William Lawrence Shirer (February 23, 1904 – December 28, 1993) was
an American journalist and war correspondent. He wrote The Rise and
Fall of the Third Reich, a history of
Nazi Germany that has been read
by many and cited in scholarly works for more than 50 years.
Originally a foreign correspondent for the
Chicago Tribune and the
International News Service, Shirer was the first reporter hired by
Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow for what would become a
CBS radio team of journalists
known as "Murrow's Boys". He became known for his broadcasts from
Berlin, from the rise of the Nazi dictatorship through the first year
World War II
World War II (1940). With Murrow, he organized the first broadcast
world news roundup, a format still followed by news broadcasts.
Shirer wrote more than a dozen books besides The Rise and Fall of the
Third Reich, including
Berlin Diary (published in 1941); The Collapse
of the Third Republic (1969), which drew on his experience living and
working in France from 1925 to 1933; and a three-volume autobiography,
Twentieth Century Journey (1976 to 1990).
1 Personal life
2 Pre-war years
3 Reporting the war from Berlin
4 Post-war years
5 Shirer and Murrow
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Chicago in 1904, Shirer attended Washington High School and
Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He graduated from Coe in 1925.
Working his way to Europe on a cattle boat to spend the summer there,
he remained in Europe for 15 years.
He was European correspondent for the
Chicago Tribune from 1925 to
1932, covering Europe, the Near East and India. In India he formed a
friendship with Mohandas Gandhi. Shirer lived and worked in France for
several years starting in 1925. He left in the early 1930s but
returned frequently to
Paris throughout the decade. He lived and
worked in Germany during the era of the Third Reich from 1934 to 1940.
In 1931, Shirer married Theresa ("Tess") Stiberitz, an Austrian
photographer. The couple had two daughters, Eileen ("Inga") and Linda.
Shirer and his wife divorced in 1970. In 1972 he married Martha
Pelton, whom he divorced in 1975. His third (and final) marriage was
to Irina Lugovskaya, a long-time teacher of Russian at Simon's Rock
College. Shirer and Irina had no children.
Shirer lived in Lenox,
Massachusetts at the time of his death.
As a print journalist and later as a radio reporter for CBS, Shirer
covered the strengthening one-party rule in
Nazi Germany beginning in
1933. Shirer reported on Adolf Hitler's peacetime triumphs like the
return of the
Saarland to Germany and the remilitarization of the
Shirer was hired in 1934 for the
Berlin bureau of the Universal
Service, one of William Randolph Hearst's two wire services. In Berlin
Diary, Shirer described this move, in a self-proclaimed bad pun, as
going from "bad to Hearst". When
Universal Service folded in August
1937, Shirer was first taken on as second man by Hearst's other wire
service, International News Service, then laid off a few weeks later.
On the day when Shirer received two weeks' notice from INS, he
received a wire from Edward R. Murrow, European manager of Columbia
Broadcasting System, suggesting that the two meet. At their meeting a
few days later in Berlin, Murrow said that he couldn't cover all of
Europe from London and that he was seeking an experienced
correspondent to open a
CBS office on the Continent. He offered Shirer
a job subject to an audition—a "trial broadcast"—to let CBS
directors and vice presidents in New York judge Shirer's voice.
Shirer feared that his reedy voice was unsuitable for radio, but he
was hired. As European bureau chief, he set up headquarters in Vienna,
a more central and more neutral spot than Berlin. His job was to
arrange broadcasts, and early in his career he expressed
disappointment at having to hire newspaper correspondents to do the
broadcasting; at the time,
CBS correspondents were prohibited from
speaking on the radio.
Shirer was the first of "Murrow's Boys," broadcast journalists who
provided news coverage during
World War II
World War II and afterward.
CBS's prohibition of correspondents talking on the radio, viewed by
Murrow and Shirer as "absurd," ended in March 1938. Shirer was in
Vienna on March 11, 1938, when the German annexation of Austria
(Anschluss) took place after weeks of mounting pressure by Nazi
Germany on the Austrian government. As the only American broadcaster
in Vienna (
Max Jordan was not in town), Shirer had a scoop
but lacked the facilities to report it to his audience. Occupying
German troops controlling the Austrian state radio studio would not
let him broadcast. At Murrow's suggestion, Shirer flew to London via
Berlin; he recalled in
Berlin Diary that the direct flight to London
was filled with Jews trying to escape from German-occupied Austria.
Once in London, Shirer broadcast the first uncensored eyewitness
account of the annexation. Meanwhile, Murrow flew from London to
Vienna to cover for Shirer.
The next day, CBS's New York headquarters asked Shirer and Murrow to
produce a European roundup, a 30-minute broadcast featuring live
reporting from five European capitals: Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Rome,
and London. The broadcast, arranged in eight hours using the telephone
and broadcasting facilities of the day, was a major feat. This first
news roundup established a formula still used in broadcast journalism.
