The Rise And Fall of the Third Reich

As in the article I’ve written about “Berlin Diary,” by William L. Shirer (see Beau’s Corner), this article about Shirer’s bestselling book, ”The Rise And Fall of the Third Reich,” is told through the “Foreword” of the book rather than attempt to interpret the 1140 pages of that best-selling classic.

As Shirer notes in the foreword, “Some may think it is much too early to try to write a history of the Third Reich, that such a task should should be left to a later generation of writers to whom time has given perspective. Nothing more recent than the Napoleonic era, I was told, should be tackled by writers of history.

“There is much merit in this view. Most historians have waited fifty years or a hundred, or more, before attempting to write an account of a country, an empire, or era. But was this not principally because it took that long for the pertinent documents to come to light and furnish them with the authentic material they needed? And though perspective was gained, was not something lost because the authors necessarily lacked a personal acquaintance with the life and the atmosphere of the times and with the historical figures about which they wrote?

“In the case of the Third Reich, and it is a unique case, almost all of the documentary material became available at its fall, and it has been enriched by the testimony of all the surviving leaders, military and civilian, in some instances before their death by execution.

“With such incomparable sources so soon available and with the memory of life in Nazi Germany and the appearance and behavior and nature of the men who ruled it, Adolph Hitler above all, still fresh in my mind and bones, I decided to make an attempt to set down the history of the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

“No doubt my own prejudices, which inevitably spring from my experience and make-up, creep through the pages of this book from time to time. I detest totalitarian dictatorships in principle and came to loathe this one the more I lived through it and watched its ugly assault upon the human spirit. Nevertheless, in this book I have tried to be severely objective, letting the facts speak for themselves and noting the source for each. No incidents, scenes or quotations stem from the imagination; all are based on documents, the testimony of eyewitnesses or my own personal observation. In the half-dozen or so occasions in which there is some speculation, where the facts are missing, this is plainly labeled as such.

“My interpretations, I have no doubt, will be disputed by many. That is inevitable, since no man’s opinions are infallible. Those that I have ventured here in order to add clarity and depth to this narrative are merely the best I could come by from the evidence and from the knowledge and experience I have had.”