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


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.”


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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online His­to­ry Cours­es, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

How Did Hitler Rise to Pow­er? : New TED-ED Ani­ma­tion Pro­vides a Case Study in How Fas­cists Get Demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly Elect­ed

George Orwell Reviews Mein Kampf: “He Envis­ages a Hor­ri­ble Brain­less Empire” (1940)

Gand­hi Writes Let­ters to Hitler: “We Have Found in Non-Vio­lence a Force Which Can Match the Most Vio­lent Forces in the World” (1939/40)

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

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Comments (27)
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  • Brian Gay says:


    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.


    Bri­an Gay

  • Juan Deaux says:

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

  • Jan says:

    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.


  • Lea Caldwell says:

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

  • Haley says:


    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,

  • Nathan says:

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

  • anon says:

    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.

  • Brian Gay says:


    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

  • Josh Jones says:

    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.

    Josh Jones

  • Brian says:

    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.


  • Josh Jones says:

    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,

  • Todd says:

    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.

  • Anon says:

    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.

  • Josh Jones says:

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

  • chrisare says:

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

  • RN says:

    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,


  • Brian says:

    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.



  • A says:

    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.

  • Ersi Samara says:

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

  • Brian C Gay says:


    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.



  • Jenny says:

    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.”

  • Cynthia says:

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

  • Kate says:

    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.

  • Anon says:

    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.

  • Frank S. says:

    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.

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