Nazism in the 1933 Seattle Times

by Michael Branscum


In this article, published three months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, an expert reassures readers that "Hitler and his Nazis must ride the middle course" and won't be able to carry out the extremist policies that have been advocated in Nazi Party platforms. (April 23, 1933) Click to read full article.
 

During the Great Depression, newspaper coverage was the main source of information about international political events, and newspapers were critical in the process of gathering, delivering, and presenting information to the public. Not only did the newspaper deliver the news, but it also created and transferred an overall attitude and critique of the news it presented based on its style, word choice, and presentation, and shed light on how international news was presented to the American public. The reporting of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the growing repressive tactics of the early Nazi regime is a particular way in which to see how a historical development that we would regard as ominous today was regarded with complacency, approval, and only intermittent concern from newspaper publishers at the time. This paper will survey reporting on Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany from issues of The Seattle Times, one of the city’s major newspapers, in 1933. As Hitler rose to power, The Seattle Times was initially hesitant to critique the Nazi Party, and printed many articles reassuring readers of his peaceful aims, even while reporting on anti-Jewish repression. Only at the end of the year would The Times become concerned about Hitler’s growing power, a trend that sheds light on the federal government’s seeming lack of concern about Nazi repression in the early years of Hitler’s regime.

In January of 1933, Adolph Hitler became a very prominent world figure as the leader of Germany and the Nazi party. The Seattle Times ran many articles about Germany during this year, though without a unified reaction to the events there. Some of the articles express almost a sense of excitement; where as some of them deliver the news with a more questionable nuance.

On January 30th, 1933, The Seattle Times published an article announcing that Hitler had become the new Chancellor of Germany. This article was somewhat neutral in tone, and even seemed approving of the prospect. For example, the article called Hitler a “picturesque leader” and stated that Hitler “swore an oath of allegiance to the republican constitution.”[1] Both of these statements seemed very encouraging to the reader. One would not call someone they despised picturesque, a word with a positive connotation. The fact that Hitler swore allegiance to the constitution is also an important statement to report, as it indicates that Hitler was fulfilling the normal, natural role of any new leader of a country.

The Times also ran a number of articles indicating the approval of Hitler’s rise to power from other world leaders. There was also an article in the same issue about France’s reaction to the leadership change in Germany, titled “Paris Displays No Alarm.” Paris was apparently “unalarmed by Hitler’s accession to power in Germany, consider that the Nazis likely will be more moderate than speeches have indicated.”[2] Given the status of France as a world power, as well as its proximity to Germany, this article established a sense of comfort regarding Hitler’s chancellorship. In the very next issue, on January 31st, the ex-Kaiser of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm, was quoted as saying that Hitler’s move to higher power was “a step in the right direction.”[3] Finally, in the section entitled “Right Now!” which acted as a round-up for editorials, the first piece was title “Hitler At Last Given Chance To Rule.”[4] By saying “at last,” the editorial implied that people were expectant and even hopeful for this to occur. Based on news coverage at this time, the general population of Seattle was unaware of many of the ideas of German Nazism, making them very susceptible to whatever slant the newspapers gave their coverage.


July 16, 1933

In February of the same year, The Seattle Times released its first article that showed the first signs of Nazi aggression and violence. On February 1st, there was an article titled “Reichstag Dissolved By Hitler’s New Cabinet.” This article reported that Hitler’s cabinet had taken over the German Reichstag, or legislature.[5] This move obviously gave Hitler’s cabinet increased, unilateral authority. The article discussed the increasing “clashes” between Nazis and Communists and mentioned that five people were killed and several injured in a recent clash in Germany.[6] There does not yet seem to be any implications of fear or even importance of this event. On February 5, there was comforting news for the people of Seattle from Germany: the paper editorialized that there was a “note of confident comment that Chancellor Hitler will favor full settlement of Germany’s debts owing in the United States.” [7]

