American Radio Coverage of the Holocaust
by Joyce Fine
On 15 April 1945, CBS commentator Edward R. Murrow warned his listeners that the day's broadcast would
not be pleasant listening. If you are at lunch, or if you have no appetite to hear what Germans have done, now is a good time to switch off the radio, for I propose to tell you of Buchenwald.1
Murrow explained that something amazing, frightening, incomparable, and previously unknown would be revealed to American radio listeners. But the information that he was to broadcast should not have been so astounding. Murrow himself had told listeners equally horrible news 16 months earlier. Was Murrow the only news broadcaster to inform radio listeners of the events leading up to the liberation of Buchenwald?
Despite a growing scholarly literature about the newspaper and magazine coverage of the Holocaust,2 no one has studied American radio coverage. As Walter Laqueur has noted, "It remains to be investigated in detail how much information was provided by the BBC and the American radio stations about the 'Final Solution' for listeners at home and abroad." Laqueur then asserted:
Such quantitative analyses in conjunction with a survey of the instructions given to the radio program directors by the PWE and the Department of State will probably show that publicity was given in December 1942 and January 1943 after the United Nations declaration about Nazi atrocities. But there was comparatively little throughout 1943; there may have been weeks, perhaps even months, during which the issue was not mentioned at all. Only in 1944 it became a fairly frequent topic.3
This article explores what information was available on radio programs about the Holocaust, that is, about the persecution and murder of the European Jews, and the placement of such information in relation to other items in news broadcasts. Was information regarding antisemitism, and later mass murder, typically presented at the beginning, middle, or end of most broadcasts? That is, what level of importance and priority did such information have? Did radio announcers speak about the tragic events with any unusual emotion, or did they speak of them with routine inflection? Was there in-depth coverage?
Several sources can be used to answer these questions. History in Sound, an index to the collection of CBS broadcasts aired during World War II, the only organized index available for network news programs between 1939 and 1945, can be used to establish the contents of each broadcast. For example, excerpts from a typical entry state:
Bucharest: Iron Guard enemy captured; Baptists, Adventists not recognized here; Jews denied jobs connected with the arts.4
The index provides readers access to the History in Sound Collection at the National Archives, where relevant tapes can be heard. Programs aired by NBC and the Mutual Network can be consulted at the Library of Congress, although the quality of the indices to these networks is poor, and the indices often lack specific data about broadcast content. Radio Guides and other radio journals can be consulted at the Broadcast Pioneers Library; they occasionally reprinted significant broadcasts and discussed trends in radio programming, but they provide only a small amount of relevant information.
During the 1930s and 1940s, radio became a world-wide mode of communication, far surpassing its initial role as a protective device in ship-to- shore communications, which enabled ship crews to ask stations on shore for weather reports or assistance. By 1930, radio could also send messages across continents. Radio could transfer voices through the air, as well as the earlier patterned codes. Thus, the transmitting range of radio increased and reached a wider audience. It had the potential to become an educational tool as well as an entertainment medium.
By the beginning of World War II, more than 75 percent of American households owned at least one radio.5 The growing popularity of radio programs in the 1930s and early 1940s, offering entertainment, education, and news, undermined the monopoly previously enjoyed by newspapers. Radio and newspapers, two media providing similar content, developed a natural competition. Perhaps the most important advantage of radio over newspapers was that radio was a companion medium, requiring less direct concentration. Radio was also, in practical terms, accessible to a larger percentage of the American population. The less educated were more apt to listen to radio than to read a newspaper.6 By 1941 "radio emerged the victor" over print journalism, and "all levels of society seemed to favor radio news programs. The world, as interpreted by commentators, had at last caught the American unconsciousness."7 The immediacy of radio news proved more efficient than the slower reporting style of newspapers and magazines. As soon as an event took place, or as soon as a correspondent arrived on the scene of an event, such as, for example, the liberation of Buchenwald, radio announcers could share their observations with listeners. Newspapers could not inform their readers of such events until the next day, since it took time to write, edit, and print a story and to deliver the paper to newsstands.8
The one event that assured radio's credibility was the coverage of the Munich crisis by CBS. In September 1938 commentator H. V. Kaltenborn reported that during Munich "the world was gripped in tension shared minute by minute through radio."9 Often interrupting regularly scheduled CBS programs, Kaltenborn virtually lived at the CBS studio, awakened by each incoming news bulletin, which he immediately read with his comments on the air.
