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The Captive Press in the Third Reich
By Oron James Hale
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1964 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
The Völkischer Beobachter — Central Organ of the Nazi Party
The Nazi Party Acquires a Newspaper
Two pleasing bridges over the Isar River and the massive Palace of Justice were Friedrich Thiersch's principal contributions to the public architecture of Munich. In grateful recognition the city government named a street for him. Thierschstrasse begins at the Maximilian II monument ("Max-Zwei Denkmal") and parallels the left bank of the Isar for two hundred yards, leading to St. Luke's Evangelical Church. There it takes a new start at a slight angle, conforming to the direction of the river, and after two blocks terminates as it intersects with Zweibrückenstrasse. This is not a working class district, neither is it a fashionable one. It is plainly middle class, with three and four storied structures giving space to shops and offices on the street level and modest apartments on the floors above. If it were closer to the Bavarian State Library and the University, it would doubtless be a favored student quarter. Thierschstrasse is important in this book only because the Eher Verlag, the Nazi party publishing company, had its offices at No. 11 and Hitler lived in rented rooms at No. 41, until he moved in 1929 to Prinzregentenplatz in the more fashionable district of Bogenhausen. Ten years after the Nazis came to power, a visitor to No. 11 Thierschstrasse would not have imagined that these modest quarters housed one of Germany's largest business enterprises. With a half dozen subsidiary corporations controlling 150 publishing companies, employing an estimated thirty-five thousand persons, with net profits of over a hundred million marks in its best year, the annual volume of business transacted by the Eher Verlag probably exceeded that of the I. G. Farben concern. It published books, periodicals, illustrated magazines, and over twenty million newspapers daily in Germany and throughout Europe. With only slight exaggeration it has been described as the world's largest "poison gas factory."
There was no printing plant in the headquarters building of the Eher Verlag in the Thierschstrasse. At some twenty minutes' distance, occupying the corner of Schelling and Barerstrasse, near the Alte Pinakothek, was the establishment of M. Müller and Son, printer of the Nazi party's Völkischer Beobaehter, Hitler's Mein Kampf, and all officially sponsored books, serials, and pamphlets of the Nazi movement. Near the Müller plant on Schellingstrasse was located the editorial offices of the Völkiseher Beobaehter and, in the early days of the party, the Eher Verlag, before it moved to larger quarters in the Thierschstrasse. The relations between Adolf Müller and Hitler's party had so developed by 1933 that M. Müller and Son was in fact the printing and production apparatus of the Eher Verlag. The dominant figure in the Nazi party's publishing enterprises was Max Amann, director of the Eher Verlag and Reich Leader for the Press. Hitler held him in highest regard, according him unstinted praise for his development of the V-B and the party's giant newspaper trust. "As regards Amann," Hitler said in 1942, "I can say positively that he's a genius. He is the greatest newspaper proprietor in the world. ... Today the Zentral Verlagowns from 70 to 80 per cent of the German press. Amann achieved all that without the slightest ostentation."
Like the party itself, this great publishing power had rather shabby and insignificant beginnings. The Völkischer Beobaehter, Reich organ of the N-S party, was the first German newspaper to achieve a million circulation in all editions. This was in no way due to its excellence as a publication but rather to its position as the official organ of the party. The early history of this newspaper, principal property of the Eher Verlag, has been ably narrated by Dr. Sonja Noller. Only the most significant facts should be presented here.