Articles concerning current events in Germany littered The Seattle Times in the month of March. On the 7th, there was an article titled “Hitler Gets Mandate” in which it read: “Hitler apparently has been given a four year mandate by the German people.”[8] This article expressed and implicitly endorsed the confidence that the German public carried for their new leader, and could encourage Seattle readers to feel the same. However, the first true signs of uneasiness over Hitler’s regime were shown in this month: armed Nazis marched along the Rhine in the first open display of Nazi military might.[9] Although this was a non-violent military display, France still seemed worried, as the newspaper title indicated: “Armed Nazis on Rhine as France Frets.”[10] In the same article, the reporter went on to reassure the reader that “No weapons larger than rifles are possessed by the men, however.”[11] On March 16th, there was an article that delivered the news of the possible increase in the size of the German army, “Germany’s Army May Be Doubled,” informing the reader that Great Britain had proposed an army of 200,000 men for Germany.[12] In retrospect, this news would be frightening to many of us, but due to the lack of knowledge of what would come, in combination with the fact that Great Britain was supporting Germany, this article was not written in an alarmist manner.


In this editorial, C.K. Blethen reassures readers that "there is no organized mistreatment of Jews in Germany" and warns "good Jewish citizens of other countries" not to be mislead by propaganda. The editorial explains that "Communism has been permitted to thrive" in Germany and that Hitler's brutal suppression of the left is necessary. "Germany owes herself a political housekeeping." (March 28, 1933)
The uneasiness toward Hitler’s regime but ultimate lack of judgement or fear was also present in the newspaper coverage about Nazi repression against Jews and political dissidents. March was the first month in which The Seattle Times published articles regarding the ill treatment of German Jews by Hitler’s government. The first event was non-violent, yet still devastating for those involved. On March 17th, Nazi lawyers adopted a resolution that banned all Jewish and Marxist lawyers from practicing in German courts.[13] It seemed to be left up to the reader to decide the degree of this development’s importance: it was run on page 15 of the issue, and formatted as a very small article almost hidden in the corner, sending the message that it was not of great concern for the people of Seattle. Obviously, most Jews in Seattle and elsewhere would be quite concerned by this move, a sentiment which was expressed on August 31st, when the Jewish community in the United States declared a “charem,” or boycott, of German goods[14]. While there was no documentation as to whether or not this was a direct protest of the ban of Jews in German courts, it was an attack of the same manner. While the non-violent battle between the Nazis and the Jews was taking off, Hitler was gaining more ground in Germany.

In The Times article on March 23rd titled “Hitler Granted 4-Year Term as Supreme Ruler,” Hitler is quoted as saying that “No gigantic revolution of similar dimensions has been carried out with such unvarying discipline and so little bloodshed as our revolution.”[15] The purpose of Hitler’s statement is obvious: to reassure the world that he was ruling for the people and there was little need for violence. However, The Times’ coverage began to question Hitler’s pronouncement. Near the end of March, there was an abundance of articles published concerning the treatment of Jews in Germany. On the 24th, articles ran titled “Britain Roused by Reports of Nazi Violence” and “Eastern Jews Face Expulsion from Germany.”[16] Two days later on the 26th, articles were published with the titles “[British] Jews Boycott German Goods,” and “Persecution of Jews Is Denied.”[17] The titles alone were alarming and gave lie to Hitler’s earlier reported statements of peace. Not only did the titles of these articles send a message, but the fact that they were all grouped on the same page (within the respective issue) also showed The Times’s recognition of a pattern of events.

