Simply put: in a culture in which truth-telling appears so little valued in general (many even denying that truth exists) and in which deceptions and lies are commonplace and seen as no big deal, Christians may do well to be intentional, reminding themselves that the Word of God upholds truth-telling and that lying is an abomination to Him.
“And justice is turned back, And righteousness stands far away; For truth has stumbled in the street, and uprightness cannot enter. Yes, truth is lacking; And he who turns aside from evil makes himself a prey.” (Isaiah 59:14-15)
This month marks 75 years from the end of Hitler’s Third Reich. In 2020, while much of American (news and social) media in context of an increasingly anti-Christian culture – badly lacking the benchmark of historical knowledge – works in concert to produce a toxic blend of false narratives, fears, deceptions, and lies on an almost daily basis, Christians as well as traditionally-minded secular individuals may do well to be reminded of the experience of Germany under Nazi misrule in the 1930s and 40s. While almost any portion of that dark period suffices, the months surrounding the official start of the Second World War in September 1939 serves the purpose well enough. In Berlin Diary, The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941, William L. Shirer provided readers with an unvarnished, running account of a society in which – for a season, and in the view of some observers – it seemed that “every lie pronounced is accepted as high truth itself.”
Shirer was born in 1904 and was reared in the Midwest, completing high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He graduated from nearby Coe College, a historically Presbyterian-affiliated school, which probably helped explain his frequent 1930s’ diary references to the Sabbath. On his birthday in February 1940, Shirer lamented in his diary, “. . . thirty-six now, and nothing accomplished, and how fast the middle years fleet by.” That soon changed. When Berlin Diary appeared in July 1941, it was “the first uncensored account of Germany’s march toward war,” and it immediately went to the top of the best seller list, remaining there until after Pearl Harbor. Among his books, best known was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, first published in 1960. Shirer died in 1993.
Along with a handful of other foreign correspondents, from 1934 Shirer found himself covering the major political and diplomatic-military events of Hitler’s Third Reich, mainly in Germany’s capital of Berlin but also in other major European cities including Paris, London, Vienna, Rome, Geneva, and Warsaw. In many cases, Shirer stood only a few feet away from Hitler and his entourage as they passed by the throngs of flag-waving Germans enroute to the speaking platform, offering to the foreign correspondents who attended a unique vantage point from which to observe and, later, to write. Shirer noticed, for example, a tic of Hitler’s that affected one shoulder and leg; the seemingly mystical power of Wagnerian opera over the Nazi movement; and Hitler’s ability to control the masses that came to hear him, “their mouths wide open, shouting, shouting, their eyes, burning with fanaticism, glued on the new god, the Messiah” (this all-too-familiar observation of Shirer’s was made as early as 1934).
Examples of Nazi deceptions and lies, of course, abounded. Three weeks prior to the unprovoked German attack on Poland (Sep. 1, 1939), Shirer wrote from Berlin:
Whereas all the rest of the world considers that the peace is about to be broken by Germany, that it is Germany that is threatening to attack Poland over [Danzig], here in Germany, in the world the local newspapers create, the very reverse is being maintained. (Not that it surprises me, but when you are away for a while, you forget.) What the Nazi papers are proclaiming is this: that it is Poland which is disturbing the peace of Europe; Poland which is threatening Germany with armed invasion, and so forth.
Taking the train from Berlin to Danzig, Shirer bought a German paper that screamed the headline: “WARSAW THREATENS BOMBARDMENT OF DANZIG – UNBELIEVABLE AGITATION OF THE POLISH ARCHMADNESS! . . .” Shirer’s diary comment was, “For perverse perversion of the truth, this is good. You ask: But the German people can’t possibly believe these lies? Then you talk to them. So many do.” But before today’s American readers shrug or yawn, think back to some of our own political controversies of the last decade or so – or perhaps from last week – and ask yourselves if this sort of “perverse perversion of the truth” doesn’t also happen here to a degree?
In another case, the lies of Hitler’s regime led to the death of a highly-respected, career army officer, General Werner von Fritsch (1880-1939). Joining the German Army at the age of 18, von Fritsch served in the First World War. By 1935 he was commander in chief of the German Army. But, like a number of other professional military officers in Germany, especially of the old school Prussian class, he had no love for the Nazis or Hitler and opposed their military adventurism, including the planned takeover of Austria.
