This week in the War, 15 April–21 April 1940: Hitler’s birthday

Saturday 20 April 1940 was Adolf Hitler’s fifty-first birthday. In a typically ebullient radio broadcast, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels said, “The German people have found in the Fuehrer the incarnation of their strength and the most brilliant exponent of their national aims.” American journalist, William L. Shirer, quoted this passage in his Berlin Diary (1934–1941), noting that the birthday celebrations were poorly attended that year. (The fighting in Norway still continued and German casualties were mounting).

Adolf Hitler was born in 1889 in Braunau am Inn, Austria, son of Alois and Klara Hitler, and spent his formative ‘bohemian’ years in Vienna before serving in the German army during World War I. These experiences formed the basis for his monograph, Mein Kampf.

Hitler’s rise to power, both nationally and internationally, the Nuremberg rallies, the Berlin Olympics, the Phoney War, the events surrouding the Blitzkrieg, and the French surrender in the forest of Compiegne, were all observed and recorded by Shirer in his capacity as chief of Universal News Service’s Berlin office.

Shirer finally left Germany when it became clear that the Gestapo had taken an interest in his activities.

Hitler, along with his mistress, Eva Braun, would die on 30 May 1945 in the ruins of Berlin. Shirer went on to write several non-fiction books based upon his wartime experiences, most notably The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960).

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