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"Richard Hottelet Describes Stay in Dreaded Nazi Prison"

Richard C. Hottelet describes his imprisonment and interrogation in Nazi Germany.
Evening Courier-Post (Camden, NJ)

Berlin was an important destination for American journalists in the 1930s because of the Nazi Party's rapid rise to power and Hitler's aggressive foreign policy. An assignment in the German capital gave these correspondents a chance to earn an international reputation. Between 1933 and 1940, four American journalists would win the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of life in the Third Reich.

Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews and political opponents regularly made headlines in the US.1 While many factors influenced their coverage of Nazi persecution, there were risks and challenges that worked to limit reporting on these policies. The German propaganda ministry tried to control the message of the press. Journalists had to follow these daily rules and guidelines for reporting or they could be sent to concentration camps. Most foreign reporters accepted some restrictions and recognized that they had to be careful if they wanted to remain in Nazi Germany. Some journalists, like veteran reporter Dorothy Thompson,2 were expelled for portraying Nazi Germany negatively in their articles.3

Sometimes German authorities took harsher measures against foreign correspondents. In the spring of 1941, the Gestapo arrested an experienced American journalist named Richard C. Hottelet on charges of spying.4 Hottelet was imprisoned for four months in Germany after allegedly passing on information to his girlfriend, who had been an employee at the British Embassy in Berlin.5

When he returned to the United States, Hottelet wrote the featured account of his imprisonment. Published in newspapers around the country, the article described his four-months-long ordeal in a Berlin prison cell. In careful detail, Hottelet relates the isolation, hunger, and terror he endured in the prison. Guards told him that American authorities had "dropped him" and led him to believe he would remain there permanently. Cut off from the world, Hottelet was surprised and deeply relieved when he was suddenly released in July 1941. His release, along with another American journalist, had been arranged as an exchange for two alleged German spies held in the United States.6

Though his dedication to reporting on Nazi Germany had cost him dearly, Hottelet continued to take on risky work as a journalist. Upon his return to the US, Hottelet joined the Office of War Information, the US agency responsible for most domestic and foreign propaganda in World War II.7 Renowned broadcaster Edward R. Murrow subsequently hired Hottelet for CBS, which marked the beginning of a decades-long partnership. Hottelet reported on the Allied invasion of Normandy and was the first US war correspondent to enter Germany. Like Murrow, Hottelet reported from the newly liberated Buchenwald8 concentration camp.

On the role of the American press reporting of the Holocaust, see Deborah E. Lipstadt, Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust (New York: The Free Press, 1986); Laurel Leff, Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005). See also the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's citizen history project, History Unfolded. 

In August 1934, in response to her reporting critical of the Nazi regime, the Gestapo ordered Thompson to immediately leave the country. See the related item in Experiencing History, "Dorothy Thompson Speaks Out on Freedom of the Press in Germany."

While newspaper reporters could telephone or cable their stories back to the United States, German officials, in the Propaganda Ministry, the Foreign Office, and the SS, kept tabs on how events in Germany were reported by the foreign press, up until the end of World War II. Journalists who rubbed German officials the wrong way could be expelled from the country or arrested.

Hottelet, a New Yorker and the son of two German immigrants, had gone to Berlin initially to study philosophy at the University of Berlin. Soon after, he dropped out, taking a job as a correspondent for the United Press’s Berlin bureau. While there, he reported on the German occupation of the Sudetenland, covered the outbreak of World War II, and accompanied the German armed forces during their invasion of western Europe in spring 1940. 

 

This was not Hottelet's first run-in with German authorities. After an earlier confrontation with Gestapo officials who were loading Jews onto a truck, he was arrested and interrogated. Later, he was picked up again after meeting with a group of Jews near the former border with Poland. Although he was warned by a German diplomat that staying in Germany would be dangerous, Hottelet chose to remain.

See Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson, The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996), 199–201.

For more on the activities of the Office of War Information, see the Experiencing History collection, Propaganda and the American Public.

Cloud and Olson, 202–237. See also the related item in this collection, Edward R. Murrow Broadcast from Buchenwald, April 15, 1945.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Evening Courier-Post (Camden, NJ)
Date Created
August 2, 1941
Page(s) 1, 5
Author / Creator
Richard C. Hottelet
Language(s)
English
Location
Berlin, Germany
Camden, NJ, USA
Document Type Newspaper Article
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