AP supplied the Nazi regime with photos for propaganda purposes and exported propaganda news material back to the US.
Research by a German historian has revealed that cooperation between the Associated Press (AP) and the Nazi regime allowed the American news agency operate in Hitler’s Germany, the only western agency to do so.
Harriet Scharnberg’s research, published in the academic journal Studies in Contemporary History, and first reported by The Guardian, argues that by agreeing to the Schriftleitergesetz (editor’s law) in 1935, AP kept its Berlin bureau open in Nazi Germany, but also became complicit in allowing Nazis to “portray a war of extermination as a conventional war.” Her argument focuses on the role AP played in supplying the Nazi regime with photos for propaganda purposes and exporting propaganda news material back to the US, some of which were approved by Hitler himself.
By 1935, two years into Hitler’s reign, most international news agencies had ceased reporting in Germany. However, AP remained open, naturally questions over its relationship with the regime.
“It was a case of conforming with the German laws of closing up shop,” said Louis P. Lochner, the winner of a Pulitzer in 1939 for his work at the Berlin-AP office. However, based on the evidence supplied by Scharnberg, “conforming” looks dangerously close to cooperation bordering on collaboration.
Supplying images for propaganda
Scharnberg, a historian at Halle’s Martin Luther University, describes AP as a “transatlantic image provider,” for granting the Nazi regime access to its photo archives as a result of the editor’s law. In two of its virulently anti-Semitic pieces, the Nazi’s propaganda unit used numerous photos from AP’s files.
In the SS training booklet, Der Untermensch (The Sub-Human), many images were ascribed to AP photographers, and more than half of the 105 photographs in the propaganda booklet, The Jews in the USA, came from AP archives. A prominent image is that of Jewish New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia midway through eating a plate of food with his hands, aimed to demonstrate not only the greed of Jewish people, but also the decadence of American life.
Although Scharnberg is unable to determine the precise impact of the photos on their German audience she highlights their wide circulation. By the mid 1940s, almost 500,000 copies of The Jews in the USA had been printed and 3.8 million training manuals had been sold.
Besides supplying images to the Nazis for propaganda purposes, the Nazis had a degree of control over the images AP could report at home. The most shocking revelation Scharnberg’s research is Hitler’s order that photographs of dead prisoners found during the ‘Lviv campaign’ were to be published in the American press via AP.
The Lviv campaign saw Nazi troops invade the Soviet-held town of Lviv in western Ukraine in June 1941. The Nazis discovered that Soviet troops had carried out mass killings of prisoners and in response the Nazis carried out “revenge” pogroms against the city’s Jewish population. The photographer at Lviv was SS member Franz Roth, who was also one of the four photographers employed by AP in the 1930s under the editor’s law.
“Instead of printing pictures of the days-long Lviv pogroms with its thousands of Jewish victims, the American press was only supplied with photographs showing the victims of the Soviet police and ‘brute’ Red Army war criminals… To that extent it is fair to say that these pictures played their part in disguising the true character of the war led by the Germans… Which events were made visible and which remained invisible in AP’s supply of pictures followed German interests and the German narrative of the war,” Scharnberg said to The Guardian.
AP denies collaborating with Nazis
On March 30, AP released a statement in response to Scharnberg’s article. “AP rejects the suggestion that it collaborated with the Nazi regime at any time. Rather, the AP was subjected to pressure from the Nazi regime from the period of Hitler’s coming to power in 1933 until the AP’s expulsion from Germany in 1941. AP staff resisted the pressure while doing its best to gather accurate, vital and objective news for the world in a dark and dangerous time.”
Although AP allowed the west to have a degree of insight to a repressive, totalitarian state, the research raises questions over the nature of the agency’s relationship with the Third Reich, and subsequently, casts suspicion on AP’s relations with contemporary totalitarian states. How this will reflect on the work of AP’s bureau in North Korea, where similar deals concerning the circulation of propaganda have been exposed, remains to be seen.