The Books: “Nightmare Years: 1930 – 1940″ (William L. Shirer)

And here is my next excerpt of the day from my library.

4046577-m.jpgNext book on the shelf is The Nightmare Years, 1930-1940 by William Shirer. A first-person memoir of Shirer’s time living in Nazi Germany, and covering not just Germany but what was going on in all of Europe at that time. It actually starts with a fascinating story of his time in wild-west Afghanistan – he’s very good at this first-person perspective stuff. But the main thrust of the book is his impressions of Germany at that time – interesting, because he was a journalist, and so had some “access” to the leaders. The leaders, naturally, were liars, and you could never get a clear answer from them – but Shirer’s impression of the FEELING in the streets of Berlin, the changing tides, the rising fanaticism – is chilling.

And I’ve gotta say that the photos he has included in this book are fantastic. Especially of the Anschluss. Terrifying photos of the crowds greeting Hitler, the weeping women, the frenzy, there are some photos where everyone is in a blur, because they are struggling to get closer to Hitler – as though they’re seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.

I’ll excerpt a bit from the year 1934. Shirer goes to a massive Nazi party rally in Nuremberg.


The Nightmare Years, 1930-1940 by William Shirer.

In Nuremberg, on September 4 [1934], ten days after my arrival in Nazi Germany, I saw Adolf Hitler for the first time.

Like a Roman emperor he rode into the medieval town at sundown, past solid phalanxes of wildly cheering Germans who packed the narrow streets that once had been the gathering place of Hans Sachs and the Meistersinger. Thousands of swastika flags blotted out the Gothic beauties of the city’s architecture, the facades of the old houses, the gabled roofs. The streets, hardly wider than alleys, were a sea of brown and black uniforms.

I got my first glimpse of Hitler, as he drove by our hotel to his headquarters at the Deutscher Hof, a favorite old hotel of his, which had been newly remodeled for him. He fumbled his cap, which he held in his left hand, as he stood in his car acknowledging the delirious welcome with somewhat feeble Nazi salutes with his right arm. Probably he was pacing himself, knowing that he would be raising that right arm in salute thousands of times before the week was over. He was clad in a rather worn gabardine trench coat, very much like the weatherbeaten ones we foreign correspondents wore in those days. His face, which was rather flabby, had no particular expression — I expected it to be much stronger — and I wondered what there was in his almost modest bearing, in his rather common look, that unleashed such hysterical acclaim in the mob, whose men, women, and children were so wild in their joy at seeing him, their faces contorted in a way I had never seen before, ever.

The frenzy of the crowds fascinated me that evening even more than my first glimpse of the dictator. I had seen vast throngs in India moved by the sight of Gandhi and in Rome by Mussolini. But this German horde was different in a way I could not yet comprehend. Later that evening, I got caught up in a mob of these frenzied people, who jammed the moat in front of Hitler’s hotel. They were swaying back and forth, like the Holy Rollers I had once seen in the back country of Arkansas and Louisiana, with the same crazed expression on their faces. They were shouting in unison: “We want our Fuhrer!” When he appeared on the balcony for a moment and waved, they went mad. Several women swooned. Some, men and women, were trampled as the crowd surged toward the hotel to get a closer look at their Messiah. For such he appeared to be to them.

By the close of the next evening, after the events of the first day of the party rally had come to an end, I had “begun to comprehend,” I boasted in my diary, “some of the reasons for Hitler’s astonishing success.” Borrowing from the Roman Church, I noted, he was restoring pageantry to the drab lives of Germans. The morning’s opening meeting in the huge Luitpold Hall on the outskirts of Nuremberg was more than a colorful show. It had something of the mysterious and religious fervor of an Easter or a Christmas Mass in a great Gothic cathedral.

The hall was a sea of brightly colored flags. Suddenly the band stopped playing. There was a hush over the thirty thousand people packed in the immense arena. Then the band struck up the ‘Badenwiler March,” a rather catchy tune and played only, I learned, when the Leader made his big entrances. Hitler appeared in the back of the auditorium, dressed in a brown party uniform, and followed by his aides, Hermann Goring, Joseph Goebbels, Rudolf Hess and Heinrich Himmler, all in brown uniforms except for Himmler, who wore the black garb of the S.S. He strode slowly down the wide center aisle while thirty thousand pairs of eyes were turned toward him and as many hands were raised in salute. It was a ritual, I was told, that had been followed at the opening of big party meetings for years.

