Seventy-five years ago, while it was clearly gearing up for war, the United States was still neutral, and the Nazis wanted to keep it that way. this date’s issue of Radio Guide, June 28, 1941, carried an interesting look at one of the propaganda programs being broadcast to North America by Berlin stations DJB and DJD on 11.77 and 15.20 MHz. The program was “America Asks, Germany Answers.”
As early as 1933, Propaganda Minister Paul Josef Goebbels had set up a North American Service of the German Radio, staffed largely by expatriate American “foreign correspondents.” In February 1941, the station requested American listeners to forward reception reports and questions about Germany by means of collect telegrams of up to 25 words. By the end of February, over 10,000 telegrams had been received, despite criticism in the American press and deliberate attempts to clog the German end of the circuit. In March, the “America Asks, Germany Answers” program was on the air to answer these questions.
Among the American reporters was Frederick W. Kaltenbach (1895-1945), who had formerly been an Iowa teacher. In 1935, while teaching in Dubuque, he had started the “Militant Order of Spartan Knights,” a club for boys based on the Hitler Youth. Concerned parents saw to it that his teaching contract was terminated, and he left for Germany. He worked as a freelance writer and translator until landing his radio job in 1940. Many of his broadcasts began with “Greetings to my old friend, Harry in Iowa.” He was indicted for treason in 1943, but was arrested by Soviet troops and died in a detention camp in October 1945.
The “America Asks, Germany Answers” program was read by two announcers, “Democ” and “Nazi.” Democ would pose questions from American listeners, and Nazi would provide the answers.
According to the Radio Guide editor, the cost of these telegrams (about $10,000) amounted to “the cheapest imaginable form of advertising for the station, since the whole proposition was widely publicized in the American press and thousands of listeners who were only dimly aware of even the existence of a German short-wave station found themselves listening to it nightly, at first to see if their cables would be answered over the air, subsequently because, once the habit of listening to a certain program is formed, it is not easily discarded. Thus by a clever artifice the German short-wave station gained thousands of new listeners not only to the comparitively innocent program, “America Asks, Germany Answers,” but to the more deadly blasts from Goebbels’ master propagandists in their nightly bombardments on the democratic way of life.”
The magazine did note that a certain number of questions were sympathetic to the Nazi cause, and “quite likely, the names and addresses of these pro-Nazis were promptly garnered by the secret police, who in turn passed them along to the American Nazi organization for investigation so that eventually the fifth column in this country will receive additional recruits.”
However, as might be expected, most questioners were anything but sympathetic, but Democ and Nazi were still eager to tackle them, often by dismissing them with humor.
For example, one Harry Hoffman of Brooklyn asked in his cable, “how do you like your diet of horse meat and dog meat in Berlin these days?” Nazi answered, “my dear Hoffman, we like our diet just fine. It’s excellent. In fact, it’s good. Since we can no longer get giraffe tails or nightingale tongues, we must now be content with veal cutlets, lamb chops or T-bone steaks.” He then added sarcastically, “I suppose you also believe German tanks are made of paper.”
A more serious reply came in response to the question of one Mr. Fletcher of New York who asked about German plans for expansion in the western hemisphere.” Nazi replied that “Germany has NO plans whatsoever against any part of South, Central, or North America. Our campaign is directed solely against England.”
The only question which provoked some showing of anger was that of one Mr. Lehe of New York who opined that “neither England nor Germany but America will win the war.” To this, Mr. Nazi bitterly replied, “this is England’s war, not yours. It’s absolutely none of your business and America should keep its nose out of the affairs that do not concern it in the least.”
- Historical Dictionary of American Propaganda, p. 299
- Pittsburgh Press, June 10, 1941
- Time Magazine, June 9, 1941
- Washington Post, Feb. 14, 1943
- The Kaltenbachs: A Solid American Family, With a Shadow, Univ. of Northern Iowa
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