The March Toward War: The <em>March of Time</em> as Document and Propaganda
Introduction The Time Empire MOT as Document Marching into War Voice of Conscience Timeline/Index
The Shadow of War
Germany's Rising Power
The World Prepares for War
America Prepares for War
American Neutrality
Failure of the League
Failure of Versailles
England's Failures
Ambiguous Russia
Plight of the Jews
Humanizing Dictators
Americans All
War Zones
Italy Seizes Ethiopia
Japanese Conquests
Chinese Resistance
Spain's Civil War
The Mediterranean
Pearl Harbor
 Polish Jews in Life Magazine

Plight of the Jews and Dissidents

The March of Time film and radio series hinted at the genocidal nightmare Jews were facing in German concentration camps, and spelled out the extreme discrimination and human rights violations facing those who were not yet imprisoned as early as October 1935. The March of Time was not alone in reporting the existence of German concentration camps and harsh conditions against Jews; The Washington Post, for example, told of a fugitive who escaped from a Nazi camp in March 19361, and The New York Times reported in February 1936 that foreign sportsmen in town for the Olympics were invited to see concentration camps.2 In March The New York Times reported on the book The Yellow Spot, "the first complete documentary study of the extermination of German Jews." The report notes, "One section deals with the expulsion of Jews from business, the army, State and municipal employment and professions, and the forced sale of businesses. Another part offers evidence of the deprivation of citizenship rights, the prohibition of emigration, the closing to Jews of swimming pools, museums and theatres, the exclusion of Jewish children from milk distribution and the barring of Jewish sick from hospitals...The conditions of Jews in concentration camps also are described. [But the report doesn't describe them.]"3 These reports don't make the front page, however, and coverage doesn't pick up until 1938,4 well after "Inside Nazi Germany" airs in January 1938. Whether or not the newspapers had better coverage of the Jews' plight, it's likely The March of Time films and radio show had more emotional impact and a far broader reach across the American population. Seeing the road signs discriminating against Jews, soldiers writing "Juden" across a store window, Jews being escorted away from their jobs because of their religion, and an elderly Jewish woman being manhandled by Nazis has a more visceral, immediate impact on viewers because they can imagine themselves there. The audience sees the fear on victims' faces and understands.

"PALESTINE," OCTOBER 18, 1935 Play movie
 Minister Goebbels
(1) Minister of Propaganda Goebbels (2) a book burning
Book burning
Nazi paints star of david
Nazi harrasses store owner
Staged shots (4) of Nazis harrassing a Jewish shopkeeper and (5) an elderly woman.
Nazi harrasses elder woman
sign says don't buy from Jews
(6) A Nazi holds a sign that says: "Germans resist! Don't buy from Jews!"
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This issue primarily profiles Palestine as a new homeland for Jews but also speaks to the reasons Jews have fled there in such large numbers. Germany's attack on Jews is portrayed as an attack on individual freedom and freedom of speech (the latter likely a value the March of Time staff held dear). However, even as the film portrays new immigrants to Palestine as pioneers, it also has an undertone that suggests Jews belong in Palestine.

The narrator describes Palestine as a "new and exclusive seaside resort." England had promised the League of Nations to protect Jews while they attempt to build a national homeland in what would eventually become Jerusalem. The narrator opines, "Paradoxically, Adolf Hitler has helped the growth of the new Palestine. Hitler, who has wrought upon Jews more evil than any man of his generation. Fanned by the oratory of Hitler's Minister of Propaganda Goebbels (1), anti-Semitism has swept Germany's fire and pillage. All books of Jewish authors are ordered burned in the public squares (2). Authors, scientists, artists are driven from Germany. Bands of loud Nazi youths in storm trooper uniforms conduct terrorizing raids on Jewish citizens throughout the land, to the rest of the world's shocked amazement."