However, just as the reportage started to slant toward doubts about Hitler, the readers of The Seattle Times were, once again, reassured: on the same day that articles about Jewish persecution were published, March 26th, there was another article titled “Hitler Praised.” In this article, it was reported that “Washington scribes pause to pay tribute of comment to Herr Hitler, Germany’s effervescent Chancellor.”[18] This countered any uneasiness that might have been felt from news of Jewish persecution, and separated Hitler’s leadership from Germany’s encroachments on the liberties of its Jewish and dissident citizens. By using a word like effervescent, which has a very positive connotation, the author of this article led the reader to think positively of Adolph Hitler. The Seattle Times also published articles that seemed to reassure the reader about the previous day’s news: “Germany Tells U.S. Catholics That Jews Are Safe.”[19] In this article it stated that the German Foreign Minister told the Cardinal of Boston that as far as the alleged mistreatment of German Jews, “I beg to assure your eminence that such allegations are devoid of all foundation.”[20] In the next day’s editorial section, The Seattle Times went so far as to declare that “there is no organized mistreatment of Jews in Germany” and “In our own country, at any rate, the official agencies of government are strong and impartial: their assurance that there has been no racial persecution in Germany and will be none may be relied upon.”[21] Once again, The Seattle Times was reassuring its readers, after publishing articles concerning atrocities, that all was well in Germany and there was no need to worry.

The pattern of reporting Nazi’s repression of Jews alongside reassuring articles continued throughout the spring. A few days after this editorial claiming that there was “no racial persecution,” The Times’s March 31st headline read: “Nazis Expel Jewish Judges.”[22] The explanatory front page article was entitled “Hitler War on Judah to Be Drastic, Universal: Virtual Extermination of Race from Economic Life of Reich Starts in Earnest Tomorrow Morning.”[23] This article explained that the Nazis had banned all dissenters (Jews, Communists, and Marxists) from professional criminal courts.[24] Suppressing the dissenters was a step toward complete repression, and should have been quite worrisome for the people of Seattle as they were watching these events unfold, especially when reading the line: “new government proclamation…defined the action against Jews as the beginning of a war on the entire Jewish race of the world.”[25]


In this letter to the editor, a reader blasts the March 28 editorial as "woefully ignorant," noting that the Nazis"are organized on the principle of anti-Semitism." (April 7, 1933)
Similar to the month of March, some issues in April highlighted news with these concerns of repression while other articles claimed exactly the opposite. An April 1st article reported the beginning of the Jewish ban began in Germany, during which Germans boycotted Jewish places of work with a sentence that read “There were so many tragic aspects to the situation.”[26] The word tragic has a very strong negative connotation and was definitely frightening to the reader. An article in the April 3rd issue bolstered this ominous effect, announcing that “beginning midnight no one will be allowed to leave German soil without special permission.”[27] This event made dissenters, such as Jews, prisoners of their own government. Yet despite its ominous tone, this article did not have great emphasis, as it was not on the front page of the paper. It almost seemed as if The Seattle Times did not know what to think of this news, and therefore the reader would have been in the same boat.

A very influential article was published in the editorial section of the April 7th issue that highlighted these discrepancies between the news The Seattle Times reported and its overall editorial confidence in Hitler’s regime. The article was a letter from a reader entitled “Our Woeful Ignorance.” The author argued that “In a recent issue of The Times there appeared an editorial entitled ‘No Persecution,’ the writer of which showed a degree of confidence in Adolph Hitler.”[28] They went on to ask, “Does The Times for a moment assume that the German government would admit that there was any organized persecution or that our diplomatic representatives to Berlin would be informed of what is going on behind the scenes?”[29] And finally concluded, “To say that Hitler would not allow any organized persecution of the Jews indicates that the writer of the editorial is woefully ignorant of the history of German politics.”[30] This was a very important article in The Times because it was written by a reader who explicitly pointed out the slanted and contradictory coverage of The Seattle Times. The author of this letter was trying to open the eyes not only readers, but also The Seattle Times, to what was really going on and perhaps heighten the sense of fear toward the Nazis.

Despite this reader’s letter of protest, The Seattle Times went on to publish articles of similar tone. For example, an article on April 23rd excused dictatorships as “Mere Interludes,” or “compromise[s] between vacillating, frequently inefficient but always cherished popular rule and the institution of monarchy.”[31] Also on the 23rd was an entire page containing an interview with Emil Lengyell, the author of a book called Hitler. In this interview, “Mr. Lengyell…does not believe that Hitler…will initiate as violent a program as some people fear. He believes that Hitler will give Germany a leadership that will not deviate far from the middle course.”[32] Both of these articles carried a tone, once again, of reassurance. It seemed as though The Times was attempting to prevent any sort of panic in Seattle by publishing reassuring news, as well as downplaying the scale of the Nazi’s repression, possibly out of a lack of concern for Jewish people.