It was also the genesis of what became
CBS World News Roundup, still
on the network each morning and evening, network broadcasting's oldest
Shirer reported on the
Munich Agreement and Hitler's occupation of
Czechoslovakia before reporting on the growing tensions between
Germany and Poland in 1939 and the German invasion of Poland that
World War II
World War II on September 1, 1939. During much of the pre-war
period, Shirer was based in
Berlin and attended Hitler's speeches and
several party rallies in Nuremberg.
Reporting the war from Berlin
Shirer, at right, at
Compiègne reporting on the French surrender
Shirer in Compiegne, France, reporting on the signing of the
armistice. The building in the background enshrines the railcar in
Marshal Foch accepted the German request for an armistice ending
World War I on November 11, 1918. Hitler had the railcar removed from
the building for the signing of the June 22, 1940 armistice.
When war broke out on the Western Front in 1940, Shirer moved forward
with the German troops, reporting firsthand on the German
"Blitzkrieg." Shirer reported on the invasion of Denmark and Norway in
Berlin and then on the invasion of the Netherlands,
Luxembourg, Belgium, and France in May. As German armies closed in on
Paris, he traveled to France with the German forces.
Shirer reported the signing of the German armistice with France on
June 22, 1940, to the American people before it had been announced by
the Germans. His commentary from
Compiègne was hailed as a
masterpiece. On the day before the armistice was to be signed, Hitler
ordered all foreign correspondents covering the German Army from Paris
to move back to Berlin. It was Hitler's intention that the Armistice
should be reported to the world by Nazi sources. Shirer avoided being
Berlin by leaving the press hotel early in the morning and
hitching a ride to
Compiègne with a German officer who despised
Hitler. Once on site, Shirer was able to give an eye-witness account
of that historical moment, "I am but fifty yards from [Hitler]. […]
I have seen that face many times at the great moments of his life. But
today! It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph." Then
he followed proceedings inside the railway car, listening to the
transmission relayed to
Berlin through a German army communications
truck. After the armistice was signed, Shirer was allowed to transmit
his own broadcast to Berlin, but only for recording and release after
the Nazi version had been disseminated. Shirer spent five minutes
before he went on calling
CBS radio in New York, hoping that the
broadcast would get through. It did. When German engineers in Berlin
heard Shirer calling New York, they assumed that he was authorized to
broadcast. Instead of sending his report to a recording machine as
ordered, they put it on the shortwave transmitter. When
Shirer's call, he was put on live. For six hours Shirer's report was
the only news the world had of the Armistice.
In peacetime, Shirer's reporting was subject only to self-censorship.
He and other reporters in Germany knew that if Nazi officials in
Joseph Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry objected to their reporting, they
could withdraw access to state-owned broadcasting facilities or expel
them from Germany. Shirer was granted more freedom than German
reporters writing or broadcasting for domestic audiences. At the
beginning of the war, German officials established censorship; Shirer
recalled that the restrictions were similar to wartime censorship
elsewhere, restricting information that could be used to Germany's
However, as the war continued and as Britain began to bomb German
cities, including Berlin, Nazi censorship became more onerous to
Shirer and his colleagues. In contrast to Murrow's live broadcasts of
German bombing of London in the Blitz, foreign correspondents in
Germany were not allowed to report British air raids on German cities.
They were not permitted to cast doubt on statements by the Propaganda
Ministry and Military High Command. Reporters were discouraged by the
Propaganda Ministry from reporting news or from using terms like Nazi
that might "create an unfavorable impression." Shirer resorted to
subtler ways until the censors caught on.
As the summer of 1940 progressed, the Nazi government pressed Shirer
to broadcast official accounts that he knew were incomplete or false.
As his frustration grew, he wrote to bosses in New York that
tightening censorship was undermining his ability to report
objectively and mused that he had outlived his usefulness in Berlin.
Shirer was subsequently tipped off that the
Gestapo was building an
espionage case against him, which carried the death penalty. Shirer
began making arrangements to leave Germany, which he did in December
Shirer smuggled his diaries and notes out of Germany and used them for
Berlin Diary, a firsthand, day-by-day account of events inside the
Third Reich during five years of peace and one year of war. It was
published in 1941. Historians comparing the original manuscript with
the published text discovered that Shirer made many changes, such as
covering up his favourable early impressions of Hitler. Much of the
text about the pre-1934 to 1938 period was first written long after
the war began.
He returned to Europe to report on the
Nuremberg trials in 1945.
During the war Shirer became a director of the Society for the
Prevention of World War III, which lobbied after the war for a harsh
peace with Germany.
Shirer received a 1946
Peabody Award for Outstanding Reporting and
Interpretation of News for his work at CBS.
The friendship between Shirer and Murrow ended in 1947, culminating in
CBS in one of the great confrontations of American
broadcast journalism (below).
Shirer briefly provided analysis for the Mutual Broadcasting System
and then found himself unable to find regular radio work. He was named
Red Channels (1950), which practically barred him from broadcasting
and print journalism, and he was forced into lecturing for income.
