July 24, 2017

1934. Nazi Germany's Propaganda Campaign in the United States

Nazis Aim to Manipulate American Opinion
"German American Bund parade in New York City on East 86th St. on October 30, 1939" (source)
These articles are part of a series of posts on how The New York Times covered the rise and fall of fascism. Soon after taking power, the Nazis fueled propaganda campaigns across Europe and the Americas in an effort to improve Germany's image abroad. Times correspondent Frederick T. Birchall wrote about the new regime's audacious plans to win over American public opinion.

From The New York Times, January 8, 1934, p. 9:
American With Great Success in Manipulating Opinion is Seen as Directing Genius
Publication Issued in Suburbs of the Big Cities to Convert Us to Hitlerism

BERLIN, Jan. 7 — The confidence with which the German Government expects American opinion to swing American officialdom to the German viewpoint in the matter of German debt manipulation and indeed all matters of controversy between the two countries is somewhat puzzling to an outsider.

It is in line with the confident assertion of Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, not long ago that it was not Germany that would change her attitude toward the Jewish question but Germany's foreign critics who would change theirs, and his further prediction that the tide of Nazi-ism which he saw rising beyond Germany's borders would soon sweep over other countries, not excepting the United States.

Such an attitude leads foreign observers to wonder on what the Nazi confidence is based.

The answer is likelier to be found in developments in the United States and other countries, news of which is to be seen from time to time in the foreign press but which is naturally lacking in the rigidly controlled organs of Nazi opinion, rather than here.

Silent on Spanknöbel

The American uprising against Heinz Spanknöbel, for instance, and his swift eclipse under the indictment that was not served because of his disappearance are quite unknown to the German masses, as is the appearance in New York with official credentials "from the Stahlhelm" of Captain Georg Schmitt of the Rhineland as Spanknöbel's successor.

Spanknöbel is understood to be safely back in Germany. That statement can be made on good American authority.

What the German public does read frequently is news of what is represented to be the spontaneous tendency toward Nazi-ism in America. Thus it sees portrayed in story and picture what appear to be huge Nazi meetings in New York and elsewhere, where "Heil Hitler!" is represented to be the watchword and anti-Semitism the keynote.

Nobody who really knows America is seriously taken in by this sort of thing, but it does raise the question, as do occasional copies that reach here of Nazified German-American publications issued in obscure suburbs of great cities such as New York and Chicago, as to what organization is behind such propaganda, who is financing it and who is guiding its efforts.

Propaganda Outlay Denied

Inquiries at official propaganda headquarters in Berlin and Munich invariably produce the official response, in line with the public declarations of Chancellor Hitler and other leaders, that Germany is not interested in any efforts to spread the Nazi gospel in other countries—except perhaps Austria—and is spending no money on it.

Nevertheless, this hardly gibes with missions like Spanknöbel's—although he was officially disowned when detected—and that of Schmitt following him. It also scarcely accounts for the steady stream of minor American publicists and college professors of German antecedents and sympathies to Berlin last Summer, their enthusiastic welcome in Nazi circles and their speedy and wholehearted acceptance of Nazi pretentions. Nor does it harmonize with the equally steady stream of Nazi propagandists to the United States. Such movements do not occur unorganized and unaided.

But whose is the guiding hand and whose brain is directing the movement is quite another matter and is not so easy to determine. The best opinion is that these must be sought in the United States rather than in Germany, no matter whence come the financial sinews of this propaganda war.

The movement also has the earmarks of more skillful direction than can be expected from the old-time newspaper warriors whom imperial Germany enlisted, although many of these are still stoutly doing their bit.

Two Visit Hitler

A former consul who swung a valiant pen for Germany in wartime and an expatriated Irishman, who together are now running a propaganda sheet on the outskirts of New York, were both here this Summer looking for funds for it. They descended upon Chancellor Hitler at Berchtesgaden amid a phalanx of Nazi propagandists and were well received. But whether they went back empty handed or not is a Nazi secret.

The movement to convert the United States to allegiance to the swastika, however, is a bigger and more skillfully directed one than the older war horses can be suspected of engineering. Expert opinion is inclined to attribute it to an American of wide experience and immense success in manipulating opinion, who paid a flying visit to Germany in the late Spring and departed leaving behind a trusted associate who is still here taking tea and mixing readily without an ostensible occupation. Naturally however, there is no public evidence of his activities.

Such professional aid is commonly rated as the most expensive that could be enlisted, but money is the smallest factor in Nazi calculations when there is a real object to be achieved. However poor Germany may be when it is a matter of paying commercial debts, German resources for propaganda and political purposes are apparently unlimited.

