The ‘Ullstein Spirit’
The Ullstein Publishing House, the End of the Weimar Republic and the Making of Cold War German Identity, 1925–77

in: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 53 (2018), No. 1, pp. 158-184

Abstract: This article examines the role of the Ullstein company, a liberal publishing house with Jewish roots and one of Germany’s most important cultural producers, in the disintegration and the subsequent historical interpretation of the Weimar Republic. It reconstructs the company’s history before and after the Second World War and retraces the public debate about Ullstein’s political role to arrive at a more balanced picture of the company’s place in twentieth-century Germany. Ullstein portrayed itself as a pillar of democracy during the Weimar era, but distanced itself from this tradition during the economic and political crisis of the late 1920s and early 1930s. After 1945, Ullstein’s history was distorted by its use as a political token in the Cold War struggle between the two German states over the ‘right’ view of Weimar’s demise. Western media – most prominently the Axel Springer publishing house – interpreted Ullstein as a symbol of a Jewish-German tradition of Western liberal democracy, while the East German press and some commentators in West Germany accused the company of paving the way for the Nazis. Ultimately, Axel Springer succeeded in integrating an overly positive version of Ullstein’s history into West German national identity.