In May there was clear indication of fear within the United States government toward the Hitler regime, though its reporting was quickly followed by The Seattle Times’s reassurances of order. On the May 16th, the headline read “Disarm, Roosevelt Pleads!”[33] Although the article stated that Roosevelt did not name any certain countries, it was clear that he was mainly directing this plea toward German militarism. Two days later, following their previous pattern, The Times published an article maintaining the belief in Nazi Germany’s peaceful ambitions. The article, entitled “All Germany to Backing Hitler in Peace Stand,” stated that “the whole German nation rallied today behind the government in solemnity assuring the world that her hallowed ideals are universal peace.”[34] In a certain sense, The Times’s coverage was tailing Hitler’s own political movements, in which he would follow his government’s repressive and hostile acts with statements of the peaceful and legitimate intentions of his party. This continued: on May 30th, there was an article titled: “Germany Says ‘Hands Off’ on Jewish Policy.”[35] Basically, Hitler demanded the League of Nations to “keep its hands off the question of Germany’s treatment of the Jews.”[36] Anyone reading this article would have been very suspicious of this statement was an attempt to create a “don’t ask-don’t tell” attitude towards the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Over the next four months, more articles were published reported on the widespread repression Hitler’s regime.

In the months of June, July, August, and September, Hitler began to really flex his totalitarian muscles. On the 19th of June, in an article titled “Nazi Government May Rear Children,” there was a quote that stated, “Hitler has sternly warned German parents that their children will be taken away and put under the government’s wing if they are not brought up to be good Nazis.”[37] Then, on August 14th, a man from the United States was sentenced to a six-month prison term for allegedly calling Hitler a Czech Jew.[38] In the same manner, on August 19th, an article was published titled “When in Berlin Do as Nazis Do,” telling the story of another American man who was assaulted by Hitler’s troops in Berlin for failing to salute Nazi troops marching through the town.[39] To top it off, an article was published on September 1st titled “Hitler Greeted like King at Nazi Congress.”[40] All of these articles sent very clear signals to the people of Seattle about Hitler’s intentions in Germany and across the globe. If there were any question as to whether or not Hitler would rule with an “iron fist,” they would have been answered by the summer’s news coverage. The last few months of 1933 show action taken by the U.S. toward Germany, as well as more disturbing news proving Hitler’s growing domination of his people.


Several other Washington newspapers wers as woefully ignorant as the Seattle Times if this March 26, 1933 roundup of editorial views is correct.
In October, the United States took non-violent action after a final attack on an American-born man in Germany by Nazi troops. On October 11th, an article on the front page of The Seattle Times reported on an American in Germany who was attacked, with “no provocation,” by Nazi troops.[41] The very next day, the headline read: “US WARNS GERMANY” and in the corresponding article it stated that “Britain, Spain, Holland as well as America, tell Nazis in no uncertain terms to mend ways [and]…assaults on their citizens must cease or the most serious consequences concerning the relations of their countries with the Reich may result.”[42] Two days later, Germany quit the League of Nations, a move that a French official was reported as calling the “gravest news in 20 years.”[43] These events dominated the front pages which made it clear to the readers that the situation in Germany was officially very serious and the U.S. was not going to tolerate it. At this point, people of Seattle, even those who were not interested in the Germany situation, would have been alarmed and probably frightened when pondering the future. The year of 1933 ended with the notion that the people of Germany (excluding the Jews and any other dissenters who were unable to voice their opinions) were going to stand behind Hitler, regardless of his policies, but with an increasing American concern toward the regime.