During the monologue filmmakers show a montage of book burnings, Nazis driving through the streets haphazardly, Nazi vandalism (as in 3, writing "Juden" on a storefront), (staged) raids and harrassment of Jews (4), and Nazis attacking elderly Jews (5). "Hitler's answer to world condemnation is clear and uncompromising. First the Nazi swastika is decreed not only Germany's one official flag, but the world's anti-Jew symbol. [The music is too cheery for this statement.] Then..." [cuts to intertitle]: Reichstag, September 1935. LAW FOR THE PROTECTION OF GERMAN BLOOD AND GERMAN HONOR. [next screen; the music heightens in tension] Jews are prohibited from marrying outside their race. [next screen; the music heightens in tension] Germans are hereafter divided into "Citizens" and "Members". [next text on screen] Jews are only "Members" deprived of citizenship. [next screen] Jews are prohibited from flying the German flag.


These intertitles are different from The March of Time's usual fare; the zoom in, from small and blurry phrases to larger and focused text, perhaps for more dramatic effect. Their effect is the same throughout—it forces viewers to read the screen to make the message memorable. Jews' rights are being squashed in Germany.

 Einstein is a refugee
(7) Einstein, who was Jewish, offered Americans a famous example of German refugee. (8) Jews' industriousness in Palestine is demonstrated.
Palestine's Jews have made strides in industry
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The Voice of Time returns: "These are the final blows of a long persecution which has been forcing Jews out of Germany by tens of thousands." A map tracks their path: 1,600 have fled to Holland; 12,000 to France, 1,200 to Spain; 6,000 (including Einstein, 7) to America; 23,000 to Palestine. Jews from all over the world "have been bringing about a miracle in the desert" in Palestine. The film shows a montage of farmers and industries (8). There are now 350,000 Jews in Palestine, but no more than 50,000 can migrate in a year, a limit imposed by Britain. The valley of Israel was "yesterday a pestilence-ridden swamp. Today modern machinery and Jews turned peasants have transformed it into a fertile land of intensive cultivation....Here are 150 thriving Jewish settlements where the colonists experiment with cooperative communal forms of living, and repute the ancient tradition that Jews do not make good farmers." This unfortunate stereotype crops up and is described as an "ancient tradition" rather than a discriminatory belief.

Jews are also building network of roads, and the narrator describes Tel Aviv, "yesterday ... a wilderness of sands and cactus, where jackals roamed," and now "the only all-Jewish city in the world," numbering 130,000 citizens. The League of Nations will decide when the new Jewish settlement has achieved statehood.

May 13, 1936: Goebbels Criticizes Jews Play audio

This short bit offers a glimpse at how Germany's anti-Semitic policies were shown—just by revealing them—to be considered antithetical to American ideals. If The March of Time staff didn't find anything unusual about German Minister of Propaganda Goebbels' pronouncements, they would not have used it. Goebbels announced that it has been the custom of critics to attend a new play and prepare the review that night, but this is "a system introduced by Jewish newspapers under the old regime and is typical of the hasty, slipshod methods of Jewish intellectualism." The German, "methodical" way requires the reviewer to wait to write the review "until he has had one good night of sleep."

"Inside Nazi Germany—1938" JanUary 21, 1938 Play movie

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See Germany's Rising Power for full description

The film opens in Berlin as the narrator notes that Berlin has prospered, and is teeming with rich foods served in cafes and terraces. "Nowhere does the visitor see privation or hunger," he intones, contrary to some of Hitler's stated reasons for reclaiming old territories. Parks and playgrounds are filled with cheerful people "who show no signs of dissatisfaction with the fascist dictatorship which controls their lives, no apparent resentment against a government whose campaign of suppression and regimentation has shocked the world's democracies. Only those who get behind the scenes know that this outward cheerfulness is the creation of Adolf Hitler's fanatic little propaganda minister Paul Joseph Goebbels. In the most concentrated propaganda campaign the world has ever known, minister Goebbels has in five years of Nazi rule whipped 65 million people into a nation with one mind, one will, and one objective: expansion."

"Though six years ago six million Germans voted a communist ticket, every known radical, every know liberal today is either in hiding, in prison, or dead." As the narrator says "in hiding," a guillotine flashes across the screen, and staged torture scenes follow (1). Most repugnant is Germany's treatment of Jews; sign posts show that Jews are not wanted (2). Even in parks, special yellow benches are labeled for Jews. Hitler is also bearing down savagely on Christian churches (3): "Millions of Germans who all their lives have cherished their religion, are learning a new commandment—to the good Nazi, not even God stands above Hitler." This fact would no doubt inflame Americans, still highly religious and considerate of Judeo-Christian values. The narrator explains that all radio programs come from the Department of Propaganda, and any letter in the mail is subject to censorship, "for in Nazi Germany, every instrument that forms thought, communicates ideas, must be used to glorify the Nazi superstate and its demigod, Adolf Hitler."

