JDC Photos Showcased in AP’s In-Depth Review of Its Coverage of Nazi Germany

May 18, 2017

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 JDC Archives was a critical source for revealing information on Willi Jacobson, an AP senior photographer, who also worked for JDC after World War II. The report was produced by Larry Heinzerling, adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and retired AP deputy international editor, AP investigative researcher Randy Herschaft, and AP Vice President and Editor at Large for Standards John Daniszewski.

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, “From 1935 onwards, the Ministry of Propaganda had the Berlin AP picture service as much under its control as the German picture bureaus. The agency had accepted the Editor’s Law, so the Berlin AP photojournalists were equally at risk of facing occupational bans, disciplinary court proceedings and prison sentences should they fall out of favour with the Ministry of Propaganda.” The AP did not object to the Nazi regime’s use of its photos for German anti-Semitic propaganda literature. 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.

JDC food warehouse staff in Berlin, 1946

Photographer: Willi Jacobson

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 dismissed or reassigned six of its 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 who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for his comprehensive coverage of the Nazi regime — 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 revealed in the AP report, on page 51 that photos shot in Berlin for the JDC after the war have captions crediting the Jacobson-Sonnenfeld photo agency.

Collection Highlight

See a selection of those photographs in the special JDC Archives collection highlight: