- The Long Night: William L. Shirer and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
The years 1960 and 1961 marked the fiftieth anniversary of significant events relating to public and scholarly awareness of and attention to the Holocaust. Published in 1960 by Simon and Schuster, William Shirer's 1100-page The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, although superseded by subsequent volumes and interpretations, overly-detailed, and reflecting Shirer's strong opinions, is Shirer's masterpiece, and, according to numerous reviewers, has been the benchmark against which other accounts of Nazi Germany have been measured. It also provided the public with a first description of Nazi Germany, as its focus was far more on Nazi Germany than on the details of the terrible deeds of the Holocaust.
A second major event that attracted world attention to the Holocaust was the Eichmann Trial. On its fiftieth anniversary, the infamous 1961 Eichmann trial was recounted in Deborah E. Lipstadt's fine little book, The Eichmann Trial (2011). Lipstadt correctly held that Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and Eichmann's prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, by encouraging extensive testimony by Holocaust victims in the trial and seeking to place heavy responsibility on Eichmann for these horrendous deeds, significantly expanded public and scholarly awareness of the Holocaust. Also, in the same year as the trial, publication of Raul Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews (1961), an extensive, although flawed, volume, which described in great detail and in the coldest possible terms the Nazi technology of murder, especially of the Jews, also presented the public and scholars with insights into the heinous processes of killing that became the Holocaust. Fifty years ago and a decade and a half after World War II ended, Shirer, the Eichmann Trial, and Hilberg had helped to underscore, especially for the public, but also for [End Page 192] scholars, the importance of the Holocaust that had earlier been largely neglected or ignored.
In the context of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Steve Wick has written an interesting account that describes in biographical detail the context in which Shirer was living and functioning in his role as a newspaper and radio correspondent in Nazi Germany, Austria, and other countries of Europe during the 1930s and the early part of World War II. Wick made clear that his effort was to document the conditions under which Shirer was working as a journalist, based on diaries, letters, notes, and general correspondence. Much of this information revealed what was happening in those years in Nazi Germany and in Shirer's relations with other foreign correspondents, including his close friend, Edward R. Murrow. Shirer ultimately donated his papers to an archive located at the Stewart Memorial Library at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and this collection became the major source on which Wick's book is based.
Wick makes clear that the journalists and foreign correspondents in Nazi Germany during the 1930s were absolutely dependent on the official branches of government that were their sources of information and, therefore, were often the recipients of the falsehoods and Nazi propaganda with which these Nazi officials were seeking to befuddle and mislead other nations. This, in turn, meant that few journalists, including Shirer, while aware of the persecution of Jews in the 1930s, knew of the whole story and, from the start of World War II in September, 1939, were generally ignorant of the murder of tens of thousands of Jews, Poles, and others that would ultimately become the Holocaust. It was only in hindsight and in a limited way that this was treated in The Rise and Fall. As Wick indicated, few correspondents even wrote about the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. The reason was twofold: 1) journalists had to remain in the good graces of the German government or be expelled from Germany and 2) in their fine books, Beyond Belief (1993) and Buried...