Hans Fritzsche was a senior Nazi Party official. After Adolf Hitler attained power in January 1933, Fritzsche worked in the Propaganda Ministry headed by Joseph Goebbels from May 1933 to May 1945. Fritzsche had been a journalist who had worked for the ultra- right wing nationalist media magnate Alfred Hugenberg. The media talent of Fritzsche was recognised by the Nazi Party and he used his skills in both newspapers and radio.
Fritzsche was born on April 21st 1900 in Bochum. He had a relatively humble childhood. Fritzsche fought in World War One from 1917 to 1918. After the war Fritzsche studied History, Economics and Philosophy at several universities and then trained in journalism.
In 1923, he became the editor of ‘Preussische Jahrbűcher’, a monthly journal. From 1924 to 1932 Fritzsche was editor of the ‘Telegraphen Union’ and editor-in-chief of the ‘International News Service’ – both part of Hugenberg’s huge media concerns.
After his time working for Hugenberg, Fritzsche educated himself in the use of radio in mass media. His work brought him to the attention of the Weimar government and in 1932 he was made head of the radio news service, the ‘Rundfunk’.
However, while for a short time the Weimar government had been his paymaster, he along with many thousands had no faith in the government whether it was led by Brűning or von Papen. His political persuasion mirrored that of his previous boss – Hugenberg. However, Fritzsche had been swayed by the oratory of Adolf Hitler and on May 1st 1933 he joined the Nazi Party.
He continued with his radio work at the Ministry of Propaganda. Fritzsche was put in charge of the news department at the ministry. In 1938, he was promoted to deputy head of the German press department. In December 1938, he was put in charge of the department that dealt with domestic news and it was his task to keep the German population informed in the way Goebbels wanted them informed – i.e. with news that was totally swayed towards the Nazi viewpoint. In May 1942, Goebbels personally took charge of domestic news and Fritzsche returned to head the radio department with the title ‘Plenipotentiary for the Political Organisation of the Greater German Radio’. 16 million families had access to his broadcasts as a result of the sale of cheap subsidised radios. He always started his broadcasts ‘Hans Fritzsche speaking’ and he became one of the best known commentators in Nazi Germany. Despite working under the direct control of Goebbels, Fritzsche never developed a close relationship with him and this was reciprocated by Goebbels who greatly admired Fritzsche’s skill but never took to him as a person. It is possible that this was because both men had very different ways in presenting their broadcasts – the broadcasts of Fritzsche were measured, articulate and were considered to be well-argued, which put them in stark contrast to the loud and blustering style used by Goebbels.
He remained in this post until he was captured by the Red Army on May 2nd 1945.
Fritzsche was taken to Moscow for interrogation. He claims he was brutally treated during his brief captivity and it was as a result of this treatment that he signed a confession. Fritzsche then stood trial at Nuremberg before the International Military Tribunal.
He was charged with crimes against humanity, conspiring to commit crimes against peace and war crimes.
While on the stand Fritzsche said the following with regards to the crimes committed by the regime he served:
“It is the most terrible indictment of all times. Only one thing is more terrible: the indictment the German people will make for the abuse of their idealism.”
However, Fritzsche was found not guilty on all charges on October 1st 1946 and some expressed their concern as to why he was tried in the first place as he was seen as being of too little importance. In his defence it was noted that he had tried to stop the publication of the virulently anti-Semitic ‘Der Stűrmer’ edited by Julius Streicher and was against the mass murder of Jews. Fritzsche was one of just three men acquitted of all charges at Nuremberg.
The presiding judge said at the end of the trial:
“It appears that Fritzsche sometimes made strong statements of a propaganda nature in his broadcasts. But the Tribunal is not prepared to hold that they were intended to incite the German people to commit atrocities on conquered peoples, and he cannot be said to have been a participant in the crimes charged.”
However, on February 4th 1947 he was put on trial by the West German government for being a member of the Nazi Party – part of the denazification trials. He was found guilty of inciting anti-Semitism, providing the German people with false information and urging the Germans to continue fighting the war. He was sentenced to nine years in prison. However, he was released in September 1950.
Hans Fritzsche died of cancer on September 27th 1953.