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. . . .
Read more on London Review of Books: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n11/richard-j-evans/whiter-washing