The Propagander FAQ


How Did Hans Fritzsche Avoid the Noose?

Hans Fritzsche was the host of a popular German radio program, "Hans Fritzsche Speaks". He was the least known of the major Nuremberg Defendants outside Germany, and was on no ones initial list of major Nazis. He was included among the major defendants in place of his boss, Goebbels, who had committed suicide to avoid capture. Another factor that contributed to his being placed among the major Defendants was the unfortunate fact that he was one of only two high-ranking Nazis to have been captured by the Red Army. It became a matter of Soviet pride that he be included. However, he ended up being one of the three Defendants who were acquitted, a fact that very much displeased the Kremlin.

The main criticism of Fritzsche's acquittal is that his fellow propagandist,
Julius Streicher, was executed for his anti-Semitic propaganda while Fritzsche was released. Why? This is not an easy question to answer, and the answer itself is quite unsatisfactory, in my view. To clearly frame the question, here is a snippet from the Tribunals Final Judgement followed by the Soviet dissent:

From the Final Judgement of Hans Fritsche:

The Prosecution has asserted that Fritzsche incited and encouraged the commission of war crimes, by deliberately falsifying news to arouse in the German people those passions which led them to the commission of atrocities under Counts Three and Four. His position and official duties were not sufficiently important, however, to infer that he took part in originating or formulating propaganda campaigns. Excerpts in evidence from his speeches show definite anti-Semitism, on his part. He broadcast, for example, that the war had been caused by Jews and said their fate had turned out "as unpleasant as the Fuehrer predicted." But these speeches did not urge persecution or extermination of Jews. There is no evidence that he was aware of their extermination in the East. The evidence moreover shows that he twice attempted to have publication of the anti-Semitic Der Stuermer suppressed, though unsuccessfully. In these broadcasts Fritzsche sometimes spread false news, but it was not proved he knew it to be false.

For example, he reported that no German U-Boat was in the vicinity of the Athenia when it was sunk. This information was untrue; but Fritzsche, having received it from the German Navy, had no reason to believe it was untrue. It appears that Fritzsche sometimes made strong statements of a propagandistic nature in his broadcasts. But the Tribunal is not prepared to hold that they were intended to incite the German people to commit atrocities on conquered peoples, and he cannot be held to have been a participant in the crimes charged. His aim was rather to arouse popular sentiment in support of Hitler and the German war effort. Conclusion: The Tribunal finds that Fritzsche is not guilty under this Indictment, and directs that he shall be discharged by the Marshal when the Tribunal presently adjourns.

From the Soviet Dissent:

For the correct definition of the role of Defendant Hans Fritzsche it is necessary, firstly, to keep clearly in mind the importance attached by Hitler and his closest associates (as Goering, for example) to propaganda in general and to radio propaganda in particular. This was considered one of the most important and essential factors in the success of conducting an aggressive war. In the Germany of Hitler, propaganda was invariably a factor in preparing and conducting acts of aggression and in training the German populace to accept obediently the criminal enterprises of German fascism. The aims of these enterprises were served by a huge and well-centralized propaganda machinery. With the help of the police controls and of a system of censorship it was possible to do away altogether with the freedom of press and of speech. The basic method of the Nazi propagandistic activity lay in the false presentation of facts.

The Soviet view is simple; Fritzsche was guilty of propagating lies to influence public opinion for war, and no mitigating factors need apply.

The judgement of the other three participants is much more nuanced, less consistent, and thus much more difficult to defend; while Fritzsche--a minor player with no role in setting policy--did lie on the air, he didn't know they were lies and was thus acting in good faith. Other mitigating factors include the fact that Fritzsche utilized milder language in his anti-Semitism than did Streicher, and that Fritzsche protested by word and deed against those atrocities that came to his attention.

These opinions fail to consider a number of pertinent factors:

December 18, 1941: From a "Hans Fritzsche Speaks" radio speech by Fritzsche:

The fate of Jewry in Europe has turned out to be as unpleasant as the Fuehrer predicted it would be in the event of a European war. After the extension of the war instigated by Jews, this fate may also spread to the New World, for it can hardly be assumed that the nations of this New World will pardon the Jews for the misery of which the nations of the Old World did not absolve them...

From Fritzsche's IMT testimony:

In this quotation [above], I discussed the unpleasant fate of Jewry in Europe. According to the things that we know today, this must appear as though I meant the murder of the Jews. But in this connection, I should like to state that at that time I did not know about these murders; therefore I could not have meant it.

Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that we accept this premise. It then follows that if, after learning that masses of Jews were being murdered, Fritzsche subsequently utilized similar language, it could then be established that he "meant it." To illustrate this point, here is a section of Fritzsche's testimony that the Tribunal--as well as such respected authors as John Toland, who used Fritzsche's following assertions almost verbatim in his writings--found compelling:

From Fritzsche's IMT testimony:

In February or March 1942 I received a letter from a medium-ranking SS leader of the Ukraine. I do not recall this man's name. The contents of the letter were to the effect that the author was the commander of an SS unit, that he had received an order to kill the Jews and the Ukrainian intelligentsia of his area. Upon receipt of this order, he had suffered a nervous breakdown and he was now in a hospital. It seemed to him that a complaint along official channels was quite impossible for him. He said he did not know me but had confidence in me; perhaps I could help in some way. He asked me not to mention his name as he was bound to silence at the cost of his life. Without much hesitation and immediately upon receipt of this letter I called Heydrich, the Obergruppenfuehrer, then leader of the RSHA or the Gestapo. I hardly knew him personally, but he declared himself quite willing to receive me immediately. I visited him and asked him pointblank, "Is your SS there for the purpose of committing mass murders?" Heydrich was quite indignant at this question, and said that larger or smaller SS units had been assigned by him for police purposes to various ministers, Reich commissioners, and so forth.

These special details of SS men had been misused on various occasions, and he thought this might apply to the unit which had been placed at the disposal of Gauleiter Koch. He told Me that he would have an investigation started immediately. Next noon he called me, from headquarters as he said, and let me know that this action had actually been attempted on the order of Koch. Koch, for his part, had referred to the Fuehrer. The Fuehrer, however, had not answered as yet. Heydrich said I would receive further details. Two days later Heydrich asked me to come and visit him and said Hitler had expressly declared that he had not given this order; Koch now said that there was a misunderstanding. I was further told that an investigation of Koch had been started. At any rate, Heydrich promised me that this action would not be carried through. I remember particularly well one sentence which was used in this discussion, words used by Heydrich: "Believe me, Herr Fritzsche, anyone who has the reputation of being cruel does not have to be cruel; he can act humanely." Shortly thereafter, I was made a soldier and asked to be sent to the 6th Army and was sent to the Ukraine.

March 1942: Fritzsche becomes a soldier detailed to the 6th Army stationed in the Ukraine.

The fact is, this experience prompted Fritzsche to quit the propaganda business in disgust and to enter a much more honest profession; that of a fighting man. Had he stayed in the German Army, the chances are that he'd never have been heard from again--at least, he'd not have ended up in Nuremberg. However, this was not to be. Nine months later, Fritzsche accepted an offer by Dr. Goebbels to head a newly created position in the Propaganda Ministry, that of Plenipotentiary for the Political Organization of the Greater German Radio. At the same time he also became head of the Radio Division of the Propaganda Ministry. In Goebbels' introduction to a book by Fritzsche called War to the War Mongers, Goebbels wrote: "Nobody knows better than I how much work is involved in those [Fritzsche's] broadcasts, how many times they were dictated within the last minutes to find some minutes later a willing ear by the whole nation."

Fritzsche, in his IMT testimony, was not asked--and did not address--the question of why he returned to the propaganda business. It is merely stated that he did so. One can assume that either his 9 months under arms was even more abhorrent than his propaganda activities, or that he had a change of heart at some point. Ether way, we find that he again played the anti-Semitic card in this late-in-the-war broadcast:

January 13, 1945: From a "Hans Fritzsche Speaks" radio speech:

If Jewry provided a link between such divergent elements as plutocracy and Bolshevism and if Jewry was first able to work successfully in the democratic countries in preparing this war against Germany, it has by now placed itself unreservedly on the side of Bolshevism which, with its entirely mistaken slogans of racial freedom against racial hatred, has created the very conditions the Jewish race requires in its struggle for domination over other races...Not the last result of German resistance on all the fronts, so unexpected to the enemy, is the fruition of a development which began in the prewar years, that is, the process of subordinating British policy to far-reaching Jewish points of view. This development started long before this when Jewish emigrants from Germany commenced their warmongering against us from British and American soil . . . . This whole attempt, aiming at the establishment of Jewish world domination, was obviously made at a time when the national-racial consciousness had been too far awakened to promise success to the undertaking.

Again, Fritzsche's assertion that he "did not know about these murders; therefore ... could not have meant it" now applies in the opposite sense; that, after his February 1942 experience, he now knew, and thus, he now "meant it." No other interpretation is logically consistent.

1) On the language of anti-Semitism: The idea is that, because Fritzsche's language was milder than Streicher's, he was somehow not as virulent an anti-Semite. However, one must consider that Fritzsche's audience--his demographic--was vastly different than Streicher's. Der Stuermer was a rag aimed at those who were already true believers; Nazi Party members, the SS-Man and other virulent anti-Semites. In contrast, Fritzsche's audience was the 'average German,' the non-Party folks who looked down on primitive race-baiting as repulsive and had to be finessed into blaming Jews for all the worlds ills. This was Fritzsche's task, and he was very good at it. His radio show, 'Hans Fritzsche Speaks,' was the most popular 'news' show in the Reich.

