Day 4 (Part 2): The Press and Nazi Germany

Wolf Kaiser, education director at the House of the Wannsee Conference, speaks to FASPE fellows before guiding them into the exhibit. Photo by Bogdan Mohora.

Wolf Kaiser, education director at the House of the Wannsee Conference, speaks to FASPE fellows before guiding them into the exhibit. Photo by Bogdan Mohora.

By Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

The date was Jan. 31, 1933, about a month before freedom of the press was abolished in Germany through the “Reichstag Fire Decree” and almost a year before “non-Aryan” journalists were banned by the “Editors Law.”

German newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung had no hope for Hitler, wrote political editor, Benno Reifenberg. The German people had stronger minds than to be won over by anti-Semitism, he wrote.

“A truly self-assured person does not need to hate another race to gain a sense of his own importance.”

The Frankfurter newspaper would become a source of consternation for the Third Reich.

In 1937 Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister and puppet-master of the press, wrote in his diary, “Spoke to editor-in-chief Kircher of the Frankfurter [newspaper]. I reproach him for the newspaper’s entire list of sins. He is very remorseful and vows to improve. He’d better, otherwise there’ll be trouble.”

Years later the renowned voice of the Frankfurter Zeitung advocating against “brutality” and “political irresponsibility” would be subjected to continual threats and government-imposed restructuring until it finally towed the party line.

On Thursday, FASPE journalism fellows examined the restraints placed on the German press through content analysis of three period newspapers, the Frankfurter Zeitung, Das Reich, and Der Stürmer. We looked at the tone of the reporting over a period of increased Nazi control and questioned if, and how, reporters operating under Nazi restrictions were able to convey veiled messages of subversion within stories ostensibly written to bolster the regime.

Leading us through the exercise was Dr. Wolf Kaiser, deputy and education director of the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site.

Kaiser explained the systems of control over the press. In daily press conferences Goebbels spelled out which stories to cover and which to cover up. Journalists and newspapers that failed to follow orders could be rebuked, banned or exiled.

Modern scholars should place historical stories into their appropriate context, Kaiser said. At the same time, he said we can’t lose sight of what we think is proper journalistic conduct.

“It should always be both elements in our judgments,” he said.

FASPE journalism fellow Claire Ward was part of a group that examined the work of Das Reich newspaper writer Erich Peter Neumann.

Neumann justified his reporting for the pro-government publication later by saying reporters couldn’t protest Hitler in their articles. Instead, all phrasing took the form of “slave language,” a phrase coined by German writer and WWI vet who glorified war, Ernst Jünger.

“You can’t always say, ‘Oh, my readers will read between the lines,” Claire said. “It’s a dangerous defense to be making,” especially when appearing to promote Nazi actions.

Other reporters and newspapers played a less ambiguous role. The anti-Semitic tabloid Das Stürmer (“The Attack”) was plastered across Berlin, with most of the front page filled with inflammatory headlines in large type and vivid illustrations. For example, one picture featured a “Jewish vampire” slicing a sexy blonde woman’s throat. Another detailed Jews with exaggerated noses and lips collecting arches of flowing blood from the necks of blond Christian children.

“It was effective propaganda,” FASPE fellow Byron Wilkes said. “That’s not journalism because there’s no attempt to find information.”

If there was any ambiguity in earlier articles in the Frankfurter Zeitung, by 1943, it was clear that any independent streak had been squashed.

Rudolf Kircher echoed Nazi talking points in the Feb. 21, 1943, article, “With bold hearts,” by using terms such as “Bolshevism” and “total war.” He called Goebbels “a harbinger of the force of destiny.”

Kircher signaled the paper’s support for German war against the Soviets and British, legitimizing a speech Goebbels had given three days before.

The “force of destiny” calls us, Kircher wrote. “We obey its command.”

One Response to “Day 4 (Part 2): The Press and Nazi Germany”

  1. Great quote in your last line. It reminds us that “destiny” is a more relative term than we may believe, and regardless of how popular sentiment sways, we need a strong internal compass to guide our actions.