|The Rise of Totalitarianism in Germany, As Seen in Albany Editorials: 1933-1941
Senior Honors Thesis for History at the University at Albany, SUNY
Written by: Jamie Rose Brinkman
Research Advisor: Richard Fogarty, Ph.D.
There are a few of people I would like to thank for their help and support while completing this thesis. I would like to thank Professor Fogarty, my advisor, and Professor Bon Tempo, Director of the History Honors Program, for all of their help during the research and writing processes. I would also like to thank my family, friends, and roommates for being supportive throughout the nine months it took to complete this thesis.
Table of Contents
The City of Albany, New York During the 1930s and 1940s….8
The Knickerbocker Press and Knickerbocker News…………..12
The Times Union………………………………………………22
The New York Amsterdam News................................................32
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Daily Message Bulletin…..40
On January 30, 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany. Shortly following Hitler’s appointment, all aspects of German life began to fall under the government’s control. Freedom of press and religion as well as the country’s economy and industry fell into the Reich’s hands. American newspapers during the 1930s closely followed the events in Germany, fearing Nazi aggression might lead to another world war. American newspapers expressed opinions about the events in Germany through editorial pieces and political cartoons. These opinions reflected the writer’s thinking, but also the biases of ownership, the need to satisfy an audience, and world events. Far from Germany, in Albany New York, newspapers played the same role and were influenced by the same factors.
This thesis examines the editorial pages of four newspapers – all read in Albany, New York - from 1933 to 1941. The city of Albany had multiple media outlets during these years. The Knickerbocker Press owned by Frank Gannett, media magnate and founder of Gannett Corporation, was one of two major dailies in the city. The Knickerbocker Press merged with another Gannett owned paper, the Albany Evening News, in 1937 to form the Knickerbocker News. The other major Albanian newspaper was the Times Union, owned by William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was another major media magnate and a rival to Gannett. The African American newspaper in Albany was the New York Amsterdam News (NYAN). It is unlikely that Albany’s African American population published their own newspaper, and it is just as likely that they read the NYAN. It was the second largest African American newspaper in circulation in 1930s America and it was published only 150 miles away, in New York City. Finally, the city’s Jewish population read the Jewish Telegraph Agency’s Daily News Bulletin. Yiddish and American Jewish newspapers and periodicals featured the Jewish Telegraph Agency’s (JTA) Daily News Bulletin within their pages.1 It is not clear whether the JTA’s news bulletin circulated in Albany, but due to its large circulation and popularity during the 1930s, it very likely did. The bulletin circulated reports and information that general circulation newspapers refused to print. Unlike the other three newspapers, the Daily News Bulletin lacked an editorial page. Instead it published news reports.
Scholarship on American media coverage of the rise of totalitarianism in Germany is much broader in scope. It focuses on national newspapers, such as the New York Times, and major cities, like New York City and Chicago. Many also focus on media coverage of specific events, particularly ones within the years 1938 to 1945. Beyond Belief, by Deborah Lipstadt explores the American press from 1933 to 1945, noting that “the press may not determine what the public thinks, but it does influence what it thinks about.” Lipstadt, at the end of her anyalsis, could not belief how dispassionate newspapers were about the persecution of Jews in Europe. A majority of the material in Lipstadt’s book comes from the daily Press Information Bulletin, a compilation of articles from five hundred of the largest American newspapers. This thesis, which examines the newspapers of a medium sized city, will add to broader perspective of Lipstadt’s book. David Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear provides a comprehensive guide to the travails faced by the American people from 1929 to 1945. In the chapter “The Gathering Storm,” the author discusses the events in Europe during the 1930s, especially in Germany. Kennedy discusses American media coverage of the rise of the Nazi party and stresses that the American citizens’ “sympathy stopped short of concrete support.” He argues that though the American press had long reported on Nazi mistreatment of the Jews, some private organizations and government officials in the Unites States expressed dismay over the plight of the Jews. Kennedy also claims that the American press had long reported on Nazi mistreatment of the Jews.2 Kennedy’s book will provide good background material when discussing what life was like in Albany during the 1930s and 1940s. This thesis will provide a more detailed perspective to Kennedy’s general and broad examination of the American media. Richard Breitman’s Official Secrets explores the possibility that the British and American government knew more than they let on during the 1930s and consequently withheld information from the public. Breitman argues that instead of using the intelligence to show the world the plight of the Jews, the British simply horded it. This thesis uses the JTA’s Daily Message Bulletin, mentioned by Breitman as a report that circulated in a majority of American Jewish and Yiddish newspapers and periodicals. Laurel Leff’s book is also helpful and insightful. Leff’s book, Buried by the Times, explores the New York Times burying and exclusion of articles about Jewish persecution. The New York Times, influenced by both national and international governments, ultimately decided to purposely avoid reports of Jewish persecution. Leff argues that Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the paper’s publisher, deliberately chose to “bury” news in the back pages for ideological reasons, and made sure that the Times did not portray Jews as particular victims of Nazism. This thesis adds to Leff’s opinion, that ownership and audience influenced what the newspaper published.
