We mark the death on November 8, 1833 – 188 years ago today – of the Austrian pianist, composer, and Benedictine monk, Maximilian Stadler. Born on August 4, 1748, in the Austrian city of Melk, Abbé Stadler died in his adopted home city of Vienna.
Witnesses to History
We contemplate “witnesses to history,” who I’m going to categorize as “chroniclers” and “bystanders”.
“Chroniclers” would be those individuals who, advertently or inadvertently, were witness to historical events which they then reported, firsthand.
For example, John “Jack” Silas Reed (1887-1920). Reed was an American journalist, poet, and communist activist. A prominent World War One war correspondent, Reed was in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) immediately before during and after the Russian Revolution, which he witnessed as a member of the revolutionary inner circle. His book, Ten Days That Shook the World (published in 1919) remains, despite Reed’s parochial political leanings, a riveting, firsthand account of the October Revolution.
Then there’s the American journalist and war correspondent William Shirer (1904-1993). As the European bureau chief for CBS, Shirer was headquartered in Vienna and was a firsthand witness to the “Anschluss”, the Nazi “annexation” of Austria on March 11, 1938. He reported the Munich agreement and Hitler’s occupation of Czechoslovakia. Having moved his headquarters to Berlin, he witnessed Hitler’s rallies and reported Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.
When the Hitlerian horde invaded Western Europe in the spring of 1940, Shirer was there. As a foreign war correspondent, he was embedded with German troops and reported firsthand on the German “Blitzkreig”, or “lightning war.” He was with the German army as it closed in on Paris and, in one of the greatest scoops of all time, managed to report the German armistice with France to the American people before it had been announced to the German people!
(Here’s how that happened. Hitler had ordered all foreign journalists back to Berlin: he wanted the Armistice covered and reported only by his own propagandistic, Nazi press cronies. Shirer got word that the foreign correspondents were to be rounded up. So early in the morning on June 22, 1940, he snuck out of his hotel and hitched a ride “with a German officer who despised Hitler” to Compiègne, where the Armistice was to be signed.
He watched and wrote:
“I am but fifty yards from [Hitler]. I have seen that face many times at the great moments of his life. But today! It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph.”
Shirer phoned in his report from Paris to the CBS office in Berlin, where his call was patched through to New York. The German authorities did not know that Shirer had been on site and they additionally assumed that his report would be recorded in New York for later, prime time broadcast, which was standard operating procedure. They did not know that Shirer had previously arranged with CBS to broadcast his phone call live. And that’s how William Shirer scooped the world.…
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