Excerpt from Berlin Diary by William Shirer.
In all my explorations of "How" and "Why" did the Holocaust happen, I have never ran
across a more abbreviated and true summary than as can be found in Berlin Diary by William Shirer.
This book is his daily account of life in Berlin up to Dec. 1940. Shirer (1904-1993) had lived
in Europe as a foreign correspondent for America for 15 years. Although born and raised in the U.S.,
his years in Europe made him the perfect "eye in the sky" of the goings on there which led to WWII.
Shirer did not publish his diary until he was called back to the U.S. in Dec. 1940, but by 1941, the book
was in print and it gave Americans a clear picture of how the German people in Berlin perceived the events
leading up to WWII and the Holocaust. Near the end of the book, Shirer summarizes his observations of
the "how and why" Germany became so bent on destruction. This excerpt, written in 1940, shows just how good
of an observer Shirer was - since war with America had not even begun - Europe had been conquered and the Battle
of Britain was in progress and at this moment, it looked like nothing could stop the Germans. Shirer would go on to write the famous book, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich".
.................We who have been so close to this German scene, who have seen with our own eyes the tramping
Nazi boots over Europe and heard with our own ears Hitler's hysterical tirades of hate, have found
it difficult to keep a sense of historical perspective. I suppose the reasons why Germany
has embarked on a career of unbridled conquest go deeper than the mere fact, all-important though
it is, that a small band of unprincipled, tough gangsters have seized control of this land,
corrupted its whole people, and driven it on its present course. The roots go deeper, I admit,
though whether the plant would have flowered as it has without Hitler, I seriously doubt.
One root is the strange, contradictory character of the German people. It is not correct to say,
as many of our liberals at home have said, that Nazism is a form of rule and life unnatural to the
German people and forced upon them against their wish by a few fanatical derelicts of the last war.
It is true that the Nazi Party never polled a majority vote in Germany in a free election, though
it came very close. But for the last 3 or 4 years the Nazi regime has expressed something very deep
in the German nature and in that respect it has been representative of the people it rules. The
Germans as a people lack the balance achieved, say, by the Greeks, the Romans, the French, the
British and the Americans. They are continually torn by inner contradictions which make them
uncertain, unsatisfied, frustrated, and which force them from one extreme to the other. The Weimar
Republic was so extreme in its liberal democracy that the Germans couldn't work it. And now they
have turned to the extremes of tyranny because democracy and liberalism forced them to live as
individuals, to think and make decisions as free men, and in the chaos of the 20th Century, this
was too much of a strain for them. Almost joyfully, almost masochistically, they have turned to an
authoritarianism which releases them from the strain of individual decisions and choice and thought
and allows them what to a German is a luxury - letting someone else make the decisions and take
the risks, in return for which they gladly give their own obedience. The average German craves
security. He likes to live in a groove. And he will give up his independence and freedom - at least
at this stage of his development - if his rulers provide this.
The German has 2 characters. As an individual, he will give his rationed bread to feed the
squirrels in the Tiergarten on a Sunday morning. He can be a kind and considerate person. But
as a unit in the Germanic mass he can persecute Jews, torture and murder his fellow men in
concentration camps, massacre women and children by bombing and bombardment, overrun without
the slightest justification the lands of other peoples, cut them down if they protest and enslave
It must also be noted down that Hitler's frenzy for bloody conquest is by no means exclusive to him
in Germany. The urge to expansion, the hunger for land and space, for what Germans call Lebensraum,
has lain long in the soul of the people. Some of Germany's best minds have expressed it in their
writings, Fichte, Hegel, Nietzche and Treitschke fired the German people with it in the last
century. But our century has not lacked for successors. Karl Haushofer has poured books from his
presses dinning into the ears of the Germans the maxim that if their nation is to be great and
lasting, it must have more Lebensraum. Books of his such as Macht und Erde (Power and
Earth) and Weltpolitik von Heute (World Politics fo Today) have profoundly influenced
not only the Nazi leaders but a great mass of people. So has Hans Grimm's Volk ohne Raum (People
without Space), a novel which has sold nearly a half-million copies in this country despite
its length of some thousand pages. And so has Moeller van den Bruck's The Third Reich,
written 11 years before Hitler founded the Third Reich.
All these writings emphasized that Germany was entitled by the laws of history and nature to a
space more adequate to its mission in life. That this space would have to be taken from others,
mostly from Slavs who had settled on it when the Germans themselves were little more than rough
tribesmen, made no difference. It is this basic feeling in almost all Germans that the "lesser
breed" of Europeans are not entitled to absolute rights of their own, to a piece of land to till
and live on, to the very towns and cities they have built up with their own sweat and toil, if a
German covets them, which is in part responsible for the present state of Europe.
It is the evil genius of Adolf Hitler that has aroused this basic feeling and given tangible
expression. It is due to this remarkable and terrifying man alone that the German dream now
stands a fair chance of coming true. First Germans and then the world grossly underestimated
him. It was a appalling error, as first the Germans and now the world are finding out. Today
so far as the vast majority of his fellow countrymen are concerned, he has reached a pinnacle
never before achieved by a German ruler. He has become - even before his death - a myth, a
legend, almost a god, with that quality of divinity which the Japanese people ascribe to their
Emperor. To many Germans, he is a figure remote, unreal, hardly human. For them he has become
infallible. They say, as many peoples down through history have said of their respective gods:
"He is always right"...........
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