November 30, 2016

1940. Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer Meet in Amsterdam

Murrow and Shirer Meet for the First Time Since the Start of the War

Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer

CBS News in Amsterdam

January 18, 1940

ROBERT TROUT: Today in Europe. At this time, the Columbia Broadcasting System brings you the latest foreign news direct from important European war capitals. Tonight, we shall attempt to bring the news from Amsterdam and from Helsinki.

Edward R. Murrow, chief of the Columbia European staff, has just arrived in Amsterdam to talk with William L. Shirer, CBS continental representative. And so we take you now to Amsterdam.

EDWARD R. MURROW: Well, that's a nice story, Bill, but I just don't believe it.


MURROW: Your last trip?

SHIRER: (?) in peacetime we used to fly from Berlin to Amsterdam in a couple of hours. Now you take the train, it takes thirteen hours. And the trains are late and cold. But you flew over, didn't you?

MURROW: I think so. It was more like being swung around in a barrel at the end of a longboat than flying. That plane was painted bright orange, and all windows were blacked out.

SHIRER: Why would they black the windows out?

MURROW: Oh, just so curious reporters can't see anything while flying over England and the Channel.

SHIRER: How long did it take from London to Amsterdam?

MURROW: Do you mean flying time or total time?

SHIRER: No, altogether.

MURROW: Well, I left London at seven in the morning, traveled on a cold train to a little place you're not supposed to know about.

SHIRER: Uh huh.

MURROW: Spent about three hours doing things with little bits of paper and books, and got to Amsterdam about half past three in the afternoon.

SHIRER: It's not so simple getting to all these countries, is it?

MURROW: Well, Bill, six months ago I could've paddled around the world with fewer papers and documents than were required for this trip.

SHIRER: Well, I'm glad to hear that because I thought the place where I worked had a monopoly on that sort of thing.

MURROW: Well, you see they haven't. You know, Bill, this conversation isn't going very well. Maybe it's because we both want to talk about the same thing.

SHIRER: Ed, I want to talk to you about the lights I saw last night in this town.

MURROW: Alright, go ahead. Get it over with.

SHIRER: You have no idea what it's like to get into a city and see the streets all lighted up.

MURROW: What do you mean I've got no idea? I saw streetlights, automobiles with real headlights, and light pouring out of the windows tonight for the first time in five months. It's a shock. Seems almost indecent to have all this light about. And as soon as we finish here I'm going out to look at those lights again.

SHIRER: Maybe you think I'm not too? You know, Ed, it sounds churlish to say so, but when I got in last night and emerged from the station and saw those lights, I dropped my bags in the snow and wandered about the streets for half an hour, just looking at the lights. I kept studying the position of every lamppost and fire hydrant, making a mental note of their location so I wouldn't run into them if the blackout comes.

MURROW: Well, let's hope it doesn't come. Right now Holland seems to me just about the nicest country in Europe. There's light, heat—

: And don't forget food and coffee and oranges.

MURROW: It's been snowing all day. People have been skating on the canals, and everybody's as calm, courteous, and considerate as ever.

SHIRER: Just taking a quick look at this country you would hardly know that there was a war on. Like in Switzerland, you'd see quite a few soldiers in the station, but that's about all.

MURROW: I'd like to forget there's a war on for a few days, but I suppose that this is the first time we've been together since the war started and we better compare a few notes, remembering three things: First, that we are talking from neutral country; second that you've got to go back to Berlin; and third I've got to go back to London.

The question most people ask in England these days is: "Will the Germans attack in the spring?"

SHIRER: Ed, I don't know a single German who isn't sure that there will be plenty of action in the spring, but what kind it'll be and where, no one knows or is likely to know until the (?).

MURROW: Oh, I see. Does that mean that the Germans have pretty well given up hope of the success of the so-called "peace offensive?"

SHIRER: Absolutely. You'll hear no more talk of peace in Berlin. As Dr. Frick, the German Minister of Interior, told the people last Sunday, a decision now must come by force of arms. And the German people are reconciled to it.

MURROW: Well, when you say "action in the spring," you mean a general offensive?