The importance of radio news increased during the next few years. A telephone poll conducted in 1941 found that news was the most popular program and that "in the majority of cases" news had "a larger audience than the preceding and following programs."10 This popularity led the Roosevelt administration in 1942 to set up the National Radio Bureau as part of the Office of War Information (OWI). The Radio Bureau, which worked closely with radio networks and stations, was to "suggest" what the content of a radio program should be, because this "would help broadcasters superimpose the war and its needs on existing programming rather than force major changes in content."11
Government agencies suggested during the war that radio support the war effort, thus facilitating the creation of such programs as "Chaplain Jim" to encourage patriotic feelings. The aim of this type of program was to assure listeners in America that their children, siblings, and parents overseas had a confidant at the front, who would comfort them amidst the constant death and confusion of battle. The development of such programs and the existence of the government agencies formed to assist them revealed that the Roosevelt administration was aware of the importance of radio as a tool of information, mood, and propaganda. The only restriction the Radio Bureau placed on radio networks was that they could not broadcast information that might jeopardize national safety.12
Independent of government control, radio networks also restricted their broadcasters. The networks did not specifically prohibit certain topics from being discussed, but used their own Association of Radio News Analysts to adopt a Code of Ethical Practice. The 1942 Code stipulated the following:
(1) The Association expects and requires of the radio news analyst painstaking accuracy in his public statements, recognizing the difficulties attendant upon the dissemination of news during wartime. (2) The Association expects and requires of the radio news analyst the exercise of sound judgment and good taste, and the avoidance of sensationalism in both the substance of his broadcast material and the manner of its presentation.13
William Paley, president of CBS, applied these broad rules strictly, demanding that CBS announcers maintain an unbiased perspective of the war. Thus CBS had news analysts, not commentators. "A news analyst ... was a newsman who analyzed the news but promoted no view. A commentator was an opinion-pusher-not wanted on CBS."14 Nevertheless, the selection and placement of "one news item over another tended to influence opinion." Moreover, "terminology and the tone of voice influenced opinion."15
Tone of voice played an important role in the presentation of the radio news. Newscasts were supposed to be objective. For this reason, the tone and the pitch of the announcer's voice in newscasts were steady, not excited or involved; the broadcast style of news was serious and sometimes almost monotonous. Newscasts were also restricted by lack of time. Most newscasts ranged from 5 to 15 minutes in length. Thus, there was very little time for detailed analysis of each event covered. Considering these restraints, as well as the demands for objectivity and good taste imposed by the 1942 broadcast Code, it is difficult to ascertain how a newscaster should broadcast news about mass murder.16
Once the United States entered the war in December 1941, radio news was expected to expand its coverage to include battle news and casualties. News reporting on radio had become routine, following a familiar pattern in tone, length, and content.17 The events of the Holocaust, however, were both unprecedented and shocking, and thus did not fit traditional news requirements even in wartime. Radio had by 1941 developed skills and constraints for managing the news; the Holocaust did not fit neatly into this system and thus posed a challenge and problem for broadcasters and their audience. Still, the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany had been covered by news organizations during the 1930s, and thus broadcasters did not have to invent a new method for such news.
In the years after 1933, American isolationism, immigration restrictions, and antisemitism shaped radio news broadcasters' perception of the persecution unfolding in Nazi Germany. The sheer distance from Europe, the personal concerns of the depression and war years, and the caution exercised in reporting unverified atrocities (a direct result of propaganda in World War I) meant that the Holocaust was not clearly or immediately understood.
For analysis, radio news coverage of Nazi persecution can be divided into three chronological periods: (1) the period from 1938 to 1941, that is, from KristalInacht to the German invasion of the Soviet Union; (2) the period from 1941 to 1942, that is, from the first operations of the Einsatzgruppen to the establishment of the extermination camps; and (3) the period from 1942 to 1945, that is, from the first public awareness of genocide to the liberation of the camps.
It should be noted, however, that radio coverage was often haphazard, depending upon the opportunities and efforts of individual correspondents stationed in specific foreign locations. Thus, major stories were missed because no correspondent was at the scene or, if present, did not recognize their importance. Further, the decision to broadcast depended at least in part on time made available by the networks. There, programs sponsored by Jewish organizations supplemented general news coverage.
In the spring of 1938, the noted CBS correspondent William Shirer, who covered Germany as a radio reporter between 1934 and 1941, recorded information in his diary that hinted at the deteriorating situation for Jews in Germany. Although he did not broadcast the information, Shirer noted in his diary:
Taking the Easter Weekend Off. The hotel is mainly filled with Jews and we are a little surprised to see so many of them still prospering and apparently unafraid. I think they are unduly optimistic.18
On 18 November 1938, the NBC Blue Network19 interrupted its scheduled opera program to air information from the President with "special news significance."20 Roosevelt condemned German behavior during the pogrom of 9-10 November 1938, known as Kristsallnacht. The newscaster, NBC's George Hokman, explained that Nazi Germany had expropriated almost all Jewish property and eliminated the Jews from "both social and economic life of the country," and also, quoting Roosevelt directly, "visiting a number of cruelties that had better be left undescribed." Roosevelt noted: "I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in the twentieth century." But this significant portion of the news story took only a few minutes, and the broadcaster spent the rest of the time discussing the American dimensions of Roosevelt's remarks.
Radio coverage of the November 1938 pogrom also included Dorothy Thompson's award-winning regular weekly Monday night talk show on station WEAF of the NBC Red Network, a broadcast later printed in the Radio Guide issue for the week ending on 10 December 1938.21 Thompson explained that Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew from Germany then residing in Paris, had killed the diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris upon receipt of news from his parents and sisters that they were stranded in a no-man's-land Polish border camp after their expulsion from Germany in late October 1938.22 She reported that
every Jew in Germany was held responsible for this boy's deed. In every city an organized and methodical mob was turned loose on the Jewish population. Synagogues were burned, shops were gutted and sometimes looted.
Finally, Thompson urged non-Jews to speak out on behalf of the persecuted.
Thompson's broadcast was unique because she covered the event in detail and attempted to activate listener response rather than passivity. Thompson was not a dispassionate neutral reporter; she was audibly emotionally involved in the story. It is important to reiterate the distinction between newscasts and other types of radio programs like Thompson's talk show. Thompson provided the background and the details that Roosevelt did not provide during his news conference and that the news broadcasts, in contrast to the print media, did not add.23 In addition to regular news reports and commentaries, the American radio audience also received news about events in Europe through special programs purchased by Jewish organizations. One such broadcast was aired on the NBC Red Network on I November 1938. The American Jewish Congress sponsored a 15-minute broadcast featuring a discussion by Dr. Nahum Goldman, head of the World Jewish Congress, about the terror and persecution of Jews in Germany, France, and Italy, and the rapidly deteriorating situation of Jews in Czechoslovakia and Romania. Goldman stated:
Present day antisernitism has acquired new significance. For the first time in history it has become one of the most important instruments of international power politics. Even the fanatical hatred of Hitler for the Jews would not suffice to make Germany expend millions of dollars annually on a world-wide antisernitic propaganda at a time when the government holds every penny of foreign exchange, were it not for the fact that the Third Reich could find no better, no surer measure of advancing its politics than through its propaganda.
Goldman also focused on economic problems, pointing specifically to the plight of the Jews in Romania and Nazi Germany:
Not only will hundreds of thousands of Romanian Jews be deprived of their citizenship but consequently all possibilities of earning a livelihood. ... In 1939, there will not be the slightest possibilities for the Jews to earn a living in the Third Reich.24
From November 1938 until the start of World War II in September 1939, there was a gap in radio's coverage of the Jewish situation in Europe. One exception was another special program in April 1939, an NBC Passover broadcast sponsored by the United Jewish Appeal. Before the Passover ceremony, Rabbi Stephen Wise spoke about the "disasters of our generation" and explained that the Jewish refugees were victims of a moral, not a natural disaster."25
After the war started, coverage increased. On 30 October 1939, Edward R. Murrow reported the following on the CBS "Today in Europe" news program:
There is a report from the British Consul in Vienna telling of an old Jew being kicked by an SA man while the regular police looked on, and many eyewitness accounts of a similar nature.26
On 10 November, again on "Today in Europe," CBS newscaster Russell Hill reported about the attempted assassination of Hitler, mentioning that the Nazis blamed Britain and "International Jewry. " In a Berlin daily, an article, also mentioned by Hill, admitted that the authorities did not know who was responsible for actually planting the bomb, but editorialized nevertheless that "we know who our enemies are." Hill concluded his coverage by explaining that "the English and the Jews will be held morally responsible and people in Berlin are predicting that the Nazis will vent their anger on both of those enemies.27
On 19 November William Shirer reported on "The War This Week" program that
it is now evident that the Nazis intend to act toward the Jews of conquered Poland exactly as they have toward the Jews in Germany ... for the ghetto in Warsaw must be henceforth shut off from the rest of the capital by barricades and placed under sharp police control. Germans declared that it is necessary to keep the Aryans in Warsaw strictly separate from the Jews.28
On 30 December 1939, Murrow reported Hitler's argument that he had wanted to avoid war, "but the Jewish warmongers waited for this minute to pull out their plans to destroy Germany ... they wanted war, now they'll get it." Murrow explained that the "British believe Hitler was searching for a new hatred with which to inject the German people, but he has been forced to return to an old one-the British Empire and the Jews.29
On 14 January 1940, another special program broadcast by NBC was the twenty-fifth anniversary dinner of the American Jewish Congress On this program, a U.S. senator told the dinner guests:
We all know the sentiments that move through your heart ... tonight. . . . You, like the rest of the civilized world, are still dazed ... by actions in a "civilized" state [that plans] a whole people's mass murder and robbery.30
Forced labor and deportations were central topics in the January 1940 broadcasts. On 11 January William Shirer reported for CBS that the forced labor term for Jews in Poland was a maximum of two years.31 On 12 January Russel Hill reported for CBS that "it is pointed out that the object of Nazi policy is to get the Jewish population out of the Reich proper as quickly as possible, and evidently this will be completed before two years are up.32 On 14 January Shirer explained compulsory labor in more detail:
All Jews from 14 to 16 years of age are subject to forced labor. The length of forced labor is two years, but it will be prolonged if its educational purpose is not considered fulfilled.33
Radio coverage was, however, far less detailed than reports published simultaneously in the American Jewish press. Thus the details, for example, about the Jews of Warsaw or about Jews marooned in the Danubian ports of Romania and Yugoslavia were not reported.34
On 28 February 1940, Bob Trout reported on CBS from Italy that on I March
Italy puts into effect the laws against the Jews, which forbids [sic] Italian Jews to hold public offices, serve on public foundations or associations or committees, or wear the national uniforms.
