'The beginning of a new chapter'
In the first interview with a member of the DuMont Schauberg Group, Haaretz Group's new partner, Haaretz spoke to Peter Pauls, the group's manager and personal representative of Alfred Neven DuMont, head of DuMont.
Mr. Pauls, you have just completed the deal to purchase a quarter of the Haaretz Group. Why Haaretz?
Haaretz is one of the world's leading newspapers. It is highly regarded not only in Israel, but also throughout the world and also in Germany. Haaretz is frequently quoted in Germany, and is present almost everywhere in the news. Some of its senior journalists are translated into German. Therefore, every German media group would be proud to enter into partnership with Haaretz. We also greatly appreciated the work the paper did in setting up TheMarker, and we were impressed by the success of Walla! Walla! is a profitable Internet site, and a profitable Internet business is a rare thing.
Because we were approached now. It wasn't us who chose Mr. Schocken, but rather Mr. Schocken who chose us. I think that he showed courage in doing so. In February he was introduced to Mr. Alfred DuMont, and in the months since, I came with my colleagues to Tel Aviv, studied the Haaretz Group, and concluded that it is interesting business-wise. At the same time, everyone who took part in putting the deal together was aware of its historic dimension.
To what historic dimension are you referring?
The German past.
Reference to the German past was a part of the deal for the purchase of Haaretz shares by the DuMont Group?
The past is a dimension in the deal. Certainly.
You paid 25 million euro for 25 percent of the shares in the Haaretz Group. Is the group really worth 100 million euro?
That is our assessment.
Is the newspaper healthy? Aren't its debts high? Aren't its profits slight?
We think Haaretz is a very strong brand. Together with the weeklies and Internet it is a good investment. There is high potential for developing the group on the Internet.
Will you influence the running of the paper and its editorial line?
Both sides agreed that the deal would ensure the values of democracy, liberty and justice to which Haaretz is committed. Mr. DuMont and Mr. Schocken found that their values are similar. A representative on our behalf, Avi Primor, will be one of the four members of the board of directors, but we have no intention of influencing the editorial line. We are committed to the complete independence of Haaretz journalists.
Tell me about the DuMont Schauberg Group.
We are a private, family company, around 200 years old. Mr. Alfred DuMont has headed it since 1953. We have six newspapers that sell a total of some one million copies a day. We are the fourth-largest media group in Germany. All of our newspapers are liberal and independent. Like Haaretz, we do not think the state should interfee in areas where it doesn't belong. We believe in a free market.
Your newspaper Express is a little different. It's considered populist and right wing.
Express is a tabloid, but in contrast to Bild it is also liberal.
The new partner in Haaretz, Alfred DuMont, is a 78-year-old German. What can you tell me about his past at the time of the Third Reich?
He was 5 years old when the Nazis came to power. He was 17 when the Reich came to an end. He was not a member of Hitler Youth. He was not a member in any Nazi organization. At the end of the war, when many of his contemporaries were drafted, he evaded the draft.
And his father?
His father, Dr. Kurt DuMont, joined the Nazi party in 1937. He did that because they threatened him that unless he joined the party he would lose the paper.
Kurt DuMont won a high citation from the Nazis.
Mr. DuMont had a reputation of being an unreliable member in the party. The Nazis did not believe in him. Therefore, they gave him that medal in August 1944 to prove that he was one of them.
Were other relatives party members?
Alfred DuMont's cousin, August, was a member of the Nazi party. Not an activist, but a member.
Did the DuMont Group's newspapers serve Nazi propaganda?
From October 4, 1933 and on, German publishers could not influence the editorial line. They could only sell a newspaper. Nothing more. We were no different than others. In Cologne there was a Nazi newspaper that tried to take over our newspaper. It didn't succeed in doing that because Dr. Kurt DuMont reached an arrangement with the party. He managed to keep the paper going without turning it into a party newspaper. When he joined the Nazi party in 1937, he and the party found a way to co-exist.
Is your feeling that the DuMonts were victims of the Nazis?
They were not victims, but nor were they Nazis. They had to keep operating a company when the Nazis came to power, and they did the minimum required to survive that time. There was a dictatorship then.
At the beginning of the year, Der Spiegel published allegations that the DuMont family profited by purchasing assets that Jews were compelled to sell for nothing.
We claim that Der Spiegel published incorrect facts. The DuMont family did not exploit the situation. All of the assets in question were bought at full price years after they were sold by Jews. One of the Jewish owners received compensation from the DuMont family and the others removed their claims. However, we appointed the historian Professor Pohl to research the history of the company during those years. We took legal action against Der Spiegel and others who repeated the report in a biased and unfair manner. We expect a verdict within two weeks, and believe that Der Spiegel will retract some of its allegations.
Is there a connection between Der Spiegel's allegations against you and your decision to buy the Haaretz shares?
No connection. It is a complete coincidence.
Did you have any connection to Israel before the Haaretz deal?
Mr. Alfred DuMont has visited Israel since 1953. He was present at the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. He is the president of the Peres Center for Peace in Germany. He also contributed to the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. He meets occasionally with Mr. Peres and with Mr. Ron Pundak. He has always taken an interest in Israel. Mr. DuMont is German. No German can say that he is not part of history. Certainly no German person or German company whose age is over 60. But Mr. DuMont's decision to accept Mr. Schocken's courageous offer stemmed not just from a sense of bearing responsibility for the past, but out of a belief in the future. As Germans, we must never forget what happened. We are familiar with Salman Schocken's past and the circumstances in which he left Germany and was forced to part with his department stores in Germany. However, we see here an interesting investment that is a lot more than an ordinary deal. We are trying to begin a new chapter.