Rainer Rutz. Signal: Eine deutsche Auslandsillustrierte als Propagandainstrument im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2007. 446 pp. EUR 34.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-89861-720-8.
Reviewed by Garth Montgomery (Department of History, Radford University)
Published on H-German (September, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
Occupied Europe as Nazi Media Event
In his review of a recent exhibition at the New York Public Library, entitled "Sorrow, Pity, Celebration: France Under the Nazis," Edward Rothstein writes that "one among a complex set of responses by French writers to defeat and German occupation was the publication of clandestine magazines ... trying to counter the more glossy lures of Signal, a Hachette-published weekly that celebrated the coming of the new era.... Readers who found Signal alluring were also those who cheered ... as the Germans rolled over France's defenses, and who celebrated [and] welcomed this defeat as an opportunity."
Rainer Rutz's recent book provides a detailed look at the product, Signal, and the image of the "new Europe" it projected. Rutz's study includes a history of the magazine's production (April 1940--March 1945), a history that begins in the landscape of the (by now well-charted) National Socialist Polykratie. Signal was produced by Section IV of the German Army High Command's Department of Wehrmacht Propaganda (OKW/WPR IV)--the office responsible for producing foreign-language material--in cooperation, up to a point, with the Press and Information Office of the Foreign Ministry, and independently of Joseph Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry, at least until the onset of total war. Signal appeared roughly every two weeks in most markets in occupied Europe, in a total of twenty-five languages, with average printing runs of 2,400,000 copies between August 1942 and June 1944. The Hachette-published weekly was, in fact, the product of a deal with Deutscher Verlag (formerly Ullstein Verlag), which made a profit publishing this very expensive magazine (with eight color pages in every issue) thanks to the fact that the OKW subsidized production costs. British papers (including the Daily Express in April 1940 and the Daily Mail in November 1941) praised the layout and (color!) pictures. An article in Life in March 1943 identified Signal as one of the most successful vehicles of Axis propaganda, comparing it favorably to the American periodical, Victory.
The inclusion, in Rutz's study, of a sample of eight color pages at the end of the volume, along with roughly two dozen black and white photographs scattered throughout the text, affords the reader a glimpse of the "look" of Signal. This "look" (which was openly copied from Life) was the creation of a group of advertising professionals and psychologists, many of whom had lived and worked outside of Germany. Prominent among them were Leutnant Fritz Solm (a graduate of Columbia University, described by Rutz's sources as "anything but a career-soldier" and a "great manager and advertising professional" [p. 50]), and Oberstleutnant Paul Leverkuehn (a lawyer who had worked during the Weimar period in Turkey for the Foreign Ministry, as well as in a New York bank, and had managed to maintain many of his American contacts). Signal's first editor, Harald Peter Lechenperg, had worked as a photojournalist for the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, reporting from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, India, and Afghanistan.
After the fall of France, in June 1940, Signal rapidly evolved from a paean (in "Vernichtungsprosa" [p. 176]) to blitzkrieg, into a pop-cultural artifact of the pax Germanica under which Germany led the "new Europe," and (after June 1941) led the defense against the "Bolschewisierung Europas" (p. 210). The lead was almost always a piece of combat photojournalism that thematized the war and events at the front as "Soldatenromantik" (p. 168). Then came photo-essays on the neighborly activities of Wehrmacht occupation troops and on the "new Europe," and more of the type of photojournalism typical of culturally oriented, international, or popular scientific magazines. Rutz makes a strong case that the overall propaganda effect of Signal derived from its distinctive integration of the war and everyday life in the "new Europe."
