The Transnational Politics of Journalism in Early Postwar Germany

AHA Session 291
Central European History Society 16
Monday, January 5, 2015: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Madison Suite (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Belinda Davis, Rutgers University–New Brunswick
Deborah Barton, University of Toronto

Session Abstract

In 1945, German journalist found themselves in a situation of uncertainty, existential hardship, and hopes for new opportunities, especially in the press licensed by the Allies. Their room for maneuver was, however, limited and clearly defined by the political dynamics of the beginning Cold War. British, French, American and Soviet occupation authorities had a major institutional and cultural influence on the shaping of German journalism in their respective zones of occupation.

The panel thus focuses on postwar German journalism in an international context, specifically on the Western zones of occupation. On the one hand, it will ask for the intellectual and professional capital that German journalists needed to start and restart their careers in 1945. To what extent did involvement with the Nazi movement impact their careers? Which networks were at work when it came to the founding of new newspapers and journals, and to what extent did institutional continuities play a role? More importantly, on which pre-war mindsets and ideological patterns did these journalists rely? On the other hand, the panel examines the framework created by the Western Allies. Specifically, it will explore the new opportunities they provided to German journalists, but will also ask for the limitations they imposed upon their work.

Whether they were Catholics, Communists, Democrats or had belonged to the völkisch movement, many German intellectuals believed that the demise of the Nazi regime opened new opportunities for their ideas and concepts. It is astonishing that they recycled many pre-war plans, for example with regard to ideas about the future of Europe. As it was unlikely that the Western Allies would support German concepts regarding the reconstruction of Germany and Europe, it seems that the discussion of such ideas primarily served the purpose to reassure the identities of political groups.

 The panel focuses on journalists and newspapers where the tension between rupture and continuity becomes tangible. The panel reveals that many journalists had a political background that allowed them to continue to write during the Nazi era. They knew to apply the high professional skills and techniques they had acquired during and after the War, and became faces of modern journalism, which also represented the young Federal Republic. However, the occupation authorities set the framework. The Süddeutsche Zeitung, for example, was licensed by the US military administration; the Neue Zeitung was directly published by American authorities, as was Die Welt in the British Zone of occupation.

The panelists will discuss how journalists from different backgrounds addressed certain topics and which approaches and strategies proved to be successful and which failed. They will also explore the conditions under which female journalists could succeed in an overwhelmingly male profession, dominated by the masculine type of the former war correspondent. Certain journalists and newspapers became opinion leaders, while others failed. We will ask why that is by comparing how they discussed certain topics, e.g. the German responsibility for the Nazi crimes, de-Nazification, the transatlantic relationship between Germany and the United States, and the future of the European continent.

See more of: AHA Sessions