Every morning the editors of the Berlin daily newspapers and the correspondents of those published elsewhere in the Reich gathered at the Propaganda Ministry to be told by Dr. Goebbels or by one of his aides what news to print and suppress, how to write the news and headline it, what campaigns to call off or institute and what editorials were desired for the day. In case of any misunderstanding a daily written directive was furnished along with the oral instructions. For the smaller out-of-town papers and the periodicals the directives were dispatched by telegram or by mail.
To be an editor in the Third Reich one had to be, in the first place, politically and racially “clean.” The Reich Press Law of October 4, 1933, which made journalism a “public vocation,” regulated by law, stipulated that all editors must possess German citizenship, be of Aryan descent and not married to a Jew. Section 14 of the Press Law ordered editors “to keep out of the newspapers anything which in any manner is misleading to the public, mixes selfish aims with community aims, tends to weaken the strength of the German Reich, outwardly or inwardly, the common will of the German people, the defense of Germany, its culture and economy … or offends the honor and dignity of Germany”—an edict which, if it had been in effect before 1933, would have led to the suppression of every Nazi editor and publication in the country. It now led to the ousting of those journals and journalists who were not Nazi or who declined to become so.
One of the first to be forced out of business was the Vossische Zeitung. Founded in 1704 and numbering among its contributors in the past such names as Frederick the Great, Lessing and Rathenau, it had become the leading newspaper of Germany, comparable to the Times of London and the New York Times. But it was liberal and it was owned by the House of Ullstein, a Jewish firm. It went out of business on April 1, 1934, after 230 years of continuous publication. The Berliner Tageblatt, another world-renowned liberal newspaper, lingered on a little longer, until 1937, though its owner, Hans Lackmann-Mosses a Jew, was forced to surrender his interest in the newspaper in the spring of 1933. Germany’s third great liberal newspaper, the Frankfurter Zeitung, also continued to publish after divesting itself of its Jewish proprietor and editors. Rudolf Kircher, its London correspondent, an Anglophile and a liberal, became the editor and, like Karl Silex, editor of the conservative Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of Berlin, who had also been a London correspondent, a Rhodes scholar, a passionate admirer of the British and a liberal, served the Nazis well, often becoming, as Otto Dietrich, the Reich press chief, once said of the former “opposition papers,” “more papal than the Pope.” That the last three newspapers survived was due partly to the influence of the German Foreign Office, which wanted these internationally known journals as a kind of showpiece to impress the outside world. They gave a respectability to Nazi Germany and at the same time peddled its propaganda.
With all newspapers in Germany being told what to publish and how to write the news and editorials, it was inevitable that a deadly conformity would come over the nation’s press. Even a people so regimented and so given to accepting authority became bored by the daily newspapers.Circulation declined even for the leading Nazi daily newspapers such as the morning Voelkischer Beobachter and the evening Der Angriff. And the total circulation of all journals fell off steeply as one paper after another went under or was taken over by Nazi publishers. In the first four years of the Third Reich the number of daily newspapers declined from 3,607 to 2,671.
But the country’s loss of a free and varied press was the party’s gain—at least financially. Max Amann, Hitler’s top sergeant during the First World War and head of the Eher Verlag, the party’s publishing firm, became the financial dictator of the German press. As Reich Leader for the Press and president of the Press Chamber, he had the legal right to suppress any publication he pleased and the consequent power to buy it up for a song. In a short time the Eher Verlag became a gigantic publishing empire, probably the largest and most lucrative in the world.*Despite the drop in sales of many Nazi publications, the daily newspapers owned or controlled by the party or individual Nazis had two thirds of the total daily circulation of twenty-five million by the time of the outbreak of the second war. In an affidavit made at Nuremberg, Amann described how he operated:
After the party came to power in 1933 … many of these concerns, such as the Ullstein House, which were owned or controlled by Jewish interests, or by political or religious interests hostile to the Nazi Party, found it expedient to sell their newspapers or assets to the Eher concern. There was no free market for the sale of such properties and the Eher Verlag was generally the only bidder. In this matter the Eher Verlag, together with publishing concerns owned or controlled by it, expanded into a monopoly of the newspaper publishing business in Germany … The party investment in these publishing enterprises became financially very successful. It is a true statement to say that the basic purpose of the Nazi press program was to eliminate all the press which was in opposition to the party.6
At one period in 1934 both Amann and Goebbels appealed to the obsequious editors to make their papers less monotonous. Amann said he deplored “the present far-reaching uniformity of the press, which is not a product of government measures and does not conform to the will of the government.” One rash editor, Ehm Welke of the weekly Gruene Post, made the mistake of taking Amann and Goebbels seriously. He chided the Propaganda Ministry for its red tape and for the heavy hand with which it held down the press and made it so dull. His publication was promptly suspended for three months and he himself dismissed by Goebbels and carted off to a concentration camp.
The radio and the motion pictures were also quickly harnessed to serve the propaganda of the Nazi State. Goebbels had always seen in radio (television had not yet come in) the chief instrument of propaganda in modern society and through the Radio Department of his ministry and the Chamber of Radio he gained complete control of broadcasting and shaped it to his own ends. His task was made easier because in Germany, as in the other countries of Europe, broadcasting was a monopoly owned and operated by the State. In 1933 the Nazi government automatically found itself in possession of the Reich Broadcasting Corporation.
The films remained in the hands of private firms but the Propaganda Ministry and the Chamber of Films controlled every aspect of the industry, their task being—in the words of an official commentary—“to lift the film industry out of the sphere of liberal economic thoughts … and thus enable it to receive those tasks which it has to fulfill in the National Socialist State.”
The result in both cases was to afflict the German people with radio programs and motion pictures as inane and boring as were the contents of their daily newspapers and periodicals. Even a public which usually submitted without protest to being told what was good for it revolted. The customers stayed away in droves from the Nazi films and jammed the houses which showed the few foreign pictures (mostly B-grade Hollywood) which Goebbels permitted to be exhibited on German screens. At one period in the mid-Thirties the hissing of German films became so common that Wilhelm Frick, the Minister of the Interior, issued a stern warning against “treasonable behavior on the part of cinema audiences.” Likewise the radio programs were so roundly criticized that the president of the Radio Chamber, one Horst Dressler-Andress, declared that such carping was “an insult to German culture” and would not be tolerated. In those days, in the Thirties, a German listener could still turn his dial to a score of foreign radio stations without, as happened later when the war began, risking having his head chopped off. And perhaps quite a few did, though it was this observer’s impression that as the years went by, Dr. Goebbels proved himself right, in that the radio became by far the regime’s most effective means of propaganda, doing more than any other single instrument of communication to shape the German people to Hitler’s ends.
I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.