Ownership and audience not only influenced national newspapers, but also influenced newspapers published in mid-sized cities as well. The level of influence exercised by an owner greatly determined what the paper published. Frank Gannett, owner of the Knickerbocker Press/News, refused to push his opinion onto any of his newspapers. Consequently, the editorial pages of Gannett’s Albany newspapers reflected the opinions of actual Albany citizens. On the other hand, William Randolph Hearst greatly influenced what the Times Union published. Because Hearst was sympathetic to the Nazi government, his newspapers left out or buried articles about the rise of totalitarianism until 1938, when Kristallnacht changed his opinion. On top of ownership influence, papers were also influenced by audience. A general circulation newspaper like the Knickerbocker Press/News or Times Union had to be conscious of what it published in order to not upset any part of its broad audience. To some degree, smaller newspapers shared this fear. They could not anger their smaller audiences, as this could potentially lead to the loss of a majority of their byers. Therefore the small newspapers watched what they printed and editorialized for the African American community and the Jewish community, respectively.
Both ownership and audience were influenced by an underlying factor – context. Each newspaper published different editorials and political cartoons influenced by the events not only surrounding them. William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the Times Union, sympathized with Nazi cause for a majority of the 1930s and generally refused to publish any editorials portraying them in a negative light. This changed in late 1938, after Kristallnacht. Hearst had never fully agreed with the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but the cruelty seen on November 9th and 10th was the final straw. From that point on Hearst’s newspapers, including the Times Union, were allowed to criticize the German government. It should be known though, that even after Kristallnacht, the editorials and political cartoons seen in the Times Union, generally criticized only the Jewish persecution, rarely talking about government censorship, control of economy, and Hitler himself. The New York Amsterdam News also focused on the Jewish persecution, but instead used it as a comparison to racism faced in America. During the 1930s, the African American community wanted an anti-lynching bill passed. So the NYAN used the comparison between the German Jews and African Americans to try and influence its passage. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Daily Message Bulletin was also influenced by the world’s events. From the beginning of Hitler’s rule, the JTA was publishing editorials about the persecution of Jews, and to some extent the government control of press, economy, and religion. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s they published editorials about the events in Germany, in hopes that the rest of the world Jewry would help their kinsmen. The Knickerbocker Press/News published on the German government control of press, economy, and religion in a negative light from the start. The newspaper’s opinion never wavered, as their dislike for Hitler and the Nazi Party remained strong well into the early 1940s.
The topic of this thesis is significant because a majority of the existing work on this subject is in a broader scope. A majority of the books and studies published focus on either the general American population or on major cities, such as New York City. Almost all books used national newspapers like the New York Times as part of its study. Also a startling amount of works published focus on the years 1938 to 1941 or to 1945, when media coverage of Germany sharply increased. Starting at 1933, this thesis will provide a perspective about earlier media coverage on the rise of totalitarianism in Germany. As a mid-sized city, Albany will make an interesting case study at the local level and add detail to the national picture painted by these other authors. This thesis shows how each newspaper’s opinion changed throughout the 1930s and 1940s, or stayed the same.
