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The Völkischer Beobachter, 1920–1933: The Nazi Party Newspaper in the Weimar Era

  • Roland V. Layton (a1)

Although Hitler placed primary emphasis in his propaganda on the “spoken word,” one of his earliest ambitions as a party leader was to own a newspaper. He succeeded in December 1920, little more than a year after he joined the Nazi Party, by purchasing a debt-ridden newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter. It had started life in 1887 as the Münchener Beobachter, a local paper serving the Munich suburb of Haidhausen. After changing names and owners several times, the paper in 1918 came into the hands of Rudolf von Sebottendorff, who was acting for the Thule Society, a right-wing, völkisch group. Early in 1920, he changed the name to Völkischer Beobachter (VB).

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1. For the “prehistory” of the paper—i.e., its history before the Nazis bought it—see Dresler, Adolf, Geschichte des “Völkischen Beobachters” und des Zentralverlages der NSDAP, Franz Eher Nachf (Munich, 1937), the official Nazi history of the paper. The Hoover Institution's copy of the book has a handwritten note in German stating that all but fifty copies of the edition of five thousand were destroyed, the fifty copies being given to old Party members. It is difficult to account for the destruction of almost the entire edition. Bland and superficial, the book could hardly have given offense to the Party—perhaps it simply was ignored by the German public. For the paper under Sebottendorff, see his memoir Bevor Hitler kam: Urkundliches aus der Frühzeit der nationalsozialistischen Bewegung (Munich, 1933), chap. IV and pp. 194–95. The definitive account of the Eher Verlag is in Hale, Oron J., The Captive Press in the Third Reich (Princeton, 1964).

2. Grandel to Hitler, Oct. 27, 1920, National Archives (hereafter N.A.), Microcopy T-84, Roll 5, frames 4337–38 (hereafter T-84/5/4337–38).

3. Just when Hitler managed to do this is not clear. An entry in the Munich corporation court records for Nov. 16, 1921, indicates that the Party was already sole owner of the VB by the fall of 1921. But it is difficult to see how the financial difficulties could have been overcome within less than a year after the first purchase of shares, and, in fact, Hitler, reminiscing about the Kampfzeit in 1942, stated that during his prison term (that is, in 1924) he still owned “only a part of the capital,” specifically naming von Sebottendorff as another owner. See Hitler's Secret Conversations, 1941–1944 (New York, 1953), pp. 281–82. A recent scholar refers to the “opaqueness” of Hitler's financial manipulations (see Maser, Werner, Die Frühgeschichte der NSDAP, Hitlers Weg bis 1924 [Frankfurt am Main, 1965], p. 260). Probably the full story of the VB's acquisition is not knowable unless new sources turn up; what is known is discussed in Noller, Sonja, “Die Geschichte des ‘Völkischen Beobachters’ von 1920–1923” (unpub. diss., Munich, 1956), pp. 236–43.

4. The “IOU” showed up after the war in German records. See N.A., T-84/9/9692.

5. Hitler's letter to Eckart is printed in Reich, Albert, Dietrich Eckart: Ein deutscher Dichter und der Vorkämpfer der Völkischen Bewegung (Munich, 1933), p. 82, and in Franz-Willing, Georg, Die Hitlerbewegung: Der Ursprung, 1919–1922 (Hamburg, 1962), p. 181, where it is cited as a “privately owned photocopy.”

6. Clipping from Fränkische Tagespost, Jau. 31, 1922, N.A., T-84/10/9717.

7. For example, Heiden, Konrad, Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus: Die Karriere einer Idee (Berlin, 1933), p. 43, and Bullock, Alan, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (New York, 1962), p. 67.

8. Epp, Von to von Moehl, Commander of the Bavarian Wehrkreis VII, Feb. 16, 1922, N.A., T-84/10/9715ff.

9. See Krumbach, Josef H., Franz Ritter von Epp: Ein Leben für Deutschland (Munich, 1938), pp. 8789, and Fritz, Maier-Hartmann, ed., Dokumente der Zeitgeschichte: Dokumente der Sammlung Rehse aus der Kampfzeit (Munich, 1942), p. 132.

10. “Niederschrift” by Eckart, Simon, Hauptarchiv der NSDAP, Folder 1143, Roll 49, in the Hoover Institution's microfilm collection.

11. Grandel to Deutsche Kunst- und Verlagsdruckerei, Nov. 21, 1940. I am indebted to Dean Reginald Phelps of Harvard University for a copy of this letter, the original of which is in private hands in Germany.

12. Hitler's Secret Conversations, p. 179.

13. N.A., T-84/5/4518, and Noller, p. 235.

14. The records of this organization are in Folder 1172, Rolls 49 and 50, of the Hauptarchiv der NSDAP, Hoover Institution.

