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Louise Kleuser to J. L. McEhlany

Kleuser McElhany
General Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventists Archives
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tags: activism propaganda

type: Letter

The Nazi regime paid close attention to its public image both at home and abroad. In addition to formal diplomacy and propaganda, it relied on ordinary Germans who could communicate positive messages about Germany to foreign audiences.1 German church leaders became important tools in this project because they were seen as moral authorities and had connections with Christians in other countries. A number of German ministers and church officials went on speaking tours in the United States in the mid-1930s to counter the negative press about domestic Nazi policy and its restrictions on freedom of religion. In some cases they were supported by the German propaganda ministry.

In 1936, Hulda Jost, the director of the German Seventh-Day Adventist2 welfare organization, went on a speaking tour across the United States.3 In addition to the General Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventists in Washington, DC, the German government facililtated the logistics of Jost’s trip. Jost gave over 140 public lectures during her four-month trip between March and June 1936. Some of her audiences were church congregations, but she also spoke to community groups, college students, and women's groups. Local American newspapers covered her lectures and German diplomats working in American cities attended some of the events.        

The General Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventists arranged for a translator, Louise Kleuser, to accompany Jost on her tour. Kleuser, also an American Adventist, wrote the featured letter to J. L. McElhany, the president of the Adventists General Conference. Five weeks into the trip with Jost, Kleuser offers a more critical perspective on the lectures than seen in American newspapers. She warns church leaders that Jost's lectures were often overtly political, rather than religious or educational. 

For more on the role of propaganda in Hitler’s foreign policy before World War II, see Gerhard Weinberg’s essay, “Propaganda for Peace and Preparation for War,” in Germany, Hitler, and World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 68–82. See also the collection Propaganda and the American Public.

The Seventh-Day Adventist Church is a Protestant denomination that emerged in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. It shares similar teachings with other traditions, such as Baptists and Methodists, but has several distinctive elements, most notably observance of the Sabbath (Saturday) and its emphasis on diet and healthy lifestyles. Adventists first went to Germany in the 1880s and by the 1930s, it was one of the largest independent churches in Germany with a membership of 38,000. It was engaged in extensive welfare work and in the Nazi period became an approved organization of the National Socialist People’s Welfare (NSV), along with the Salvation Army and a number of other German organizations that provided social services.  

Roland Blaich, “Selling Nazi Germany Abroad: The Case of Hulda Jost,” Journal of Church and State 35 (1993): 807–830.

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Elder McElhany: 

This article clearly suggests that Miss Jost's mission to America was to "tell the truth about Germany’s present program of fine provisions for the needy under Hitler's government. The "lies" of American newspapers is attacked properly. Her report should have all the more weight because she is a Seventh-day Adventist! (par. 1 & 2) 

The government Welfare Plans are highly lauded. She reports that when she told about these plans in America, people in their enthusiasm called out: "That’s what we are going to have here in America too.” Her reply should have been, "Go ahead and have it!" (I can’t recall all that enthusiasm anywhere, L.K.)

Hitler's program is surely lauded with eloquence. The article is introduced with comments on Sister Jost's "remarkable courage to speak out."

This article reveals clearly that her main burden for her visit was to clear Germany's record. No wonder consuls welcome this! Not many people could be even bought to declare in a strange land such happenings. Assuming all what might been said, that the paper did not find it wise to publish, it surely isn’t what SDAs think best give publicity to. Were we to resort to such measures in America - approving publicly political moves! - we might gain more popularity as a denomination, too. But we don’t court the government of earth by flattery. 

I can’t help wondering where we as a church might be if in the near future Germany decides to turn on Hitler. Our sister is positively playing with fire. 

Getting a perspective of Sister Jost’s whole propaganda, I feel she may bring to us in the future far more embarrassment than we can trust our brethren right close up to the problem in Europe, to now see. 

The freedom with which she gave you this article, Elder McElhany, shows her conviction that all this is all right for SDAs! Supposing you hadn’t cautioned before she arrived in Los Angeles! To say this which the newspaper records, was conservative on her part, we must remember. (I've gotten a background for these impressions because of an accumulation of them from various angles.) From her delight over progress made with the San Francisco consul, I am anxious, Elder McElhany. I just fear her European brethren can't see what perspective suggests to us. I do hope she'll keep away from the newspapers here. Knowing the tactics of these consuls too well by now, I can just say I'm anxious. 

The Portland consul took great pains to fit out a nice scrapbook for all her articles to take back to Mr. Hitler. They are to weigh much. 

L. C. Kleuser  

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
General Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventists Archives
Source Number RG 11, Box 3144, Presidential Files, 1936 (II) Correspondence, Hulda Jost file
Date Created
April 26, 1936
Author / Creator
Louise Kleuser
Language(s)
English
Location
Silver Spring, MD, USA
Document Type Letter
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