King Victor Emanuel III, (R) Adolf Hitler (C) and Benito Mussolini (L) watch fascist troops march past from a balcony in central Rome in this 1941 television file footage.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The head of Israel’s primary Holocaust survivors advocacy association blasted the Associated Press on Wednesday over reports that the wire service collaborated with Nazi Germany’s propaganda apparatus from 1933 until the US entered the Second World War in December 1941, at which point all Americans left Germany and AP closed its Berlin bureau.
“The evidence that an American news agency fully cooperated with Nazi Germany – in order to be able to report from there – effectively serving the Nazi propaganda machine, is devastating and reprehensible,” Colette Avital, chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post.
“This explains the flow of slanted and partial information printed in the American news media during the war,” the former diplomat and legislator said, calling the AP’s current reporting into question.
“If AP was willing to ‘pay the price’ then, one can justifiably wonder at the accuracy and objectivity of its reporting in subsequent years.”
The Guardian on Wednesday cited archival material unearthed by a German historian who asserted that the wire service had provided US newspapers with news items produced and culled by the Nazi propaganda ministry.
AP was the only Western news agency allowed to operate in Germany during Adolf Hitler’s era. The agency continued its operations in Germany until the US entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Harriet Scharnberg, a historian at Halle-Wittenberg’s Martin Luther University, explained in an article published in the academic journal Studies in Contemporary History, that AP was allowed to continue operating in Germany while other agencies were forced to close because it agreed to cooperate with the Nazi regime.
The American news agency agreed to abide by Nazi Germany’s “Editor’s Law,” refraining from publishing news items “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home,” according to Scharnberg.
It also hired reporters who worked for the Nazi propaganda ministry in order to adhere to the law.
The paper also claims AP let the Nazis use its photo archives to produce anti-Semitic propaganda.
Scharnberg claims that, through its cooperation, the AP enabled the Nazis to “portray a war of extermination as a conventional war.”
She describes as evidence the Nazi invasion of Lviv, Ukraine, in which German forces massacred Jews to avenge killings of Wehrmacht soldiers by Soviet forces. AP distributed to the American press pictures, selected at Hitler’s request, solely showing the Soviet troops’ victims.
“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,” Scharnberg told The Guardian.
“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”, said the historian. “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.”
In response, AP rejected the claims that it had deliberately collaborated with the Nazis, but said it was reviewing the documents.
“AP rejects the suggestion that it collaborated with the Nazi regime at any time,” the agency said in a statement on its website.
“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.”
The service’s Berlin bureau chief at the time, Louis P. Lochner, attempted to resist Nazi pressure to fire Jewish employees and later secured them employment abroad, “likely saving their lives,” AP stated, adding that the Pulitzer laureate spent five month interned by the Germans before being returned to the United States.
“The historical research of Ms. Scharnberg concerns a German photo agency subsidiary of AP Britain that was created in 1931, two years before the Nazis came to power. As of 1935, this subsidiary operation became subject to the Nazi press-control law but continued to gather photo images inside Germany and later inside countries occupied by Germany. US newspapers were supplied with some of these images through the German subsidiary. Those that came from Nazi government, government-controlled or government–censored sources were labeled as such in their captions or photo credits sent to US members and other customers of the AP, who used their own editorial judgment about whether to publish the images. Images of that time from Germany had legitimate news value as editors and the public needed to learn more about the Nazis,” the statement read.
“The findings of the new research by Harriet Scharnberg regarding AP are quite shocking and disturbing,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director Efraim Zuroff told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s one thing to try and stay in a country to ensure that objective news reports can continue to be published, but quite another to hire Nazis to provide your information.
Given the fact that AP was the only US news agency in Nazi Germany up to America’s entry into World War II, one can only wonder whether more accurate reporting from the Reich would have possibly influenced a firmer anti-Nazi policy at an earlier date, which might have thwarted or modified Hitler’s plans for world conquest.”