15. Folder 1864, Roll 89, ibid.

16. Franz-Willing, p. 182, citing an “oral communication.”

17. Müller to VB, May 22, 1923, N.A., T-84/5/4489–90.

18. Statement by Seidlitz, Frau, Hauptarchiv der NSDAP, Folder 1143, Roll 49, Hoover Institution. Her aid to the Party was recalled by its leaders even after the war. Amann remembered her only vaguely as a “Finnish woman,” but Rosenberg recalled her by name. See Amann and Rosenberg Interrogation Folders, N.A., Record Group 238, World War II War Crimes Records Collection (hereafter R.G. 238).

19. Hanfstängl, Ernst, Hitler: The Missing Years (London, 1957), p. 53. A letter from Hitler to Rosenberg mentioning Hanfstängl's help provides documentary proof of Hanfstängl's statement. See N.A., T-81/667/5474955.

20. Volz, Hans, Daten der Geschichte der NSDAP (Berlin, 1937), pp. 67.

21. Hitler's Secret Conversations, pp. 113–14.

22. Statement by Sündermann, Helmut, 1935, Hauptarchiv der NSDAP, Folder 1143, Roll 49, Hoover Institution.

23. Hanfstängl, p. 44.

24. Schlier, Paula, Petras Aufzeichnungen oder Konzept einer Jugend nach dem Diktat der Zeit (Innsbruck, 1926), pp. 102106.

25. For a copy of the proclamation banning the VB, see N.A., T-84/6/5169.

26. Schlier, p. 110.

27. For descriptions of the VB's offices during the night of Hitler's attempted coup, see Schlier, pp. 117–18; and Hartmann, Fritz, “Die statistische und geschichtliche Eniwick-lung der NS-Presse 19261935,” typewritten manuscript, Library of Congress, p. 212 (hereafter Hartmann Manuscript). Hartmann, a member of the Nazi Party's Hauptarchiv staff, wrote this narrative for presentation to Hitler at Christmas time in 1936. He based his account on information provided by staffs of the Party newspapers. As a commentary on the value of the manuscript for scholars, its treatment of Alfred Krebs is relevant. Krebs was the editor of a Nazi paper in Hamburg in the late twenties and early thirties. But he deviated from the Party line, quarreled with high Party figures, and was expelled from the Party (see his memoirs, Tendenzen und Gestalten der NSDAP: Erinnerungen an die Frühzeit der Partei [Stuttgart, 1959], passim). In Hartmann's manuscript, Krebs, in spite of his political disgrace, receives full credit for his work as a Nazi journalist, a fact which inspires confidence in the rest of Hartmann's narrative.

28. The careers of these substitutes for the VB are described in the issues of Archiv der NS Presse, a periodical which appeared in 1938 and 1939. The following sources also have information: Hauptarchiv der NSDAP, Folder 1143, Roll 49, Hoover Institution; Ludecke, Kurt, I Knew Hitler (New York, 1937), p. 260;Rosenberg, Alfred, Letzte Aufzeichnungen (Göttingen, 1955), pp. 109, 111; and Dresler, Adolf, “Aus der Geschichte des ‘Völkischen Beobachter’ und des Zentral-Verlages der NSDAP Franz Eher Nachf,” Zeitungswissenschaft, XI, No. 12 (12 1, 1936), 575–76.

29. The original report of Hitler's speech is in the VB, May 26, 1926. The figure is also given in Anon., Max Amann: Ein Leben für Führer und Volk, 1891–1941 (n.p., n.d.), p. 42.

30. Issue of Dec. 12, 1928.

31. Amann to Rosenberg, Nov. 24, 1930, N.A., T-454/53/1280–81.

32. Weiss Interrogation Folder, N.A., R.G. 238.

33. Hartmann Manuscript, p. 214.

34. VB, Feb. 25, 1925.

35. Amann Interrogation Folder, N.A., R.G. 238. For an account of the sales of Mein Kampf, see Hale, Oron J., “Adolf Hitler, Taxpayer,” American Historical Review, LX, No. 4 (07 1955), 836–37.

36. Amann to Rosenberg, Nov 24, 1930, N.A., T-454/53/1280–81.

37. Hitler's Secret Conversations, p. 145. The VB's advertisements catered to lower-middle-class tastes. There were seldom advertisements for expensive items like cars or real estate. Most frequently, the advertisements were for beer, cigarettes, clothes, völkisch books, pictures of Hitler, patent medicines, and offers to buy old paper and junk metal. Although it is difficult to imagine a Jewish businessman wanting to advertise in the VB, the Nazis boasted endlessly that their organ had never accepted advertising from Jews. (For a pretentious, pseudoscholarly discussion of the Nazi advertising policy, see Bachmann, Franz, “Die Anzeige in NS Kampfpresse,” Zeitungwissenschaft, xv, No. 9 [09 1940], 478–81.)