-The City of Albany, New York During the 1930s and 1940s-
Albany, NY saw a period of change during the 1930s and 1940s. By the late 1920s, due to an increasing population and improvements in transportation, the borders of the city began pushing further westward away from the Hudson River. Albany’s wealthy built out Western Avenue, extending the Pine Hills neighborhood. But, like most of the United States, Albany began to feel the full effects of the Great Depression by the early 1930s. Total wages fell over 27 percent and the city provided 2,200 families with fuel, food, and rent assistance.3 The numbers reflected the hard times faced by the rest of the nation. A majority of the population, which totaled 127,000, consisted predominately of blue collar workers. Throughout the 1930s, Albany transitioned away from its blue collar roots with the help of local and federal government relief. Many Albany citizens joined the Civilian Conservation Corps4, traveling the nation completing manual labor jobs related to the conservation and nature resources development.5 By the end of the decade, Albany was not generally considered a highly industrialized city. In fact by then, the city consisted primarily of a white collar community. A sizeable number of citizens were clerical and professional workers involved in government activities. Augmenting this number were workers in the administrative offices of railroads and public utility companies. Albany was fortunate to be the seat of New York State government, for state employment helped the city survive the Depression better than many other northeastern industrial cities, such as its neighbor Schenectady.6
According to the Jewish Communal Survey, the city consisted mainly of native white citizens. Foreign born citizens, including Italians, Canadians, Poles, and Germans, formed 11.7 percent of the population.7 Most immigrants settled in the lower East Side of the city until they rose from peddlers to merchants. The rise in statuses prompted immigrants to then move further uptown.8 Surprisingly, African Americans only formed 2.2 percent of the population,9 migrating from the South looking for employment. The small population of 3,300 African Americans settled in Arbor Hill, a desirable place for the Negro elite and those with upward mobility. Another sizeable neighborhood was created in the South End.10 The African American population faced some degree of discrimination. Black families lacked proper housing, good jobs, and equal opportunities in education due to discrimination. An oral history interview with Schenectady citizen James Stamper felt that the General Electric Company was very discriminatory because it was difficult for blacks to get jobs of any consequence.11 On the other hand, the Jewish Communal Survey of 1940 stated that the State Teachers College had no segregated dormitories. The College’s Dramatics Club had also cast an African American girl as the lead role in Romeo and Juliet. This decision was “fully accepted and caused no comment either in the College or elsewhere.” The African American community also boasted of the Albany Interracial Council, a branch of the Urban League, as well as the Elks, Masons, and Beauticians.12 The 9,000 practicing Jews living in Albany made up about 6 percent of the population. The Jewish community settled down in the South End of Albany, particularly on South Pearl Street. Until about 1950 the South End remained a Jewish neighborhood with kosher meat markets, restaurants, Jewish-owned business, synagogues, and communal institutions. As Albany expanded, and as Jewish business owners became more successful, the Jewish population moved “up the hill” to Central Avenue and outward to Delaware Avenue.13
American society of the 1930s was not free of the stain of anti-Semitism.14 According to Leonard Dinnerstein’s book Anti-Semitism in America, due to the Great Depression, “American anti-Semitism was ‘more virulent and more vicious than at any time before or since’15 as rabid anti-Semites, almost without exception, envisioned an international Jewish conspiracy aimed at controlling the government of the United States.” Though Jews maintained a higher standard of living than any other ethnic group, they still lived close to what we now call “the poverty line” due to the depression and pervasive intolerance. Within months of Roosevelt taking office in 1933, rumors began to spread that Jews ran the government. Millions of Americans believed that the influence of many Jews employed by the new administration were responsible for Roosevelt’s “Jew Deal.”16 Traditional Catholics and Protestants were the ringleaders of anti-Semitism during the 1930s, and unsympathetic to the plight of the German Jews. Father Charles Coughlin, a Detroit priest known for his virulent anti-Semitism, complained that the American press and government were far more concerned over the fate of the German Jews than they were about the Catholics in Spain and Mexico. The Brooklyn Archdiocese’s weekly newspaper, the Tablet, consistently criticized the mainstream media for overplaying the persecution of Jews at the expense of the “far worse persecution of the Christians.”17 Degrees of anti-Semitism varied throughout the country.
