Otto Dietrich was the press chief of Nazi Germany. Dietrich worked with Joseph Goebbels in the Propaganda Ministry. Dietrich was directly responsible for what newspapers printed and he gained a reputation for never worrying too much about the truth when he wrote an article.
Dietrich was born in Essen on August 31st 1897. He fought in World War One and was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class for bravery. After the war Dietrich studied economics, philosophy and political science at the universities of Freiburg, Munich and Frankfurt am Main. He gained a doctorate in 1921.
In 1928 Dietrich was appointed the business manager of the ‘Augsburger Zeitung’. In this role he met many prominent Nazis. His wife was the daughter of the owner of the most influential newspaper in the Rhineland – the ‘Rheinisch-Westfälische Zeitung’. Dietrich used his position to act as an intermediary between Adolf Hitler and the rich industrialists based in the Rhineland. Hitler was desperate to win support from Germany’s industrial magnates and Dietrich played some part in this.
Otto Dietrich joined the Nazi Party in 1929. In 1931 he was appointed press chief to the Nazi Party (NSDAP) and on December 24th 1932 he was given a position in the SS. Once Hitler had been appointed Chancellor on January 30th 1933, Dietrich was given the task of coordinating all the newspapers in Nazi Germany.
Dietrich was actually with Hitler during the Night of the Long Knives. The reports in the newspapers the following day were full of how Hitler had been shocked and devastated by the lewd behaviour of those murdered on the night – the media referred with some frequency to the “moral degeneracy” of the victims.
In 1938 Dietrich was appointed Press Chief of the Reich and State Secretary to the Propaganda Ministry. His main task was to present in a suitable manner Nazi foreign policy to the German people. He also used his position to push the idea that the party and service to it was a person’s primary purpose:
“The individual has neither the right nor the duty to exist.”
When World War Two broke out Dietrich gave out daily instructions as to how the war was to be presented in the newspapers. The media was only allowed to present military victories and everything had to have a positive gloss to it. When Rudolf Hess fled to Scotland, Dietrich spun the story that he was shot down over Scotland while on a mission over enemy territory. Goebbels reacted with fury as he knew that it was a story that could not be sustained. He ordered Dietrich to spin another story, which became the ‘Hess has temporarily lost his mind’ approach.
Otto Dietrich was never noted for the accuracy of his reporting. Operation Barbarossa was undoubtedly successful for the Wehrmacht but faltered as it reached Moscow – the key city that Hitler wanted to take. Regardless of the facts as they stood at the time, Dietrich reported that “Soviet Russia is finished. The British dream of a two-front war is dead.”
Towards the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, Dietrich had a nervous breakdown and reporting duties went elsewhere.
Dietrich was with Hitler at Rastenburg when the July Bomb Plot took place. It was Dietrich who phoned Goebbels in Berlin with the news that Hitler had survived the explosion.
Dietrich was arrested at the end of the war and put on trial at Nuremberg before Military Tribunal No 4. He was charged with committing crimes against humanity and membership of an outlawed organisation, the SS, in which he had risen to the rank of Obergrüppenfuehrer.
On April 11th 1949, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. While in prison he wrote “The Hitler that I Knew. Memoirs of the Third Reich’s Press Chief”.
Dietrich was released from prison in 1950 and died on November 22nd 1952.