A New Book Seeks to Whitewash the Complicity of German Journalists in Supporting Hitler

July 17 2019

After the Nazis came to power in Germany, hundreds of journalists fled the country; some who criticized the regime were sent to concentration camps or murdered. In his book Journalists between Hitler and Adenauer, the Columbia University historian Volker Berghahn focuses on several journalists who remained active in the Third Reich, arguing that they played a crucial role in West Germany’s “moral reconstruction” following World War II. Yet, argues Richard Evans, none of Berghahn’s subjects has the clean record he suggests. Take, for instance, Hans Zehrer, a prominent newspaperman in both the 1930s and the 1950s:

Under the Weimar Republic, as editor of the magazine Die Tat (“The Deed”), [Zehrer] criticized Hitler for trying to win power through the ballot box, proposing instead the establishment of a dictatorship that would bypass the moribund parliamentary system. He praised the Enabling Act, [which dramatically expanded then-Chancellor Hitler’s powers], for creating the legal basis for such a dictatorship. It would, he wrote, help the government “exterminate” liberalism and carry out “cleansing actions” in the civil service.

Since this is exactly what Hitler was doing, it hardly seems accurate to speak, as Berghahn does, of Zehrer’s “opposition to Hitler.” . . . In April 1933, . . . he condemned the “Golden International” of “Jewry, Money, and Trade” and called for the “removal of Jewish influence from the key institutions of the nation.” Anyone who considered this unjust, he added, should remember that “raison d’état can never be humanitarian.”

In 1938, . . . to underline his obedience, Zehrer agreed that his Jewish wife should emigrate to London. He didn’t go with her: that would mean, he said, “that I would be going over to the Jewish side, and I say no to that!” He divorced her. In 1943, he joined the Luftwaffe, staying there until the end of the war.

Returning to journalism after 1945, . . . had Zehrer learned his lesson and become an advocate of a democratic Germany? . . . . It is hard to resist the conclusion . . . that he had abandoned almost none of the hostility to democracy that had led him to support Hitler. But this pales before Berghahn’s attempt to rescue the reputation of [another] subject, Paul Sethe. . . .

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Read more at London Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Germany, Nazism

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy