Scholars: Article on Hitler House Shows Press Failure on Holocaust

By Rachel Zuckerman

Published October 24, 2003, issue of October 24, 2003.
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More than 60 scholars signed a petition this week calling on a British magazine to release a 1938 article that cheerfully described Adolf Hitler’s summer house. The scholars say the article is an important example of the press’s failure to cover the Holocaust accurately .

The article, “At Home With Hitler,” which was published in Homes & Gardens, a popular British decorating magazine, referred to Hitler’s “bright, airy chalet” and described how Haus Wachenfeld, as it was known, contained “the fairest view in all of Europe.” It made no reference to the German leader’s plans for world domination or extermination of the Jews.

Controversy erupted in September when representatives of the magazine demanded that a British journalist remove a copy of the article posted on his personal Web site, saying it infringed on their copyright. In response, a group of scholars organized the petition, in which they argue that the magazine should make the article available to all interested readers, along with a formal apology from the publisher.

“A crucial part of Holocaust education involves studying the failure of the Western media to fully and accurately report about the Nazi menace in the 1930s,” reads the petition, which will be sent this week to the magazine’s editors, according to Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, the group spearheading the petition. “The attempted suppression 65 years later of articles such as the 1938 feature in Homes & Gardens undermines efforts to teach about the Holocaust and its lessons.”

Signers include Michael Berenbaum, the first director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Deborah Dwork, Rose professor of Holocaust studies at the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, and Efraim Zuroff, Israel director at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The article was discovered accidentally this past spring when Simon Waldman, a Jewish journalist from England, was leafing through the November 1938 issue of the magazine, which contained a separate article about a house his wife’s grandfather had built. Waldman, director of digital publishing for Guardian Newspapers Ltd., put the article on his online Web log this past August. Waldman sent an e-mail to Isobel McKenzie-Price, the current editor of Homes & Gardens, alerting her to the post. A few weeks later, he received an e-mail from her demanding that the article be removed, due to copyright infringement.

“I told her I was happy to remove it, but that they should know it had already probably been copied by others,” said Waldman, in an interview with the Forward. “And that the article should have a permanent home because of its historical interest.”

McKenzie-Price did not respond to requests for comment. Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the magazine’s owner, IPC Media — the United Kingdom’s largest magazine publisher and a subsidiary of Time Inc. — refused to comment on the piece itself, but said that the company would maintain its copyright on the article, as it does will content from all 10 of its publications.

Medoff, however, argued that this could not be viewed as a simple copyright case.

“I don’t know if there is anything else in their other magazines that is of historical value,” he said. “The Hitler article is unique because it played a role in shaping western attitudes toward the Nazis at a critical moment.”

Waldman says he later learned from Eric Brock, a Louisiana-based historian, that the article’s accompanying photographs were propaganda pictures taken by Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler’s press secretary, and therefore did not belong to Homes & Gardens. Though it is unclear exactly who owns the photographs, Waldman later put them back on his site.

According to Medoff, the signers of the petition disagree with each other on a number of issues related to Holocaust studies, but are united in their belief that the lessons from the media coverage of the Holocaust need to be learned.

“You can obviously write a soft feature about how an important public figure decorates his home, but in 1938 there was no doubt about concentration camps and therefore he shouldn’t be treated like any other public figure,” said Laurel Leff, one of the petition’s signers and a journalism professor at Northeastern University who is working on her own book about the New York Times’s coverage of the Holocaust. “Historically, a lot of the Western press didn’t treat Hitler like a pariah.”

“We hope that Homes & Gardens realizes it is wrong to restrict access to the article,” said Medoff. “We want them to face up to their ugly past, as various banks and government institutions have done in the past.”

Paul Miller, the organizer of the campaign and a professor of history at McDaniel College in Maryland, stressed that the signers do not want to put Homes & Gardens out of business but instead, want the magazine to admit it played a role, albeit small, in the Western indifference to the genocide.

Miller expressed hope that the magazine would budge from its current stand.

“Many companies, institutions and even states (like Switzerland and its banking community) have accepted their roles in helping to make the Holocaust possible or even directly contributing to it,” wrote Miller, in an e-mail to the Forward. “They have often come to great lengths to give a full and honest moral reckoning and sometimes, even to make monetary amends. This petition recognizes and commends other companies and organizations, in Germany and elsewhere, for facing up to many highly distasteful moments in their past and we simply ask that Homes & Gardens does the same.”

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