‘American money’

Adolf Hitler and Henry Ford, circa 1922

Adolf Hitler, the Austrian-born Bavarian fascist, made his first appearance in the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a century ago, about 10 years before he was appointed chancellor of Germany.

It was a brief mention. The newspaper on Dec. 11, 1922, published only the first paragraph of a short Associated Press story, which reported “American money is helping to finance the Fascisti movement in Bavaria led by Herr Hitler.”

The rest of the story, which didn’t make print in St. Louis, told more about his intentions:

Herr Hitler is reported to have given certain interviews, in which he said his program regarded it essential that large masses of Jews in Bavaria be taken as hostages in order to influence the international, financial and business world in regard to Germany.

The movement constantly is growing and it is declared to be enveloping individuals in all circles of life. The chief end appears to be the building up of class warfare, leading to racial strife. The question of the time when the proposed coup may be expected apparently hinges on the degree to which the leaders of the movement are convinced that their ground has been prepared and consolidated.

Public demonstrations leave no doubt that there are large numbers of Bavarians who believe Hitler is Germany’s “man of the hour.”

Only a handful of newspapers published the story. Of those, I found three that ran it in its entirety, including the Montgomery Advertiser, Atlanta Constitution and New York Tribune.

Whilst the Dec. 11 item appears to be the first mention of Hitler in the Post-Dispatch, the paper’s evening rival, the St. Louis Star, already introduced its readers to the Nazi leader in a lengthy story published on Nov. 14, 1922. In an interview with Karl Henry von Wiegand of the Hearst-owned Universal Service, Hitler outlines his objectives, including “unrelenting war against Bolshevism [and] Socialism of the Marx type” and “purging of German of grafters, shylocks, profiteers and exploiters.”

Von Wiegand describes Hitler: “Aged 34, medium tall, wiry, slender, dark hair, cropped tooth-brush mustache, eyes that spurt fire when in action, straight Grecian nose, finely chiseled features with complexion so remarkably delicate that many a woman would be proud to possess it — with all a bearing that creates an impression of dynamic energy well under control.”

As for American sources of financing, the German and U.S. press in 1922 speculated that Henry Ford, the auto manufacturer and notorious antisemite, was likely a key backer. The New York Times, on Dec. 20, 1922, noted a wall in Hitler’s private office was decorated with a large portrait of Ford. “In the antechamber there is a large table covered with books, nearly all of which are a translation of a book written and published by Henry Ford,” the Times reported. (Ford’s “The International Jew” was translated into German in 1922, and is credited with influencing the future architects of the Holocaust.)

George Seldes, in “Facts and Fascism” (1943), elaborates at length on Ford’s role, saying testimony crediting Ford for helping finance the Bavarian fascists emerged during testimony in 1924, when Hitler was tried for his role in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch.

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