This is a fascinating article written by William C. White, an American who was trying to obtain an interview with Adolf Hitler prior to his rise to power in 1933. It makes for interesting reading, given what we now know in hindsight. Whilst not exactly philatelic in content, its title has a philatelic “ring” and we felt it would be of interest to collectors of Third Reich material and its history. It originally appeared in “Harper’s Magazine” in April, 1936.
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It began in Berlin in August, 1931. A newspaper syndicate offered me a bonus for a series of signed interviews with Dr. Bruening, then Chancellor, Ernst Thaelmann, head of the Communist Party, and Adolf Hitler, on the outlook in Germany during the next months. The first two interviews were not difficult to secure, but at that time Hitler was flitting from Munich to Berlin and back, giving no interviews, keeping both his whereabouts and his opinions secret. It did no good to point out to his lieutenants the desirability of wide-spread publicity through an American syndicate. Herr Hitler was giving no interviews. He would give no interviews. He did not want publicity.
Without that interview the series had no point; Hitler’s opinions were the most important of the three.
“Brown might be able to help,” one of the correspondents said. “He has more contacts than anyone in the city.”
“No, an American. I’ll have him call you if I run into him. I don’t know where he lives. He’s always dropping in with some information or other or a tip for a story.”
Every journalist who has worked in foreign capitals knows the type of tipster who brings rumors and rumors of rumors in exchange for a little spending money. He is usually a native, often titled. He seems to know everyone and everything that goes on and he is always glad to supply whatever is wanted, whether introductions or information. He asks little money. No gossip escapes him. What someone said to the Foreign Minister and what he replied can be turned into a few dollars, a few drinks, or a meal. He is an amateur and he is almost always a gentleman. Very seldom does he touch the harsher and more professional business of supplying secret documents or papers stolen from the Chancellery safe.
The hotel porter had a message for me a few afternoons later.” A Mr. Brown called. He waited several hours and while waiting he had lunch. He said you’d pay the bill.” He handed me a luncheon check for four dollars. “He said you could find him at five at Café König.”
Three men sat at a corner table in the König. One of them rose and came toward me as I entered and looked round. “I’m Robert Harris Brown.”
A first glance at him turned, unconsciously, into a stare. He was past fifty, tall and slender. The skin on his face was drawn as tight as the covering on a ball and it had a purplish tone like flesh to which a tourniquet has been too long applied. Every bone in his face stood out, making it a strange relief map of ridges and hollows, of shadows and highlights. His bony chin bristled with a two-day gray stubble. His clothes were neat but gave the impression that they were the last of a wardrobe.
“I’m glad you’ve come,” he began.
“I’m with a couple of important men you ought to know.”
He introduced me to his friends. I recognized both by name. They were high in the Nationalist party, the now defunct group of Hugenberg. When they spoke to Brown they used the intimate du. Brown spoke fluent German and in a moment the conversation was back to politics. Then they began an argument and Brown turned to me.
“I get tired of this endless chatter about how to get the party in power out and themselves in. Are you long from the States? I haven’t been there since 1916. Married a German lady in China and after the War we came here. I’d love to go back for one reason, to see a football game! I was Harvard, 1902, and I played a bit. I’ll tell you about it some time.” He turned again to his friends.
‘Hitler has no chance of coming to power,” one of them said.
Brown smiled. “He will be in power in the next three years.”
“Do you know him?” I asked.
“No, but I know many people who do. You’d like to meet him?”
“Very much if I could get a signed interview.”
“That can be arranged, I think.” He dropped his voice. “By the way, will you take the check here? I brought these men as my guests and I-uh, left my wallet at home.”
I paid the check, for seventy cents. The group broke up and Brown walked with me down the Linden to my hotel.
“Why don’t we have dinner together?” he suggested.
I agreed. He took me to an unfamiliar restaurant where the food was excellent, the prices high. He acted the generous and expansive host. He knew Rhine wines and he ordered a magnificent dinner. The check, later, came to me.
He talked entertainingly of people he knew in Berlin and he seemed to know everyone. He dropped several casual remarks that sounded like leads for good stories. Only at the dinner, after he had argued with the waiter over the brand of Danziger goldwasser which he wanted for a liqueur, did he mention the Hitler interview.
“It can be arranged,” he said slowly, “but not without cost.”
I waited, wondering how much he would ask.
He read the look on my face. “Oh, no, I don’t mean that – it’s my pleasure. I mean, you’ll have to make a contribution to the funds of the Nazi Party. I’ll find out how much by tomorrow and call you during the day.”
I asked questions about Brown the next morning. He was a Harvard graduate and the black sheep of a once-wealthy family. He had married a German and come to Berlin from China, but his wife had soon chased him out. For some years he had had a monthly remittance from home, but that had stopped. He had once put his passport up for security at a tailor’s and had lost it and he would not go near the Consulate to apply for a new one. What papers he carried or where or how he lived were all unknown. He did know the Germans he claimed as friends. Possibly he did small favors for them; possibly he was a good audience; perhaps they too profited from his stock of gossip. They were not fooled by him but, accepting him for what he was, they seemed to like him. For services rendered his charges were small: a meal here and there, drinks, a five-dollar “loan.”
“And is it customary to pay Hitler for interviews?” I asked.
“It may be a new ruling. I know that some news photographers who wanted shots of the Nazi leaders were asked to contribute to the party fund.”
Brown came to my hotel at lunch time. “Just happened by,” he said with a smile. He joined me at lunch. “Thanks to some friends of mine the interview can be arranged if you’ll contribute two hundred marks to the Nazi Party.”
That was only fifty dollars. I agreed.
“If you’ll let me have the money now, I’ll have a receipt for you to-night. You will have the interview before the end of the week.” Then he began to talk of football. He knew the details of every game Harvard had played in the past ten years.
That evening he sent me a receipt, signed by one Schmertz, treasurer of a Nazi fund, for two hundred marks. A few days later he ‘phoned, “You are to see Hitler at the Kaiserhof at four to-morrow.”
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