Trout further explained that some Jews would be allowed to continue working in particular professions, while others would be restricted to practicing only among Jews.35
Although the persecution of Jews expanded in Europe, there was an absence of news between early March and July 1940. One explanation was the increasing severity of censorship in Berlin. Every broadcast had to receive approval from three separate offices: the Propaganda Ministry, the Foreign Office, and the military censor. Each demanded a copy of the script. And from Moscow no broadcasts by foreign correspondents were permitted at all.36
In August 1940 news broadcasts about persecution resumed. Spencer Williams reported for CBS from Bucharest that on 2 August the Cabinet discussed a new law that would define the juridical status of Romanian Jews, adding that
the only differences of opinion in the Romanian government were whether to model the legislation affecting the Jews on the drastic Nuremberg laws of Nazi Germany or on the milder restrictions issued in Italy or Hungary.
Williams further explained that the milder restrictions were currently favored. Under these, the Jews would be divided into three categories depending on how long a particular Jewish family had lived in Romania. Jews with the oldest established residence, since 1878, would be minimally restricted, while more recent Jewish immigrants would be liable to increased restrictions.37 On 10 August Edward Hartrick broadcast for CBS from Berlin that laws restricting Jewish activities, which had been long in effect in Germany, were now also implemented in occupied Poland:
This means a strict separation takes place between the Jews and Aryans in all throws of activity. This also means identification and separation of all business enterprises owned or operated by Jews to [sic] the rest of the community. As you will recall, anyone with 1/4 Jewish blood in his veins is judged a Jew in Germany according to the definition laid down by the Nuremberg laws.38
On 23 August Elmer Davis reported for CBS that in France a newly organized youth group of young men divided into gangs and "marched down the Champs Elysees, smashing windows of shops believed to belong to Jews in the best of Nazi fashion."39
Not much later, on 30 August 1940, Spencer Williams of CBS reported from Romania that "as a result of new antisemitic laws the Bucharest Bar Association has just barred 784 out of 1,296 Jewish lawyers." In September 1940 Williams told listeners that more antisemitic decrees had been issued and implemented in Romania. He explained to his radio audience that Bucharest was regaining its composure after being taken over by the Nazis, that theaters and nightclubs were reopening, and that the city was beginning to look normal. But he ended his broadcast as follows:
[Ushers are] missing from the movie house[s], because the Minister of Culture decreed during the shutdown that Jews will not be allowed in any occupation connected with the arts. Movie films without exception are classified as works of art in Romania, so the Jewish ushers lost their jobs. This is Spencer Williams in Bucharest.40
On 5 October 1940, "The World News Round-Up" on CBS reported that in Romania all rural land and dwellings owned by Jews had been confiscated and deemed state property and that Jews would be paid for their property in annual increments of three percent of the property's value.41 On 8 October CBS announced that all Jewish civic rights had been nullified in Algeria under the rule of Vichy France.42
Radio coverage about the plight of European Jews had been comparatively extensive after the start of the war in September 1939, although occasional gaps persisted, such as the last two months of 1940. Thus, during the first war year, there had been more American radio coverage of anti-Jewish persecution in Europe than in any previous year.
During 1941 the second largest number of broadcasts about the persecution of Jews in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe were aired. For example, on 27 January 1941, Elmer Davis reported the following on CBS:
And another piece from Belgium. All Jews in Antwerp and Flanders have been sent to concentration camps in the eastern part of the country.43
It is clear, however, that the horrors of life under Nazi rule were not covered in detail, since broadcast codes limited this, as did the fear of disbelief, a carry- over from the fraudulent stories about German atrocities circulated during World War II. After the start of World War II, stories about German atrocities began to circulate again, but this time Americans wanted proof of their accuracy.
