History always has many witnesses. Audio, video, word of mouth and the written word serve as the recorders for the events that are occurring. When Adolf Hitler began his rise to power, all of Europe and the rest of the world took notice. Many of those nations never imagined that the menace from Austria would become Chancellor of Germany and unleash a wave of terror never before seen across the continent. His climactic rise to power and fall is a case study that has been the subject of debates and discussions since the end of the Second World War in 1945. Even today we continue to learn new facts about Hitler and secrets of the Third Reich. William L. Shirer (1904-1993) lived in Germany as correspondent for CBS news and served as a first-hand witnesses of the rise of national socialism carried under the banner of Hitler’s N.S.D.A.P. As the war in Europe unfolded, he returned to the United States and his memories of his time in Germany served as the basis for the Berlin Diary. During his residence in Germany, he had been censured by Nazi regime from speaking on air. Shirer took advantage of the time to start a book on the Reich, a book that became a masterpiece and the definitive account of the rise and fall of the Third Reich.
Hitler’s seizure of power by means of annexation of the smaller countries surrounding Germany showed to the world the true nature of his regime and the pending doom that awaited Europe. By the time the war was over, nearly fifty million people had died. Germany was split in half and became the center of aggression between the United States and Soviet Union. The story of the Nazi empire has caused many to ask how did Hitler assume power and why did the German people give it to him? And if the German military was as supreme as their leaders thought, why did Germany suffer defeat in a second world conflict? The answers to these questions are contained within the pages of this book and Shirer provides a staggering amount of information about what really transpired behind the scenes hidden from the German public. The book is divided into several smaller parts, each focusing on a different period in the war. But the author covers the Reich from start to finish giving the reader a complete account of one of history’s darkest moments.
While the book is not a “official” textbook to be used by educators, I do think it should supplement any course material on the holocaust and the war. Shirer’s work is of critical importance and will remain with us for generations. It is the go to source for the story of the Nazi reign. All of the characters make an appearance in the story and some parts of the narrative are a bit comical as the Nazis simply make up the rules as they go along. But what is even more intriguing is the often opposing views taken by Hitler and his Generals. Many knew that a madman had seized power and was leading Germany down a path of destruction yet no one seemed to be able to stop the Austrian menace. Shirer once said that “the cardinal error of the Germans who opposed Nazism was their failure to unite against it”. The Führer, seemingly one step ahead of those under him, often played subordinates against each other creating a climate of suspicion that undermined any efforts to remove him from power. And at his call, were a number of loyal Nazi party members all too happy to do the regime’s dirty work.
I cannot overstate the importance of this book. To understand the machinations at play that pushed the German war machine forward, Shirer’s words are an invaluable source. The book is by no means short, running well over one thousands pages. But contained within those pages is the story that can never be erased. The world has changed drastically since 1945. Hitler’s ghost is still among as those loyal to the Nazi party, pledge their undying allegiance to an ideology that went down at the hands of Allie forces more than seventy years ago. His supporting cast of characters retain their places in infamy as part of a failed regime that based its foundation upon the idea of “Aryan supremacy”. But unbeknownst to the Germany people, there was much that was hidden from them by Hitler, the man some came to love but many began to fear. Had they known the truth about the Nazis, perhaps he would have been removed from power before the war reached its deadly heights. We can only ask what if at this point about how things might have been. But as we look back and study the war, Shirer is there with us reminding us along the way of everything that happened during the rise and fall of the Third SS Reich.