The Consul General at Berlin (Messersmith) to the Secretary of State

No. 1303

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that the position of a number of the American correspondents in Berlin has not been easy since the accession to power of the National Socialist Government and since the establishment of the strict censorship of the German press and of public opinion-forming means. It is the intention of the present Government and of the Party not to allow anything to appear in the press or to reach the public, which is not in accord with its ideas or wishes. To this end there has been established the most effective control of public opinion-forming means of all kinds in Germany which has probably ever existed in any country. The press censorship may be considered as absolute. It was obviously the desire of the authorities to prevent what is from their point of view, undesirable news reaching the outside world through the foreign correspondents in the country. Here, however, was a [Page 399] problem which they found difficult to handle and it has not been handled altogether with much tact and success.

The American journalists in Berlin are for the most part men whose names are well-known in the journalistic world, and who have no desire to do anything but to report objectively what is passing in the country. They number among them some of the best known newspaper men we have in the field of foreign correspondents. They are not men who can be controlled or who can submit to improper censorship, as neither their self-respect nor what they feel their obligations to their newspapers and the public would permit them to submit to improper control. The American correspondents here are I believe almost without exception men who would under no circumstances serve as an instrument either for favorable or unfavorable propaganda.

The first of the American correspondents to have difficulty with the authorities was Mr. Deuss of the International News Service, who was accused by the authorities of having sent out unsubstantiated stories of physical cruelty since March 5. The authorities were finally willing to permit Mr. Deuss to remain if the International News Service would publish in the United States certain statements. These statements they did not feel they could consistently publish and they preferred to remove Mr. Deuss to London and to replace him here by Mr. Hawley. I venture the opinion that the removal of Mr. Deuss to London in no way prejudiced him or his reputation and I believe that the action of the International News Service in preferring to remove him to London rather than to publish certain statements, was very commendable.

The second of the American correspondents to have difficulty, was Mr. Edgar Mowrer who is also the President of the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in Berlin this year. Mr. Mowrer had published a book which was not pleasing to the present Government. The real reason, however, that he became persona non grata to the present Government, was more likely the fact that some of his accounts of happenings in Germany after March 5 were not pleasing. The authorities let it be known that if Mr. Mowrer was permitted to remain as President of the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in Berlin, they could have no official relations such as they had had in the past, with the Association. It was therefore a question as to whether Mr. Mowrer should resign as President of the Association or not, and he placed the matter before a general meeting of all the foreign correspondents in Berlin and there was almost a unanimous vote that he should continue as their President. As a result of this action Mr. Mowrer refused to resign. It is considered by many here that the attempt of the authorities to force him out of the Presidency of the Association was only the first move towards forcing him out of the country; but the refusal of the foreign correspondents as a [Page 400] whole to disown Mr. Mowrer undoubtedly had an effect and he has since been undisturbed. The question of relationships between the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents and the authorities has not come up in the meantime as there has been no public occasion which required the recognition of the Association by the authorities; but as the matter now stands, the Government has not changed its attitude. An endeavor is now being made to bring together in an informal way, the Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Goebbels, and Mr. Mowrer, in order that through this personal contact the difficulties may be ironed out and any objection to Mr. Mowrer removed. It is believed that the authorities are now prepared to find some reason for continuing to recognize Mr. Mowrer as President of the Association and to continue with the Association the relations which formerly existed between the Government and the Association.

The most interesting and in some ways the most important development, however, has arisen within the last few days with regard to Mr. Knickerbocker who is the correspondent of the New York Evening Post and the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Mr. Knickerbocker is as well known in Germany as he is in the United States on account of his books and his newspaper articles. He is very highly considered in many circles in Germany. The series of seven articles which he wrote on the economic situation aroused the resentment of certain persons in the Government and in the National Socialist Party, as did some of his other articles which he has written since March 5 on the happenings in Germany.

When I had a conversation with Minister Goering some weeks ago, he brought up the name of Mr. Knickerbocker and seemed to particularly resent some of the stories which he had written. I took occasion at that time to point out to the Minister that Mr. Knickerbocker was one of the most careful correspondents I knew; that I had reason to know that he always took great care to document himself; and that he was in many respects one of the most conscientious newspaper men I had known. I called attention at the same time to the fact that the American newspaper men in Berlin were an unusually high class lot of men and that they compared very favorably with the foreign correspondents which other countries had in Germany and were on the whole an outstanding group. I informed the Minister that I did not think that the Government or the Party could under any circumstances hope to control what these American correspondents sent to their papers, or dictate what they were to say. I said that he would understand that as high class newspaper men they could not submit to control or dictation as to what they were to write to their principals and maintain their self-respect. I expressed the hope, therefore, that these correspondents would not be interfered with and that before any action was taken against any one of them it should be [Page 401] carefully considered and all the possibilities involved in the expulsion of a correspondent should be taken into account. I said I could assure him that so far as I knew the American correspondents, and I thought I knew them well, none of them wished to be anything but objective. I said that it would be desirable if the Government or the Party objected to some of their activities, to take them into its confidence and to give them access to it freely as this would help to avoid misunderstandings. Minister Goering at the time seemed to be much interested in, and appreciated what I said with regard to the American correspondents.

