After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, virtually all American journalists and photo departments left. One prominent photo department stayed and worked with the Nazi regime: The Associated Press.
As German historian Harriet Scharnberg of Halle’s Martin Luther University discovered, the Associated Press photo department remained in Germany, working under the auspices of the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda and employing Germans, including the notorious prominent SS photographer, Franz Roth.
A German researcher and fellow at the University of Vienna’s history department, Norman Domeier, found additional documents showing how complicit AP was with Hitler and the Nazis.
Between 1941 and 1945, while the Nazis sought to exterminate European Jewry, slaughtering six million Jews and five million other people, the Associated Press and the Nazis exchanged tens of thousands of pictures. The Nazis then used them in their propaganda; Hitler even had them regularly delivered to his office.
A former German AP employee named Willy Brandt, (not the future German chancellor), wrote a 40-page letter in 1946 to the former Berlin AP bureau chief, Louis Paul Lochner. Brandt spoke of the exchanging of pictures, writing about a special photo press department called “Buero Laux,” organized jointly by the Nazi Foreign Office and the SS.
Brandt quoted the head of the photo department, SS-Lieutenant Colonel Helmut Laux, saying, “Considering existing circumstance, it is definitely an advantage to the German cause if a German picture is established in the neutral foreign press at all. (…) We’ll offer these pictures to AP first, for which they will send us their own material.” Laux was the personal photographer of Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, which suggests that photos of Nazi leaders as heroes were published in American newspapers.
As The Times Of Israel reports:
In his 1946 letter, Brandt writes that he traveled to Stockholm twice to meet an AP correspondent whom he knew from Berlin AP bureau times. Domeier points out that the Swedish picture agency “Pressens Bild” was used as a cover-up for the exchange of photos, which were sent through Sweden.
As the AP wrote to The Times of Israel, “The Associated Press carefully vetted the images it received and distributed a portion to its global customers based on their news value and timeliness, rejecting propaganda. The images, which gave the public views inside Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied countries while war was raging, were captioned to make clear their German origins.”
Yet the images selected for exchange, of course, reflected the Nazi narrative of historic events. They were taken by members of the SS — which goes unmentioned in the captions. Their selection for publication in the foreign overseas press was a strategic act of propaganda by the Nazis.
The Nazis had already used AP photos for anti-Semitic publications. In “The Jews in the USA,” the Associated Press is the most-used photo source. In the SS-training booklet “The Untermensch,” (“The Subhuman”) AP was the third-most used; in Hans Hinkel’s “Jewish Quarters of Europe” it is second.