Rutz's treatment of the magazine's representation of Germany as a model society in its consumption of pop culture, material culture, and Kultur is insightful. Signal situated a report on Goebbels's discussion of bringing serious music to the masses via radio in the broader context of Germans' appreciation of Kultur, which "cannot be destroyed.... The beautiful things in life are not luxuries, from a German perspective" (p. 346). At the same time, and more typically of the magazine's overall editorial orientation, Signal included extensive coverage of the presentation of both popular and serious music in the "Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht." Targeting an undifferentiated, mass readership, Signal included even more extensive coverage of the Varietébühne. While Hollywood films stood for cultural leveling and "Kulturlosigkeit" (p. 364), the world of German film presented in Signal was itself happy, colorful, and superficial. The magazine aggressively engaged in the strategic promotion of film stars, and treated the achievement of color-film production--despite the wartime economic situation--in a popular-scientific vein. Apart from "visits" to a few authors, the coverage of literature in this illustrated magazine was negligible (this attributable, in part, to technical issues related to the inclusion of lengthy text pieces). As a result, Signal regularly included shorter adventure stories set outside Germany; pieces that, Rutz observes, fit comfortably with the magazine's treatment of material which was appropriate for a mass audience.
Coverage of Germany as a model consumer society transmitted a feeling of dolce vita, a topos evident in photo-essays on fashionable women at Café Kranzler, and young mothers with their children, vacationing on German beaches. Even when it came to rationing--whether of KdF vacations and nonexistent Volkswagens (themselves a symbol of social and technological achievement) or, more immediately, food and clothing--as long as the war was still on, Germans in their Volksgemeinschaft provided an exemplary model for other Europeans. Signal showed its readers a Germany where, Rutz observes, conditions were good even for the Fremdarbeiter and where persecution was unknown because the existence of Jews, homosexuals, and Asozialen had already been erased. It might be noted that Signal's Germany bears marked similarities to the one often nostalgically remembered after the war, Adolf Hitler's excesses notwithstanding. (In a postscript on the subsequent careers of the magazine's editors and correspondents in West Germany, Rutz not only acknowledges these similarities, but also relates them to the publication's postwar legacy as a media product.)
The other two sections on the magazine's content focus on the "new Europe" and the prosecution of the war. Firmly under German leadership, the form of the "new Europe" had yet to be determined. Popular science articles in Signal glamorized what had already been achieved in the realms of technology and science, transportation, and communication networks. Mobility fantasies facilitated by these achievements were reflected in coverage of forced labor migration in a proletariat-free socialist Europe. Rutz argues that, while various sources clearly establish that talk of a unified, peaceful Europe was merely propaganda and never an actual war aim, talk of an "Endkampf gegen den Weltfeind" (p. 200) fell on fertile ground in many European countries, including France, where, as Rothstein notes, readers, enjoyed the magazine's glossy allure. In the publication's legitimation of the war, fighting Bolshevism and Americanism was presented as fundamentally different from the preceding wars among Europeans. In the struggle against the "mentally void Soviet man" and the "drearily standardized [North American] Babbitt" (p. 289), volunteers from across Europe were joining the Waffen-SS to fight alongside the Wehrmacht in a crusade to "protect the cathedrals of Europe" (p. 272). Rutz cites several articles as examples of the magazine's immediate, popular historicization of contemporary military developments. For instance, the fact that the English were once and for all excluded from Europe was the subject of persistent coverage from July 1940 to June 1941. But, according to Rutz, the way in which Signal integrated treatment of the war and the quotidian constituted its most distinctive propaganda achievement.
Throughout, German troops in occupied western Europe were portrayed as good neighbors, helpers in times of need. The homoeroticism behind the word Kameradschaft met the gaze of the magazine's readership in coverage of semi-naked troops on the beach and dashing officers in the Parisian café scene. German soldiers at the Acropolis displayed their cultural-historical reverence for conquered Greece. German tank troops on the eastern front displayed their love of animals. Rutz highlights the appearance of former heavyweight boxing champion, now paratrooper Max Schmeling on the cover of Signal 5/1941--"Ein Fallschirmjäger, den die Welt kennt"--as an example of "militärisch-sportlichen Starbildung" (p. 168), an integration, in this case, of the war and the pop-cultural "everyday."