It now appears that several days ago Mr. Luedecke, the immediate subordinate of Dr. Rosenberg who is the editor of the Voelkischer Beobachter and who acts as Foreign Minister of the National Socialist Party, during the absence of Dr. Rosenberg in London sent the following telegram to the Philadelphia Public Ledger:

[Here follows text of the telegram, not printed.]

To this telegram the Public Ledger informed Mr. Knickerbocker that it had replied as follows to Dr. Rosenberg:

“We have every confidence in mr knickerbocker stop we must respectfully decline to recall him stop editor newyork evening post”.

Immediately on the receipt of the foregoing information from the New York Evening Post and Public Ledger, Mr. Knickerbocker came to see me. He informed me that he had immediately on the receipt of the above got in touch with Dr. Hanfstaengl who is the head of the Chancellor’s Press Bureau. Dr. Hanfstaengl, who it is well known has a personal feud of long standing with Dr. Rosenberg, was very much upset and immediately in the presence of Mr. Knickerbocker telephoned to the Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Goebbels, who agreed with Dr. Hanfstaengl that the action of Dr. Rosenberg was improper and that Mr. Knickerbocker under no circumstances must be interfered with. Dr. Hanfstaengl then informed Mr. Knickerbocker that he and Dr. Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, would lunch with the Chancellor, Mr. Hitler, the next day and definitely arrange the matter. Mr. Knickerbocker informed me of all of the foregoing and asked my advice. I said that under the circumstances I felt sure he would not be disturbed and that it would be preferable to await developments before there was any action by the Embassy or the Consulate General. To this Mr. Knickerbocker agreed.

On the following morning I had a conference with Dr. Milch, the acting head of the Air Ministry for Mr. Goering, with whom I maintain personal contact. I had gone to see him about other matters and during the conversation Dr. Milch recalled what I had said to Minister Goering about Mr. Knickerbocker. He then went on to say that he wished to tell me very confidentially that a telegram had been sent by Mr. Luedecke, Dr. Rosenberg’s immediate subordinate, while Dr. Rosenberg was in [Page 402] England, to Mr. Knickerbocker’s principals asking for Mr. Knickerbocker’s recall. He quoted practically word for word from memory the telegram already quoted in this despatch, and then quoted the reply which had been made to the telegram. He said “As soon as it was learned what Mr. Luedecke had done he was put into jail, and if his boss (meaning Dr. Rosenberg) had been here, he would have gone to jail too”.

It will be noted that this happened on the morning that Dr. Hanfstaengl and the Minister of Propaganda were to lunch with the Chancellor, Mr. Hitler, to settle this matter, and that the question of Mr. Knickerbocker’s staying in Germany was therefore settled at once.

Dr. Milch told me that various people had come to Minister Goering to bring about Mr. Knickerbocker’s expulsion but that the Minister had taken the point of view that although Mr. Knickerbocker had written “some very bad things”, he was being much more fair now and that he was in no way to be interfered with. Although Dr. Milch did not say so, I gathered the very distinct impression that as soon as it was learned that Mr. Knickerbocker had been acted against in spite of the very definite statement which Minister Goering had made that he was not to be interfered with, Mr. Luedecke was arrested at once. For me, of course, the most significant part was the rest of the statement: “and if his chief had been in Germany he would have been arrested too”.

The status of Mr. Knickerbocker therefore seems to be definitely settled for the present at least, and the various incidents recited in this despatch I believe go far to show that the American correspondents need not fear interference with their proper activities as self-respecting and objective newspaper correspondents, although it is quite evident that much that they write is very far from pleasing to the authorities. This changed attitude on the part of the authorities and of the leaders of the Party in this respect, is characteristic of their changed attitude on many questions since they came into power. They have definitely learned that although public opinion may be controlled in Germany, it cannot be controlled abroad. In my conversation with Minister Goering I had made it particularly clear to him that even though he might not like all that the American correspondents wrote, it was on the whole much better to have such a high class group of American correspondents here than to have no one here, or inferior people who could do nothing but harm.

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Respectfully yours,

G. S. Messersmith