Nazi penetration

When Ross returned to America, in October 1938, for his second major journey of that decade he arrived in a country that had relapsed into recession after another stockmarket crash, in August 1937. It was also a country marked by increased political distrust, partly fed by propaganda, infiltration, and espionage activities. Later research explained some of that distrust.

Distrust was partly fed by reports on—or suspicions of—organizations operating from within Germany itself, such as private, yet often state-supported institutes that were forced into line, e.g. the Deutsches Ausland-Institut (DAI), Volksbund für das Deutschtum im Ausland (VDA) or the Welt-Dienst. On a political level, the Auslandsorganisation (AO) of the National Socialist party NSDAP and Nazi Germany’s Ministry of Propaganda had been active since 1935, while its Foreign Department, after Von Ribbentrop became Foreign Minister in 1938, had been discreetly supporting a number of German American civil or “cultural” organizations.1 Operating within America were, among others, the German American Bund and its newspapers, the Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, in Philadelphia, Deutsch-Amerikanische Berufsgemeinschaft (DAB)2, the German news agency Transocean, the German Library of Information, and the German Railroads Information Office in New York, some of which—as their names suggest—through fronting.

In 1946, O. John Rogge, special assistant to the US Attorney General, submitted the results of his research into “nazi penetration”. It was based on the files of the German Foreign Office and the US German Embassy as well as on interviews with prominent Nazis (Göring, Von Ribbentrop) and diplomatic personnel (such as former ambassador to the US Dieckhoff) while they were being held in custody during the Nuremberg trials.3 The book traces the extent of German propaganda activities in America during the interwar years and the first years of World War II through diplomatic as well as private conduits. (The cut-off point was determined by the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, after which the Axis embassies in America closed—although after the Kristallnacht of November 9-10, 1938, the German embassy had been headed by a chargé d’affaires, while many consular staff were sent home with only a few German consulates remaining open.4)

Propaganda consisted of pro-German and anti-Semitic literature (printed and financed in the US or distributed through German or German-American organizations from abroad), speaking tours, radio broadcasts, posters and advertising, etc. As well there were specific projects, such as the attempts to thwart the reelection of President Roosevelt, in both 1940, in order to stave off America’s entry into the war, and 1944, to get a less resolute candidate elected. Influencing the elections was one of the tasks of the Amerika-Ausschuss—or Amerika-Komitee—at the German Foreign Department, which Ross was actually appointed to lead in early 1944.5 Rogge reported that Ross’s plan to influence the 1944 presidential elections by ethnically targeted radio ‘narrowcasts’ (or “folkdom propaganda”6) earned him the high regard of Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop—until after the election.

Despite the book’s comprehensive scope, the evidence it produces seems most reliable when based on the archival sources. In the case of the propagandistic lectures of Colin Ross, who was only tangentially and intermittently connected to the Reich’s administration, it is on less firmer ground. Evidence, such as it is, is circumstantial at best while much space is devoted to extensive quotes from his 1936 book Unser Amerika. To date there seem to be no substantive indications that Ross’s propagandistic lectures in America were not self-initiated. 

Nico de Klerk

O. John Rogge. Flood of Nazi gold was poured into U.S. to inflame hatreds. In: The Philadelphia Inquirer. 1946 December 24; 118; 1,

O. John Rogge. Flood of Nazi gold was poured into U.S. to inflame hatreds. In: The Philadelphia Inquirer. 1946 December 24; 118; 2,

Topic: Propaganda
Case: American journeys


1 Cornelia Wilhelm. Nazi propaganda and the uses of the past: Heinz Kloss and the making of a German America. In: Amerikastudien/American Studies. A Quarterly. 2002; 4 (1): 60-61, 65-67.

2 See for impressions of the DAB’s activities:
Volksch-deutsche Jungen in U.S.A.
USA, 1937
[16mm] | b&w | silent | German titles | 25’ [accessed 2017 April 21]
Freude zucht Glaube. Ein Film vom Leben und Treiben der DAB.-Jugend
USA [1939] | Jupp Lieblein
[16mm] | b&w | silent | German titles | 30’ [accessed 2017 April 21]

3 O. John Rogge. The official German report: Nazi penetration 1924-1942, pan-Arabism 1939-today. New York – London: Thomas Yoseloff; 1961. As the Justice Department withheld publication, the manuscript was only published in 1961. The author, however, disclosed some of his findings in a series of newspaper articles, of which the referenced text is an example; see also note 6.

4 Landon Alfriend Dunn, Timothy J. Ryan. Axis diplomats in American custody. The housing of enemy representatives and their exchange for American counterparts, 1941-1945. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company; 2016; 9-16.

5 Ross’s predecessor, former ambassador to the US Dieckhoff, won’t have been thrilled, given his harsh criticism of Ross’s 1936 book Unser Amerika. See: Bodo-Michael Baumunk. Colin Ross. Ein deutscher Revolutionär und Reisender 1884-1945. [unpublished master’s thesis] rev. edn. Berlin; 2015 [1999]; 103. See Library.

Drew Pearson. Washington merry-go-round. In: The Daily Illini; 1946 October 20; 75 (24); 4, and in San Bernardino Sun. 1946 October 21; 4. See Library.

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