Aware of von Fritsch’s views and wanting complete control over the army, Hitler had no further use for von Fritsch. In a manner to make old King Ahab proud, with Himmler in part playing the role of Jezebel in the setup (see I Kings 21), Hitler found someone willing to slander his army chief. A male prostitute came forward to claim that he and the unmarried von Fritsch (who was not a womanizer) had a sexual relationship (in today’s parlance, whether “Side B” homosexuality might have been permissible in his case was unclear to me). When other senior army leaders failed to support him against the false charge, von Fritsch resigned in 1938 shortly before the Austrian Anschluss. A year later, when German forces attacked Poland, von Fritsch served with his former regiment as an honorary colonel. On September 22, 1939, while performing duties near the Polish front, von Fritsch was struck in the leg probably by a sniper’s bullet, severing an artery. He refused all treatment and bled to death. The former army chief demonstrated high honor and courage. Hitler did not attend his funeral.
Thirdly, in December 1939, the German pocket-battleship Graf Spee was severely damaged by three British cruisers off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay. Four days later, its captain scuttled his ship rather than risk the near-certain loss of his more than one thousand-man crew in a hopeless attempt to return to Germany for repairs (the men were interned in Argentina and many settled there or in Uruguay after the war). Initially, German propaganda had hailed the engagement as a great sea victory against the British. Three days later, the German Navy issued what Shirer called a “curious communique”:
The commander of the Graf Spee, Captain Hans Langsdorff, did not want to survive the sinking of his ship. True to old traditions and in the spirit of the . . . Officer Corps of which he was a member for thirty years, he made this decision. Having brought his crew to safety he considered his duty fulfilled, and followed his ship. The navy understands and praises this step. Captain Langsdorff has in this way fulfilled like . . . a hero the expectations of his Fuhrer, the German people, and the navy.
Shirer then wrote that the German people, “deprived of all truth from outside, will not be told that Captain Langsdorff did not follow his ship to the bottom, but committed suicide by putting a revolver-shot through his head in a lonely hotel room in Buenos Aires. They will not be told . . . that Hitler, in a burst of fury over the defeat, ordered the Captain to end his life.” (Just as the engineered downfall of loyal, competent, courageous career officers like von Fritsch and Langsdorff – among others – should have alarmed Germans then, had they known the truth, so the unfolding case of Michael Flynn ought to alarm Americans today.)
Those who have read this far may ask, what’s the point? Simply put: in a culture in which truth-telling appears so little valued in general (many even denying that truth exists) and in which deceptions and lies are commonplace and seen as no big deal, Christians may do well to be intentional, reminding themselves that the Word of God upholds truth-telling and that lying is an abomination to Him.
As in Isaiah’s day, truth stumbles in the street, in public spaces both physical and virtual. It is easy to become de-sensitized by the culture. As my senior pastor, Bart Lester, has stated from the pulpit over the years, the world seeks to make sin appear normal and to make righteousness appear abnormal. Revelation 21:8 is clear: “. . . for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” [emphasis added]. . . . But even now, the habitual deceiver and liar, who – convinced of sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come – turns to God in repentance unto life, with trust and faith in Jesus Christ alone for the pardon of all his sins, may be forgiven this day and credited with the righteousness of Christ.
Forrest L. Marion is a ruling elder in Eastwood Presbyterian Church (PCA), Montgomery, Alabama.
 William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary, The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 (Tess Press: N.p., 1941, renewed 1968), 16.
 Shirer, Berlin Diary, book jacket, 233.
 Shirer, Berlin Diary, 43.
 Today’s Gdaήsk, a strategic city on the Baltic Sea.
 Shirer, Berlin Diary, 138-39 [emphasis added].
 Shirer, Berlin Diary, 139.
 Shirer, Berlin Diary, 178-79; “Werner von Fritsch (1880-1939),” Jewish Virtual Library, accessed May 11, 2020; “Fritsch, Werner Freiherr von,” WW2 Gravestone, accessed May 11, 2020; “The Fall of General Freiherr Werner von Fritsch,” erenow.net, accessed May 11, 2020. The exact activities of von Fritsch at the time of his mortal wounding were unclear from the above sources. Shirer wrote that he received information from “an unimpeachable source” that von Fritsch sought death in battle.
 Annually, the descendants of the Graf Spee’s crew gather at Langsdorff’s grave in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to honor the captain who saved so many lives; see “WWII: Germany grapples with honoring Graf Spee captain,” dw.com, Oct. 1, 2019, accessed May 12, 2020.
 Shirer, Berlin Diary, 209-10.
 Shirer, Berlin Diary, 211 [emphasis in original]. Langsdorff’s courageous letter explaining his actions is available at the following: “Captain Langsdorff commits suicide – World War II Today,” ww2today.com, accessed May 12, 2020.