In March 1933, six years before World War II began, Adolf Hitler's storm troopers violently shut down a small German newspaper — the Munich Post — that had devoted close to a decade warning about Hitler's dangers to a free society and peaceful nation. Had Germans paid heed to the Munich Post and others who dared to defy Hitler, World War II and the Holocaust would not have occurred. The following is excerpted from a recent biography published by The Associated Press called, "Enemy of the People: The Munich Post and the Journalists Who Opposed Hitler" by Terrence Petty.
The news media landscape in Germany after World War I was fragmented, chaotic, and biased. The press in the Weimar Republic, Germany's first democracy, was as divided as the populace during this time of political, economic, and social upheaval. Readers were drawn to publications that confirmed their own ideological leanings, not to those that challenged them.
Reflective of its times, the Munich Post (Münchener Post in German) did not pretend to be a neutral newspaper. It was owned by the Social Democratic Party and espoused the party's socialist ideals. The Social Democrats' principal newspaper, based in Berlin, was Vorwärts (Forwards). The Social Democrats had other papers as well.
While the Munich Post was not the only German newspaper to go after Hitler, its presence in the birthplace of the Nazi movement_coupled with the astonishing tenacity of its staff_put it in a unique position to break news about these rabid anti-Semites and their power-hungry leader. Journalistic standards practised by the Post_but also by other newspapers_would not pass muster among today's respected practitioners of the profession. A fair number of rumors made their way onto the pages of the Munich Post. And while the paper justified its aggressive coverage of a huge story it broke in 1931_revelations that the leader of the Sturmabteilung (SA) paramilitary organization, Ernst Röhm, was a homosexual_by attacking the hypocrisy of the fanatically anti-gay Nazis, the homophobic-seeming tone of some of the Post's reporting can be jarring to modern readers. Still, it would be a mistake to judge the Post by the standards of contemporary journalism. The times were vastly different, as were customs in newspaper reporting.
If the Post's editors were alive today, they would no doubt defend their style of journalism thusly: There was no greater threat to German democracy in the Weimar era than Adolf Hitler. They recognized it and set out to stop him. So much of what appeared on the pages of the Post ultimately played out after Hitler came to power. In the grand scheme of things, the editors of the Munich Post got it right.
It is hard not to admire the gutsiness of this little paper, which was often a lone voice_certainly one of the loudest_in defending German democracy. It invited the wrath and fury of Hitler. Dubbed the "Munich Pestilence" and the "Poison Kitchen" by the Nazis, it provoked Der Führer. It taunted him. And although the editors were adherents of a political point of view_that of the anti-Hitler Social Democrats_they were also firm believers that the Weimar Republic's democratic principles were worth fighting for.
The editors of the Munich Post, Martin Gruber, Edmund Goldschagg, Erhard Auer, and Julius Zerfass, were certainly not the only journalists of the Weimar Republic who deserve to be singled out for their courage as Hitler plotted paths to power.
Young Munich-based journalist Konrad Heiden, who worked for the Frankfurter Zeitung (Frankfurt Newspaper), was also on the front lines, critically reporting on the Nazis in the early stages of Hitler's political career. Heiden wrote a book titled A History of National Socialism in 1932 and fled into exile after Hitler came to power a year later, eventually ending up in the United States. In 1944, Heiden used his deep knowledge of the Nazi Party to publish Der Fuehrer, a scathing biography of Hitler.
Another Munich-based journalist, Fritz Gerlich, made the ultimate sacrifice in his pursuit of Hitler. Editor of the newspaper Der gerade Weg (The Straight Path), Gerlich was one of Hitler's fiercest critics. He was arrested after Hitler came to power and murdered in the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich.
A year before Hitler's rise to power, Carl von Ossietzky, editor of a left-wing magazine in Berlin and a staunch opponent of militarism, was sent to prison for exposing secret and illegal plans for German rearmament. Granted amnesty after seven months, he immediately resumed his work, focusing his articles on the Nazi threat to the Weimar Republic. Shortly after Hitler became chancellor, Ossietzky was arrested again and sent to a concentration camp where he endured three years of hard labor and beatings. He was transferred to a prison hospital in Berlin in 1936. That year, Ossietzky was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but was barred from traveling to Norway to receive it. Seriously ill, he died in 1938.
