The New York Times’ First Profile of Hitler: His Anti-Semitism Is Not as “Genuine or Violent” as It Sounds (1922)

in History | November 16th, 2016

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I’ve heard it again and again. The now President-elect made vicious and belittling attacks on African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, women, the disabled, etc. during the campaign season (and for several decades before), but he didn’t mean it. And I have many questions. For example, why should anyone assume—given the history of country after country after country—that a bullying nativist autocrat doesn’t mean what he says?

We know celebrity breeds trivialization. But we also know well that in some of the most famous—but by no means only—cases of demagogues who rose to power with hate speech, the rhetoric quickly turned to many years of incomprehensible, yet calculated, brutality. At least in the U.S., hardly anyone believed that the melodramatic vitriol Hitler and Mussolini spat at scapegoats of all kinds, especially Jews, should be taken very seriously.

In 1922—at the dawn of Hitler’s budding nationalist movement—The New York Times published its first profile, and explained his demagoguery away. The article, titled “New Popular Idol Rises in Bavaria,” begins with several alarming subheadings: “Hitler credited with extraordinary powers of swaying crowds to his will,” “forms gray-shirted army… They obey orders implicitly,” “Leader a reactionary,” “Anti-Red and Anti-Semitic.” It then goes on to undermine these charges.

According to “several reliable, well-informed [unnamed] sources,” we’re told, “Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded,” though “the Hitler movement is not of a mere local or picturesque interest.”

He was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.

What purposes? The paper quotes one admiring “sophisticated politician” as saying, “You can’t expect the masses to understand or appreciate your finer real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you really are leading them.” Where might this be? The shadowy source did not say. We cynically expect all politicians to lie, to feed us “cruder morsels.” But assuming that racism, bigotry, and scapegoating—whether sincere or not—will go down so easily with so many people constitutes a very dark view of “the masses.”

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Ten years later, after Hitler was released from prison for treason and had begun his candidacy for president, many, even more complimentary, articles would follow—as Rafael Medoff documents in The Daily Beast—all the way up to Time magazine’s naming him “Man of the Year” for 1938.  “Why did many mainstream American newspapers portray the Hitler regime positively,” asks Medoff, “especially in its early months? How could they publish warm human-interest stories about a brutal dictator? Why did they excuse or rationalize Nazi anti-Semitism? These are questions that should haunt the conscience of U.S. journalism to this day.”

One reporter in a 1933 Christian Science Monitor dispatch from Germany informed his readers that “the train arrived punctually”—indulging a trope about fascists making the “trains run on time” that has astonishingly come back in circulation via former Cincinnati mayor Ken Blackwell. “Traffic was well regulated.” The correspondent found “not the slightest sign of anything unusual afoot.” The word we often hear for what happened during the 30s is “normalization,” a process by which the most harrowing portents were blended into the landscape, rendered signs of nothing “unusual afoot.”

The normalization of Nazism in Germany involved a tremendous propaganda effort, much of it aimed at children. In the U.S., the press seemed more than willing to turn an ethno-nationalist movement with frightening—and plainly stated—objectives into an ordinary, rational state actor. Anti-Semitism was described as legitimate political resentment or reasonable anger at German Jews’ “commercial clannishness.” Somehow the victims of Nazism had to be responsible for their own murder and persecution. “There must be some reason,” wrote The Christian Century in an April, 1933 editorial, “other than race or creed—just what is that reason?” Few people, it seems, could or would allow themselves to imagine that the new German Führer actually meant what he said.

via Boing Boing

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

by | Make a Comment (28)




Comments (28)

  1. Brian Gay says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 7:37 am

    Josh,

    I really love this website and typically use it as a way to escape the negative news on the more popular news sites. I appreciate freedom of speech, but I am really tired of the biased anti-trump rhetoric open culture is putting on their site lately. It seems that after the election, the Liberals are now becoming the party of NO. Please return to providing interesting articles, not political rhetoric.

    I mean this in the most respectful way, so I hope you don’t take this personally.

    Sincerely,

    Brian Gay

  2. Juan Deaux says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 7:41 am

    Oh, don’t be coy. You’re saying that Trump is the new Hitler.

  3. Jan says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 7:50 am

    Dear Brian,

    I will keep the discussion rational, so I also ask you not to take this personally.

    Your comment to Josh is meaningless concerning the published post. It seems that it is not Josh’s post, but your comment which is completely rhetorical once that, instead of rebutting the arguments in a rational way, simply attacks the author with makeshift terms like ‘anti-trump rhetoric’. It attacks Liberals, which has nothing to do with the post.

    The post has a clear argument, not a rhetorical one: people are being advised not to take Trump’s racist comments seriously. People were advised the same for Hitler. Hitler ended up effecting a genocide. Therefore, there is a risk that Trump actually mean it and, if it happened once, there is no guarantee that it will happen again.

    It is a logical argument that seems to me completely independent of your political alignment. Now, whether or not people find the risk of genocide something bad, that is also a particular choice, but one which is not part of the discussion considering its probability.

    Jan.