Hitler's Nazis follow the conviction that they are a super-race, which has given the downtrodden Germans new self-respect, the narrator explains. Hitler gets immense power from ordinary Germans. There is no more unemployment because he's given every man who's able a job, although the average pay is only $10 per week. "[The worker is] told by the state what work he must do. By Nazi decree he is denied the right to strike, or even ask his employer for a raise. Day and night the roaring furnaces of the great Krupp munitions plant of Essen are fed by the self-denial of the German people." (Labor rights, once considered a sign of communistic thinking in America, are here trumpeted as individual rights valued by Americans).

March 10, 1938: Niemöller Arrested Play audio

"In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me—and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Martin Niemöller 1892-19845

Niemöller (photo from Simon Wiesenthal Center Multimedia Learning Center Online)

In a flashback, this clip dramatizes a years-ago encounter between Protestant dissident Martin Niemöller and Hitler, before Niemöller is again arrested and sent to a concentration camp. The March of Time establishes the scene before explaining who the tall man (Niemöller) following the guard to Hitler is. Niemöller is a one-time U-boat commander and war hero, pastor of Berlin's most fashionable church, and a spearhead of church opposition to Nazism. Niemöller formed the "Confessional Church," a Protestant group that opposed the Nazification of the German Protestant churches, the anti-Christian ideas of certain Nazi leaders, and Nazi racial doctrines.6

In this dramatization, Hitler congratulates him on his World War I experience. Hitler says he could still fight and win battles for Germany, if he would do so from his pulpit. "I do fight battles from my pulpit," Niemöller retorts. Hitler claims Niemöller preaches treason against Nazism. "Reichfuhrer, you preach against the established church and your god. That is worse than treason," Niemöller responds. "I must continue to preach, as I have always preached for 15 years." Hitler orders the guard to place him under arrest, and Niemöller is charged with seditious use of the pulpit. A trial yields him several months prison time, but because he has already been imprisoned for eight months, he is set free. The audience hears about his re-arrest after the fact, as the show dramatizes his family preparing for his return. His wife and children are greeting guests, and she expects when he returns "it will be like old times." The phone rings, and what follows distresses Mrs. Niemöller: he has been sent to a concentration camp [where he would remain until freed by the Allies]. At Sunday service, "still ringing out" is the voice of another German pastor. "I cannot hope to speak the eloquence and vision of Martin Niemöller, but his spirit still speaks from this pulpit." The barbed-wire fence of the concentration camp cannot suppress it, the pastor continues. "In Germany and throughout the world, the free spirit speaks more eloquently in silence than ever it did through words. It cannot ever die." The Voice of Time concludes the segment by noting there was no official charge against Niemöller, his release date is unknown.

The March of Time staff was clearly concerned about the violation of freedom of religion and speech, as this clip shows, and they paint a sympathetic and heroic portrait of Niemöller as he stands up to Hitler.

March 24, 1938: Nazis in Austria Play audio

The clip opens in Spain, where an exiled Austrian general is helping to defend the government from Franco's rebels, and segues to Austria, where Jews are persecuted as Nazis take over Austria. As the segment begins, the general receives word that his wife has been arrested (or worse) and his mother, like many Austrians, committed suicide when she heard Nazis had taken over her country. The scene changes to Austria, where Hitler gives a speech to rally his men: his home country "rushed to meet me without a shot being fired." The Nazis break into the song "Horst Wessel," which includes the lyrics, "make way, make way, here comes the Brown battalions...upon the swastika millions look with longing." Between each following scene the boisterous rallying song is used as a solemn narrative transition when contrasted with the quiet stories of how Nazism has violated Austrian life. The story cuts to a segment in which a teacher is re-teaching schoolchildren that Jews murdered Austria's chancellors (Nazis did). When children interrupt to say it's not true, the teacher, frightened, snaps back that this is how they must learn it now. When the lesson shifts to reading a book, the reading includes a passage claiming "a Jew may be identified with shifty eyes." An upset Jewish child in the classroom asks to be excused. In the next scene Nazi soldiers look through Dr. Sigmund Freud's house for money and passports. Freud has "corrupted the pure German mind" with pschoanalysis. The clip also includes an emotional story about the Vienna Philharmonic that cannot play together with the same members because some, including the conductor, are Jewish. The concertmaster declares that the Viennese way of making music is the comradeship they have with each other, and it has "made our music come from the heart." They play Jewish composer Schubert's "Rosamunde" one final time—they "do not need the parts."

