September 11, 2015

1939. Berlin Prepares for War

William L. Shirer from Berlin on August 28, 1939


William L. Shirer

CBS Berlin

August 28, 1939

ROBERT TROUT: Now let's hear from the German capital, where high government officials are awaiting the arrival of the returning British ambassador. To hear the Chief of Columbia's Continental Staff, William L. Shirer, we take you now to Berlin.

WILLIAM L. SHIRER: Hello America. Hello CBS. This is Berlin. The sands are running fast. Tonight, here in Berlin, we should have a decision whether it's to be peace or war.

It's just eight minutes to 8:00 Berlin Time, and Sir Neville Henderson, the British ambassador, is due to arrive any minute now from London. A big Mercedes car is waiting for him out at the Tempelhof Aerodrome, and will rush him to Herr Hitler's Chancellery in the Wilhelmstraße as soon as he arrives. The outcome of this historic meeting is now in the lap of the gods.

Although word has sifted through this afternoon that the British government cannot accept the demands which Herr Hitler made public last night—namely a return of Danzig and the Corridor to Germany—the Wilhelmstraße, when I left it a few minutes ago, was maintaining silence, preferring to wait until it knew what Ambassador Henderson brought back.

The feeling in German government circles on the eve of this crucial meeting is still firm, and the entire press this evening maintains that Germany cannot and will not compromise; that the Reich will not budge an inch from its demands on Poland for the return of Danzig and the Corridor.

It is not entirely ruled out of course that the British answer, which it's believed contains certain counterproposals, may necessitate a reply. But the tension has become so terrific that it does not seem possible to anyone here that it can long continue—probably not past tonight without events taking a turn one way or the other. Or as the Germans say, "so oder so."

In the meantime, Germany seemed already on a complete war footing today. Housewives stood in lines beginning early this morning to get their ration cards. It was the first time since the war that these cards had made their appearance. And the people, who had hardly believed a couple of days ago that war was possible, certainly looked grimmer as they stood patiently waiting for their cards.

With true German efficiency, the rational system swung into operation very smoothly. At any store today, if you wanted certain foodstuffs or soap or shoes, you had to show your card. Otherwise you were politely turned down.

The newspapers and the radio have assured the population several times today that there is food and clothing and soap and shoes and fuel enough for every German; that the rationing was only resorted to in the interest of fairness to all. But everyone taking the new measures with good—by taking these measures with good grace, the people are told, they are helping to defend the freedom of Germany. Most papers praise the German woman for the calmness with which she has taken not only the rationing of foodstuffs and materials, but also the spirit with which she has seen her menfolk, husbands, sons, or fathers off to the army in the last few days.

The military took an ever-increasing part in the picture in Berlin as today advanced. Cars with high army officers sped up and down the Wilhelmstraße, or down the Tiergartenstraße to the War Ministry in the Bendlerstraße.  Many cars and motorcycles were requisitioned. I saw several civilian motorcyclists who had been called up with their vehicles. They received an army armband, and you could see them speeding through the streets carrying messages.

Despite the needs of the armed forces, the gasoline situation improved today. I was able to buy two gallons a few minutes ago, which enabled me to get here in time for this broadcast. Men from the air service supervise the tanking up. Squadrons of big bombers have also been whirring low over the city in formation. In other words, though the talking situation has not yet been completely abandoned, the grim preparation for the worst goes on.

I understand no trains from Germany crossed any borders today, but those foreigners trying to get out were able to proceed as far as the frontier and then either walk or get some kind of transportation to the other side of the border.

Note that Germany has already assured Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland that it will respect their neutrality in case of war. But tonight we heard that Holland had decided to mobilize.

Well, all depends now on the talks which will be beginning here in a few minutes between Herr Hitler and the British ambassador. I hope to be on the air later tonight to tell you what I can about those talks.

This is William L. Shirer and returning you now to New York.