THE first news of the Allied landing in Normandy came not from London or Washington but from Berlin.
``Die Alliierten sind erfolgreich in der Normandie gelandet'' (``The Allies have landed successfully in Normandy'') it read, and for 24 hours, while the Allies kept the lid on all news, it was repeated over and over around the world.
It was that ``successfully'' that really hit home back in Germany. The German journalist who sent out the message was Wolfgang Straede, chief of the Berlin office of Europa-Press, an intra-European news agency based in Germany. As it happened, June 6, 1944, was to be his last day in his job: Denounced one time too many as a suspected anti-Nazi, he was fired.
Werner Asendorf, a former journalist then in the German Army, was stationed in Potsdam. Whenever he had leave, he would head for Berlin and the company of former colleagues at the International Press Club. That night he was caught in an air raid, missed his last train, and bedded down for the night on a couch in the office of the chief editor of the official German news agency, DNB. Sometime long after midnight a phone rang, a phone Asendorf knew was the direct line from Hitler's headquarters. A sleepy staffer answered it and, unaware that anyone else was in the room, repeated word for word what he heard: ``Die Alliierten sind erfolgreich in der Normandie gelandet.''
Asendorf was electrified. It was the news everyone was waiting for, the news of the century! He waited until all was quiet, then slipped out and found the nearest phone to call his friend Straede.
``The DNB will sit on the news,'' he told Straede. ``They'll wait for directions from [Propaganda Minister Joseph] Goebbels on how to handle it. They won't dare publish it. So I called you.'' Straede went straight to his office, through Berlin streets where fires still burned from the raid. The news went out to all countries, occupied or free, where Europa-Press had its offices. To Paris and Stockholm, to Zurich and Rome, to Madrid and Sofia and Bucharest and Istanbul: ``Dateline Berlin: The Allies have landed successfully in Normandy.''
Since everyone knew that news from Berlin was censored, that word ``successfully'' was a strong signal, a ripple on the turning tide....
The Propaganda Ministry was onto Straede within the hour. Furious. Undone. It was not news they had expected to publish, not in that form. How had he received such information? How had he dared to send out such a message?
``The information came from the Fuhrer's headquarters,'' Straede answered. Silence....
``Meine Herren, if you can issue an official denial, I shall of course send it out immediately.'' Again, silence.
Straede's sending out that D-Day message was an act of courage. It would have been far safer for him to have done nothing. But he knew the effect it would have on the many, inside and outside Germany, who hoped for that message. And it was stamped with the authority of ``Dateline: Berlin.'' So he sent it.