Ofri Ilany: Haaretz in 1932 ... Hitler makes better impression than expected

Roundup: Talking About History

The date is January 28, 1932. Haaretz' correspondent in Berlin, Gershon Savitt, reports from the courthouse. In the defendant's chair is Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party, who is facing a libel suit filed by his former friend, Walter Stennes. A year before his appointment as chancellor of Germany, Hitler is still not very well known to Haaretz's readers.

In the article, "Hitler up close and personal," he emerges as an exotic figure, somewhat peculiar. "I must note right away that the impression Hitler makes is immeasurably better than expected," writes Savitt. "He is 46, but looks younger. Incidentally: he is a bachelor. Self-satisfaction and self-confidence are apparent in his movements; he acts and feels as if he himself is a 'star.' Because the world's eyes are now turned upon him and this pleases him."

The Mandate-era Hebrew press watched with wonder mixed with concern at the unprecedented political phenomenon that surfaced in those years in Germany: the rapid gains of the Nazi party until it took over the government.

Ilana Novetsky-Bendet, a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is researching the Hebrew press' attitude toward events in Germany from the time of the emergence of the Nazis as a significant political force, until World War II. In Bendet's master's thesis, which covers the period up until Hitler's rise to power, she found that the Hebrew press showed an interest in and followed the growing strength of the Nazis as early as the late 1920s. However, the papers in Palestine had trouble discerning Hitler's political power and the centrality of the racist component of the party's ideology.

"The more the party's electoral power increased, the greater the interest in it," says Bendet, whose mentor for her doctoral thesis is Prof. Moshe Zimmerman. "But hardly any of the papers grasped the severity of Nazi anti-Semitism."

There were seven newspapers operating in mandatory Palestine at the time, and each one of them represented a different party or political line: Davar was the Histadrut labor federation paper; Hapoel Hatzair was the Mapai paper; Haaretz was the liberal paper; Hatzofeh was the paper of the religious; Haboker was the paper of the general Zionists; and there were a few other papers associated with the revisionists, including Doar Hayom, Hazit Ha'am and Hayarden.

The information from Europe they received came primarily from news agencies, and occasionally from trains that relayed the reports from Cairo to the land of Israel. Some of the papers also employed writers in Germany, most of them Russian Jews who immigrated to Germany in the 1920s, and who occasionally also reported for other papers around the world. According to Bendet, some of these writers remained in Germany even after the Nazis' rise and left only in the mid-1930s.

"The heroes of the most recent elections to the Reichstag are, undoubtedly, the Communists," wrote Yeshayahu Klinov in Haaretz following the July 31, 1932, elections, when the Nazis became the biggest party in the Reichstag. ...

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Jules R. Benjamin - 5/8/2008

This post confuses me. As I read it, it quotes the Haaretz Berlin correspondent in 1932 as writing an article for the newspaper entitled "Hitler up close and personal." Anyone familiar with U.S. popular culture will recognize these words as originating in some part of the Hollywood film industry in the 1970's or 1980's. It is not very likely that the Haaretz corresponent would have used these words in 1932. Something is very strange here.