A lengthy report, “Covering Tyranny, the AP and Nazi Germany,” released by the Associated Press provides an in-depth review of the news outlet’s operations in Nazi Germany and displays photographs taken by Willi Jacobson for the JDC after World War II.
The AP’s internal investigation was commissioned in response to German historian Harriet Scharnberg’s article, “The A and P of Propaganda, The Associated Press and Nazi Photojournalism” published in 2016 in the German academic journal, Studies in Contemporary History. In it, Scharnberg argued that the AP willingly cooperated with Nazi Germany between 1935 and 1941. While other Anglo-American picture agencies were forced to close their bureaus in Nazi Germany after1935, the AP was able to continue to operate there until 1941 when the United States entered World War II on the Allied side. According to Scharnberg, the AP was allowed to remain in the Third Reich because it made a deal with the Nazi regime. The agency ceded control of its output by complying to the Schriftleitergesetz (Editors Law), whereby it agreed not to print any material that could “weaken the strength of the German Reich,” at home or abroad. The AP also allowed the Nazi regime to use its photos for German anti-Semitic propaganda literature and hired reporters who worked for the Nazi propaganda machine. The Editors Law excluded Germans with Jewish ancestors from the photojournalist profession and the AP was forced to dismiss its Jewish employees, among whom was senior staff photographer Willi Jacobson, who shot photos for JDC after World War II.
While the AP’s review disputes Scharnberg’s conclusion that it was complicit with the Nazi regime, it confirms many of Scharnberg’s findings. The agency admits that in 1935, at the Nazis’ behest, it let go of its six Jewish employees instead of closing its Berlin office because “it believed it was critical for the AP to remain in Germany and gather news and photos during this crucial period.” This was a difficult decision as these employees had been with the organization for a long time and they were the agency’s most experienced personnel. Louis P. Lochner, the AP’s Berlin bureau chief, considered Jacobson to be an “ace photographer” and had him reassigned to the AP’s bureau in Vienna. After the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, he was arrested by the Gestapo and spent three months in prison. The AP unsuccessfully attempted to have him freed and transferred to Prague, to no avail. The Germans eventually released Jacobson and he went back to Berlin. His fate during the war years is not known. We know that he survived as it was recently discovered that photos shot in Berlin for the JDC after the war have captions crediting the Jacobson-Sonnenfeld photo agency. See a selection of those photographs in the special JDC Archives collection highlight: http://bit.ly/2qTw6TF