The predecessor of the V-B, the Münchner Beobachterf began publication on January 2,1887, as a four-page suburban weekly in small format. Both the ownership and the title changed several times before the paper was acquired by the publisher Franz Eher in 1900. Shortly after Eher's death in 1918, the edition circulating outside Munich was retitled Völkischer Beobachter, which became the title of the main edition a year later. Meanwhile the Eher heirs had sold the V-B and the Verlag to Rudolf Freiherr von Sebottendorff, a central figure in the Munich Thule Society and other counterrevolutionary and rightist organizations which flourished in the turbulent winter of 1918-1919. Incorporated by the new owners, the principal stockholder was Fräulein Käthe Bierbaumer, reputedly Sebottendorff's mistress as well as his financial backer. Frau Dora Kunze, Sebottendorff's sister, was a minority stockholder. Rightist and strongly racial in its direction, the paper served during this period as a general organ of the völkisch movement in South Germany and in the Austrian and Sudetenland areas. It also accumulated debts and required new infusions of capital. Some of this came from members of the Nazi party and its sympathizers and supporters. A list of the stockholders, entered in the Munich corporation court register on March 20, 1920, shows the amounts of their capital participation:
Käthe Bierbaumer (Freiburg/Breisgau) 46,500 RM
Dora Kunze (Lauban) 10,000 RM
Gottfried Feder (Munich/Murnau) 10,000 RM
Franz Xaver Eder (Munich) 10,000 RM
Franz Freiherr von Feilitzsch (Munich) 20,000 RM
Dr. Wilhelm Gutberlet (Munich) 10,000 RM
Theodor Heuss (Munich) 10,000 RM
Karl Alfred Braun 3,500 RM
Of the listed stockholders, Feder was active in the Nazi party leadership, Gutberlet was a financial supporter, Eder was business manager of the Verlag, and the others were assuredly sympathizers if not active party members.
With dwindling income and mounting debts, the Verlag was on the brink of bankruptcy by December 1920, when a controlling interest was acquired by the National Socialist party. The purchase price was 120,000 RM and assumption of debts amounting to 250,000 RM. On December 18, 1920, it was announced in the V-B that the paper had been purchased by the NSDAP. Although Anton Drexler was still party chairman, Hitler was the driving force behind the venturesome move. Dietrich Eckart, Hitler's friend and sponsor in the party, played the decisive role in that he found the money to make the down payments on the majority shares. Eckart got the cash — 60,000 RM — from Reichswehr General Ritter von Epp, acknowledging receipt and pledging repayment in a personal note dated December 17, 1920.3 Hitler, who was convinced that acquisition of a party paper was essential to advancement of the movement, was immeasurably happy and Eckart received from him a note of ecstatic thanks for his decisive help. While the loan from Epp was decisive, others also contributed. Dr. Gottfried Grandel, an early financial supporter of the party, and Simon Eckart, an official of the Hansa Bank, advanced part of the purchase money or pledged their credit to consummate the deal. Grandel, as late as 1940, sued the Eher Verlag to recover the warranty money which he had put up in 1921. In a party devoted to the "breaking of interest slavery," financial loans were commonly regarded and treated as gifts!
An entry in the corporation court register (December 17, 1920) reflected the change in ownership. Listed as the principal stockholders were Bierbaumer, Kunze, and Anton Drexler, chairman of the incorporated National Socialist German Workers Society (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterverein, e. V.), the organization which actually held the shares as trustee for the unincorporated NSDAP. Within the year the shares held by the former owners, Bierbaumer and Kunze, passed to the N-S Workers Society and an entry in the corporation register (November 16, 1921) listed Adolf Hitler as chairman of the board, who "declares that he possesses all the shares of the Eher company." The corporation registers subsequent to 1921, which might have thrown additional light on the problem of transfer and ownership, were destroyed during the war. How and when the minority stockholders — Feder, Gutberlet, Braun, Heuss, Eder, and Feilitzsch — were bought out cannot be exactly determined. There are indications that sometimes shares were pledged as dubious security for emergency loans. Reminiscing years later about the daring acquisition of the V-B, Hitler said that Dr. Gutberlet had made him a present of shares valued at 5,000 RM, and he had bought other shares. Amann, whose memory was not infallible, stated in 1951 that when he became director of the Verlag the stock was held by Gottfried Feder, Freiherr von Reitzenstein of Garmisch, and the N-S Workers Society. In 1929, Amann was made a party to a suit against the Eher Verlag, and on this occasion Hitler published a statement on the ownership of the V-B and the publishing company. Amann, he declared, was not a private stockholder in the enterprise. "The firm of Eher is an incorporated company whose total shares are held by the National Socialist Workers Society, a registered society in Munich. There are no private stockholders in the firm."
