In November , 1933, the Chicago Tribune began running an occasional column titled “From Across the Sea” featuring reported think pieces by correspondents of the Tribune’s Foreign News Service. The column ran on the editorial page along with letters to the editor and other columns such as the whimsical “A Line O’Type or Two.”* Sigrid contributed 78 essays to the column, between December 20, 1933 and October 30, 1938.
In her hands, the column provided an alternate perspective on, and occasionally a sly-counterpoint to, straight news stories from Berlin. In her first column “from across the seas,” Sigrid discussed Nazi efforts to replace the Weimar Republic’s extensive social safety net with a reputedly voluntary relief scheme for winter relief**–an indirect way to talk about the scale of unemployment and hunger in Germany. Her final column disguised a discussion of the Nazi use of radio propaganda under a blanket of “tech talk” about cheap radios and radio loudspeakers in public places.
In the years in between, Sigrid reported on big stories from the relative safety of the editorial page. How censorship had crippled the German newspaper industry. Germany’s attempt to create synthetic oil to reduce its dependence on foreign oil—and the importance of oil in developing a mechanized military. The government’s call for amateurs to provide the politic police with the news and information “needed for its [Germany’s] protection.”
Sometimes she opened a column with a statement or statistic from a German publication as a way of introducing a discussion of a potential dangerous topic. For example, she opened an early column by warning Americans about the dangers of inflation, gave a vivid picture of German life during the hyperinflation of 1923, and discussed the long term consequences for German society—including a culture of hatred directed against Jews and Poland.
In other columns, she used a human interest story to provide background—or give a twist— to a straight news story that appeared elsewhere in the paper . For example, on January 11, 1936, the Tribune ran a news item was the headline “Hitler Assures Diplomats He is in good heath; that same day in “From Across the Sea,” Sigrid ran a profile on the German doctor who had operated on Hitler’s throat after the Führer began having trouble making his radio broadcasts.
Sigrid also used the column to report on smaller issues that might not otherwise have found their way into the Tribune’s pages as a news item, adding an editorial spin about why they mattered. These were a sharp-penned version of the often-over-looked“mailers”: pieces that didn’t have immediate news priority and thus could be sent to Chicago by mail rather than using the quicker, more expensive cable service. Such stories included the publication of a five-volume Encyclopedia of German Superstition, the Nazis’ rejection of Christianity, and the development of “Nazi dances” appropriate to “the new German spirit.” ***
I found some of these smaller stories especially intriguing. They gave me up-close glimpses of Nazi Germany that don’t appear in Big Fat History Books.
* As I mentioned in a previous post, the column’s title was a truly dreadful pun on the linotype machine, a typesetting machine that revolutionized publishing. First introduced in 1866, it powered the production of daily newspapers around the world through the 1970s.
**Not exactly “a thousand points of light.” Thirty thousand welfare offices were manned by unpaid members of the Nazi party and the program was funded by “voluntary” deductions of two percent of a workers’ income taken directly by his employer.
***She described the style as a mixture of folk dancing and “our grandfather’s fashionable counter dancing” (think a more refined relative of the Virginia reel)—in other words, not the “degenerate” dances inspired by imported American jazz.