During World War I the press had reported many horror tales only to find out afterwards that they had been duped into reporting propaganda. After his experience in Bucharest [early in 19411, however, [Leigh] White [of the Overseas News Agency] was forced to admit that atrocities did occur and that those which took place in Romania far exceeded anything that he could ever have imagined.44
Yet radio broadcasts did not report White's account of how Jews were, robbed, doused with gasoline, and set afire.45
Throughout the early months of 1941, radio news reported the registration, restrictions, and segregation of Jews. On 12 May CBS reported that all Jews in Yugoslavia, "from 14 years of age," were forced to wear 11 special badges showing that they are of Jewish race" and that "a significant fine would be charged to those that didn't adhere to the law."46 On 13 June 1941, William Shirer reported that in Damascus new antiJewish laws had been promulgated by the Vichy regime and that thousands of Jews were arrested and placed in concentration camps 11 on the excuse that they were involved in a plot."47 But Shirer did not explain the plot, either as reality or as pretext; and his vagueness thus left his listeners with the impression that the relocation of thousands of Jews to concentration camps was insignificant.
During the period that the Germans implemented the so-called Final Solution, between June 1941 and June 1942, American radio coverage was minimal. Radio did not report the mass executions that occurred immediately after the German invasion of Russia in June 1941, and this failure to report did not improve in the months and years that followed.
On 14 August 1941, CBS reported demonstrations in Paris, where local police fired on demonstrators. The demonstrators had not belonged to any political or religious group, but the Nazis blamed communists and Jews for the riots.48 On 3 October Mark Hawley reported for CBS in New York that "six synagogues were wrecked by bombs in Paris." He then deftly turned to other topics, including current war events in Czechoslovakia, concluding "that's the story of unrest at this moment."49 In December 1941 CBS reported from France about several violent anti-German incidents:
[They] have provided the German military commander in France with an opportunity to put into practice some of the latest anti-Jewish measures recently declared by Herr Goebbels.50
But while radio news continued from France, where the United States still had diplomatic representation, news from Germany and Eastern Europe was not always reported. Thus, in September 1941 radio news did not report the imposition of the yellow Star of David on Jews in Germany.51 Radio also did not report the massive crimes against Jews by the SS-Einsatzgruppen in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. Although radio reported that "Jews, communists, and anarchists" had been killed, it did not inform the American public about the systematic mass executions of Jewish men, women, and children. Thus radio did not report the massacre at Babi Yar outside Kiev, although that information was made available by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.52
Before the United States entered the war in December 1941, news coverage of foreign affairs in general had been increasing; and American correspondents abroad had been able to expand their local news reports from Europe. But the American entry into the war and the closing of the United States diplomatic missions in Axis Europe during 1942 seriously reduced access to news for American correspondents.53 Thus, in late 1941 and early 1942, coverage of local European news, including news about the persecution of Jews, started to decrease; and the decline continued during the remaining years of the war.
At the same time, restrictions imposed at home also limited reporting on American radio. On 16 December 1941, the federal government established the Office of Censorship, and in January 1942 it issued the Code of Wartime Practices to the media.54 In addition, the government and the networks cooperated to strengthen public unity through constant reminders that the country was at war. Newscasts opened with reports from the war front, and the networks introduced special programs about the war. By April 1942, "The Army Hour," a show with pickups of eyewitness accounts from American soldiers overseas, was aired every Sunday on NBC, as was a newly created four-network series entitled "This Is War."
