Throughout the 1930s, the Nazi Party used propaganda to shape public opinion in the United States.1 To support this effort, the regime sent more than 350 German exchange students to American universities in the years before World War II. Beginning in 1936, these young Nazis—who were carefully trained to spread pro-Nazi ideas and generate sympathy for Germany—were sent to influence students and faculty on US campuses.2
One of these students, Elisabeth Noelle (later Noelle-Neumann), arrived at the University of Missouri in Columbia in the fall of 1937. She was sponsored by the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, which sent an exchange student from its chapter in Columbia to study music and German in Munich.
Noelle's outspoken support of Adolf Hitler drew attention on campus, including this in-depth news article by a Jewish journalism student named Esther Priwer. Printed first in a student newspaper3 and later in the national Jewish magazine, The Menorah Journal, Priwer's article attempts to explain " firsthand how an 'Aryan' German regarded the Jews." Priwer describes Noelle as "neither unfriendly nor friendly" to Jewish students, but she also notes that Noelle wrote pro-Nazi opinion articles and openly spread her Nazi views in the classroom and elsewhere on campus.4
Priwer describes only one personal encounter with Noelle, recalling that it was "hard to believe that Elizabeth was a deadly enemy of my people. She was such a charming person!" Priwer also observes that "Elizabeth is very attractive...that is undoubtedly one reason why Hitler sent her here."
Noelle's advocacy on behalf of the Third Reich met with mixed reactions at the University of Missouri. Anti-German sentiment on campus was higher even than at the height of World War I, and most professors "either resented her or laughed at her." Priwer observes that Noelle's highly publicized opposition to "the mixture of races," was received "tolerantly" by her classmates. She notes, however, that Jewish students regarded Noelle with "pity" for being merely "the product of the Nazi regime."
Priwer's article prompted some of her classmates (whom Priwer describes as a "liberal group" of mostly non-Jewish students) to write to the American Jewish Council, asking the organization to expose the propaganda efforts of German exchange students. The resulting report (attached as an addendum to Priwer’s article) was circulated around the University of Missouri campus to warn students and faculty of a major campaign to influence their attitudes toward Nazi Germany.5
Upon her return to Germany in 1938, Noelle went on to work as a journalist in the Nazi press. Following the war, she became a well-known academic with expertise in public opinion research. Noelle's presence on an American campus once again became a source of controversy in 1991, when a series of articles about her Nazi past appeared during her term as a visiting professor at the University of Chicago.6