- Historic Sites
Looking For The Good Germans
The victors divided the Germans into three groups: black (Nazi), white (innocent), and gray—that vast, vast area in between
June/july 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 4
My own job was to serve—first as co-chief with Joseph Dunner, a brilliant political science professor from Grinnell College, and then as sole director—on a Munich-centered press detachment of ten American and Germans, which eventually set up and supervised six new German newspapers in southern Bavaria. Their combined circulation was over a million.
Our jewel was the Süddeutsche Zeitung of Munich, in which we first made a bold experiment. German journalism had always been strictly oriented to political parties and had angled the news coverage accordingly; but here we proposed a mixed editor-publisher team of a Social Democrat, a member of the Bavarian Peasant party, and someone from the Catholic Center party.
We put them together in a room, asked them to decide whether they could work with each other to put out a newspaper dedicated to objective news coverage, and locked the door.
An hour later they came out and began publishing a newspaper that very soon became and remains to this day the “ New York Times of Germany.”
It was not easy finding these men. Immediately upon Hitler’s accession, they had left journalism rather than make any compromise with Nazism. August Schwingenstein, the Peasant party man who became publisher, had created for himself during the Hitler era a weird business of attending funerals, taking down the eulogy in shorthand, then printing it up as a handsomely designed plaque and selling copies to the family of the departed. Edmund Goldschagg, Social Democrat and managing editor, had lost himself in the far reaches of the Black Forest, working variously as a dairyman and printer. Dr. Franz Josef Schoeningh, cultural editor, had drifted into the haven of church publications.
The day they came in for interrogation, each at once displayed the right political symptoms. Each wore shoes that were down at the heels and suits that were frayed. Goldschag was missing several front teeth and could not afford to replace them. All were underweight. All had been picked up for questioning at one time or another by Hitler’s police. The Fragebogen of each read Nein! up and down the columns of questions about Nazi affiliations.
Once publishing teams had been selected and licensed, I began to take on a host of new duties.
I would confiscate printing plants that had belonged to the Nazi party and individual Nazis and lease them to the new publishers, search out supplies of newsprint and ink, arrange for the salvage of bombed presses, supervise a swap of wheels of Bavarian cheese for British-zone zinc needed for making photographic plates, wake up the Munich publisher in the middle of the night and authorize an extra edition of a million copies on the Nuremberg trial, scrutinize each issue of every licensed newspaper and make suggestions about brightening up the contents and format, and—of prime importance—protect the publishers when their zeal for free and critical expression, even of the conquerors, brought them into conflict with the Army occupation command.
My military status was an ambiguous but highly desirable one as a civilian specialist with the “assimilated,” or honorary, rank of major. Such specialists constituted almost half the executive personnel of ICD because of three stiff requirements that made it difficult for the military to fill the tables of organization from its own commissioned ranks. These requirements were an ability to speak German fairly fluently, a knowledge of German politics, and professional experience in at least one medium of communication.
The great advantage of my status, as I soon learned, was that civilians with the Army could not be court-martialed- for disobeying orders, insubordination, disrespect, or anything else. In consequence, the real military among us, nearly all combat veterans, soon learned to make cunning use of me. Whenever they found themselves at odds with the top brass, they would send me in to do battle, as, for instance, when the whole outfit was ordered to move to a fairyland castle forty miles away from Munich, where we could not possibly have functioned. And, when other officers in Military Government began jeering at us because one of our top people had taken as his mistress the widow of an SS general, I was delegated to take this up with the offending leader.
In good military style I drew up a memo in which I recounted the “surely unfounded gossip,” expressed the loyal conviction that the offender could not be guilty of such conduct, and proposed that he avail himself of the white lists of potential German mistresses that our intelligence section had prepared for the use of the outfit.
On the day before I left Bavaria for home, the offender called me in for a red-faced, stuttering apology, but whether this changed the contents of his bed I never was able to find out.