Further, the government monitored radio to prevent broadcasts of any information that might undermine the war effort or aid the enemy. It called for voluntary censorship but insisted that certain types of information should never be mentioned on the air. Thus, "weather news was to be abolished," and "news about troop, ship, or plane movements, war production, fortifications, casualties" was banned. And to prevent accidental violations of the censorship rules, "men-on-thestreet interviews and other ad-lib programs" were severely restricted.55
But the increasing depth of radio coverage of the European war did not include coverage of the persecution of the European Jews. Only isolated news items reached the American public via radio. On 14 May 1942, John Charles Daly reported for CBS from New York that
further oppression of the Jews in France seems to be foreshadowed in a report from Vichy. Chief of Government Laval has taken over control of Jewish affairs, and the enforcement of anti-Jewish legislation in occupied France generally. And that is the story from Europe.56
On 23 May Daly's report of European news included forest fires in Norway, German conscription of Poles for labor, and the information that
Nazi oppression has been extended to Jews in Holland.... The Jews have been ordered to display the Star of David on their clothing.57
On 17 July CBS reported:
The Berlin radio announces that all alien Jews living in Paris will be rounded up and deported to the East.58
Although far more information about the persecution of the European Jews was available,59 radio did not broadcast it. In part, the selfcensorship by newscasters was due to the inability of the news organizations to verify information gathered by Jewish organizations. On 29 June 1942, American radio finally broadcast news, not gathered by its own correspondents but based instead on information received from Jewish sources, about the mass murder of the European Jews. Quincey Howe read the following news item in the middle of his New York CBS news broadcast:
A horrifying reminder of what this war means to certain noncombatants comes from the World Jewish Congress in London today. It is now estimated that the Germans have massacred more than one million Jews in Europe since the war began. That's about 1/6 of the Jewish population in the Old World. Moreover, those Jews who survive lead a sub-human existence on a fraction of the already short rations to which the rest of the population in Europe is already reduced.60
The radio networks did not, however, report all such statements from Jewish sources. For example, statements by Rabbi Stephen Wise in late November and early December 1942, affirming that reports of killings and atrocities committed against Jews in occupied Europe were true and that the Nazis were indeed implementing the decision to kill all Jews,61 were not transmitted to the American radio audience.
At the end of 1942, the radio networks finally reported the mass murder of the European Jews. By that time, the Einsatzgruppen had completed their first sweep through the occupied Soviet Union, and the extermination camps in occupied Poland had been at work for most of the year; millions of Jews had already been killed.62
On 13 December 1942, Edward R. Murrow explained it to his radio audience on CBS:
What is happening is this: millions of human beings, most of them Jews, are being gathered up with ruthless efficiency and murdered.... The phrase "concentration camp" is obsolete, as out of date as "economic sanctions" or "non-recognition." It is now possible to speak only of "extermination camps."63
On 17 December 1942, Leigh White reported for CBS from Washington that the United States and ten other United Nations "today published a joint statement condemning Germany's bestial policy of exterminating the Jews of conquered Europe." White noted that the United Nations intended to punish the guilty "no later than the end of the war."64
As 1942 ended, radio had thus revealed to its audience three times that the Nazis were implementing a plan to kill the European Jewsonce through an announcement by the World Jewish Congress, once through a commentary by Edward R. Murrow, and once through an announcement by the governments-but radio had not developed a pattern of reporting this information and had failed to provide any focus for such news.
Information about conditions in Nazi Germany at times also reached the radio audience through special programs. Thus, in September 1942 CBS aired an interview with Louis Lochner about his experiences during the twenty years he spent in Germany as correspondent for the Associated Press. Although his knowledge was already dated, Lochner provided important background information for the radio audience. He talked about the concentration camps and, withholding some facts to maintain the confidentiality of his sources, described what he had learned from various informants:
I know [that] at one particular time 800 Jews were taken out of Berlin and inside of two weeks the Rabbi whom I know had information that all but 300 were already dead in these camps. They're either maltreated or they've been, they're made to carry such heavy stones at the quarries that they break down and then they're shot like so many flies, and they say, that is just a little inkling to you as to what the concentration camps are like.65
Until the end of the war, that is, during 1943, 1944, and early 1945, radio broadcast news reported about the murder of the European Jews only occasionally and unsystematically. The networks saw their obligations elsewhere; news about military operations or about financing the war effort was constantly broadcast. Thus, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters explained the function of radio as follows:
Radio in wartime has three main roles: to cooperate with the government in recruiting workers, soldiers and sailors; to stimulate the sale of defence bonds and stamps; and to help build up and maintain public morale.66
Radio news did not broadcast the mass rally of 1 March 1943, organized by the AFL and CIO to "Stop Hitler Now," where American Jewish leaders denounced the mass killings of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. In April 1943 radio news also failed to report on the Bermuda Conference concerning refugees.
In April 1943 radio also remained silent about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, although it did report on it one month later. On 14 May Douglas Edwards reported for CBS from New York on the results of the rising, but not on the rising itself:
From occupied Poland today has come the report of another ruthless slaughter by the German conquerors. The last 40,000 Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto have been murdered. In London, Rabbi Irving Miller quotes Polish sources as saying that every living soul was either butchered or uprooted and moved to some other part of the country.67
The same pattern of non-reporting continued for the rest of the war. Thus in 1944 radio news did not inform its American audience about the mass deportations of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, although the OWI included this news in its broadcasts to Europe.
During the last two years of the war, attention turned from the extermination of the European Jews to the future resettlement of those Jews that might survive the war in Europe. Thus radio programs sponsored by Jewish organizations focused on Palestine as the future home of "the refugees."