It is not clear what level of anti-Semitism the Albany Jewish community encountered. Rabbi Bernard Bamberger of Congregation Beth Emeth recalled that during his time in Albany, from 1929-1944, “Jews for the most part took a self-reliant, but not truculent attitude. Though they were excluded from a few clubs, they mingled socially with gentiles to a greater extent than in most places.” Ira Zimmerman told a different story. He wrote that with the rise of Hitler, the “growing concern over the problem of local anti-Semitism resulted in the formation of the Albany Jewish War Veterans in 1935, and the Albany Jewish Community Council in 1938.” The Jewish Veterans once marched on a German Bund meeting in Troy, forcing the police to shut it down, as well as persuading an Albany meeting hall to cancel another Bund meeting. The Jewish Community Council’s leaders, Samuel E. Aronowitz and Sol Rubenstein, tried to keep anti-Semitic incidents out of the public eye whenever possible. The leaders used their political weight to affect change through persuasion. 18 The leaders were able to stop both hate ads in the Times Unions and a local college coach’s anti-Semitic words. Anecdotal stories claim that Jews were not allowed to move in Loudonville, an upscale neighborhood right outside of the city.19 Though there was some anti-Semitism in Albany Zimmerman claimed, it was “never rabid, usually unorganized, and random.”20
-The Knickerbocker Press and Knickerbocker News-
Out of the four Albanian newspapers, the Knickerbocker Press/News featured the most coverage about the rise of totalitarianism in Germany during the 1930s. Like most newspapers of the time, the Knickerbocker Press/News featured editorials about the New Deal, Roosevelt’s third term bid, and local events. But, the newspaper also closely followed the events in Germany, criticizing the government’s growing control of press, religion, and economy. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s the Knickerbocker Press/News frequently published scathing articles that informed the Albany community of the increasing power of the Nazis. Unlike its competitor, the Times Union, the Knickerbocker Press/News freely ran editorials and political cartoons portraying Hitler and his party in a negative light. The newspaper was able to do so because its owner, Frank Gannett, gave local editors control of their papers, allowing them to publish any editorials and political cartoons they wanted.
The Knickerbocker Press/News owner, Frank E. Gannett, was a self-made man. Born on September 15, 1876, Gannett was one of four children in a family that struggled to make ends meet. To earn money, Frank became a newspaper delivery boy for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle,21 where his interest in the newspaper business bloomed. While attending Cornell, Gannett honed his skills by not only becoming editor of the college’s newspaper, but by becoming a newspaper article distributor as well. He bombarded telegraph editors of newspapers far and wide with news-worthy events. By the time he graduated, Frank’s Cornell-based news items appeared in newspapers such as the Syracuse Herald and the Boston Globe.22 By the age of twenty nine, Gannett became partial owner of the daily newspaper, the Elmira Gazette.23 In 1923, at the age of forty eight, Gannet formed a new corporation, the Gannett Company, Inc. At the time of his death in 1957, his empire included twenty two newspapers, four radio and three TV stations.24 Three of these newspapers, the Knickerbocker Press, the Albany Evening News, and eventually the Knickerbocker News, circulated in Albany, New York.