That is one of the paradoxes of the German situation which first puzzles and then enrages foreign creditors who believe their claims to be good and are now finding themselves mistaken.
"A crowd of approximately 20,000 attends a German American Bund Rally at New York's Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939. At center is a large portrait of George Washington, claimed as an icon by the Bund, who called him 'the first Fascist,' claiming Washington 'knew democracy could not work.'" (source)
From The New York Times, March 12, 1934, p. 4:
Heed Experts' Advice to Placate American Big Business by Dropping Propaganda Here
Goebbels's Department Will Concentrate on Reconciling World Opinion to Regime

BERLIN, March 11 — On Tuesday the German Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda will be one year old. It was created on March 13, 1933, by a decree of President von Hindenburg, who, on the recommendation of Chancellor Hitler made Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels its head. He was then the Nazi leader for the Berlin district, the party's most popular spellbinder and one of Herr Hitler's closest friends and collaborators.

Next to the Chancellor, Dr. Goebbels is now the strongest force in Germany. More than on any other single factor does the success of the Nazi regime depend upon his efforts. His ministry might truly be termed "the power house of the Third Reich."

The development of this ministry, a novelty in official government departments, until its influence is now almost boundless is highly important to the outside world and to the United States in particular for a special reason.

Were Ignorant of Outside World

It is now fairly well known that when the National Socialist regime assumed power it was manned almost wholly by men who knew nothing of the world outside Germany. There were Ministers—not Nazis—like Baron Constantin von Neurath and Dr. Alfred Hugenberg and officials like Dr. Hjalmar Schacht who did not labor under this handicap, but their influence in emergencies was not great against the sweep of triumphant Nazi theory and unlimited Nazi power.

So naturally mistakes were made. The effect of their sum was to array the outside world solidly against the new Germany. To all intents the rest of the world is still so arrayed.

But if there is one notable characteristic of this regime it is its efficiency, which naturally implies some willingness to learn. The Nazis, and particularly the Department of Propaganda and Popular Enlightenment, are learning. As proof there is the recent decision to devote a very large share of the Ministry's activities to reconciling world opinion to Nazi dominance.

In that effort the United States looms as the most important nation. As a preliminary to action there the Ministry has obtained the best expert advice, and then, having obtained it, action is being taken to put into practice. The Berlin correspondents have seen evidence of this in the past few weeks in many quite notable instances.

The Advice That Was Given

The burden of the good advice, there is reason to believe, was that the first step in reconciling American opinion to the established fact of Nazi dominance would be to drop all attempts to Nazize the American people. As long as the Spanknöbels and their minor adherents were encouraged or even permitted to operate there, Germany, it was indicated, might be sure of continuing hostility. The real task before the German Nazi regime as far as the United States was concerned was to reconcile big business to that regime, and nothing would be more deterrent to that job than an implied intention to extend the Nazi doctrines to America.

German economic success is actually bound up with American interests here. To say nothing of the German private debt to America, there are operating in Germany on a large scale some of the largest American business corporations, ranging from the Standard Oil Company, the United States Shipping Lines and the Woolworth Stores to innumerable specialty manufacturers and some of the great American banks.

The hostility of these institutions would be a highly important factor in the absolutely necessary revival of German industrial welfare, compared with which the chance of converting the United States to Hitlerism pales into significance.

The advice has been heeded and the new regime starts its second year upon a fresh and more wholesome line of endeavor. Henceforth it seems probable that less will be heard about Nazi propaganda in the United States.

Publications Here Likely to Go

Such childish efforts as the publication of little clipsheets glorifying Hitlerism and abusing its critics are likely to disappear for lack of German nourishment, and while that will have a certain effect upon the earnings of several worthy young Americans who maintain a precarious existence on the edge of journalism, it will help bring about a better understanding of the new Germany where the most good can be achieved.

The power of Dr. Goebbels's Ministry may be realized from the fact that it controls all political propaganda, both at home and abroad; the German radio, in which it has a complete monopoly of national broadcasting and exploits it to the limit; the entire German press, which has been regimented and brought into complete harmony, both as to personnel and material, with the requirements of the government; the entire film industry, which is under complete censorial supervision, directed always with an eye to propaganda; and the theatre, music and art, which are ruled by thirteen subministries, all coordinated under its direction.

It has a special section devoted to combating the "campaign of lies" abroad, especially the "monstrous Jewish agitation" alleged to be inspired by émigrés. And recently it has taken upon itself the direction of the new campaign to reconcile world opinion to the new Nazi Germany.

Remarkable Efficiency

Its efficiency in all these matters thus far has been something at which even a trained newspaper man might well marvel. For example, it can reach the entire German press within two hours with an order commanding the publication of a certain piece of information or, conversely, for the suppression of a certain piece of news.

It dominates the stage and the movies absolutely regardless of any agreements to which the producers may be committed and gets its wishes fulfilled regardless of public opinion but with a minimum of disturbances and friction. In organizing its power displays it has proved itself the world's superlative showman.

The personality of Dr. Goebbels, who some two years ago was virtually unknown outside Germany, dominates the Ministry's every activity, and his possession of what amounts to genius in mass appeal is the chief factor in its success. Incidentally, his oratory, next to Chancellor Hitler's, is still the National Socialist party's most valuable asset, and he is never chary about contributing it to give a little additional savor to a notable celebration.