred Jodl to take command of the armed forces.
- Hitler's decision to stay in Berlin had more than a few consequences for the Nazi Reich.
Goering and Himmler Try to Take Over
- Goering, the Number-Two Nazi in the Reich, suddenly found himself accused of treason.
- Hitler had mentioned offhandedly to Field Marshal Keitel and General Jodl that Goering should probably handle the peace negotiations when the time eventually came.
- When Goering learned that, he assumed that Hitler wanted him to take over right away. Just to be sure, he sent a telegram to Hitler to ask if he had heard right.
- When Goering's tentative telegram reached the underground bunker, Hitler threw a fit.
- It didn't help that his scheming deputy leader, Martin Bormann, insisted that Goering's telegram was an ultimatum, and that Number-Two was trying to unseat the Fuehrer from his underground throne.
- Although Hitler decided not to order Goering's immediate arrest, Bormann went behind the Fuehrer's back and ordered it anyway.
- In less than twenty-four hours, Goering was a prisoner of the S.S.
The Last Two Visitors to the Bunker
- Life was increasingly strange in the bizarre atmosphere of the Fuehrer's bunker.
- Hitler had some visitors, including Hanna Reitsch, a famous test pilot, and General Ritter von Greim, whom Hitler appointed Goering's successor as Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe.
- Neither Reitsch nor Greim is particularly important to Shirer's narrative, but because they were witnesses to some of Hitler's last days on earth, their testimonies helped to supply Shirer with valuable information for his account.
- Shirer draws on Reitsch's memories especially as he describes Hitler's rapidly-shifting moods during those last few days in the bunker.
- The Fuehrer was still waiting impatiently for Germany's armies to liberate Berlin, and he seemed clueless about how bad the situation out there actually was.
- Unbeknownst to Hitler, Heinrich Himmler had been negotiating with the Allies.
- Hitler learned of Himmler's treason in late April 1945, when the Propaganda Ministry picked up a broadcast from the BBC announcing Himmler's offer to surrender the armies.
- As you might imagine, Hitler's reaction was over-the-top.
- Hitler also got the news that the Soviet army was now just a few blocks away from the bunker.
- Shirer believed all this news caused Hitler to make the final decisions of his life.
- Two of those decisions were particularly important: Hitler ordered Himmler's arrest, and he decided to marry Eva Braun right then and there.
- There was a bare-bones wedding between Hitler and Braun in the wee hours of the morning on April 29, followed by a not-so-celebratory breakfast afterward.
Hitler's Last Will and Testament
- Shirer now offers a detailed account of the last will and testament of Germany's Nazi Fuehrer, arguing that the documents reveal that this powerful dictator, who'd ruled over much of Europe for four years, had learned absolutely nothing.
- The documents contain all of the typical anti-Semitic hatred that Hitler had spewed over the course of his reign, and they urge Germany, in his absence, to stay on the path he'd set for it.
- Goebbels made an addition to Hitler's testament after the Fuehrer had finished it.
- In his addendum, the Propaganda Minister explained why he and his wife had decided to kill themselves—and their six children—so that they could die by Hitler's side when their beloved Fuehrer ended his own life.
- Yeah, you heard that right.
- Shirer then explains how Goebbels arranged for Hitler's last will and testament to be delivered to Admiral Karl Doenitz, the current Commander in Chief of the German Navy, whom Hitler had named his successor.
- A slow trickle of men left the underground bunker, as a number of young military adjutants decided to take their leaves rather than taking their lives.
- In the last message that Hitler sent to Field Marshal Keitel, he announced his imminent suicide and, just for good measure, got in a few final jabs at the German Army, which he blamed for losing the war.
The Death of Hitler and His Bride
- Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were executed by Italian partisans on April 27.
- When Hitler heard about Mussolini's death, he started planning his own.
- In the final hours of his life, Hitler said his goodbyes to the cohort of people who were with him in the underground bunker.
- He then describes the deaths of Adolf and Eva Hitler in the mid-afternoon on April 30, 1945, along with the Viking-style funeral that was given to them as their bodies were burned in the garden behind the Chancellery.
