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Dorothy Thompson Speaks Out on Freedom of the Press in Germany

Dorothy Thompson Speaks Out
US Holocaust Museum, Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections, University of South Carolina
View this Newsreel

tags: Americans abroad censorship deportations

type: Newsreel

Few journalists irritated Nazi authorities more than American columnist Dorothy Thompson. In the 1930s and 1940s, she used her voice to denounce Nazi policies, call attention to the plight of the regime’s many victims, and urge action by the US government to aid refugees from the Third Reich. Thompson was a famous journalist whose outspoken personality attracted attention both at home and abroad.

In the mid-1920s, Thompson earned a reputation as a writer with a “nose for news.” In fall 1931, she interviewed Adolf Hitler for Cosmopolitan magazine.1 By that time, Hitler had built up a huge national following in Germany and the Nazis had become the largest political party within the German parliament. Thompson’s article depicted Hitler as insecure and incapable of leading Germany, which angered Nazi officials. However, Thompson underestimated Hitler’s support: on January 30, 1933, the figure she described as  a “little man” was appointed German Chancellor.

The Nazi Party’s rise to power had important consequences both for the German press and the international media working in Germany. Within months, the new regime shut down hundreds of newspapers, destroyed or confiscated their printing presses, and began intimidating foreign journalists into leaving the country.2 In May 1933, a US diplomat in Berlin reported several instances of Nazi officials pressuring American journalists or trying to have them removed for irritating the German government or the Nazi Party.3

Only one day after her arrival in Berlin in 1934, the German Secret Police (Gestapo) gave Dorothy Thompson an order to leave the country within 24 hours.4  Despite warnings that targeting Thompson would cause a “nation-wide sensation” and “advertise everything she had said [about Germany] all over the democratic world,” the Gestapo insisted on expelling her for her critical interview with Hitler and her articles for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).5

Thompson’s expulsion became an international controversy. She left Berlin for Paris, where she was greeted by reporters eager for the story. Likely recorded for a newsreel, the featured clip was filmed in Paris just days after her expulsion from Nazi Germany. In the film, Thompson seems less concerned about her own expulsion than the threats faced by other foreign correspondents. She also warns that “the nature of journalism” itself was being threatened by Nazi censorship.

She later expanded the interview into a short book, I Saw Hitler (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1932).

In August 1933, the German Foreign Office pressured the US State Department to recall Chicago Daily News correspondent Edgar Ansell Mowrer. If he refused to leave, the German Foreign Office threatened to take other actions, including his immediate expulsion. The State Department refused, but the Chicago Daily News recalled Mowrer because they feared for the safety of the reporter and his family.

Berlin Consul General George Messermith wrote to US Secretary of State Cordell Hull, "It is the intention of the present Government and of the Party not to allow anything to appear in the press or to reach the public, which is not in accord with its ideas or wishes....It was obviously the desire of the authorities to prevent what is from their point of view, undesirable news reaching the outside world." See "The Consul General at Berlin (Messersmith) to the Secretary of State, May 12, 1933, Document 274," in Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1933, vol. 2, The British Commonwealth, Europe, Near East, and Africa (Washington, DC: Department of State) e-book, 808.

For more on Thompson's expulsion, see William E. Dodd, Jr. and Martha Dodd, eds., Ambassador Dodd’s Diary 1933–1938, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1941), 155–156, and Andrew Nagorski, Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012), 163–168.

For more on the role of Berlin's American Counsel, Raymond Geist, see Richard Breitman, The Berlin Mission: The American Who Resisted Nazi Germany from Within, (New York: Public Affairs, 2019), 85.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Museum, Courtesy of Moving Image Research Collections, University of South Carolina
Accession Number 2002.547
RG Number 60.3497
Source Number 2574
Date Created
August 28, 1934
Duration 00:02:08
Sound Yes
Paris, France
Reference Location
Berlin, Germany
Moving Image Type Newsreel
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