Times remained tough for Shirer, his wife Tess, and daughters Inga and
Linda until Simon & Schuster published The Rise and Fall of the
Third Reich in 1960. The hardback was reprinted twenty times in the
first year and sold more than 600,000 copies through Book of the Month
Club alone and a million copies overall. Serialization of a condensed
Readers Digest and critical acclaim ensured its success in
Fawcett Crest gained paperback rights for $400,000 – a
record for the time – and a further million copies were sold at
$1.65. It won the 1961 National Book Award for Nonfiction and
Carey–Thomas Award for non-fiction.
Shirer and Murrow
The dispute between Shirer and Murrow started in 1947 when J. B.
Williams, a maker of shaving soap, withdrew sponsorship of Shirer's
Sunday news show. CBS, through Murrow, who was then vice president for
public affairs, and
CBS head William S. Paley, did not seek another
sponsor, moved Shirer's program to Sunday midday and then stopped
producing it, all within a month.
CBS maintained that Shirer resigned
based on a comment made in an impromptu interview, but Shirer said he
Shirer contended that the root of his troubles was that the network
and sponsor did not stand by him because of his on-air comments, such
as those critical of the Truman Doctrine, and what he viewed as an
emphasis on placating sponsors rather than an emphasis on journalism.
Shirer blamed Murrow for his departure from CBS, referring to Murrow
as "Paley's toady". The episode hastened Murrow's desire to give up
his vice-presidency and return to newscasting. It foreshadowed his
misgivings about the future of broadcast journalism and his
difficulties with Paley.
The friendship between Shirer and Murrow never recovered. In her
preface to This is Berlin, a compilation of Shirer's
published after his death, Shirer's daughter Inga describes how
Murrow, suffering from lung cancer which he knew could be terminal,
tried to heal the breach with Shirer by inviting the Shirers to his
farm in 1964. Murrow tried to discuss the breach. Though the two
chatted, Shirer steered the conversation away from contentious issues
between the two men, and they never had another opportunity to speak
before Murrow died in 1965. Shirer's daughter also writes that,
shortly before her father's death in 1993, he rebuffed her attempts to
learn the source of the breach that opened between the two journalists
45 years earlier.
Some clues are given in
The Nightmare Years (1984), the second volume
in Shirer's three-volume memoir, Twentieth Century Journey. Shirer
describes the birth and growth of a warm relationship with Murrow in
the 1930s. Although his reminiscences are wound together with his
version of their professional relationship, he emphasizes that he and
Murrow were close friends as well as colleagues. He does not mention
their break. A number of touching recollections are included. Thus, it
is easy to understand that their break in 1947, based on business
disagreements, was made bitter by the close personal relationship they
Another aspect of
The Nightmare Years is Shirer's description of his
and Murrow's three-way relationship with Paley. Shirer says that, in
private, he and Murrow were contemptuous of Paley and almost always
sided against him in the 1930s. Thus, when Paley and Murrow ganged up
on Shirer in 1947, it was a shock, although Shirer does not say so
Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent,
1947: End of a
1952: Mid-century Journey
1955: The Challenge of Scandinavia
1960: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
1961: The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler
1962: The Sinking of the Bismarck
1969: The Collapse of the Third Republic
1976: 20th Century Journey * (autobiography, volume 1)
1980: Gandhi: A Memoir
The Nightmare Years * (volume 2)
1990: A Native's Return * (volume 3)
1994: Love and Hatred: The Troubled Marriage of Leo and Sonya Tolstoy
1999: This is Berlin: Reporting from Nazi Germany, 1938–40
The last is a compilation of Shirer's
The Traitor (1950)
Stranger Come Home (1954)
The Consul's Wife (1956)
Adolf Hitler books
Louis Leo Snyder
^ The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, pg. 236
^ William L. Shirer, Author, Is Dead at 89 - NYTimes.com Retrieved
^ Shirer, William, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of
Nazi Germany, Simon & Schuster, 2011, ISBN 978-1451651683,
William L. Shirer
William L. Shirer (1984). The Nightmare Years, Boston: Little,
Brown. Pages 537–41.
^ Strobl, M. (2013). "Writings of History: Authenticity and
Censorship in William L. Shirer's
Berlin Diary". German Life and
Letters. 66 (3): 308–325. doi:10.1111/glal.12018.
^ "Peabody Awards for '46 Announced" (PDF). Broadcasting. April 21,
1947. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
^ "National Book Awards – 1961". National Book Foundation. Retrieved
^ Rosenfeld, Gavriel D. (1995). "The Reception of William L. Shirer's
the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in the United States and West
Germany, 1960–62" (PDF). Journal of Contemporary History. 29 (1):
William L. Shirer
William L. Shirer (1990). 20th Century Journey: A Native's Return.
Cuthbertson, Ken. A Complex Fate:
William L. Shirer
William L. Shirer and the American
Century (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2015) xxviii, 548
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The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
The Collapse of the Third Republic
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