A Nazi Propaganda Organ, Deep in the Heart of
the American Heartland
The case of the Staats-Anzeiger forces Americans to finally confront and thoughtfully reconsider popular (albeit mostly unarticulated) myths among us that “there were no American Nazis” and “it couldn’t happen here”. Unlike “isolated instances” such as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh—two individual Midwesterners who admired Hitler and his ascending National Socialism—the thousands of readers of the Staats-Anzeiger came from many walks of life, could be found across the country (though in large part in the Midwest and the Northeast) and cannot so easily be dismissed as “famous freaks”. Indeed, the readers of the Staats-Anzeiger consisted of farmers and bankers, restaurateurs, shop keepers, teachers and the little old [German-American] lady down the street. Like the American Bund, such people—the “little people” of Americana lore—comprised the rank and file of [hyphenated] America.
In the fall of 2003 my assistant Rayf Schmidt and I drove across North Dakota on a speaking tour. We knew we were in “a foreign land” when waitresses and others we casually encountered greeted us with markedly Teutonic accents—and that after their families had been on the Great Plains of North America for well over a century already! At program after program, during Question and Answer periods, someone in the audience invariably would refer—usually loosely—to “strong but quiet Nazi supporters” among the North Dakota populace during the 1930s and, indeed, right up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. When I pressed for details, none were forthcoming, yet my appetite to know more—and to isolate irrefutable proof—had been whetted.
Finally, at the Bismarck Public Library (in a town named by its early promoters to ingratiate themselves to the then-German Kanzler) a man gave me the name of a professor who had been involved in defusing a related controversy from the mid-1980s; he now lived in Washington state, but I could be gotten his contact information. When I eventually heard back from professor James Edwards, I squealed “eureka!”: I had found the sought-for documentation.
It seems that a Humanities Council-sponsored lecture given at Jamestown College in autumn 1985 had provoked a firestorm of controversy. Professor Jonathan Wagner, the lecturer, had maintained that the Staats-Anzeiger had been “an organ espousing the Nazi cause as expressed by Hitler’s Third Reich” [Edwards’ assessment]. Backpedaling in the face of such a sensitive issue and uncomfortable with the negative attention it had attracted (especially among the local power elite), the Dean of the College asked Edwards to conduct an informed review of the case. He did—and his sobering findings follow:
James Edwards' letter to Michael Luick-Thrams reads:
Here is the report on my review of Der Staats-Anzeiger
from Bismarck, ND.
Personally, what I find
most disturbing is the apparent ease and shamelessness with which those
parroting Nazi rubbish about racial superiority, foreign aggression and
the like, absorbed National Socialist worldviews. Presumably educated,
genetically “normal” people turned ideological idiots during
the Third Reich—both in Germany and elsewhere, including in the
American Heartland (where one might hope “democrats” would
“know better”). Further, with the assistance of historical
hindsight, one reflexively notices how simplistic and crude, say, the
images of Jews, the unqualified patriotism, and the blind obedience to
authority marketed by such texts seem today. At the time, though, they
were coordinates of the Nazi intellectual universe. (See Camp
Papers for samples of similar levels of logic and parallel paroles
among the German POWs writing in camp papers in Iowa, Minnesota and the