S.A. Bolich's Reviews > The Nightmare Years 1930-40

The Nightmare Years 1930-40 by William L. Shirer
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Jun 10, 2012

really liked it
Read in June, 2012

This is a good read, and taken for what it is--part of Shirer's memoirs--it is excellent. If you are looking for a dry, straight-up analysis or history of the lead-up to WWII, this isn't it. If you are looking for a first-person, "I wuz there" account from a guy who was lucky enough to be everywhere history was being made in Europe in the 1930s, this is it. He kept a detailed personal diary from which this is drawn, supplemented by much material from the captured Nazi archives and personal interviews and information given him by surviving participants on all sides. He is not shy about expressing his opinion of the people he was observing. This is, after all, his memoir and he is entitled. It covers a lot of the same ground as his "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", which is more of a careful history. I find this one fascinating because it is so very personal, one guy's odyssey into the nightmare that was Nazi Germany. He spent six years watching that cultured country devolved into the most hideous travesty of civilization ever, and mourned its passing. He came in as more or less a neutral observer, a foreign correspondent for more than one major newspaper and later one of the pioneer on-air radio news correspondents for CBS. He left when a) he realized he was no longer impartial and that could not put up with the Nazi censorship of his reporting anymore and b) he was warned that the Nazis were building an espionage case against him, convinced he was passing information out in code (he wasn't). His increasing loathing and fright come through clearly and honestly.

The fact that he was johnny-on-the-spot for so many pivotal moments such as the Anschluss in Austria and the takeover of Czechoslovakia is marvelous. He was, however, taken in by the Germans in Poland, when he reports with a straight face that the Poles had charged tanks with horses. They didn't. The scene he saw of a thousand dead horses and hundreds of dead Polish cavalrymen was staged by the German commander. The Poles had actually charged his infantry and were winning until the tanks arrived. But a good superman admit to losing to guys on horses? Never. In this regard, Shirer's willingness to believe was greatly aided by his disdain for the Poles, whom he believed lived in a political fairyland (perhaps so, but it colored his judgment about everything Polish). He did, however, ably spot when the Germans were attempting to use neutral correspondents to convince the British that invasion was imminent during the Battle of Britain. He refused to broadcast when a couple of his more gullible colleagues did.

Shirer was bright, well-trained, and a true reporter, willing to chase the story wherever it took him and report the facts as he saw them, not as he wanted them to be. When he realized he could not do that, he got out. This is a priceless account from a guy who really did know, meet, or observe nearly all the major players in Germany at that time.
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