When Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists rose to power in 1933, all international news agencies but the US-based AP were forced to leave Germany. The AP continued to operate in the Third Reich until 1941, when the United States joined World War II.
According to German historian Harriet Scharnberg, the world’s biggest news agency was only allowed to remain in Germany because it signed a deal with the regime.
The news agency lost control over its copy by submitting itself to the Schriftleitergesetz (editor’s law), agreeing not to print any material “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home,” she wrote inan articlepublished in the academic journal Studies in Contemporary History.
Scharnberg’s research was first reported by the UK-based Guardian newspaper.
According to the paper, the Nazis’ so-called editor’s lawforced AP employees to contribute material for the Nazi party’s propaganda division. One of the four photographers working for the company in the 1930s was Franz Roth, a member of the SS paramilitary unit’s propaganda division. His pictures were handpicked by Hitler, the Guardian writes.
The AP’s images appeared in many of the regime’s propaganda publications. Most of the images in a pamphlet called “Jews in the US” were provided by the AP. In a different publication entitled “The Subhuman,” the AP provided the second-largest number of photographs, according to Scharnberg.
It is possible to argue that the AP’s agreement with the Nazis allowed the West a “peek into a repressive society that may otherwise have been entirely hidden from view,” the Guardian writes. On the other hand, the deal allowed to Nazis to cover up their war crimes. The cooperation with the prestigious American news agency allowed Hitler to portray his “war of extermination as a conventional war,” Scharnberg told the Guardian.
“Instead of printing pictures of the days-long Lviv pogroms with its thousands of Jewish victims, the American press was only supplied with photographs showing the victims of the Soviet police and ‘brute’ Red Army war criminals,” Scharnberg, a historian at Halle’s Martin Luther University, told the paper, citing one example of the agency’s work helping the Nazis.
“To that extent it is fair to say that these pictures played their part in disguising the true character of the war led by the Germans,” she added. “Which events were made visible and which remained invisible in AP’s supply of pictures followed German interests and the German narrative of the war.”
Responding to the Guardian’s report, the AP said it would research the matter but rejected the notion that it deliberately collaborated with the Nazis.
“An accurate characterization is that the AP and other foreign news organizations were subjected to intense pressure from the Nazi regime from the year of Hitler’s coming to power in 1932 until the AP’s expulsion from Germany in 1941. AP management resisted the pressure while working to gather accurate, vital and objective news in a dark and dangerous time,” the agency stated.
AP later issued a lengthier statement, in which it said it “rejects the suggestion that it collaborated with the Nazi regime at any time.”