SHIRER: Not exactly. Dr. Frick promised the people the other day that no lives will be thrown away in this war. Most people took that to mean that there'd be no large-scale offensive against the Maginot Line, which would be a very costly proceeding. In Germany, when people talk of action in the spring, they seem to have in mind something else. Say, a good air offensive directed against the country where you're stationed.


SHIRER: Of course the truth is, when you come right down to it, the German generals, like British and French generals, are not giving away their plans in advance. Therefore whatever happens is likely to be in the nature of a surprise, but that something will happen and soon, every last person in Germany is sure.

Well, Ed, what sort of action if any do the people on your side expect as soon as the snow melts?

MURROW: Oh, we get a new theory every twenty-four hours. But on the whole, the British think they're doing pretty well with things just as they are.

SHIRER: You mean they expect the war to continue as it has for the next three years? Because the Germans don't.

MURROW: Well, put it this way. The British think their blockade is squeezing the Germans pretty hard. They aren't losing many men, and they're trying to equal Germany's rate of airplane production. And a considerable number of people have some sort of vague idea that, if they just keep the pressure on the Germans, the Germans will finally crack without any major military action. (?)

SHIRER: You're almost saying that it's a war in search of a fight.

MURROW: Well, as a (?) from London, the German will still have the initiative, and they can dig all the front they like for that move you seem to expect in the spring.

SHIRER: Well that's interesting, because the Germans think that the Allies have already taken the initiative in their (?), say Scandinavia or in Southwest Europe and both places. Strategically it's to the advantage of the Germans to keep the front as small as possible. And of course, if it's to be widened, to cut the new front themselves.

MURROW: Yes, I see. Of course, the British are looking about for new fronts. But the maps are all colored up with neutral. And the British assert that they don't propose to violate anybody's neutrality. But of course there's always the possibility that some neutral invite them to come in to prevent the house from being robbed.

SHIRER: Here's a question I'd like to put to you, Ed. Is there any talk in your country of a possibility of a negotiated peace before the war really gets serious?

MURROW: Plenty. You see, the official British position is this: for they say that they're going to negotiate a peace at the end of this war, even if they have to beat the Germans first. Of course, those ideas may change when the time comes to make the peace. For the time being, Britain's propaganda is trying to convince the Germans that they can have a reasonable peace if they'll only get rid of their present rulers.

SHIRER: In all frankness, I must say I don't think that propaganda is getting very far in Germany. The average German you talk to, regardless of whether he is a supporter of the regime or not, will tell you that he remembers very well the Allied propaganda in 1917-1918 in which America also had a part, and (?) to him that if only if they would get rid of the Kaiser the German people would be given a just peace. Somehow this Allied talk about getting rid of the present regime, and then getting a fair peace, starts in as many more (?) than the similar propaganda in the last war.

MURROW: I see. Does that mean that the Germans take the view that it's all or nothing; that they've got to win this war or be smashed completely?

SHIRER: Exactly. Every day it's hammered into them that they have only two alternatives: either to win the war, in which case they have a bright future, or to lose the war, in which case their present leader has assured them that there will be such a peace as will make Versailles look like (?) justice and fair dealing. Don't underestimate the sacrifice as almost any German will make in order to avoid another Versailles or worse.

MURROW: And I'm very much afraid that on that particular point the German leaders are right. As you know, there's a lot of discussion among the most liberal peace terms for an equal and self-respecting Germany. During the early months, the distinction was constantly drawn between the German government and the German people. They (?) those people.


MURROW: Well, that's changing. People are beginning to get mad. This bombing and machine gunning of trawlers hasn't helped. And don't forget that the French have their ideas about what's to be done with Germany when and if the Allies win this war. From what we hear in London, those are ideas if put into practice would pretty well pulverize Germany, and probably pave the way for another war, if not in twenty years' time then in forty.

There isn't quite as much talk of a Federated Europe after this war as there was during the first two months. There's no talk of a complete union between Britain and France. I think maybe we're agreed, Bill, that whoever wins this war is going to impose a peace that will make Versailles and Brest-Litovsk look like a polite exchange between friends.

SHIRER: That's one thing we do agree on, Ed.

MURROW: Alright, let's talk about more pleasant things.

SHIRER: About food?

