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Dorothy Thompson – a name that may not ring a lot of bells, certainly with anyone born after the World War 2 years. But Dorothy Thompson was a pioneering journalist and broadcaster who made a name for herself during a period of time when most journalists were men and women were relegated to areas of support or “Advice to the lovelorn” columns. Thompson was a hard-hitting and dedicated journalist who stopped at nothing to get a story, and in her case, landed in the middle of Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party and saw Adolf Hitler come to power in a world largely ambivalent to the thinly veiled threat the political climate in Germany was. So outspoken in fact, that it landed her being expelled from Germany in 1934, but she continued to write and report the goings on in Europe.
After working for women’s suffrage in the United States, Thompson relocated to Europe in 1920 to pursue her journalism career. She was interested in the early Zionist movement. Her big break occurred when she visited Ireland in 1920 and was the last to interview Terence MacSwiney, one of the major leaders of the Sinn Féin movement. It was the last interview MacSwiney gave before he was arrested days later and died two months after that. Because of her success abroad, she was appointed Vienna correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. While working in Vienna, Thompson focused on becoming fluent in German. She met and worked alongside correspondents John Gunther and G. E. R. Gedye. In 1925, she was promoted to Chief of the Central European Service for the Public Ledger. She resigned in 1927 and, not long after, the New York Post appointed her head of its Berlin bureau in Germany. There she witnessed firsthand the rise of the National Socialist or Nazi party. According to her biographer, Peter Kurth, Thompson was “the undisputed queen of the overseas press corps, the first woman to head a foreign news bureau of any importance.”
During this time Thompson cultivated many literary friends, particularly among exiled German authors. Among her acquaintances from this period were Ödön von Horváth, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Stefan Zweig and Fritz Kortner. She developed a close friendship with author Carl Zuckmayer. In Berlin she even got involved in a lesbian affair with German author Christa Winsloe, while still married in the U.S., claiming “the right to love”.
Thompson’s most significant work abroad took place in Germany in the early 1930s. While working in Munich, Thompson met and interviewed Adolf Hitler for the first time in 1931. This would be the basis for her subsequent book, I Saw Hitler, in which she wrote about the dangers of him winning power in Germany. Thompson described Hitler in the following terms: “He is formless, almost faceless, a man whose countenance is a caricature, a man whose framework seems cartilaginous, without bones. He is inconsequent and voluble, ill poised and insecure. He is the very prototype of the little man.”
Later, when the full force of Nazism had crashed over Europe, Thompson was asked to defend her “Little Man” remarks; it seemed she had underestimated Hitler. The Nazis considered both the book and her articles offensive and, in August 1934, Thompson was expelled from Germany. She was the first journalist to be kicked out.
Here is a broadcast, one of her last, which she made only days after hostilities in Europe broke out. A journalist of extraordinary talents who became a household name during the years of World War 2.