It's worth noting the front-page headline that the Munich Post's editors published a few days before storm troopers ransacked and shut down its offices in March 1933. Whatever the Munich Post's faults, that headline should be the rallying cry of journalists around the globe whose work is threatened by those who place the accumulation and wielding of authoritarian power above the defense of citizens' rights.
The headline's defiant assertion: "We Will Not Be Intimidated."
THE CORPSE IN HITLER'S APARTMENT
Martin Gruber wiped his jowly face with a serviette after dining at a Munich restaurant and placed cash on the table. Wrapping himself in his big winter overcoat and donning his homburg hat, the Munich Post editor walked to the streetcar station. He was tired, having put in long hours at the newspaper on this Thursday in 1931. As the streetcar rattled through the lonely night, the 65-year-old with thinning dark hair buried his nose in a newspaper until the streetcar approached Sendlinger Kirche station, just a short distance from his apartment.
Stepping off, he glimpsed movement out of the corner of his eye. In an instant, two young men jumped him, sending him sprawling to the ground. They pummeled his head with brass knuckles, smashing his glasses. Blood streamed down Gruber's face. The two strapping young men fled into the night.
"Hilfe!" Gruber shouted.
A man riding by on a bicycle heard the elderly man's plea for help.
"My glasses, they are in pieces," Gruber said to the man. The passerby found the remnants of Gruber's pince-nez glasses on the ground and did what he could to place them on Gruber's face so he could see.
Battered, Gruber walked to his third-floor apartment. His daughter and wife quickly summoned a doctor. There was no doubt: This was the work of the Nazis, who had made numerous death threats against employees of the Post, which had long been a thorn in the party's side.
Three months earlier, the corpse of a 23-year-old brunette, her chest oozing blood, lay on the bedroom floor of an apartment on Munich's Prinzregentenplatz. A 6.35-mm revolver was at Geli Raubal's side when she was found dead. The Walther pistol, like the luxury apartment, belonged to Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler, uncle of the deceased. Munich police quickly ruled her death a suicide. But a scrappy newspaper grew suspicious; this, of course, was the Munich Post.
Citing "informed sources," the newspaper reported that Hitler and Geli argued constantly over the half-niece's intention to move out of her uncle's apartment and get engaged to a man in Vienna. According to the Post, on September 18 there was "once again a violent quarrel" between them, and the Nazi leader left the apartment. The Post said what provoked Geli to shoot herself was not known, but the newspaper insinuated a cover-up by Nazi officials. The "mysterious affair," as the Post called it, triggered an avalanche of speculation. Much of it was salacious, suggesting, for example, that Hitler had had an illicit relationship with his half-niece and she was desperate to end it. Hitler was furious over the Post's reporting. He issued a statement vehemently denying that he and his half-niece had quarreled or that he opposed her traveling to Vienna.
Did the Post's reporting on Geli Raubal's death have anything to do with the assault on its editor, Martin Gruber? It's hard to say. But one thing is certain: Hitler already had more than enough reason to despise the Munich Post.
For about 10 years, the newspaper had done more than any other paper in Germany to expose Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party for the criminals that they were. It published repeated warnings of catastrophes to come if Germans failed to stand against him. The assault on Gruber occurred as the Post was ratcheting up its anti-Hitler campaign. Just a few days later, the newspaper quoted from a top-secret Nazi document describing plans to strip Jews of German citizenship and use them as slave labor. During the weeks to come, the Post would reveal more Nazi secrets about nefarious plans for Jews and for Hitler's political opponents.
Secrets whispered to the newspaper by Nazi malcontents, documents leaked by party members involved in palace intrigues within the Nazi headquarters, tips that came to them from informants placed all over Germany_the Munich Post made use of all these sources.
Hitler employed spectacle, massive rallies and radio broadcasts to propagate Nazi lies and reduce the relevance of the news media, especially those critical of Hitler — the "lying press," as the Nazis called them. During election campaigns, he would descend from the skies in a rented airplane, like some Norse god come to deliver the truth to mortals. Hitler's election rallies were broadcast live on the radio. The hypnotic fervor stirred up by these events overshadowed normal newspaper coverage, especially among the growing masses of Germans who were becoming convinced that the Führer was their savior.
But the Munich Post's staff wasn't buying it. They saw right through Hitler. They knew he had to be stopped. And they weren't about to give up, even at the risk of their own safety.
"Enemy of the People: The Munich Post and the Journalists Who Opposed Hitler" is available on Amazon.com.