38. For example, see Arno [Schickedanz] to Alfred [Rosenberg], July 13, 1931, N.A., T-454/78/159–25.

39. Schickendanz to Hauptschriftleitung des VB, June 14, 1932, ibid., frames 49–50.

40. Arno [Schickedanz] to Alfred [Rosenberg], July 11, 1932, ibid., frames 46–47.

41. Von Maltzahn to Rosenberg, Mar. 9, 1938, N.A., T-454/53/682.

42. Stove to Weiss, June 17, 1938, ibid., frames 876–78.

43. Mein Kampf (Munich, 1942), p. 664.

44. Hitler's Secret Conversations, pp. 388–89.

45. The issue of Sept. 7/8, 1930, asked readers to be patient if they had not been receiving copies regularly—demand had risen so sharply that the printer could not keep up.

46. The VB did not submit its circulation figures to the publishing trade journals, but there are figures in several other sources. They do not agree exactly, but the discrepancies are not great: the general picture of growth is the same. See “Auflage Statistik,” N.A., T-84/6/5167; Max Amann: Ein Leben fur Führer und Volk, 1891–1941, p. 50; Zeitungswis-senschaft, XI, No. 12 (Dec. 1, 1936), 577; Hartmann Manuscript, p. 496, and an unnumbered table attached to the manuscript; and Weiss Interrogation Folder, N.A., R.G. 238.

47. This statement is based on a comparison of circulation figures with the Party membership figures in Volz, p. 13.

48. “Anordnung Nr. 31 der Propagandaabteilung,” VB, Dec. 16/17, 1928.

49. For a typical proclamation inaugurating a subscription-selling campaign, see the issue of Jan. 3, 1929.

50. Undated special issue, Aug. 1925.

51. von Schirach, Baldur, Ich glaubte an Hitler (Hamburg, 1967), p. 112.

52. Anon., “Die Presse der Nationalsozialistischen Deutschen Arbeiterpartei im überblick,” Zeitungswissenschaft, VII, No. 3 (05 1932), 183.

53. Amann to Schriftleitung, Mar. 12, 1927, N.A., T-81/667/5474966.

54. Anon., Reichstagparteitag der NSDAP, Nürnberg, 19/21 August 1927: Der Verlauf und die Ergebnisse der Beratungen (Munich, 1927), p. 54.

55. Strickner, Herbert, Die geschichtliche Entwicklung der Sportbericlzterstattung und des Sportteils im “Völkischen Beobachter” (1920–1936) (Zeulenroda, 1938), p. 26.

56. Köhler, Gerhard, Kunstanschauung und Kunstkritik in der nationalsozialistischen Presse: Die Kritik im Feuilleton des “Völkischen Beobachters” 1920–1932 (Munich, 1937), p. 28.

57. Rosenberg to Bouhler, May 3, 1933, N.A., T-454/55/12.

58. Schickedanz to Rosenberg, Aug. 25, 1932, N.A., T-454/78/36–38. The Munich police also had an informer on the VB's staff, who performed services such as identifying the author of an anonymous article, and providing information on circulation figures. See Hauptarchiv der NSDAP, Folder 1530, Roll 71, Hoover Institution.

59. Arno [Schickedanz] to Alfred [Rosenberg], Jan. 30, 1932, N.A., T-454/78/100–101.

60. Schickedanz to Hauptschriftleitung des VB, June 14, 1932, ibid., frames 49–50.

61. Hitler's view of the press is available in Mein Kampf pp. 262–69; in a speech made in 1938 (“Rede Riders vor der deutschen Presse, 1938,” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, VI, No. 2 [April. 1958], 181); and in Hitler's Secret Conversations, pp. 270, 388–89.

62. Text and discussion of the article in Martin, Löffler, Presserecht: Kommentar zum Reichsgesetz über die Presse und zum Presserecht der Länder sowie zu den sonstigen die Presse betreffenden Vorschriften (Munich, 1955), p. 30.

63. For a comprehensive discussion of the legal issues, see Fliess, Peter J., Freedom of the Press in the German Republic, 1918–1933 (Baton Rouge, 1955).

