Associated Press Collaborated With Nazi Regime, Study Reveals

New report shows the American news agency published photographs of wartime atrocities that were screened by Hitler himself.AP rejects the allegations.

Joseph Goebbels AP
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels speaks to members of the National Socialist party, October 30 1938. AP

The Associated Press news agency cooperated with the Nazi regime in the 1930s and supplied world media with reports and photographs that had been screened by propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, according to a study published on Wednesday in The Guardian newspaper.

The research, by historian Harriet Scharnberg of Martin Luther University in Halle, Germany, found that the American news agency had agreed to refrain from publishing material “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home."

In exchange the AP was permitted to continue operating in Nazi Germany at a time when the work of other foreign media was restricted.

The study says that AP paid for the services of correspondents and staff in the Nazi propaganda bureau. One of them was photographer Franz Roth, one of four photographers employed by the AP in the 1930s who was a member of the SS paramilitary unit’s propaganda division.  

SS pamphlet ‘The Sub-Human’, using photographs by Associated Press.
AP/The Guardian Screenshot

Scharnberg's research finds that Roth's photographs were intended to serve Nazi propaganda interests, and were personally chosen by Adolf Hitler before the AP circulated them.

In June 1941, when the Nazis invaded Lviv, Ukraine and started to murder Jews, the AP did not publish photographs documenting the pogroms carried out by Nazis against Jews in the region. However, it did publish Roth's photographs, approved by Hitler, showing the corpses of victims of the Soviet Red Army. 

"It is fair to say that these pictures played their part in disguising the true character of the war led by the Germans," Scharnberg said in an interview with The Guardian.

The Nazi party booklet ‘The Jews in the USA’ used an AP photograph of New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
AP/The Guardian Screenshot

“Which events were made visible and which remained invisible in AP’s supply of pictures followed German interests and the German narrative of the war.”

The study also shows that the AP permitted the Nazi regime to use its photo archive to produce anti-Semitic publications.

AP has removed these photographs from its archives following the study's findings.

Nazi party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter, using photographs by AP photographer Franz Roth.
AP/The Guardian Screenshot

The AP responded in a statement that it "rejects the suggestion that it collaborated with the Nazi regime at any time. Rather, the AP was subjected to pressure from the Nazi regime from the period of Hitler’s coming to power in 1932 until the AP’s expulsion from Germany in 1941. AP staff resisted the pressure while doing its best to gather accurate, vital and objective news for the world in a dark and dangerous time.

"AP news reporting in the 1930s helped to warn the world of the Nazi menace. AP’s Berlin bureau chief, Louis P. Lochner, won the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for his dispatches from Berlin about the Nazi regime. Earlier, Lochner also resisted anti-Semitic pressure to fire AP’s Jewish employees and when that failed he arranged for them to become employed by AP outside of Germany, likely saving their lives," the statement says.

"The historical research of Ms. Scharnberg concerns a German photo agency subsidiary of AP Britain that was created in 1931, the year before the Nazis came to power. As of 1935, this subsidiary operation became subject to the Nazi press-control law but continued to gather photo images inside Germany and later inside countries occupied by Germany.

"U.S. newspapers were supplied with some of these images through the German subsidiary. Those that came from Nazi government, government-controlled or government–censored sources were labeled as such in their captions or photo credits sent to U.S. members and other customers of the AP, who used their own editorial judgment about whether to publish the images.

"Images of that time from Germany had legitimate news value as editors and the public needed to learn more about the Nazis," AP says.

"The AP did not engage in direct publication and until Ms. Scharnberg’s research had no knowledge of any accusation that material may have been directly produced and selected by Nazi propaganda ministries. If it had been, we believe that the captions and photo credits would have made that clear.

"It is important to note that after Dec. 11, 1941, when Germany declared war on the United States and expelled all foreign news organizations, AP lost control over its subsidiary and therefore the use of its photos. It was left to the former German staff, who stayed on at great risk, to protect the physical archive from outright seizure by the Nazi regime," the statement concludes.