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William Shirer witnesses

"The Rise and Fall Of The Third Reich"

William Shirer '25 Outdoes Himself in The Nightmare Years 1930 - 1940

by Carolyn Schmidt

           William L. Shirer’s latest book. 20th Century journey: The Nightmare Years 1930-1940, is probably his best ever. It certainly ranks up his classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as a vivid first-person account of life in Europe during Hitler’s rise to power. The added dimension in The Nightmare Years is the personal story of Shirer’s life as a journalist, husband, and father. Events of his career and family life became an obbligato accompanying political events in Europe and written with all the action and suspense of a novel.

           Shirer escapes a coup d’etat in Afghanistan to arrive in Vienna to marry his Austrian sweetheart. Soon afterward he is abruptly fired from his correspondent’s post with the Chicago Tribune by his irascible boss, Col. McCormick, spends a frugal year in Spain with his wife, Tess, and returns to a changed Berlin in late August, 1934, as a correspondent for Universal Service. The Shirers’ first child is born in Vienna just before the Anschluss. There are medical complications and Mrs. Shirer’s Jewish attending physician flees for his life. Shirer by that time has joined Edward R. Morrow with CBS radio, and is desperately trying to persuade CBS to let them cover developing news events instead of the international entertainment the network has been programming regularly. Radio was still a new medium, communication linkups were difficult, and the radio executives were cautious. Shirer was finally able to get his account of the Austrian takeover broadcast from London by CBS on March 12, 1938.

           The next day, he and Morrow aired the first world news roundup ever. It was arranged via shortwave transmitters and telephone lines and featured live reports from London, Vienna, Paris, and Berlin. The response from America was overwhelmingly enthusiastic, prompting CBS to declare the World News Roundup to be a daily feature of their news coverage.

           Parts of Shirer’s first book, Berlin Diary, are also used throughout the book when the author compares his memory of an event with his diary entry for that day. Evidence of his liberal arts education at Coe is shown all through The Nightmare Years as well. His ability to speak French and German is a definite requirement in his work, and his scope in describing the music, literature, art, economics, politics, and history of the countries he covers gives the reader some perspective in understanding the context of these Nightmare Years.  Shirer is a graduate of Coe’s Class of 1925, celebrating its 60th anniversary this coming spring. He has written 10 books since his prize-winning The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the manuscript of which is now in Coe’s Stewart Memorial Library. The Nightmare Years is his second volume of memoirs.

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