On 11 April 1943, NBC broadcast a meeting of the United Jewish Appeal concerning possible immigration to Palestine, using the theme "On the Road to Liberation."68 Joseph Grew, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, told the audience that "some two million [Jews] have been deported or murdered in the past four years." Grew discussed the past ten years under Nazi rule as a story of courage and told how Jews had escaped by night through dark forests to meet activists from international Jewish organizations who led them to safety. Following Grew, Albert Einstein addressed the audience. Einstein admonished American Jews to help their European brethren; they should "help to save the body so that the spirit" could continue.
On 9 July 1943, CBS broadcast a show sponsored by the National Youth Aliyah Immigration Committee of Hadassah.69 Eddie Cantor, a famous radio and show business personality, served as master of ceremonies. Telling his audience that he wanted to make them angry, he described the fate of Jewish families in Poland and reported on how Youth Aliyah rescued young Jews from Poland. Closing with the Twenty-third Psalm, Cantor appealed for support to his American audience.
Radio news also focused on Palestine. Thus, on 20 February 1944, the Cairo correspondent for CBS reported on the Jewish settlers who had recently immigrated to Palestine, but mentioned their persecution in Europe only in passing. He described the obstacles they faced and discussed the conflict between Jews and Arabs.70 On 18 March 1944, the CBS news report from the Middle East elaborated on this conflict, describing the Arab opposition to "Jewish domination in Palestine":
It is not necessarily antisemitism, since [the Arabs] sympathize with persecuted people ... but [they] don't like the idea of taking a little piece of land of the Middle East and giving it to the Jews for no good reason.71
The first hard news about the Holocaust was broadcast by the radio networks in their coverage of the liberation of the Nazi camps. The first opportunity for such reporting was the liberation by the Red Army in July 1944 of the Maidanek extermination camp. On 13 August the Mutual Network's New York station WOR presented an eyewitness account by a correspondent who had visited Lublin:
First of all, I went into several different sorts of poisoned gas chambers, where groups of men, women, and children, who had first been stripped of their clothes, were killed with cyanide and carbon monoxide. These were hermetically sealed concrete rooms, useless for any other purpose, equipped with pipes for introducing the poison and small gas inspection windows by means of which the guards could know when the victims were all dead.... And in front of the furnace, I picked my way among the bodies, which had been prepared for burning and not disposed of. In a building nearby . . . I saw the remains of several dozen men and women, many had had their arms and legs chopped off so that they could be more easily fed to the flames.... The Germans put people into the furnaces as you would put wood into a stove.72
The Allied occupation of Nazi Germany in April and May 1945 finally led to full disclosure of the Holocaust by American radio. Edward R. Murrow's 15 April 1945 newscast about the liberation of Buchenwald is only the best known of radio news reports.
As we have seen, American radio failed to provide a detailed and comprehensive account of the Holocaust. By its very nature, radio news programming is episodic and event-oriented, and sporadic reports about complicated events fail to make an impact on American audiences. Clearly, this limitation of radio applied to the failure to report the Holocaust during World War II. Moreover, broadcast guidelines and codes mandated routine objectivity and prohibited emotional controversy, thereby limiting the ability to report atrocities. In addition, the example of invented atrocity stories during World War I had made the networks fear unverified news stories. Thus, only as the war ended, were the crimes of the Holocaust fully verified; and only then did the sudden impact of revealed atrocities demand an emotional response. At that point, radio coverage became adequate.
The research for this article was completed under a Threshold Grant from Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts.
1. Edward J. Bliss, In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow, 1938- 1961 (New York, 1967), p. 91.
2. See, for example, Alex Grobman, "What Did They Know? The American Jewish Press and the Holocaust," American Jewish History (Mar. 1979); De- borah Lipstadt, Beyond Belief The American Press and the Coining of the Holocaust 1933-1945 (New York, 1986); Robert Ross, So It Was True (Min- neapolis, 1980).
3. Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (Boston, 1980), p. 204.
4. Milo Ryan, History in Sound (Seattle, 1963), p. 99.
5. Paul Lazarsfeld, Radio and the Printed Page (New York, 1971), p. 15.
6. David Culbert, News for Everyman (Westport, CT, 1976), p. 24.
7. Erik Barnouw, The Golden Web (New York, 1968), p. 79.
8. Culbert, News for Everyman, p. 4.
9. Lazarsfeld, Radio and the Printed Page, p. 205.
10. Barnouw, The Golden Web, p. 135.
12. Christopher Sterling and John M. Kittross, Stay Tuned (Belmont, CA, 1978), p. 215.
13. Llewelyn White, History of Broadcasting: Radio to Television (New York, 1974), p. 16.
14. Barnouw, The Golden Web, p. 135.
15. Ibid., p. 136.
16. White, History of Broadcasting, p. 16.
17. Barnouw, The Golden Web, p. 149; Lee Loevinger, "Broadcasting and the journalistic Function," in Problems and Controversies in Television and Radio, ed. Harry J. Skornia and Jack William Kitson (Palo Alto, CA, 1968), p. 327.
