From the Collections: Charles Gratke reports
on the rise of Hitler

November 26, 2019

Daily morning news conference of The Christian Science Monitor editorial staff, circa 1945-1949. Left to Right: Saville Davis (American News Editor), Donovan Richardson (Chief Editorial Writer), Charles Gratke (Foreign News Editor), Edward Mills (City Editor), Erwin D. Canham (Editor), Paul Deland (Managing Editor), and Harry Hazeldine (Head of the Copy Desk). P08940. Unknown photographer. Courtesy The Mary Baker Eddy Library.

Our collections offer insights into the work of reporters for The Christian Science Monitor. Archival accounts from the newspaper’s staff portray a compelling incident involving correspondent Charles Edward Gratke (1901–1949). It took place in 1933, during the time of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power.

Gratke joined the Monitor staff in 1927, around the time he became a member of The First Church of Christ, Scientist (The Mother Church). He had begun his reporting career in Astoria, Oregon, on his father’s newspaper, the Evening Budget. He worked in the Monitor’s New York bureau and in various other capacities, before taking over the duties of Berlin staff correspondent.1

During his time in Berlin, Gratke wrote several insightful articles on interwar Germany. He reported on a variety of topics, including how the Treaty of Versailles impacted the German economy, the state takeover of the German steel trust, and President Paul Von Hindenburg’s rejection of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor in August 1932.2 Gratke interviewed Hitler in December 1931. Hitler then claimed that Germany’s economic problems, which were well documented, could be attributed to the weakness of the German government. According to Hitler, the fact that other countries did not “respect” Germany meant that it would be at a disadvantage in negotiations with other nations. Closing the article, Gratke directed the reader’s attention to the divisions of opinion surrounding Hitler, suggesting that his ambitions held ominous implications:

The last question pertained to [Hitler’s] attitude toward Parliament. “Whether I would govern with a Parliament depends on the Parliament,” he said, rising from his chair. A quick clap of the hand, and a short bow, and the man of whom millions of Germans expect a new ascent of their nation, and in whom other millions foresee disaster, left the room.3

While this interview may have been one of his most noteworthy reports from Germany, Gratke also wrote a series of articles about the challenges facing average citizens. Appearing under the title “Diary of an Onlooker in Germany,” they explained the different political philosophies competing for dominance, the role of tariffs, and the impact of war reparations on the German economy. Illustrating the connections between the government’s position and the citizen’s experience, he interviewed “Hans,” whom he described as invisible but ubiquitous:

“And suppose,” [Hans] continues, “you demand 1,000,000 marks. I cannot pay. Suppose you demand 100,000 marks. I cannot pay. Even if we negotiate and agree on 50,000 marks, still I cannot.”… [T]he definiteness with which Hans has come to regard his incapacity to pay has provided the Government with the backing to demand complete cancellation of reparations.4

Gratke’s efforts to provide accurate on-the-ground reporting in Germany took him to a March 2, 1933, rally at Berlin’s Sportpalast in Potsdamer Straße (today’s Potsdamer Platz), to hear Hitler speak about the problems of the national government. The speech was scheduled to be broadcast throughout Germany.5 He attended the rally with John Emlyn Williams, the Monitor’s Bureau Chief for Berlin,6 and two other colleagues. During Hitler’s speech, Nazi Brownshirts (part of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung, or “storm unit”) attacked and beat Williams and Gratke. Williams described the experience in a letter to John S. Braithwaite, the European managing editor for The Christian Science Publishing Society:

Immediately after Hitler had spoken, while he was being cheered down the main aisle, I got up with the rest of the people [and] followed the rest of my neighbours in climbing on a chair to have a peep at him. Most of them had their hands up in the Nazi salute others were shouting “Heil Hitler” and similar things. I did not put my hand up. Then suddenly up came a youngster of about 18 years, hit me across the nose, at the same time saying, “Why don’t you put up your hands?” and a lot of similar stuff, and told me to get out. At the same time, some more uniformed Nazis appeared and dragged me to the side aisle, and then carried me out, administering kicks and hits on the way. After a great deal of this kind of thing, a Nazi who spoke English imperfectly was found who took me away in a corner. There we waited until the crowd subsided a little, and he told me “to be off home out of it.”… I may also add that the police just looked on while all this was going on, and one of them to whom I tried to show a police credential, in the course of being rushed out, just turned aside and ignored it.7

The subsequent characterization of this attack and various attributions of responsibility reveal the challenges the Monitor faced during the rise of Nazism during the 1930s. In an initial letter to Braithwaite, Alfred Bode, the newspaper’s German Advertising Manager, believed that the Monitor staffers bore responsibility for the situation:

It has been indisputably ascertained that the demeanour of Mr. Gratke had been provoking and that he had got his beating and was kicked out only in consequences of these provocations. It has also been ascertained that particulars of him have been recorded by the officials.8

Williams offered another interpretation:

The only incident I can think of is this, but it seems so absurd that I must laugh at it. During the course of Hitler’s speech, Gratke on one occasion asked me if I had understood what Hitler said as he had not been able to write it down. I said to G[ratke] that I had it in my head…. I touched the side of my head with my forefinger to indicate this the better. (According to what Ch[urchill] said afterwards this was taken by some Nazi uniformed people, who were watching from a stairway about thirty yards away, as a disparagement of the speaker—Hitler).9

This incident took place against a rising tide of anti-internationalism in Germany. Bode argued that Gratke had failed to consider the sentiments of the German people in his articles; that, in combination with his demeanor at the Sportpalast, was the reason he was attacked. He went on to blame Gratke’s Monitor coverage for the publication’s having been placed on a list of newspapers hostile to the German government.10 Williams wrote that such sentiments were representative of the political climate in Germany at the time:

I am forced to the conclusion that it is almost impossible at the present moment to get many of those who “ought to know better” to see anything that happens here except under the influence of the “revolution of national uplift.”11

Braithwaite reviewed the letters he received and responded to Bode on April 24, 1933. While he acknowledged that it may have been unwise for Gratke to attend the rally in the first place, he defended him:

[Gratke] is the one who is attacked, and he is the one who needs our help and support at this time, for however mistaken his actions may have been, they have been done in good faith, and he is [a] loyal Christian Scientist.12

The discussion in these archival documents surrounding the March 2 attack on Gratke and Williams reveals some of the perils Monitor reporters faced in trying to bring truth to their reporting. It also suggests the paths the participants would subsequently take. Bode was dismissed from his post with the Monitor in 1935, and in 1936 he denounced both the newspaper and The Mother Church for the Nazi periodical Der Judenkenner, claiming that the church was involved in a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy.13 Gratke was relocated to London and then returned to Boston, where he served the Monitor as General News Editor and then Foreign News Editor.14 He received the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Française for his work in organizing news out of France during the Nazi occupation. He also won the annual award of Sigma Delta Chi for his survey of Germany under occupation in 1946.15 Gratke remained with the Monitor until July 12,1949, when he was one of 13 American news reporters killed in a Royal Dutch Airlines crash in Bombay, India.16

Throughout his career with the Monitor, Gratke showed appreciation for its mission. In an article for the Christian Science Sentinel, he pointed out that Mary Baker Eddy had not intended for the Monitor to be “just another newspaper.” It was not enough to merely “record” the news; instead, he referenced the Monitor’s coverage of the German invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece, which had begun on April 6, 1941:

And the human news certainly was not encouraging. Yet what appeared most important, after that day was over, was not the fact that we had achieved a fairly lucid and balanced account of what was happening. Nor was it that we were saved from the pitfalls of overstatement and sensationalism. It was rather an article which appeared in the Monitor…. “There is always a danger lest in times of stress thought should become so concentrated on the pressure of immediate circumstances as to render the whole picture of events completely out of focus…. Truth alone restores all things to their proper perspective.”17

Bode – Braithwaite letter 

Use the slider to see page letters and click on each one to see them larger. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. ”Charles Edward Gratke,” undated, Church Archives, Box 20228, Folder 121887.
  2. Charles E. Gratke, “Reich Erects Sign on Road to Recovery,” The Christian Science Monitor, 10 June 1932, 1; Gratke, “German Golden Relief Chain Grows Long and Burdensome,” Monitor, 27 June1932, 1; Gratke, “Hindenburg’s Emphatic ‘No’ Blocks Hitler,” Monitor, 15 August 1932, 1.
  3. “Hitler Defends Strong Reich As Basis of French Accord,” Monitor, 22 December 1931, 1. While Gratke’s name does not accompany the article, Erwin Canham attributes the article to Gratke in Commitment to Freedom: The Story of The Christian Science Monitor, (Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1958), 291, 446.
  4. Gratke, “Diary of an Onlooker in Germany,” Monitor, 18 July 1932, 18.
  5. Alfred Bode to John S. Braithwaite, 5 April 1933, Church Archives, Box 20241, Folder 119875.
  6. Elaine Follis, “Weapons of Our Warfare: Christian Science in the Third Reich,” 2001, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, Archives, Box 540637, Folder 201455674, 55.
  7. J. Emlyn Williams to J.S. Braithwaite, 5 April 1933, Church Archives, Box 20241, Folder 119875.
  8. Alfred Bode to John S. Braithwaite, 5 April 1933, Church Archives, Box 20241, Folder 119875.
  9. Williams to Braithwaite, 5 April 1933, Church Archives, Box 20241, Folder 119875.
  10. Bode to Braithwaite, 5 April 1933, Church Archives, Box 20241, Folder 119875.
  11. Williams to Braithwaite, 5 April 1933, Church Archives, Box 20241, Folder 119875.
  12. Braithwaite to Bode, 24 April 1933, Church Archives, Box 20241, Folder 119875.
  13. Elaine Follis, “Weapons of Our Warfare: Christian Science in the Third Reich,” 2001, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, Archives, Box 540637, Folder 201455674, 46, 78.
  14. ”Charles Edward Gratke,” undated, Church Archives, Box 20228, Folder 121887.
  15. “Careers of Dead in India Air Crash,” The New York Times, 13 July 1949, 3.
  16. “13 American Newsmen Killed When Plane Crashes in India,” The Christian Science Monitor, 12 July 1949, 1.
  17. Charles E. Gratke, “The Christian Science Monitor News,” Christian Science Sentinel, 12 July 1941, 904.