Gannett’s arrival in Albany was a strategic move of retaliation. By 1918, Rochester was the anchor city of the quickly developing Gannett Empire. In 1922, Gannett’s rival William Randolph Hearst arrived in Rochester to establish one of many Sunday newspapers in order to gain a governorship nomination.25 In retaliation, Gannett purchased two Albanian newspapers in 1928, the Knickerbocker Press and the Albany Evening News, a morning paper and evening paper respectively. Until Gannett’s arrival, Albany was often recognized as a “Hearst city.” Hearst’s newspapers in both Rochester and Albany soon began to fail. Hearst was not only losing $125,000 a year in Rochester, but at one point the media magnate gave away automobiles to lure new subscribers. Gannett, to an extent, was losing money as well. While his evening paper the Albany Evening News was profitable, Gannett’s morning paper, the Knickerbocker Press, was losing money at a large and steady rate. In 1937, Hearst came to Gannett with a proposal. If Frank left Albany, Hearst would fold his Rochester papers. Gannett immediately turned down this proposal. Hearst had sunk anywhere between six to eight million dollars into his Rochester newspapers, and by 1937 Gannett’s men had lost all fear of their competition. So, Frank Gannett made William Randolph Hearst a counter proposal. He proposed that the two men reverse the fields of their Albany newspapers. Hearst if switched his Times Union out of the evening field and into the morning,26 Gannett would merge the Knickerbocker Press and Albany Evening News forming the evening newspaper Knickerbocker News. Consequently Hearst’s Times Union was free to monopolize the morning news field while Gannett had control of the evening field.27 As for Rochester, William Randolph Hearst decided to scrap his unprofitable newspapers. His only stipulation to the agreement was that Gannett had to buy his Rochester papers’ presses and other equipment. This agreement was a bargain for Gannett.28 From the agreement, Gannett gained two monopolies, one in Rochester and the other in the Albany evening field.29
Gannett was also known for his policy of local autonomy. He believed that a newspaper could properly serve its city if its publisher, its editor, and all its employees were home folks who understood the city and its people.”30 Gannett wanted his readers to feel that the newspaper reflected local interests, not just uniform editorials manufactured by Gannett Corporation headquarters. Local editors and publishers were the molders of a community’s opinion, not Gannett. Rather, Gannett was a “. . . chain publisher who hated chain papers.” Instead of creating a deadening conformity of newspapers, the publisher encouraged his group of papers to vary their formatting, choose their own features, and construct editorial policies to suit their own communities. Gannett always boasted that “Nothing ever [went] out of [his] office with a ‘must’ on it. . .” The publisher’s political pronouncements were always sent to the editors with the notation “for your information and use, if desired” 31 Editors felt free to ignore these pronouncements without worry of consequence, allowing them to put more focus on what they thought was important to editorialize and publish.
Not only did Gannett refuse to exercise his own influence, he refused to allow any outside influence as well. Throughout his career, Gannett made difficult decisions in order to preserve the value and trustworthiness of his newspapers. As the city editor of the Ithaca News in 1900, Gannett faced a dilemma. At the time, typhoid fever ran rampant in Ithaca, devastating its community. Gannett in turn, wrote scathing editorials about the fever and the polluted water supply causing it. The water company responsible for the polluted water threatened to stop advertising in the News if the offensive editorials did not stop. Faced with a difficult decision, Gannett simply told the water company “Take the advertising out, and I’ll keep the typhoid fever news in.” As one could guess, both the news and advertising stayed.32 In 1929 Gannett paid the International Paper Company $2,781,158.30 in exchange for securities of four of his newspapers, including both the Knickerbocker Press, and the Albany Evening News. In a letter to the company’s president, Archibald R. Graustein, Gannett explained why he ended their financial alliance. He stated that their deal was originally a “straightforward, entirely legitimate business transaction, [that was] mutually advantageous and desirable.” He had recently publicly denied that the International Paper Company had any control over any management or editorial policies of the newspapers it financed. Therefore Gannett concluded his letter stating that he felt it best to “remove all possibility of a misinterpretation of the motive which actuated our relationship.” The buyout resulted in a financial loss for Gannett and the four newspapers involved.33 Even though some bonds were not callable, Gannett made it publicly known that no one was going to influence his newspapers. This assured readers that they could trust that the articles and editorials in their local newspapers were not being published as a result of outside influences.