In this difficult segment, the Germans are portrayed as bullying belligerants at best, and the portrait of the conquered Austrians is sympathetic. There are no Austrians in the story who are happy about Hitler's conquest, and the revealed results of his campaign are tragic at every turn.

"The Refugee-Today and Tomorrow," December 23, 1938 Play movie

 Reguee girl
Although the issue begins with Chinese refugees (1), it primarily focuses on persecution of Jews (2).
Christian and Jew reports of barbarism
Strongarming a businessman
(3) Nazis harrass a Jewish businessman in what looks a scene from a 1930s mobster movie. (4) Among the Jewish composers banned is Felix Mendelssohn.
Mendelssohn sheet music
Hitler in shadows
(6) Nazi storm stroopers meet to check their list (7) as the camera zooms in so the names become more personal (8).
checking a name
close-up: checking a list
Jewish man taken away
(9) A Jewish professional is whisked away by Nazis and German propaganda ensures that stereotypes and hate spread (10)
Nazi propaganda
German school teaches propaganda
(11) White schoolchildren are taught they are superior and learn from textbooks like the one below that shows whites as strong and industrious and Jews as plump and shifty-eyed.
School propaganda
Jews jailed
(13) Men might be jailed on the word of a secret informant and (14) women might face other consequences.
Punishment for Jews
Refugee victim
(15) Victims are reporting the persecution they faced at Nazi concentration camps (16).
Concentration camp sign
barbed wire
(17-20) March of Time crews did not have access to concentration camps so they illustrated their narrative with images suggestive of mistreatment and torture.
camp victims' feet
Torture weapons
bare feet in camp
(21) Names are crossed off a list ominously. Did this mean they were dead, or captured and in camps? The list depersonalizes the humanity of those captured.
Names crossed off list
Escape through Alps
(22) Jews escape over the Alps (unclear if this is real footage) (23) images of sympathetic refugee children flash across the screen.
Children refugees
Working in Palestine
Although Jews are working hard to build lives for themselves in Palestine (24), German propaganda reaches Arab ears and eyes (25)
propaganda aimed at Muslims

The March of Time again casts its cameras on the victims of aggression in this issue: refugees, with much of the focus on Germany's Jews. However, the issue touches on Japan's aggression and its effects also: "Driving deeper and deeper into the heart of old China as a new year in the world's history begins, are the armed forces of aggressor nation Japan, bent on conquest and expansion." For two years, the Voice of Time explains, Japan has been shelling and destroying, looting and plundering. Images of refugees include a wounded girl getting bandaged (1) and an old woman crying. More than a million Chinese have become wanderers, and they must depend on charity for shelter and rice. Resident Europeans and Americans are leaving China, and 50,000 White Russians fear that they too must soon give up homes and jobs. In Spain, three years of war has resulted in still more refugees.


"But today in Europe, fleeing from Nazi Germany into the border towns of Holland, Belgium, France and Switzerland is a new kind of refugee. A victim not of warfare, but of an intolerance and persecution unparallelled since the Dark Ages." Within the past five years there have been 200,000 refugees "fleeing from the racial, religious, and political persecution of Hitler's Nazi regime." From people who escape, there are "eyewitness accounts of torture in Germany's crowded concentration camps." Intertitle: "When pieced together, the well-documented testimony of refugees from Germany—both Christian and Jew—forms one of the blackest chapters in modern history" (2). The fact that The March of Time points out that the Christian reports have agreed with Jewish accounts suggests there is some need to counter anti-Semitism in America, that two kinds of eyewitnesses are required to overrule viewers' doubts. The Voice of Time continues that calculated, well-organized oppression of minorities has grown: "Determined to drive all Jews from their professions and their business, storm troopers and the dreaded secret police have pursued and hounded every Jewish shopkeeper" (3). Jewish composers' music has been outlawed. "Masterpieces the world has loved are confiscated as unfit for Nazi ears."


