What is the story of AP US

06/16/2016 from Tom Leonhardt in research, science
For several days this year, Harriet Scharnberg was probably one of the most sought-after German historians worldwide: The Guardian, the New York Times, Süddeutsche, Die Zeit, the FAZ - they all reported on the researcher's discovery at the Institute for History in Halle is being awarded a doctorate. Scharnberg had found out that the American news agency Associated Press (AP) supplied the National Socialists with photos for propaganda brochures until 1941.

It all started with a rather small observation: Harriet Scharnberg traveled to several archives for her doctoral thesis on photo reports in the Nazi picture press and looked for suitable picture material in newspapers and brochures. A look at the authors of the photos puzzled her: “I noticed that the name Associated Press kept appearing in the photo credits. I couldn't explain that to myself, ”remembers Scharnberg. The US news agency AP had apparently supplied numerous photos from abroad for National Socialist propaganda brochures. A fact that was previously unknown in research and also at AP itself.

As it turned out, the agency had a long-term and intensive collaboration with the Nazi regime: For example, the photo agency contributed a total of 105 images for the illustrated book “Die Juden in den USA”. The media service also provided numerous photos for the “Der Untermensch” magazine. The font reached a circulation of 3.8 million copies in 1943.

AP as supplier and distributor of pictures for the National Socialists

According to the scientist, this observation can be explained by the special role played by AP in the mid-1930s. "In 1934 the so-called editors' law came into force," says Scharnberg. With this law it was prescribed for all editorial offices in Germany to only employ Germans of “Aryan” descent. Employees who were married to a Jew should also be fired. As a result, most of the international photo agencies gave up their branches in Germany - except for AP. There it was decided to obey the law and thus also to give up its editorial independence: The publication of the pictures was subject to the control of the Reich Propaganda Ministry. The personalia around Franz Roth shows how strong the ties between the AP and the Nazi regime were. Roth was employed as a photographer at AP and at the same time was Oberscharführer of the SS and a member of their propaganda company.

Scharnberg can only speculate about why the agency decided to keep its branch in Germany despite all this: “With this decision, AP had gained a unique market position. It was the only player able to deliver exclusive and very important pictures from an otherwise closed country. ”Shortly after Germany declared war on the USA in December 1941, the AP office in Germany was also closed.

"You shouldn't let yourself drift"

Scharnberg published her findings in the journal "Zeithistorische Forschungen". Two editors of the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” became aware of Scharnberg's discoveries and conducted a detailed interview with the historian. “That was a special experience. When do you manage to be able to explain your research to such a large group, ”reports the Münster native.

After the interview was published, nothing happened. For the time being. Three weeks later, Scharnberg received an inquiry from the British newspaper "The Guardian". When the newspaper published her article, the historian's research took on a whole new dimension: AP plays a much greater role in English-speaking countries than in Germany. Numerous e-mails from journalists around the world ended up in Harriet Scharnberg's mailbox, her phone kept ringing. Many international media outlets, including the British “BBC”, the “New York Times” and the “Times of Israel”, now also took up the story. “The amazing thing is how quickly it becomes routine to report on your own work. If I read every article at the beginning, after a few days I just skimmed through the reports, ”says Scharnberg and laughs. "It was just great what happened in just a few days!"

The contact with the journalists was very different: some of the inquiries were very targeted and subtle, while others were more superficial and sometimes like raids. Precise formulations are particularly important with such a topic - after all, a wrong statement could also have legal consequences. For this reason, Scharnberg did not answer most of the press inquiries over the phone, but rather calmly via email. “Even if the media interest in your own research is always nice, you shouldn't let yourself go. Really differentiated statements must also come out, not just striking lines. "

After two days with countless mail exchanges and phone calls, the historian's day-to-day life became a little more calm. Since then, she has been able to concentrate again on completing her doctorate, for example. She has learned one lesson from the past few weeks: "Not all journalism is the same as science."

To the publication:

Harriet Scharnberg, The Alpha and Omega of Propaganda. Associated Press and the National Socialist Bildpublizistik, in: Zeithistorische Forschungen / Studies in Contemporary History, online edition, 13 (2016), no.1, URL: http://www.zeithistorische-forschungen.de/1-2016/id= 5324