Obituary John Seymour Chaloner (1924-2007)

Without him, DER SPIEGEL wouldn't exist: John Seymour Chaloner, a British World War II officer who wanted to establish a free press in occupied Germany, discovered and promoted DER SPIEGEL founder Rudolf Augstein.
Von Jochen Bölsche

The two men meet in the war-torn German city of Hanover in 1946. The highly decorated officer of the British Army on the Rhine is just 21 years old, the German ex-lieutenant is 22. The first thing that John Seymour Chaloner notices about Rudolf Augstein is that the man "in the grey Wehrmacht coat, with steel glasses, pale and small" shares his birthday.

And there's something else about Augstein that impresses the British press chief. Augstein, who is applying for a job in journalism, is "not at all submissive like most Germans" who have a tendency to say nothing but "Yes, sir, you're right, sir!"

Chaloner likes that. The young blond-haired daredevil, who drives around in a roadster requisitioned from Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, is a graduate of the elite military academy Sandhurst and dreams of a career on Fleet Street. His quest is to find a journalist who is unencumbered by a Nazi past and who can build up a new free press. The fame that would come with starting up a new type of paper in the British occupation zone is also a motivation for Chaloner, who comes from a family of London publishers and journalists.

"Sharper, fresher, more lively, more exciting and not so boring" -- this is how the magazine should demonstrate to the Germans what freedom of press means and help to re-educate them in their transition to democracy. In the fall of 1946 Chaloner and his two Jewish assistants, the emigrants Harry Bohrer and Henry Ormond, give Augstein permission to launch the weekly news magazine Diese Woche.

"Three British soldiers", remarks Augstein, not without irony, "want to bring back human culture to the conquered Germans. And we are their tool in doing so."

The editorial staff, who worked sitting on garden chairs in Hanover's famous Anzeigerhochhaus building, look at Anglo-American magazines for inspiration. Chaloner, who wrote for The Boy's Own Paper when he was 15, hands them translated articles from the British News Review and the American Time and casually suggests: "Something like this."

Augstein appreciates the Englishman's liberal attitude; like many of his generation he is sick of being patronized. And he is glad to live in the British zone -- not least because "the British zone isn't the Russian one."

Augstein is "proud to be German," despite Hitler, but this doesn't bother Chaloner. The British press chief even puts up with Diese Woche's criticisms of the forced labor which war prisoners perform in French mines, the deportation of German specialists to the Soviet Union and food rations in the Ruhr area -- showing that the publishers have indeed understood what freedom of the press means.

But Chaloner is recalled by the Foreign Office after French and Soviets in the Allied Control Council complain about Diese Woche. Now the Britons are to censor the paper to make sure that "the magazine reports in the most cautious way, even if that should mean it is less brilliant and piquant."

The paper, however, continues to publish controversial material. The Foreign Office orders it to close down within 24 hours -- causing Chaloner to protest: "We'll lose face." London takes back the order and demands that the magazine be "placed in German hands" -- also within 24 hours. The paper is sold to the "born editor-in-chief" -- as Chaloner describes Augstein -- and two more licensees for 10,000 Reichsmarks each.

Augstein decides to call the paper DER SPIEGEL and convinces the colonel in charge of the license handover to take out the censorship clause. Chaloner is happy. An uncensored DER SPIEGEL could "be seen as the first representative of an independent Germany" which would express "the German point of view" vis-à-vis the occupation powers.

After the end of his tenure as publisher, Chaloner works as a public relations consultant to field marshal Bernard Montgomery in the British headquarters in Bad Oeynhausen. Later he runs a press import business, writes children's books and novels, and raises cattle.

His media career never really takes off -- causing a certain nostalgia with which he follows the rise of his former protégé Augstein to "journalist of the century." He tells visitors that he sees himself "at the other end of the ladder."

Augstein's death on November 7, 2002, shortly after his 79th birthday, worries the 12-month-younger Chaloner; he fears that the coincidence of their shared birthday could be followed by yet another coincidence 12 months later. But he survives the DER SPIEGEL publisher by more than four years.

The "father of the freedom of press" in northwest Germany, as Deutschlandradio described him, died peacefully in his sleep on Feburary 9, 2007, aged 82.