Examine the language Fritzsche uses in the January 13 broadcast above. His intent is to equate the Jews with the enemies facing German forces in the field. And what does one do to the enemy? To the point, Fritzsche states that the "attempt, aiming at the establishment of Jewish world domination" now has no chance of success because, due to the propaganda of folks like Streicher on the one hand and Fritzsche on the other, "the national-racial consciousness had been too far awakened to promise success to the undertaking." There is absolutely no difference in intent between this nuanced statement and Der Stuermer's blatant race-baiting. The meaning is consistent, only the actual words used are different.

2) The majority of the Tribunal seems to have accepted, contrary to their own guidelines, a variation of the 'just following orders' defense, stating in the Final Judgement that "Fritzsche had no control of the formulation of these propaganda policies. He was merely a conduit." This is certainly inconsistent, at the very least. The feeling seems to have been that while Streicher needed no prompting to rail against the Jews, Fritzsche needed orders to do so. This strikes one as mild mitigation at best. Either way, anti-Semitic propaganda in the midst of a Holocaust was the result.

3) Perhaps the biggest contrast between Streicher and Fritzsche was that the former was a disgusting pig with few redeeming qualities (he was brave and uncompromising in his beliefs, at least), while the latter came across as reasonable, likable, and solicitous of others. In a perfect world, judges are impartial, considering only the facts of a case and not allowing personal likes and dislikes to interfere in judicial determinations. It seems that only the Soviet judge had this degree of objectivity. Even the Press, considered to be impartial observers if there were any, considered Fritzsche the least guilty defendant:

September 1-30, 1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: The thirty-two American journalists covering the trial had created a blackboard in the foreign press room listing the correspondents' predictions concerning the defendants' sentences in columns headed 'Guilty,' 'Not Guilty,' 'Death Sentence' and 'Prison.' The pressmen were unanimous on the death sentence only for
Hermann Goering, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Ernst Kaltenbrunner; as regards the rest, bets on the death sentence were: Wilhelm Keitel and Fritz Sauckel 29, Hans Frank 27, Arthur Seyss-Inquart 26, Alfred Rosenberg 24, Rudolf Hess 17, Erich Raeder 15, Karl Doenitz and Streicher 14, Alfred Jodl 13, Wilhelm Frick 12, Albert Speer 11, Baldur von Schirach 9, Franz von Papen 6, Hjalmar Schacht 4, Constantin von Neurath 3 and Hans Fritzsche  1. (Maser)

4) There is also a Cold War aspect to the Fritzsche case. Fritzsche had been captured by the Soviets, who pressured the other three Allies to add his name to the list of defendants. The French, British and Americans resented this, as they did the fact that Fritzsche was mistreated by the Soviets. While it was alleged that Streicher suffered similar mistreatment at the hands of the Americans, the differences in their personalities--the Likability Factor--made one action appear more odious than the other. This is yet another straying from objectivity. This exchange between Fritzsche and his Soviet interrogator evoked sympathy for him and heavily influenced the Court in his favor:

June 28, 1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 166, Fritzsche, while undergoing cross-examination by the Russian prosecutor, is interrupted:

The President: One moment. What is it you are saying, Defendant? Are you saying that you did not sign this document or that you did?

Fritzsche: Mr. President, I signed the document, although its contents did not correspond with my own statements.

The President: Why did you do that?

Fritzsche: I gave that signature after very severe solitary confinement which had lasted for several months; and I wrote that signature because one of my fellow prisoners, with whom I came into contact once, had told me that once every month a court was pronouncing sentences based merely on such records and without interrogation; and I hoped that in this manner I would at least achieve being sentenced and thus terminate my confinement. So as not to be misunderstood I should like to emphasize that no force was used and that I was treated very humanely, even if my detention was very severe.

Rudenko: Very well. Of course, you never thought, Defendant Fritzsche, that after all you had done you would be sent to a sanatorium? It is obvious that you had to land in a prison and a prison is always a prison...

5) Albert Speer was a supporter of Fritzsche, and it is another unfortunate occurrence in the Trial that Speer worked a behind-the-scenes deal with Jackson to convince some of the defendants to recant their Nazi ways so as to influence the popular notion in Germany that the Trial was merely 'Victors Justice,' as Goering loudly proclaimed. Fritzsche was willing to go along:

From Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer:

During the preliminary investigation the prisoners were prevented from meeting. Now this regulation was relaxed, so that we crossed paths more often in the prison yard, where we could talk without surveillance. The trial, the indictment, the validity of the international tribunal, profound indignation at the disgrace--again and again as we walked our rounds of the yard I heard the same subjects and opinions. Among the twenty other defendants I found only one who shared my views. That was Fritzsche, with whom I could consider in detail the principle of responsibility.