Several critics have made the point that Rutz's division of his study of Signal's form and content into three discrete sections--dealing with the prosecution of the war, the "new Europe," and National Socialist Germany--weakens his argument about the extent to which the integration of these topics in the pages of the journal contributed to the propaganda effectiveness of the magazine. But Rutz's extensive use of direct quotes from the captions and texts that accompanied the photojournalism, along with the roughly two dozen well-chosen photographs and eight color pages, not only illustrates that editorial effort, but also effectively evokes the "look," content, and format of the magazine. Though it would have been fascinating to study the readers who consumed such huge print runs (including the French readership to whom Rothstein refers) and got their news and entertainment from Signal, that may be asking too much of both Rutz's book and the primary sources.
As Germany's strategic situation worsened, more color pages were devoted to civilian life; popular science was the preferred template for the coverage of motor trends, the introduction of new medicines, and Albert Speer's Rüstungswunder. The innovative strength of German industry was compared to the miserable quality of American weapons technology; and the character of the individual German fighting man to that of the cowardly, feeble-minded U.S. prisoner of war. In 1944, as the propaganda priority shifted to European mobilization for total war, the editorial challenge of representing anti-Soviet Russians, Ukrainians, White Russians, Caucasians, Turkmen, and Tartars as "new Europeans" gave way to the blunt propaganda message that Rutz refers to as "Kraft durch Furcht" (p. 211). But for many European readers by that time, the realities of German occupation policies had already defeated the magazine's cheery propaganda. Rutz cites a 1943 analysis from the Propaganda Ministry that concluded that, while fear of Bolshevism was enough to trump other Europeans' fear of Germany, it was not enough to overcome mistrust of Germany's European policies, or to turn passive acquiescence into active collaboration.
Rutz's postscript traces the Nazi-era roots of postwar mass media. His discussion of that period is limited to a list of postwar careers, particularly when it moves beyond the fate of former Signal employees. It includes brief mentions of, among others, former Nazi party member Erich Peter Neumann (a member of Konrad Adenauer's CDU government and with his wife, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, owner of a public opinion research firm, the Institut für Demoskopie). Indeed, other sources do contain more extensive discussion of these roots and their significance. At the same time, Rutz's list of editors, correspondents, and contributors--all classified by the Allies as "prohibited personnel"--who went back to work in West Germany in venues like the Neue Zeitung and Der Spiegel, is extensive. Several former employees ended up at the radio program weekly Hör zu! and other Axel Springer publications. The first proposal for what became the illustrated magazine Quick originated in 1945 at the location where many Signal sought refuge when they left Berlin. Rutz effectively demonstrates the extent to which Quick was organized, technically and aesthetically, like Signal, as well as the extent to which it developed a neo-nationalist editorial tone. In sum, Rutz situates his discussion of these veterans of Signal in a postwar German mediascape in which, to quote Michael Geyer, "the victory culture disappeared with the collapse of the Nazi regime. But the taste and sound, the sensory habitus of Nazi mass culture did not go away."
. Edward Rothstein, "Sorrow, Pity, Celebration: France Under the Nazis," New York Times, April 25, 2009, at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/25/arts/design/25libr.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=sorrow%20pity%20celebration&st=cse (accessed August 6, 2009).
. Collections of photographs from Signal are accessible online at, for example, http://uw3.de/signal.htm .
. Christopher Simpson, "Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann's Spiral of Silence and the Historical Context of Communication Theory," Journal of Communication 46 (1996): 149-173. See also Wolfgang Duchkowitsch, Fritz Hausjell, and Bernd Semrad, eds., Die Spirale des Schweigens: Zum Umgang mit der nationalsozialistischen Zeitungswissenschaft (Münster: LIT, 2004).
. Konrad H. Jarausch and Michael Geyer, Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 271.
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Garth Montgomery. Review of Rutz, Rainer, Signal: Eine deutsche Auslandsillustrierte als Propagandainstrument im Zweiten Weltkrieg.
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