The soundtrack plays each composer's melodies as it shows the their sheet music to drive home the point that great works Americans know will be banned (4). Worse to March of Time is the loss of individuality and freedom of thought. The Voice of Time explains, "Because today in Germany every citizen must think only as the Nazi leader dictates, every book not in line with Nazi doctrine, the works of liberal thinkers, the writings of all Jews are seized and burned (5). So thoroughly organized is Nazi domination of the individual, that there is not a single German home that escapes surveillance." Every town has storm troopers, and they mark victims for persecution (6). Here the camera shoots close-up shots up names being checked on a list. A man marks "Glucker," (7-8) then the film shows several men being arrested by Nazi police (9). "Ordered to quit their practice, surrender their offices, have been no fewer than 7,000 Jewish physicians and surgeons, among them some of the world's great men of medicine. Upon 10,000 of Germany's teachers, university professors, and scientists, the Nazi decrees have struck cruel blows. Ordered from their lecture halls because they dare think, deprived of pensions because they are Jews, these scholars are made outcasts by the same nation which once won glory through their cultural achievement." There's no doubt The March of Time is horrified by the events happening in Germany, and they want Americans to be outraged as well.


"Today Nazi propaganda is seeking to make Adolf Hitler the only god of the German people (10). Out to destroy every established religion, this newest campaign is being centered upon the Roman Catholic Church whose doctrines oppose hatred and oppression. But above all Hitler is seeking first the destruction of every Jew, the chief character in his drama of hate. So that hatred and intolerance will be carried on, the smallest German schoolboy (11) is taught that he belongs to a race of supermen, and his primers are carefully prepared and illustrated by the Propaganda bureau, to make an indelible impression on young minds (12)."

The Nazi party encourages informers, "for today in Germany the mere whisper of a tattling housewife is all that is necessary to condemn a neighbor to the punishment which awaits every critic of the German Reich (13)."

The March of Time touches on what is happening in concentration camps, through strong narrative and suggestive re-enacted scenarios. "Closely guarded from the public is the punishment which Germany has already inflicted upon 60,000 Jews (14). But today the world is learning from refugees who themselves were victims (15), that of all torture, none could be more inhuman or more severe than that practiced within Nazi concentration camps (16). [shows barbed wire, 17] For no greater crime than being born a Jew, [men sleeping with striped pants, 18] thousands have been herded as animals, fed worse than animals, tortured with lash and whip [shows image of such instruments, 19], and made to suffer as captive slaves in a new era of barbarism [naked legs, 20], the barbarism of national socialist Germany (21)." Intertitle: "Desperate in their fear of new and greater terror, Germany's oppressed now live only in the hope of escape to other lands."

Jewish exiles fleeing through the Alps hope to arrive at Swiss hostels [22; happy music plays over a montage of scenes from the hostel]. Over 3,000 refugees are there and must remain until the world decides where they can go. In the past three years France has taken in over 3 million refugees, and has said it can take no more. But the fabled "American dream" looms in the background: "The dream of almost every one of Hitler's victims is to immigrate to the United States, but U.S. immigration is restricted by law to a selective annual quota from each foreign country." Only 27,000 immigrants may enter from Germany. Furthermore, a U.S citizen must guarantee they won't become a public charge. "And nowhere in the world does the German exile find more sympathy and help than in the United States." As an example, March of Time points out the famed "university in exile," composed of banished German professors.