In this regard, Fritzsche cooperated fully with the Prosecution, signing extensive affidavits and basically turning 'states evidence' on some of his fellow defendants, such as--notably--Streicher. Goering was another target of the Speer-Fritzsche combination:

February 7, 1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: From Nuremberg Diary by Gustave Gilbert:

[In response to the presentation in court that day by France] Fritzsche and Speer showed that Goering's stealing of art treasures was really the damaging accusation in German eyes. "They didn't even mention the worst part of it," Fritzsche pointed out, "that he even sold the stuff he stole. But that Frenchman who presented the case did a really good job--much more effective than name calling, and he cleverly left the word for it up to the court to decide." "You see," said Speer, "how can there be any talk of a united front among the defendants when that man has disgraced himself like that?" Goering came over after lunch while I was reading the papers to some of the others, looking over my shoulder. He started to wisecrack about having a grudge against the brain-doctor. The others walked away to avoid the pretense of joking with him, and Goering expressed great interest in the day's news. (Gilbert)

From the notes of the Nuremberg Prison psychologist, Dr. Gilbert:

Von Schirach's attitude of remorse before the trial has completely disappeared since he came under Goering's influence . . . . He has acted as Goering's messenger to lay down the 'Party Line' to recalcitrant defendants like Speer . . . . After yesterday's argument ... Goering impatiently attacked both Fritzsche and von Schirach as 'young weaklings' while he was by implication a more heroic nationalist.

6) Only Fritzsche Speer managed to show remorse for the misdeeds of the regime they supported (Shirach had given an apology of sorts, but later recanted, and the court discounted Frank's disingenuous performance). This went a long way with the Tribunal because it was so rare. As Taylor and Tusa put it:

From The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials by Telford Taylor:

Fritzsche was a section chief in the Propaganda Ministry who reported to the Reich Press Chief, Otto Dietrich, who in turn reported to Goebbels. Within the ministry Fritzsche was not unimportant, and his own news program, 'Hans Fritzsche Speaks,' was widely heard. But as a third level official he had little to say about policy questions. Of course his programs hailed the Wehrmacht's aggressions and denounced the Jews. Thus Fritzsche's case was somewhat analogous to Streicher's, but compared to Der Stuermer, Fritzsche's output was pallid indeed ... of all the defendants he was the most susceptible to the trials' shocking moments. In November 1945, after the first showing of an atrocity film, Fritzsche 'burst into tears and sobbed bitterly.' He remained prone to emotional distress from both testimonial and visual descriptions of atrocious events.

Socially, Fritzsche was friendly, generous, and popular with the other defendants. They all knew that he was in the dock only because of his capture by the Russians who, except for Raeder, had secured no well-known defendants . . . . Fritzsche had never met Hitler and was previously unknown to most of the defendants . . . . Rudenko himself took the lectern (for cross-examination). It was not a success...

From The Nuremberg Trial by Ann and John Tusa:

Fritzsche gave a poor performance in the witness box--which was particularly surprising since his broadcasts had often been ably improvised from a few written notes. The professional communicator who had tried to coach other defendants to deliver their testimony cogently and effectively was himself clearly nervous, and he rambled in a diffuse often disjointed style for nearly two days . . . .

Half-buried in his testimony, scattered in fragments among other matters, was the condemnation of Hitler and the Nazi leadership which he had been long considering and over which he had liaised with Speer . . . . It was symptomatic of the general exhaustion and boredom which gripped all participants at the trial by this time that Fritzsche's statement evoked little response and virtually no Press coverage. In part this apathy was his own fault. The statement had come in isolated sentences, had been lost in general verbiage and illogicality of his testimony. Yet pieced together, his views are striking. Fritzsche almost alone of all the defendants had blamed both the Nazi leadership and himself. He viewed the regime as a whole, faced its logic, and traced the moral consequences of its beliefs . . . . He had actually learned something from the trial.

7) The American, British and French judges viewed Fritzsche much as the Tusa's, and this--more than any other single factor--caused them to vote for acquittal. At first, the French judge was inclined to vote against Fritzsche's acquittal, preferring instead a prison term, but was eventually swayed by British and American arguments (spurious, in my view) concerning free speech; the Soviet judge alone held that death was the only appropriate sentence.

Conclusion: While Fritzsche's acquittal cannot be strictly called Justice with a large case 'J,' it is nonetheless understandable under the circumstances. Regardless, that is how Fritzsche managed to avoid the noose, and he was very lucky to do so.
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