  4. Lea Caldwell says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 9:32 am

    Thank you so much for posting this! People truly do not understand the iceberg we are crashing into, due to under estimating its size.

  5. Haley says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 10:01 am

    Jan,

    I agree and was in the process of crafting a similar response to Brian when I read yours.

    As a historian, who is taught — like other historians — to recognize patterns, to me it seems Josh’s post is almost purely historical, surfacing at a time when the connection with the past is most apparent.

    Whether or not anyone has issue with that “connection” or “pattern,” and it being voiced, is completely up to them.

    However, I don’t think it’s appropriate to target the journalism of a particularly writer or website — like Josh — with words like “return to providing interesting articles.”

    For one, simply because it displays a type of narcissism and concern only with what oneself wants to see. I, myself, for instance, thought the article was quite interesting.

    Nothing personal,
    Haley

  6. Dan Colman says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 11:21 am

    Haley and Jan,

    Just want to say thanks for the spot on replies. Combined, you nailed it.

    Thanks,
    Dan (editor)

  7. nnyhav says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 10:04 am
  8. Nathan says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 10:28 am

    It appears thing have changed little at the New York Times; still apologizing for totalitarianism. H/T Boing Boing

  9. anon says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 10:36 am

    Make no mistake, this is not a foregone comparison. Early indications confirm that Trump’s assembled cabinet will quickly undo basic tenets of our democracy that we have taken for granted up to now. Ignorance-laden motivations always have unsustainable outcomes.

  10. Brian Gay says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 11:28 am

    Jan,

    You read way too much into my comment. I was not making a political statement. As a matter of fact, I’m not even political, so I didn’t even vote. All I wanted was one safe haven away from all of the Hubbub that is going on in the world. Openculture usually offers more artistic news, so all I wanted was for things to go before the election began. If I wanted political rhetoric, I would go to Yahoo! News.

    Sorry you took my comments so personally. I didn’t intend for them to come off that way.

    Sincerely my apologies,

    Brian Gay

  11. Josh Jones says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 11:34 am

    Dear Brian,

    Thanks for weighing in. I believe the country has elected a very dangerous authoritarian bully and that many people will suffer for it. The evidence is so overwhelming and has been on display for so long that I feel no need to repeat any of it. Everyone, liberal, conservative, and otherwise, should unequivocally and without reservation, say NO. The stakes are basic human rights and civil liberties, not run-of-the-mill partisanship.

    That said–and I also say this respectfully–if you do not like this article, or any of the articles on this site, you always have freedom of choice. Don’t read them.

    Sincerely,
    Josh Jones

  12. Brian says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 12:29 pm

    Josh, Dan, and whoever else misconstrued my statements,

    I am not aligned with any party and am non-partisan. I did not argue or attack as Jan said and I did not make the article out to what I wanted to believe it to be as Haley suggested. I also do not have a political alignment as Jan said.

    I only made a suggestion that if you don’t want to lose readers, stop with the political articles no matter who it is for or against. We are all tired of it.

    As for your need to push your personal agenda onto others; I also heard the same response from Republicans about Obama. Welcome to being an extremist.

    Brian

  13. Josh Jones says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 1:03 pm

    Thanks for offering your point of view, Brian. I think you’ve made it clear that you’re just looking out for us. That’s very kind of you. I’ll add to my statement and then say no more: The values that this site regularly champions–free speech and free inquiry, respect for the scientific method, and a high regard the arts, humanities, and humanistic endeavor–are under threat, whether you perceive that to be the case or no. That is of great interest to our readers. Our focus on current affairs and historical parallels is not about a “personal agenda.”

    All the best to you,
    Josh

  14. Todd says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 2:30 pm

    A very interesting historical parallel. Thank you for the artfully written piece. Compelling. I have never visited your site before, but will certainly be returning.

  15. Anon says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 3:09 pm

    Brian, you may be “tired of it,” but, please, do not speak for me.

    I’m not tired of it, not by a long shot. Two weeks ago, it may have been okay to be apolitical, but not today. Our country’s democratic ideals are in danger of being destroyed by the Trump regime. I’m actively seeking media outlets that understand this fact. Thank you to Josh, Dan and Open Culture for providing this much needed voice to counteract mainstream media’s pathetic attempt to normalize anything associated with Trump.

  16. Josh Jones says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 4:23 pm

    Thanks much Jan, Haley, Todd, and other readers for your comments.

  17. chrisare says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 5:51 pm

    Historical comparisons with an n of 1 aren’t particularly useful or interesting.

  18. RN says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 5:58 pm

    Thank you, Brian. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    And as a parody I recently saw, prior to election day, “Nobody does Hitler like Hitler.”
    Because, so very many people are compared to Hitler.
    Remember anti-Obama shirts, etc “Hitler was also an eloquent speaker”
    Stop. It.
    We have checks and balances to our system. Yes, Republicans have majority right now, but how many Republicans have spoken out AGAINST Trump?
    Yeah, a lot.
    We are going to be okay. Time to act locally. Stop fear-mongering. Love your neighbor….. regardless of how they may have voted. The time is now.
    Postscript: 1. I had no idea Time was crap so far back. 2. Ditto, NY Times. 3. Remember when Joe Kennedy advised not to stand up to Hitler, even after his prejudice and intentions were well stated? Yeah. Crazy.