As soon as the Nazi chiefs were seated on the huge platform a large symphony orchestra played Beethoven’s stirring Egmont Overture. Great klieg lights played on the stage. Behind Hitler and his entourage of a hundred party officials and a scattering of army and navy officers was draped the swastika “blood flag,” which had been carried through the streets of Munich by a Nazi column when the shooting began during Hitler’s ill-fated Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. Behind this emblem, holy to the Nazis, stood some five hundred S.A. standards. When the music was over, Rudolf Hess, deputy to the Fuhrer and at that time his closest confidant, rose and slowly read the names of the Nazi “martyrs” — Brownshirts who had been killed in the streets in the struggle for power. He read out the roll call of the dead slowly and solemnly and there was a hush over th ehall, the members of the vast audience bowing their heads in reverence.

In was in such a hushed atmosphere that Hitler sprang his Proclamation to the People, which the Nazi press office had tipped us off the evening before would be the most important pronouncement ever made by the Fuhrer. Everyone had expected him to read it himself. Instead, to save his voice for seven speeches he was scheduled to make during the week, he had it read by Gauleiter Adolf Wagner of Bavaria, who, curiously, had a voice and manner so like Hitler’s that some of the correspondents who were listening on the radio back at the hotel thought it was the Fuhrer himself.

The words of that proclamation I never forgot. They kept coming back to me in the ensuring years, a reminder of the way history turns out differently than some, even the mightiest have planned.

The German form of life is definitely determined for the next thousand years! For us, the nervous nineteenth century has finally ended. There will be no revolution in Germany for the next one thousand years!

So the Third Reich was to last a thousand years! The words stunned me. But they provoked the brown mass in the great hall into a frenzy. The thirty thousand leaped to their feet and wildly cheered and clapped.

It cannot be, I protested to myself, as the crowd continued to roar, that this evil thing, demeaning to a great people, could last for a thousand years — or even for a hundred. But I had a sinking feeling that it would last a long time. Hitler’s grip on the German people was much greater than I had expected.

The throng was up on its feet, cheering again, when the Fuhrer came, as was inevitable, to his customary outburst against communism.

“Germany has done everything possible to assure world peace. If war comes to Europe it will come only because of Communist chaos.”

He was back at it again when he spoke at a so-called “Kultur” meeting in the afternoon. “Only brainless dwarfs,” he stormed, “cannot realize that Germany has been the breakwater against the Communist floods, which would have drowned Europe and its culture.”

It was not difficult for him to convince the German people of this and, in time, many in England and France, even in America. Much later, when Hitler had embarked on his aggressive war against the rest of Europe, Charles Lindbergh would use similar words to express his belief that Germany, Hitler’s Germany, “held today the intangible eastern border of European civilization.”

Beyond that eastern border lay Bolshevism, in the minds of Hitler, as well as Lindbergh, and his followers the destroyers of the civilization of Europe. But it was beginning to dawn on me, caught up in the Nazi delirium of Nuremberg, that European civilization, at least in Germany, might not survive Hitler’s dictatorship.

I had not yet quite realized that in order to keep the German people stirred up Hitler needed enemies to blame for all that had gone wrong before and for all that threatened the new, awakened, authoritarian Reich. Besides the Bolsheviks there were the Jews! Twice that opening day he thundered against them. The chaos from which he had rescued the country, he said, had been the work of “Jewish intellectualism”.

“The alien life and form of ideas,” he said, “injected into and forced on nations by Jewish intellectualism, which is racially without a basis, led to an alien, rootless state and internationally to complete chaos in cultural life.”

He had saved Europe, he boasted, not only from the Bolsheviks but from the Jews, and he wanted his listeners to remember it and be grateful.

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One Response to The Books: “Nightmare Years: 1930 – 1940″ (William L. Shirer)

  1. leroy suddath says:

    I look forward to reading this book. Lessons from history should always be relearned.. As time passed so does this history… Shirer gives a good basis for this understanding. .

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