18. William Shirer, Berlin Diary: The Journal of a European Correspondent (New York, 1941), p. 36.
19. Lawrence W. Lichty and Malachi C. Topping, American Broadcasting: A Source Book on the History of Radio and Television (New York, 1975), p. 158. The National Broadcasting Company was formed as a network in 1926 but split into two networks-NBC Red and NBC Blue-in 1927, due to a wide- spread demand for more network service than the initial organization was able to accommodate. In 1943, NBC Blue was sold and renamed the Ameri- can Broadcasting Company (ABC).
20. Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division [hereafter cited as LC], NBC Blue, 18 Nov. 1938.
21. Dorothy Thompson, "We Are All on Trial," Radio Guide, week ending 10 Dec. 1938. See also Marion K. Sanders, Dorothy Thompson: A Legend in Her Time (New York, 1974), pp. 225ff.
22. See Sybil Milton, "The Expulsion of the Polish Jews from Germany, 1938, in Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 29 (1984): 169-99.
23. As a radio personality with her own talk show, Dorothy Thompson had more freedom to voice her opinions than did most newscasters. Her pro- gram was privately sponsored during the "General Electric Hour." Be- cause she had more time available for each story than did newscasters, she could also provide coverage with greater depth.
24. LC, NBC Red, I Nov. 1938.
25. Ibid., 2 Apr. 1939.
26. National Archives and Records Agency, Motion Picture, Video, and Sound Recording Branch, History in Sound Collection [hereafter cited as NARA], CBS, 30 Oct. 1939.
27. Ibid., 10 Nov. 1939.
28. Ibid., 19 Nov. 1939.
29. Ibid., 30 Dec. 1939.
30. LC, NBC Red, 19 Jan. 1940. From the broadcast recording, the identity of the U.S. senator cannot be determined with accuracy. Both Senator Buck- ley of Kentucky and Senator Pepper spoke at the dinner.
31. NARA, CBS, 11 Jan. 1940.
32. Ibid., 12 Jan. 1940.
33. Ibid., 14 Jan. 1940.
34. Grobman, "What Did They Know?" p. 337.
35. NARA, CBS, 28 Feb. 1940.
36. Barnouw, The Golden Web, p. 139.
37. NARA, CBS, 2 Aug. 1940.
38. Ibid., 10 Aug. 1940.
39. Ibid., 23 Aug. 1940.
40. Ibid., 30 Aug. 1940.
41. Ibid., 5 Oct. 1940.
42. Ibid., 8 Oct. 1940.
43. Ibid., 27 Jan. 1941.
44. Grobman, "What Did They Know?" p. 339.
46. NARA, CBS, 12 May 1941.
47. Ibid., 13 June 1941.
48. Ibid., 14 Aug. 1941.
49. Ibid., 3 Oct. 1941.
50. Ibid., 14 Dec. 1941.
51. Ross, So It Was True, p. 277.
52. Laqueur, The Terrible Secret, p. 67.
53. Barnouw, The Golden Web, p. 256.
54. Ibid., p. 156; Edwin Emery, The Press and America (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1972), p. 524.
55. Barnouw, The Golden Web, p. 156.
56. NARA, CBS, 14 May 1942.
57. Ibid., 23 May 1942.
58. Ibid., 17 July 1942.
59. Laqueur, The Terrible Secret, passim.
60. NARA, CBS, 29 June 1942.
61. Laqueur, The Terrible Secret, p. 22.
62. On the Einsatzgruppen, see Helmut Krausnick and Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm, Die Truppe des Weltanschauungskrieges: Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD 1938-1942 (Stuttgart, 1981); on the extermination camps, see Adalbert Mickerl, NS-Vernichtungslager im Spiegel deutscher Straffirozesse (Munich, 1977); on the number of Jewish victims, see Ino Arndt and Wolfgang Scheffler, "Organisierter Massenmord an juden in nationalsozialistischen Vernichtungslagern," Vierte1jahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 24 (1976): 105-35.
63. Bliss, In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow, p. 57.
64. NARA, CBS, 17 Dec. 1942.
65. Ibid., 22 Sept. 1942.
66. Arno Huth, Radio Today (New York, 1971), p. 42.
67. NARA, CBS, 14 May 1943.
68. LC, NBC, 11 Apr. 1943.
69. NARA, CBS, 9 July 1943.
70. Ibid., 20 Feb. 1944.
71. Ibid., 18 Mar. 1944.
72. LC, Mutual Network, 13 Aug. 1944.