    All the best,

    Amanda

  19. Brian says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 7:29 pm

    Thanks Amanda. I just get tired of seeing all of the doom and gloom in the news. The world is not that bad. Didn’t you see that Stephen Hawking gave us 1000 years before the world ends? Lol

    Well it didn’t end when we elected the first black president and it won’t end now. I just wish the media would bring us together instead of driving us apart.

    Thanks

    Brian

  20. A says . . .
    November 16, 2016 / 10:13 pm

    Brian,
    I don’t think it is the media’s job to bring anyone together or divide various groups, it is simply their job to report events.

    I also have a problem with your use of the word rhetoric. It doesn’t apply. What is reported about our president elect is often based on his own words. So a journalist reporting on the words someone is using is not using rhetoric, they are reporting facts. He was recorded talking about grabbing women by the pussy. No one made him say that and the media wasn’t twisting his words or taking it out of context to persuade people of a certain viewpoint they simply reported his words.

    I, too, am sick of hearing about all this political bs but I think it is important that we do listen and pay attention. The nation has elected someone who has called for a ban of all people of a particular religion. Somehow many feel we can’t put any restrictions on guns (even background checks) because people yell about the right to bear arms being in the constitution, yet a large portion of the population backed a man saying he’d like to ban Muslims from entering the country and yet we have freedom of religion in that very same document. Certainly one could argue that immigrants are not yet citizens so therefore the constitution doesn’t apply to them, but I guess its the principle of the thing. Is there any guarantee that a Christian will automatically be a good future citizen yet a Muslim will not? No.

    I think this is an incredibly important time in our country. We have a president elect whose victory was openly supported by the KKK. I think that speaks volumes. I think that no matter which side of the aisle you are on you should be for basic human rights and decency. I think many average citizens standing idly by is what allows many of these horrible situations, such as the holocaust, to occur. Hitler wasn’t the last example of ethnic cleansing and sadly I’m sure there will be more examples in the future.

    I find it sad that you didn’t vote. Was there a perfect candidate? Nope. These two were less than ideal but I think you missed an opportunity by not voting. I hope that regardless of your thoughts on voting if you see injustice committed against your fellow man you will speak out. This is something we all need to commit to, taking care of each other.

  21. Ersi Samara says . . .
    November 17, 2016 / 12:46 am

    Strange how Mr. Netanyahu is now actually looking forward to working with Mr. Trump, “his friend” as he called him.

  22. Brian C Gay says . . .
    November 17, 2016 / 5:56 am

    A,

    Thank you for your polite and thoughtful response. I guess the best that we can do is to try and make a positive impact on the world around us the best way that we think we can. This is my ultimate goal each morning when I wake up.

    Sincerely,

    Brian

  23. Jenny says . . .
    November 17, 2016 / 6:04 am

    Apolitical apathy is precisely why no one should be feeling complacent or safe about our system of “checks and balances.” We are one Supreme Court justice away from no more checks and balances. This is not fear mongering. It’s a call for an apathetic population to “Pay attention, please.”

  24. Cynthia says . . .
    November 17, 2016 / 10:53 am

    I take it that civic engagement in the government isn’t a priority for you. I’m curious what is.

  25. Kate says . . .
    November 17, 2016 / 11:02 am

    It amazes me that no one reading this article recalls a recent politician who also had the ability to sway crowds to his will with a meteoric rise from seemingly nowhere. This politician ran for office under the vague notion of change and ideas like exhorting a mandatory service program as well organized and well funded as the armed forces. No one blinked an eye. This person was an associate of far left radicals once on the fbi’s most wanted list for domestic terrorism, tried to nominate radicals to prominent political posts and when unable to do that, created posts which did not need top be confirmed despite the authority bestowed on them. Unlike the President Elect, the press did all they could to aid his campaign, conspiring together on their narrative and withholding evidence of unpopular views.

  26. Anon says . . .
    November 17, 2016 / 12:21 pm

    Oh, I see what you’re doing, Kate.

    There’s a vast difference between the hate speech/rhetoric of an authoritarian tyrant and the persuasive oration of a transformative leader.

    Nice try, though.

  27. Frank S. says . . .
    November 18, 2016 / 5:08 am

    Not surprising that the newspaper which won a Pulitzer Prize for Walter Duranty’s reporting on how wonderfully things were going in Stalin’s USSR in the 1930’s would serve as an early apologist for Hitler.

  28. Lab Guy says . . .
    November 18, 2016 / 8:01 am

    I would hate for Amerika to vote for a fascist corrupt and lying authoritarian:

    Here are 1,304 well sourced examples of Obama’s lying, lawbreaking, corruption, cronyism, hypocrisy, waste, etc.

    https://danfromsquirrelhill.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/obama-252/

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