August 1919. The Völkischer Beobachter is born. The Völkischer Beobachter (“People’s Observer”) was the NSDAP official newspaper in 1920-45. For almost a quarter of a century, it was (for all practical purposes) the tangible public face of the Nazi Party (Nazi radio was, of course, the intangible face). Not exactly a pretty face (if you ask me) but it did its job – and did it well.
The “fighting paper of the National Socialist movement of Greater Germany“, as it called itself, was started before the Great War as Münchener Beobachter, (Munich Observer), an anti-Semitic semi-weekly scandal-oriented paper.
Not surprisingly, it continued to be a viciously anti-Semitic semi-weekly scandal-oriented paper until it was banned by the victorious Allies in early May of 1945 (its last issue appeared in late April of that year). However, from February 8th, 1923 issue it was already a daily newspaper.
In 1918, it was acquired by the Thule Society – shortly after the latter was officially established. Secret societies (and Thule definitely was one) are not known for launching (or buying) mass media; consequently, it is fair to conclude that from its very birth, the Thule Society intended to acquire a tool for going after a political power. The tool that was to serve the political party to be established by the Society.
And that’s exactly what happened. First, the newspaper was renamed Münchener Beobachter und Sportblatt (Munich Observer and Sports Paper) in an attempt to significantly increase its circulation. Then it was renamed again – this time becoming Völkischer Beobachter to reflect its political and ideological nature.
After its acquisition by the Thule Society, the newspaper was edited by Rudolf von Sebottendorf- the founder of the Society. After he left the Thule Society, (he never joined the DAP or the Nazi Party), Karl Harrer, a professional journalist and a member of the Thule Society, became its editor.
It appears that the newspaper was a political instrument, not a money-making enterprise; consequently it is no surprise that by the end of 1920 it was heavily in debt and had no chances for survival – even with the support of the Society (or so it seemed).
To save the Beobachter from going under, Major Ernst Röhm, who had joined the DAP, before Adolf Hitler did, and Dietrich Eckart, Hitler’s principal mentor, persuaded Röhm’s commanding officer, Colonel (subsequently General) Franz Ritter von Epp, to pay the enormous debt accumulated by the paper (60,000 Marks)… and transfer its ownership to the NSDAP.
Von Epp was the creator and commander of the Freikorps Epp, a right-wing paramilitary unit mostly made up of war veterans, of which the future leader of the SA Ernst Röhm was a member. This unit took part in the crushing of the Bavarian Soviet Republic in Munich, being responsible for a number of massacres.
It was never definitively established where Epp got the money (no surprise here), but it almost certainly came from secret army funds which von Epp somehow got access to. Which leads to only one conclusion – that he was a partner of the Thule Society at least from May of 1919.
Partner, but definitely not a member, because right after he was in a position to do it, Hitler severed all ties between NSDAP and Thule Society… but von Epp made a stellar career in the Third Reich.
He became a member of Reichstag and served as the Reichskommissar, later Reichsstatthalter (“Nazi governor”), for Bavaria, holding both positions until the end of the Second World War. In addition, he served as the Nazi Party’s head of its Military-Political Office from 1928 to 1945, and also was a leader of the German Colonial Society – an organization devoted to regaining Germany’s lost colonies.
In 1921, Adolf Hitler, who had taken full control of the NSDAP earlier that year, acquired all shares in the company, making him the sole owner of the publication. No surprise here either.