Setting the Record Straight: Why Haaretz Said Hitler 'Made a Good Impression'

In 1932, Haaretz's reporter in Berlin was sent to cover a libel trial in which the Nazi leader was sued by one of his opponents. Hitler made a good impression, the reporter noted, paving the way for decades of fake news

Haaretz's original 1932 report on Hitler
Haaretz Archive

For the past few years, a disturbing report has been making the rounds on social media that Haaretz supported Hitler early on. “Haaretz in 1932: Hitler makes a good impression” is the headline of the post on social media, accompanied by the following explanation: “Now we all know what the Haaretz newspaper is worth, along with the reports of the leftist media in general.”

In the hope (however unrealistic) that it is possible to put an end to the rumors, interpretations and fake news, here for the first time is the full story behind the Haaretz report on Hitler from 1932. Readers can judge for themselves.

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The date is January 28, 1932, a year before Hitler is appointed German chancellor. Haaretz’s correspondent in Berlin, Gershon Savitt, was reporting from the courtroom. In the dock was Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party, who was facing a libel suit filed by his former friend Walter Stennes, a senior officer in the SA, the Nazi stormtroopers. A year before his rise to power, Hitler was still not very well known to Haaretz readers.

In 1930, Stennes had led a revolt against the Nazi leader in the course of an internal struggle in Nazi ranks. As a result, Stennes was thrown out of the party. Later, Hitler’s newspaper. Völkischer Beobachter, reported that Stennes was an informer who, while serving in the Nazi ranks, also worked for the Berlin police. In response, Stennes, in a move that would have been impossible a year later, sued the Nazis.

In his article, Savitt wrote (in Hebrew): “About a year and a half ago, a revolution of sorts took place in the Nazi camp. The rebel against the kingdom was the head of the stormtroopers himself, Captain Stennes. The field marshal of all of Hitler’s forces in Berlin sanctified war on Munich, on the center of the Nazis, on the leader of the movement, his honor ["yerum hodo" in Hebrew] Adolf Hitler.”

Adolf Hitler in 1931
Albert Harlingue / Roger-Viollet / The Image Works

Savitt's use of the expression “his honor” to describe Hitler was not meant to express the reporter’s personal view or that of Haaretz, but to describe the way Hitler was perceived in the ranks of the Nazi party and beyond, and to add a bit of color and cynicism to the report. Stennes “claimed that the Nazi leaders are not socialist enough and that they live profligate and wasteful lives,” Savitt’s article went on to state.

All of this is background to the 1932 Haaretz report that described Hitler as “making a good impression.” Without a doubt, the reporter was naturally excited to have the chance to stand so close to Germany’s rising star. At the time, not many people in pre-state Israel knew the name Hitler, but in Germany everyone was talking about him.

“This is the first time that I am seeing Hitler face-to-face and hearing his homily emerge from his sacred mouth,” Savitt cynically wrote.

“I should note at the outset that the impression Hitler makes is immeasurably better than expected. He looks rather young. He is 46, but he looks younger. Incidentally, he is a bachelor. They say he intends to marry the widow of Siegfried, Wagner’s younger son. He is finely dressed, and generally makes his presence felt, because the life of the Nazi leader is not so bad. Self-satisfaction and self-confidence are apparent in his movements; he acts and feels that he himself is a star. He knows that the eyes of the world are now upon him and that pleases him.”

Savitt noted that Hitler spoke German with an Austrian accent, for which he was ridiculed by journalists: “In Berlin, there are two great comedians who joke with the audience in this Austrian speech and Berliners laugh with pleasure over this, and so all the reporters started smiling when Hitler began speaking.”

Summing up the court session, the Haaretz correspondent wrote: “In general Hitler defended himself with great success. From his first words, it was clear that he was an experienced orator who knows how to capture the heart of the audience. The courtroom is completely filled, and when Hitler concludes his remarks, hundreds of people stand and honor the leader with the Nazi salute.”

Can one conclude from this report that Haaretz supported Hitler? Can it really be said that Haaretz believed that Hitler “made a good impression” without providing context and explaining that it described his outward appearance in the courtroom rather than his political and ideological positions? In 2017, a column in daily Israel Hayom made note of the description. And on Facebook and Twitter it has become undisputed proof.

The article from 1932 had been collecting dust in the Haaretz archives until it was retrieved in 2008 by Ofri Ilany. He used it in a column in the paper dealing with how Hitler was treated at the time in the media. The headline chosen for Ilany's article was intentionally sensationalist: “’Hitler makes a good impression,’ newspapers in the Land of Israel in the 1930s write.” Since then it has been used by some on the political right wing to taunt Haaretz.