MURROW: Alright, about food and drink. First, let's record the fact that food in Amsterdam is excellent.

SHIRER: Agreed. Especially the oysters and butter and coffee and oranges.

MURROW: What about the food in Germany? You look pretty well fed.

SHIRER: You're no advertisement of the British diet yourself.

MURROW: Well that's not the fault of the control room food, Bill. There is still plenty of everything to eat and drink in London, except bacon, butter, sugar, and ham. What about Berlin?

SHIRER: I don't do so badly myself. You'll laugh at this, maybe, but in Berlin for some reason they classified me as a heavy laborer.

MURROW: Sure, I'm laughing alright.

SHIRER: It's no joke, Ed! Because it means that as a heavy laborer I get double rations. On top of that we foreigners are allowed to import a little butter, a few eggs, and some bacon from Denmark. And actually we're better off than the German people. But it's wrong to think the German people are starving. They're getting enough to eat, though personally I don't find it a very balanced diet if you get what I mean.

MURROW: I do. How's the beer?

SHIRER: Good, it's a little weaker than in peacetime but it tastes alright. The thing I miss most in Berlin is good coffee.

MURROW: I see. What about the theater in Germany now?

SHIRER: Well, they're all open and they're on show. The war has brought them a prosperity they'd never know in peacetime.

MURROW: What are they playing?

SHIRER: You probably won't believe me, Ed, but the most popular play now on in Berlin is by a British author.

MURROW: A British author?

SHIRER: He's (?) since the war started and his name is George Bernard Shaw. The play is Pygmalion.

MURROW: Well, when I get back to London I shall ask Mr. Shaw if he's getting his royalties on his performances.

SHIRER: I'd like to know. How about the theater in London, Ed?

MURROW: Well, they were all closed during the first few weeks, but most of them are open again now, and they're doing pretty fair business. Most of the stuff is light, and the audiences are certainly not very critical. Incidentally, dozens and dozens of new (?) clubs, a sort of combination of nightclub and speakeasy, have opened in London during the past two months.

SHIRER: Well, I must say that we can't boast that here in Berlin. (?) nightclubs are open and doing well but they have to close at 1:00 AM.

MURROW: What's the most popular song in Berlin now?

SHIRER: A little (?) soon after the outbreak of the war called "We March Against England." It's a very catchy tune; the sentiment is popular and everybody's singing it. Any popular war songs over there?

MURROW: Well the best I've heard so far is a tune called "We're Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line." Another popular tune has a strong, Teutonic flavor. You may remember, Bill, it was popular in Prague when you were there during the Czech crisis. It's called, I think, the "Beer Barrel Polka." Remember?

SHIRER: Oh yes, I remember.

MURROW: But the messenger boys in London, and a lot of other people as well, are whistling and humming "Franklin D. Roosevelt (?)" That's probably the most popular song in England today.

Bill, are the women wearing uniforms in Germany?

SHIRER: Only the labor service girls, but they were in uniform in peacetime. Why? Are the women wearing uniforms in England?

MURROW: Oh, plenty of them, but not too successfully. One of the big newspapers took a poll the other day asking Englishmen to state their pet peeve or grouse. "Women in uniform" led the list by miles.

SHIRER: Well, I can't say we have that problem in Germany. But there's another, and that's clothes in general. The Germans, men and women, get only one hundred points of clothing per year. And if you're a woman and buy, say, four pairs of stockings and one or two other odds and ends, you'll have many points left over for new dresses. That, I suppose, would create a problem, but I'm no expert and I guess we just (?).

MURROW: Are you having much trouble with the censors these days?

SHIRER: Well, we haven't come to blows yet. They're really not bad fellows, of course they have an unfortunate job. The worst thing is not the actual censorship, but the censorship of news at its source.

MURROW: Well, that's pretty much the same thing in England. The greatest example of that of course was the news we didn't get and still haven't got about the resignation of Mr. (?).

Well, Bill, let's go out and throw snowballs.

: You have been listening to another Columbia broadcast of Today in Europe. We regret that contact with Helsinki between Mr. Herbert Hoover, President of the Finnish Relief Fund in New York, and his representative (?) in Helsinki was impossible tonight because of weak signals and interference. This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.