Despite the United States' strict immigration laws, Americans are helping in other charitable ways, such as allowing in as many refugee children as private funds can support (23). Children exiled in England are trained for the day they will have a future home. The narrator says a greater problem is finding new homelands for tomorrow. The world may need homes for 6 million "who will be obliged to flee if Hitler completes his domination of central Europe." Experts study Palestine as an example of a created home for refugees. "Here they find that the Jew is no longer a wanderer....Here in Palestine the Jew may be seen as a tireless pioneer, who out of the meager resources about him has created by his own hard work, a new land of promise (24)." Some see support for the hope that large-scale resettlement will be possible elsewhere as it is in Palestine. "Here in Palestine the Jew himself has shattered the old belief that people long used to trading in commerce are necessarily poor farmers." This stereotype is being repeated from an earlier March of Time film (see "Palestine," above).

Hitler's reach has also tainted Jews' new home, however. Intertitle: "As the world seeks solution to its refugee problem, adding daily to its complexities is the vengeance of one man—Adolf Hitler." Since 1917, when Great Britain mandated the land to Jews, "its Arab population has jealously watched the rise of Jews in their new homeland. Taking advantage of this hostility, Nazi Germany long ago sent its agents into Palestine to foster Arab nationalism and stir up trouble for the Jews. This Nazi propaganda has been drumming into Arab minds the idea that Jewish expansion is a threat to the Arabs' own dream of nationalism (25). When Arab-Jewish clashes grow into guerrilla warfare, Great Britain places all Palestine under virtual martial law.

"But by far the greatest obstacle to any early solution to the refugee problem which Nazi fanaticism has created for the world, is the growing vindictiveness of Hitler's mass persecution." Here the March of Time film refers to Kristallnacht through an image of a newspaper clip describing Nazi mobs looting, burning, and murdering (26), and a re-enactment of a burning building (27). "Through systematic confiscation, Hitler is making sure that every Jew leaving Nazi Germany departs a helpless pauper. Through his campaign of persecution, Adolf Hitler has made Germany once again an outlaw in the world." Some in America are making economic protests, as the film shows a storefront sign: "We have cancelled our orders for German merchandise (28)."

The film's conclusion connects Americans more securely to the plight of the refugees: "Supporting the oppressed are the democratic nations whose people in their very act of protest affirm their right as free men to speak out against tyranny. They know that today, of all difficult world problems yet unsolved, none offers in its solution, a richer hope for reward than the problem of the world's disinherited. For out of victims of oppression have grown great nations, nations strong in their love for tolerance and freedom. Time marches on!" The final scene shows a woman pointing to a chalkboard with the year 1776 scrawled upon it (30), strengthening the emotional connection Americans have to refugees, for they were once refugees themselves.


Nazi mob Jews headline House on fire

(26) Kristallnacht shows Hitler won't relent, and The March of Time re-enacts fire from the night (27)

sign says they have cancelled orders for German merchandise protest sign says embargo the aggressors (28-29) March of Time suggests more and more Americans are speaking out against aggressor nations
connecting to America (30) An American schoolteacher who resembles Mary Washington teaches a lesson about the American Revolution, a conclusion that ties American history and values to those of the current refugees from tyranny. The move serves to build a stronger bond to victims of Germany and Japan.

1 "Fugitive From a Nazi Camp here to Expose Hitler Regime," The Washington Post. 15 March 1936: X5.

2 "Asked to See All in Reich," The New York Times. 3 February 1936: 12.

3 "British Jews Open Drive for 1,000,000 Pounds," The New York Times. 16 March 1936: 9.

4 Coverage increased in November 1938 because of Kristallnacht. I'm also basing these assessments on the following articles:

"Bands Rove Cities/Thousands Arrested for 'Protection' as Gangs Avenge Paris Death." The New York Times. 11 November 1938: 1.

"British Charge Nazis Invent Tortures for Prison Camps." The Washington Post. 31 October 1939: 1.

"German Jews Face Hopeless Fate as New Wave of Nazi Terror Hits." The Washington Post. 13 November 1938: B2.

"Move to Free Jews in Nazi Camps Seen." The New York Times. 27 July 1938: 9.

"Nazi Execution of 200 Jews in Camp Reported." The Washington Post. 19 November 1938: 1.

"No Regret Voiced/Goebbels Declares That the Nation Followed Its 'Healthy Instincts.'" The New York Times. 12 November 1938: 1.

"Raids on Jews Decreed for All Germany; Riots Spread." The New York Times. 19 June 1938: 1.

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