Two articles, one in November and one in December, reported to Seattle readers that Hitler had the backing of the German people for his policies. On November 13th, The Seattle Times brought the startling news that 93 percent (around 40,500,000 people) “O.K’d Hitlerism.”[44] To add to the effect, on December 12th, there was an article titled “Nazi Reichstag Pledges Hitler Blind Loyalty” in which it explained that four members (representing 655 out of 661 legislators) of the Reichstag, “personally promised Hitler to obey all orders without question.”[45] With the year of 1933 coming to a close, the people of Seattle were left with very questionable news: Hitler was more powerful than ever and his repressive tactics and ultimate motives, as expressed through the year’s news, were becoming clearer.

The Seattle Times began covering Hitler and the Nazi movement in Germany on January 28th with a very neutral, sometime positive, tone. Throughout the spring, even as The Times reported on the repression of Jews and political dissidents in Germany, it continued to print reassuring and even positive news about Hitler’s government. In some ways, this reflected the claims to peace of the Nazi regime itself, but in others—such as word choice and headlined articles—we can clearly see the approving or at least neutral position of The Seattle Times. Toward the fall and winter, it became clear the publishers of The Times were beginning to worry about Germany’s growing power, especially as they reported the American government’s federal actions to prevent the harassment of American citizens in Germany, a sense of uneasiness transmitted by the articles’ location and frequency. As we can see, The Times’s coverage was often uncritical and dismissive of reports of early Nazi repression toward Jews, and they maintained a conflicted, contradictory stance toward Nazi Germany throughout 1933.

Copyright (c) 2009, Michael Branscum
HSTAA 105 Winter 2009


[1] (Hitler Made Chancellor Of Germany 1933)

[2] (Paris Displays No Alarm 1933)

[3] (Ex-Kaiser Commends Elevation of Hitler 1933)

[4] (Right Now! 1933)

[5] (Reichstag Dissolved by Hitler's New Cabinet 1933)

[6] (Reichstag Dissolved by Hitler's New Cabinet 1933)

[7] (Right Now! 1933)

[8] (Hitler Gets Mandate 1933)

[9] (Armed Nazis on Rhine as France Frets 1933)

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] (Germany's Army May Be Doubled 1933)

[13] (Nazi Lawyers Ask Jewish Court Ban 1933); (Jews to Declare it 'Sin' to Buy German Goods 1933)

[14] (Jews to Declare it 'Sin' to Buy German Goods 1933)

[15] (Hitler Granted 4-Year Term as Supreme Ruler 1933)

[16] (The Seattle Times 1933)

[17] (The Seattle Times 1933)

[18] (Hitler Praised 1933)

[19] (Germany Tells U.S. Catholics Jews Are Safe 1933)

[20] Ibid.

[21] (No Persecution 1933)

[22] (Nazis Expell Jewish Judges 1933)

[23] (Hitler War on Judah to be Drastic, Universal 1933)

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] (All Jewish Doctors are Ostracized in German 1933)

[27] (Germany to End Exodus of Jewish Residents 1933)

[28] (Letters from Times Readers 1933)

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] (Dictatorships Mere Interludes 1933)

[32] (Germany's Big Question Mark 1933)

[33] (Disarm, Roosevelt Pleads! 1933)

[34] (All Germany to Backing Hitler in Peace Stand 1933)

[35] (Hitler Says 'Hands Off' on Jewish Policy 1933)

[36] Ibid.

[37] (Nazi Government May Rear Children 1933)

[38] (Calling Hitler Jew Costs U.S. Seaman 6 Months 1933)

[39] (When In Berlin Do as Nazis Do 1933)

[40] (Hitler Greeted Like King at Nazi Congress 1933)

[41] (U.S. Roused Over Nazi Attacks On Americans 1933)

[42] (Assaults on Nationals Rouse Ire of Power 1933)

[43] (Peace Periled when Germany Quites League 1933)

[44] (Hitlerism O.K.'d by 93 Pct. of German Voters 1933)

[45] (Nazi Reichstag Pledges Hitler Blind Loyalty 1933)