The presentation of the Henri Nannen Prize 2022 has been postponed to June 22nd. That could still turn out to be fortunate. According to reports, the change of date was mainly because the restructuring of the RTL management team – including Gregor Peter Schmitz as the new chairman of the “Stern” editor-in-chief – is currently attracting a lot of attention. But attention is also being paid to the journalist prize these days because of the namesake Henri Nannen.
A research team from the public youth channel “Funk” published a video on Tuesday. For 21 minutes, it deals with the founder, long-time publisher and editor-in-chief of the magazine “Stern” and namesake of the Henri Nannen School of Journalism and the renowned Henri Nannen Journalism Prize.
One category this time is called “Story of the Year – That Moved Us All”. The radio broadcast “Legendary publisher Henri Nannen: How bad was his propaganda?” is not up for a vote, but is still stirring. “We found something that’s really bad,” the video says.
The video deals in particular with Nannen’s time as a war correspondent with a propaganda mission in the final stages of the Second World War. It is about the SS-led “Operation Südstern”, which was intended to at least slow down the advance of the Western Allies in Italy. And it’s about clearly anti-Semitic and racist leaflets, with which the morale of the American troops in particular should be broken. Jews are thus portrayed as war profiteers and the crude picture of a Jewish world conspiracy is drawn. Other drawings denigrate Black GIs as potential rapists.
After researching the radio format “Strg_F” in the Berlin State Library, among other places – where the leaflets are located – Henri Nannen is said to have played a leading role in this propaganda campaign and was also responsible for the anti-Semitic leaflets of the SS company “Südstern”. In addition, Nannen is accused of having maintained close ties to those involved in the Südstern company after the war – especially to the former SS man and later “Jugend forscht” competition director Hans Weidemann and the draftsman Heinz Fehling.
However, these allegations are only new if you look past existing and publicly accessible descriptions of Henri Nannen’s life. The journalist and historian Stephanie Nannen dealt extensively with the life and work of her grandfather in “Henri Nannen – Ein Stern und sein Kosmos”. She quotes from conversations with him and prominent eyewitnesses and also draws on her own archive research.
The book also goes into detail about the years of National Socialism and the World War – Nannen’s employment as a speaker in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia epic as well as his work as a war correspondent on the Eastern Front and in Italy, where, in his own words, he “active propaganda” and engaged in “psychological warfare”.
In her 2013 biography of Nannen, Stephanie Nannen writes: “What is certain is that my grandfather was never a member of the SS Standard Kurt Eggers and the Südstern Commando, as is sometimes claimed even today. In Italy, too, he continued to wear the Wehrmacht uniform of his war correspondent company, which was subordinate to the High Command of the 10th Army.” Nannen was neither a member of the NSDAP nor a member of the SS.
The fact that “Operation Südstern” does not appear in Nannen’s exoneration report by the Americans for the time in Italy does not have to be a contradiction in contrast to the report by “Strg_F”. And in other places, too, the researchers draw conclusions that are questionable given the seriousness of the allegations.
The accusation that Nannen concealed this part of his biography is not only refuted by the granddaughter’s biography. Does the radio research still require a re-evaluation of the person Nannen? According to the Hamburg media scientist Stephan Weichert, the video “rekindles the discussion about Nannen’s past during the Nazi era”.
When asked how important it is 77 years after the end of the war to deal with this part of the German past and the people involved in a journalistic article for a young audience, the co-founder of the Institute for Digital Resilience replies: “Why not? Younger target groups in particular have a proven great interest in historical material, especially in the Nazi past of German companies and personalities.” According to the media scientist, “the research of ‘Strg_F’, if this is the case, provides relevant food for thought as to the foundation on which the German Media system rests”.
And what does the radio video mean for the awarding of the Nannen prizes? “We haven’t decided yet whether we will respond to Strg_F’s research,” the organizers said when asked.