Before the First World War the Münchner Beobachter (Munich Observer) was a weekly newspaper that was described as "a gossip sheet devoted to scandal mongering". In August 1919 it was obtained by the Thule Society and its name was changed to Völkischer Beobachter (Racial Observer). It was an anti-socialist and anti-Jewish newspaper. For example, its headline on 10th March, 1920, was "Clean Out the Jews Once and for All." The article urged a "final solution" of the Jewish problem by "sweeping out the Jewish vermin with an iron broom." The newspaper also campaigned for the concentration camps to house Germany's Jewish population. (1)
The Völkischer Beobachter was not very popular with the German people and by the end of 1920 it was heavily in debt. Major Ernst Röhm was informed of the situation and he persuaded his commanding officer, Major General Franz Ritter von Epp to purchase it for 60,000 marks. The money came from wealthy friends and secret army funds. This now became the newspaper of the German Worker's Party (GWP) and Dietrich Eckart became its editor. (2)
Adolf Hitler took control of the newspaper in 1921 when he became the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Hitler appointed Max Amann as the NSDAP business manager and he now took responsibility of the newspaper. Hitler later explained: "On my request, party comrade Amann took over the position of party business manager. He told me at once that further work in this office was absolutely impossible. And so, for a second time, we went out in search of quarters, and rented an old abandoned inn in Corneliusstrasse, near the Gartnerplatz.... A part of the old taproom was partitioned off and made into an office for party comrade Amann and myself. In the main room a very primitive wicket was constructed. The S.A. leadership was housed in the kitchen." (3)
James Pool, the author of Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979) believed that Hitler had made an excellent choice in Amann. "Efficient, parsimonious, incorruptible, and without personal political ambition, Amann was exactly the right man for the job. He brought a commonsense business approach to Party affairs." It was said that his motto was "Make propaganda pay its own way." Hitler later praised Amann in particular for his financial management of the Party newspaper: "The fact that I was able to keep the Völkischer Beobachter on its feet throughout the period of our struggle - and in spite of the three failures it had suffered before I took it over - I owe first and foremost to... Amann. He as an intelligent businessman refused to accept responsibility for an enterprise if it did not possess the economic prerequisites of potential success." (4)
The Völkischer Beobachter enabled Hitler to put across his political message. He also recruited Heinrich Hoffmann as his official photographer, who travelled with him everywhere. William L. Shirer said his "loyalty was doglike". According to Louis L. Snyder: "Hoffmann's personal and political relationship with Hitler began in Munich in the early days of the National Socialist movement. The photographer, sensing a brilliant future for the budding politician, became his constant companion. For some time he belonged to Hitler's inner circle. Hitler often visited the Hoffmann home in Munich-Bogenhausen, where he felt he could relax from his hectic political life.... Much of Hitler's early popularity was due to Hoffmann's superb photography." Hoffmann was the only man permitted to take pictures of Hitler and he had to get permission from him before the photographs appeared in the newspaper. (5)
In February 1923, Ernst Hanfstaengel provided $1,000 to ensure the daily publication of Völkischer Beobachter. (6) As the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964), has pointed out: "It became a daily, thus giving Hitler the prerequisite of all German political parties, a daily newspaper in which to preach the party's gospels." Alfred Rosenberg, the NSDAP's unofficial philosopher, became its editor. Rosenberg filled its columns with anti-Semitic material such as the anti-Jewish poetry of Josef Czerny. He also reproduced The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. (7)
The Völkischer Beobachter published in full all of his speeches. In 1923 Dietrich Eckart and Alfred Rosenberg, selected and published one hundred and fifty speeches, entitled Adolf Hitler, His Life and Speeches. Over the next few years several new editions of the book appeared. However, the speeches in the books were often different from those in the newspaper. This included the removal of attacks on powerful foreign politicians. Hitler was especially concerned with not upsetting politicians in the United States. (8)
According to Louis L. Snyder Rosenberg was often in conflict with Max Amann: "Rosenberg wanted to politicize his readers by stressing the Nazi way of life, while Amann called for a sensational newspaper that would make money for the party... In the shabby Munich office Rosenberg worked zealously on editorials, while Amann exploited the reporters on starvation wages. Rosenberg and Amann often had furious arguments that ended with each throwing scissors and inkwells at the other." (9)
In September 1923 the Völkischer Beobachter attacked General Hans von Seeckt, the chief of staff of the German armed forces, as an enemy of the people and described his wife as Jewish. Von Seeckt ordered General Otto von Lossow, to ban publication of the newspaper. Von Lossow consulted Gustav Ritter von Kahr, Premier of Bavaria, who refused to carry out the order. However, after the failed Beer Hall Putsch, the Völkischer Beobachter was banned. (10)
Völkischer Beobachter reappeared on 26th February, 1925. Adolf Hitler wrote the long editorial entitled "A New Beginning". Under the editorship of Alfred Rosenberg, the Völkischer Beobachter became increasingly anti-Semitic. Rosenberg saw English capitalists, as long as they were not Jews, as the Aryan rulers of "coloured sub-humanity". He argued in July 1930 that "German master-men must systematically and peaceably share Aryan world domination... England's task is the protection of the white race in Africa and West Asia; Germany's task is to safeguard Germanic Europe against the chaotic Mongolian flood and to hold down France, which has already become an advance guard of Africa... None of the three states can solve the task of destiny alone." (11)
Joseph Goebbels became a regular contributor and used it to communicate party political propaganda. The circulation rose along with the success of the Nazi movement, reaching more than 120,000 in 1931. However, in 1932 it ran into financial difficulties and was in danger of closing. Goebbels wrote: "Financial worries make all well-directed work impossible". He even resorted to sending the Stormtroopers out on the street to beg for money. It was General Kurt von Schleicher who came to the rescue by paying off the newspaper's debts. (12)
After Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933 he appointed Max Amann as President of the Reich Association of German Newspaper Publishers. In this role he established Nazi control over the industry and gradually closed down those newspapers that did not fully support Hitler. In a speech he made in Nuremberg in 1936, Amann explained why it was necessary to ban opposition newspapers: "A look back before our seizure of power reminds us how numerous the problems of the press once were. Our few newspapers with their limited circulations fought heroically in the front lines to gain power. They stood against several thousands newspapers that represented other ideas and interests. There were many differences between the leading newspapers back then, but there was one thing they all lacked when compared to the National Socialist press: they had lost their connection to the people. They were responsible not to the people, but to some other group, be it parties, churches, economic interests or corporations, or they looked to their own good without considering the general good of the people. Such a press promoted class struggle, the confusion of social standing, religious incitement or moral decay. They did not promote the good of the individual and the strengthening of the community, rather collapse and decay. These newspapers that appealed to people's lowest instincts had lost their national and moral sense of responsibility, and had little influence. Such a press could not be tolerated by National Socialism, whose task is the mobilization of all good and healthy strengths of the individual and the community, encouraging their expression and development. The German people is being rescued from a fragmentation of parties, classes, interests and special interests to enable them it to find its own nature and its own strengths once more. This requires that the whole of the German press serve German tasks. Our party's press is always a model, for it developed only to serve the idea and thereby the people." (13)
With nearly a complete monopoly, the sales of Völkischer Beobachter reached nearly 2 million copies during the Second World War. It was the task of the newspaper to report German military victories. In 1944 the tone of the newspaper changed. One editorial argued: "Not a German stalk of wheat is to feed the enemy, not a German mouth to give him information, not a German hand to give him help. He is to find every footbridge destroyed, every road blocked - nothing but death, annihilation, and hatred will meet him." (14) The newspaper came to an end with the death of Adolf Hitler in April 1945. (15)
According to Hitler's own account, not long after the Party had acquired the Völkischer Beobachter, he was walking along a busy street in the center of Munich when he met Max Amann, who had been his regiment's sergeant-major in the Army and whom he had not seen since the end of the war..Amann was not particularly interested in politics, but at Hitler's prompting he attended a Nazi meeting and soon afterward became a Party member. He was a strong, active-looking little man with a heavy head set on a short neck that was almost invisible between his shoulders. His physical appearance gave no hint of Amann's intelligence. He was a former law student and after the war had obtained a good job in a mortgage bank
Hitler proposed to Amann that he should give up his job and become full-time Party business manager. According to Hitler Amann at first thought to reject the offer. He had secure career prospects and a pension to look forward to at the bank, while employment by the little Nazi Party would mean a substantial cut in salary and an uncertain future. Hitler exercised his powers of persuasion on him for two hours. "What good will your pension be if someday the Bolsheviks string you up from a lamppost?" Amann pondered for three days and then finally accepted the job.
Berchtold was not only S.S. leader, but also an editor of the Völkischer Beobachter, letting himself be bullied into the most humiliating services by the efficient and violent Amann. Consequently, Berchtold had to instruct his troop "to recruit readers and advertisers for the Völkischer Beobachter". Finally, faced with the choice of leading the Black elite or earning his modest living on the party paper, he preferred to earn a living. The S.S. was then led for a time by a certain Erhard Heiden, a stool pigeon of the worst sort. Not until 1929 did Hitler find the right man, an old friend of Rohm's and later collaborator with Gregor Strasser; an eccentric who made his living from a poultry farm in the village of Waldtrudering near Munich. He had studied to be an agronomist, but in his free time concerned himself with genealogy. This man was Heinrich Himmler.
Two years after the Volkischer Beobachter had been bought for him, Hitler made it into a daily. This required money. Some of it was provided by Frau Gertrud von Seidlitz, a Baltic lady who had shares in Finnish paper mills, while Putzi Hanfstaengel, a son of the rich Munich family of art publishers, advanced a loan of a thousand dollars. Hanfstaengel, who had been educated at Harvard, not only took Hitler into his own home - where he delighted him by his piano-playing, especially of Wagner - but introduced him to a number of other well-to-do Munich families, including the Bruckmanns, another firm of Munich publishers.
Like the Bechsteins, the Bruckmanns were charmed and made into friends for life. But Hitler could be highly disconcerting in company. Ill at ease on any formal social occasion, he cleverly exploited his own awkwardness. He deliberately behaved in an exaggerated and eccentric fashion, arriving late and leaving unexpectedly, either sitting in ostentatious silence or forcing everyone to listen to him by shouting and making a speech.
(1) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 362
(2) Colin Cross, Adolf Hitler (1973) page 73
(3) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) page 325
(4) James Pool, Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979) pages 34-35
(5) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) pages 167-168
(6) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 80
(7) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964) page 67
(8) Konrad Heiden, The Führer – Hitler's Rise to Power (1944) page 116
(9) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 363
(10) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 104
(11) Alfred Rosenberg, Völkischer Beobachter (July, 1930)
(12) Konrad Heiden, The Führer – Hitler's Rise to Power (1944) pages 393-394
(14) Völkischer Beobachter (7th September, 1944)
(15) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 363