Another View of Weimar and Nazi Germany, 1922-1942 (41 cents)

Louis P. Lochner was the Associated Press representative in Berlin for two decades, from 1922, when Germany was getting used to its post-World War I restrictions, to early 1942, shortly after Germany declared war on the United States. Lochner was particularly qualified for the job – not only as a journalist, but as a German-American fluent in the German language and conversant with German culture and history generally, as a spouse of a German national, and as a college music major who involved himself deeply in the vibrant classical music scene which pervaded Berlin throughout most of this period. He had an additional advantage, because he became best friends, by chance, with Prince Louis Ferdinand Hohenzollern, who were it not for the abolition of the Prussian monarchy would have been in line for the throne of Germany, and who gave Lochner a rare and privileged entry into German nobility of old. In 1939, Lochner won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting.

In 2007, journalist Morrell Heald edited a series of letters from Lochner to family members in America (some directed to specific individuals, others termed Round Robin letters, meant to be circulated amongst a larger group), and published them in a book, “Journalist at the Brink”. I recently read through this book and, in spite of the obvious fact that there was much in these letters of little interest to me, found it time well spent.

Not that I necessarily wound up a fan of Lochner’s. But what I learned was that, even from an outsider’s perspective, life went on in the city, as first the economic and then the social fabric of the city disintegrated. Now admittedly with regard to these letters, Lochner was in a difficult position. While he wanted to keep his family (which eventually included his two children who returned for college to the United States) informed of what he was doing and thinking, he was restricted in what he said by at least three factors: first, there were things that he learned as a journalist “off the record”, which meant he needed to keep them confidential; second, there were things he hesitated to say because he wanted to remain in the good graces of his host country, and to keep his sources open to him; third, as time went on, he had to worry about German military and civil censorship. Thus, he knew that speaking of concerts and other musical events, and talking about whose party he went to and with whom he had lunch, would not be controversial. He also made it clear that he was no fan of the Nazis, although except for Joseph (he called him Joe) Goebbels (who oversaw the press and journalism and governmental communications, and towards whom he showed contempt), he managed to stay at least in moderate favor of the Nazi higher-ups (perhaps they too wanted to remain friendly with an important American journalist), and you got to see some of the worst of them, as human beings, hosting parties and holding normal one-on-one conversations). Whether this is good or bad, I am not sure.

Lochner’s treatment of the Jewish question I found even more troubling, and also confusing. Lochner would have told you that he himself was certainly not anti-Semitic, i assume, and would have told you that “some of my best friends were Jews”, which was probably the case. But I don’t think it was that simple, because I think that, to Lochner, there were Jews and there were Jews. There were the German Jews, who were indistinguishable from other sophisticated, cosmopolitan Germans (and many of whom were married to gentiles), and they were fine. But there were the eastern (mostly Polish Jews), clearly not as cosmopolitan, and visibly distinct, and those he understood as potentially problematic for Germany. Of the people that he associated with on a social level in Germany, many were Jewish, but a large percentage of them were intermarried, and of those many had been baptized and were practicing Christians. They were only Jewish because, after the Nazi rise to power, they were classified as Jewish.

With this background, Lochner seemed to disagree with the Nazi anti-Semitic pronouncements, but after they took power and began to implement these policies, while Lochner berated the Nazis and assumed that the period of their control would be short, his concern for the anti-Jewish laws primarily seemed to be manifest in sympathy for his friends, rather than in outrage generally. And this attitude seemed to continue, with the exception of his reaction immediately after Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938 (when there were serious government sponsored pogroms, hundreds killed, and an enormous amount of property damage), when his outrage was apparent: “the anti-semitic orgy of November 10 and the days following! I never dreamed that human nature could descend to such depravity and to such sadism and cruelty as I was witness to these last weeks. We have all become much older and I wonder if we shall ever be able to laugh again.”

But laugh he did. Throughout the Nazi period, there were musicales, and parties, and lunches and professional and social engagements, many of which were quite happy affairs. And the guests included Germans of all sorts, including Nazi officials and Nazi supporters.

Some of this could be attributed to the need for a correspondent to look as neutral as possible, to keep his sources open, and to make sure that the Germans did not expel him and cut his career short (this happened to some others). But, in spite of military censorship, he did seem to be fairly honest in his letters to his family, and clearly did not hesitate in the period right after Kristallnacht to express his outrage. So, I must wonder.

2 thoughts on “Another View of Weimar and Nazi Germany, 1922-1942 (41 cents)

    • I read Garden of the Beasts, and didn’t remember that, although it doesn’t surprise me. What did surprise me, since the portrait that Larson painted of Dodd as ambassador, is that Lochner was very, very complimentary of him (at least from his point of view). He mentions daughter Martha a number of times, but no hint of the life she was leading (perhaps that was a result of Lochner’s chivalry,, perhaps not). He also mentions Putzi Hanfstaengl a number of times, but there is only a hint that he had a relationship with Martha Dodd (by listing them together as party guests a few times), but Hanfstaengl seemed to be someone with a very strong relationship with Hitler in the early years, and then he disappears and is mentioned first in Geneva and then in London. Interesting.

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