64. Max Amann: Ein Leben für Führer und Volk, 1891–1941, p. 94; and Rosenberg, Letzte Aufzeichnungen, pp. 122–23.

65. VB, Mar. 29, 1928.

66. Ibid., Jan. 30, 1931.

67. Letter of Arraignment, N.A., T-81/151/154777 ff.

68. VB, Feb. 10, 1931.

69. Ibid., Oct. 22, 1927.

70. Ibid., Jan. 9, 1930.

71. For a description of such a case, see the issue of Jan. 9, 1932. A previous issue of the VB (Jan. 15/16, 1931) had made several statements hostile to the Weimar Republic—e.g., that the Nazis would rid Germany of treason and then build a “state of national honor.” Indicted under the Law for the Protection of the Republic, Rosenberg pleaded innocent of attacking the republic, on the ground that the VB had nothing against a republican form of government, and in fact felt that the issue of monarchy or republic was a question to be decided for Germany at some future date—as if this were the issue! He was acquitted.

72. Hitler's Secret Conversations, p. 527.

73. These letters can be read in N.A., T-454/55 and 56.

74. A recent scholar, in a study comparing Munich newspapers, stated that the VB was “technically very capable” in its use of pictures. See Piepenstock, Klaus, “Die Münchener Tagespresse, 1918–1933: Ein Beitrag zur Physiognomie einer Stadt und zur Presse und öffentlichen Meinung der Weimarer Republik” (unpub. diss., Munich, 1955), p. 209.

75. See Rosenberg to Hitler, Dec. 29, 1926, N.A., T-81/667/5475061–62.

76. VB, Feb 18, 1931. Printed in large type, the proclamation took up one-third of the front page.

77. Ibid., Feb. 5, 1926.

78. Ibid., Apr. 24, 1931.

79. Ibid., May. 24/25, 1925.

80. Ibid., May. 19, 1931.

81. Ibid., Jan. 5, 1926.

82. Ibid., May. 24/25, 1925.

83. Ibid., June 18, 1929.

84. See the articles entitled “Nationalsozialismus und väterlandische Verbände,” Ibid., Jan. 8, Jan. 13, Jan. 22, and Mar. 6, 1926.

85. Ibid., Jan. 23, 1926.

86. Given by Walter Hagemann as three indispensable functions of a complete newspaper. See his Die Zeitung als Organismus (Heidelberg, 1950), chap. III, passim.

87. For discussions of the Kampfblatt, see Braun, Adolf, “Geschäfts- und Parteipresse, eine Untersuchung,” Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, L, No. 1 (1922);Pleininger, Martin, “Die Kampfpresse: Ein neuer Zeitungstyp,” Zeitungswissenschaft, VIII, No. 2 (03 1933); and for a discussion of party newspapers in general, see Groth, Otto, Die Zeitung: Em System der Zeitungskunde (Mannheim, 1929), II, chap. 29.

88. VB, Aug. 4, 1928.

89. Ibid., Mar. 7, 1925.

90. It began in the issue of Mar. 27/28, 1927.

91. Ibid., Feb. 25, 1927.

92. For example, see the account of an ax murder in Vienna (Ibid., Jan. 11, 1927).

93. See “Der Jude Lewin und sein deutsche, Dienstmädchen,” Ibid., July 29, 1927.

94. Ibid., June 22, 1929.

95. Ibid., Jan. 31, 1931.

96. Ibid., Apr; 20/21/22, 1930.

97. For an example of the many complimentary articles about Mussolini, see “Der Duce als Dramatiker,” ibid., Feb. 9, 1932, which praised the Italian dictator as a “great man and important personality of noble blood and sharp power of thought.”

98. Ibid., Apr. 4, 1931.

99. Ibid., May 26, 1928.

100. Ibid., Apr. 8, 1925.

101. Ibid., Sept. 27/28, 1931.

102. Ibid., undated special issue, Aug. 1925.

103. Ibid., July 26, 1928.

104. Ibid., Feb. 10/11, 1929.

105. Ibid., Feb. 9, 1932.

106. Ibid., Sept. 16, 1927.

107. Ibid., Sept. 20, 1928.

108. Ibid., May 8, 1930.

109. For example, see the issue of Dec. 10, 1931.

110. Ibid., Feb. 11, 1931.

111. Ibid., Apr. 24, 1925.

112. Ibid., Oct. 1, 1932.

113. Ibid., Jan. 24/25, 1932.

114. Ibid., Feb. 21/22, 1932.

115. Ibid., Aug. 30/31, 1925.

116. Ibid., July 12/13, 1925.

117. Ibid., July 13, 1927.

118. Ibid., June 2, 1928.

119. Hagemann, Walter, Publizistik im Dritten Reich: Ein Beitrag zur Methodik der Massenführung (Hamburg, 1948), pp. 146205.

120. The VB is available in the original and on microfilm at the Library of Congress. Representative pages can be read in Noller, Sonja and von Kotze, Hildegard, Facsimile Querschnitt durch den Völkischen Beobachter (Munich, 1967).

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