- If the scene feels a little anti-climactic to you, that's because the war wasn't over yet, and the news of Hitler's death was kept secret for a little while longer.
- Martin Bormann soon got off a telegram to Admiral Doenitz, informing him that he was now in charge of Nazi Germany.
- Next, Bormann and Goebbels decided to reach out to the Russians to see what their terms of surrender would be.
- Russians demanded the unconditional surrender the Fuehrer and everyone in the bunker, as well as all the German troops left in Berlin.
- But by the time their answer came through to Bormann, he had already made other plans.
- So had Goebbels.
- Shirer offers a grim account of the death of the Goebbels family. The six children were poisoned by their parents, who then killed themselves.
- Some of the remaining people in the bunker them managed to escape Berlin by sneaking through the Russian lines; others didn't make it.
- Bormann was among the group who didn't. Drawing on witness testimony, Shirer records that he seems to have committed suicide when he saw that his chances of escape were about zero.
The End of the Third Reich
- The Third Reich survived for seven days after the death of its Fuehrer.
- Hitler's death was broadcast to the German public on the night of May 1, 1945.
- The broadcast neglected to tell the truth about Hitler's suicide, and instead described the Fuehrer as having fought bravely against Bolshevism to his last moment.
- The German Army and Navy had been making isolated surrenders throughout Germany and Europe in the last days of the war.
- The final surrender came on May 7, 1945.
- He describes the "strange but welcome silence" which then "settled over the Continent for the first time since September 1, 1939," and takes stock of the staggering toll that the past five years had taken upon human lives. (6.31.237-238)
- Shirer compares the German defeat in 1918 to the Third Reich's defeat in 1945, and ends with the following words: "The people were there, and the land—the first dazed and bleeding and hungry, and, when winter came, shivering in their rags in the hovels which the bombings had made of their homes; the second a vast wasteland of rubble. The German people had not been destroyed, as Hitler, who had tried to destroy so many other peoples and, in the end, when the war was lost, themselves, had wished. But the Third Reich had passed into history." (6.31.240-42)
A Brief Epilogue
- What's that? You thought the book was over?
- Just think of this "Brief Epilogue" as a not-so-secret added scene. By now the credits have started to roll, but Shirer fades back in to give us one more look at the bitter end of the Third Reich.
- Shirer has a few final words about the German officers and Nazi minions who were arrested, tried, and sentenced for their crimes in the days, weeks, and months after the war.
- Heinrich Himmler committed suicide after being captured by British soldiers.
- Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, Horace Hjalmar Greeley Schacht, Franz von Papen, Baron Konstantin von Neurath, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, General Alfred Jodl, Admiral Erich Raeder, and Hans Frank, among others, were tried at Nuremberg.
- After telling us how many received death sentences and how many were sentenced to imprisonment, he describes the executions (by hanging) of those who were sentenced to death.
- Goering escaped the executioner. He committed suicide in his cell, using poisoned that had been smuggled to him.
- Goering's suicide shared much in common with the deaths of Heinrich Himmler and Hitler himself. They all chose the way they would die.
- True to form, Shirer ends TRFTR on a pensive note—one that leaves us mulling over all of the grim realities that are recorded in its pages.
- That's the end for real this time.
- Unless, of course, you want to include the Afterword that Shirer added to the book in 1990…
- When it comes to endings, TRFTR could give Peter Jackson's The Return of the King a real run for its money.
- Shirer's short Afterword wasn't part of the original edition of the book, but was added three decades later, as the Thirtieth-Anniversary Edition was getting ready to hit the shelves.
- Shirer takes just a few moments to reflect on the reception that TRFTR had received from reviewers and academic historians throughout the thirty years since its publication.
- His final words, though, are reserved for a heavier topic. Writing just shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Shirer takes this opportunity to send out a warning call to his readers.
- In his view, the reunification of Germany was a scary thing, and he goes so far as to suggest that the newly-reunified nation might soon be invading its neighbors once again.
- With these thoughts in mind—along with some additional words on the threat of nuclear war—Shirer wraps things up once and for all by reminding his readers that memory can be an important ally in making sure catastrophes like this don't happen again.