In the absence of complete corporate records, it is reasonable to conclude that by 1923, or 1926 at the latest, all the capital stock of the Eher company was in the possession of the N-S Workers Society, the trustee organization of the Nazi party. This legal and property relationship was maintained until December 1933, when the "Law for the Safeguarding of the Unity of Party and State" was promulgated. Paragraph I of this Reich statute declared the NSDAP a legally incorporated body whose constitution was determined by the Fiihrer. A subsequent ordinance implementing this law was issued on March 20, 1935. It declared the N-S Workers Society dissolved and its assets transferred without liquidation to the newly incorporated NSDAP. The constitution and by-laws of the predecessor organization remained in force, however, until a new constitution was published on April 29, 1935. This instrument made no change in the status of the Eher Verlag and the V-B, which remained outside the property and financial control of the party treasurer. Like other property, the stock of the Eher Verlag was legally held by the N-S Workers Society and later by the incorporated NSDAP. As chairman of the board of the Eher Verlag, Hitler exercised sole authority, which he later delegated to Amann. His name appeared as publisher on the masthead of the V-B from 1925 to 1933. But contrary to the common assumption Hitler did not personally own or hold shares in the Eher Verlag.
Max Amann — Hitler's Business Dwarf
From the time of its acquisition, Hitler personally interested himself in the direction and management of the Völkischer Beobachter. Because of his addiction to drugs and alcohol, Dietrich Eckart, who took charge of the party's paper in 1921, was an unreliable editor. Gradually he was shunted aside and Alfred Rosenberg, his principal assistant, became editor-in-chief when he acquired German citizenship in 1923. Hitler has described the financial plight of the V-B and the Eher Verlag when they were acquired by the party. "When I took it over the Völkischer Beobachter had no more than seven thousand subscribers, not a single advertising contract ... and not a penny in the till for the purchase of the paper it was printed on." Hitler did not exaggerate the difficulties encountered in the first year of party ownership. The position of business manager changed hands several times until Max Amann, who had been business manager of the party since the previous August, became director also of the Eher Verlag on April 4, 1922.
It was not an easy task that Amann undertook, and his gifts for organization, economy, and calculation were put to a severe test. A person with less energy and determination would have been discouraged. Unfamiliar with publishing problems, he learned the business as he went along, and it must be said he learned it well. He maintained the V-B on a sound financial basis, he founded and developed the book department of the Verlag, and after 1933 he was the driving force, if not the creative brain, of the party's monopoly of newspaper publishing. Hitler never ceased to praise Amann and his astuteness as a publisher and business man.
Born in Munich, November 24, 1891, Amann attended business school and served an office apprenticeship in a Munich law firm. He served five years in the Bavarian army and for a time during World War I he was Hitler's company sergeant. Demobilized in 1919, he married and took employment in a Munich mortgage bank. Regarding his reencounter with Hitler and entry into the Nazi party Amann had two versions — one which he propagated in party circles before 1945, and the other after 1945. In the first version, a chance meeting in the street and an invitation to attend one of Hitler's meetings brought him into the movement in February 1920. In the summer of 1921, after he had gained control of the party apparatus, Hitler offered Amann the position of business manager. Amann hesitated as he had job commitments and pension prospects. Hitler gave him a two-hour lecture on the dangers of Bolshevism and closed with an impassioned plea to switch jobs. He asked: "What good will your pension rights do you if some day the Bolsheviks string you up to a lamp post?" Amann took three days to think it over, then resigned his secure job and took the position offered by Hitler. After 1945, under interrogation, Amann was less heroic. He posed as a business man and Germany's leading publisher; he was completely disinterested in politics and scorned impractical ideologues; his connections with Hitler, the party, and the movement were strictly business relationships; he understood nothing of politics. The record, however, shows Amann to have been not only an effective business manager and Verlag director, but an active member of the party. His political services fully justified his later appointment as a Reichsleiter and the award of the highest party honors.
Excerpted from The Captive Press in the Third Reich by Oron James Hale. Copyright © 1964 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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