The Nazi Font: When Hitler Erased The Gothic Typeface

The edict was both covert and surprising: On Jan. 3 1941, Nazi official Martin Bormann announced that Hitler no longer wanted to see Gothic typefaces used in print. But the reason for this decision was pure invention.

Beginning in 1920, almost all documents issued by the Nazi Party were set in Gothic type
Beginning in 1920, almost all documents issued by the Nazi Party were set in Gothic type
Sven Felix Kellerhoff

BERLIN — The announcement came as something of a surprise. For more than two decades, the National Socialist German Workers' Party had always printed its anti-Semitic propaganda in so-called German blackletter. Since the publication of the 25 Point Programme in February 1920, almost all documents issued by the Nazi Party were set in Gothic type. But that was all about to change.

On Jan. 3 1941, Martin Bormann, the soon-to-be Chief of the Nazi Party Chancellery, circulated an internal memo (marked "not for publication") to the party's top officials, including the Reichsleiter, Gauleiter and heads of various party organizations such as the Hitler Youth, SA, SS and the National Socialist Motor Corps. He wrote, "It is wrong to refer to the so-called Gothic type as a German typeface. In reality this so-called Gothic script is a Jewish typeface from Schwabach." From then on, only a roman typeface – specifically Antiqua – was to be used in official communications.

In his memo, Bormann explained: "Today the Führer, in conversation with Reichsleiter Amann and printing press owner Adolf Müller, has decided that from now on the Antiqua typeface should be the standard. Over time, all printed matter should be switched over to this standard typeface." It's not clear exactly why Hitler came to this decision; there is simply not enough evidence.

Strict guild rules almost completely excluded Jews from this new industry.

Max Amann, the Führer's oldest friend among the regime's top brass (in World War I, he was temporarily Hitler's superior), was head of the publishing house Franz Eher Verlag. He therefore controlled almost the entire German publishing industry, while Adolf Müller ran Munich-based printers M. Müller & Sohn, which along with Eher Verlag printed the party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter and many of the millions of copies of Hitler's inflammatory Mein Kampf.

Eher Verlag printed many of the millions of copies of Hitler's inflammatory Mein Kampf — Photo: Matthias Balk/DPA via ZUMA Press

It seems unlikely that Amann and Müller welcomed Hitler's decision. The letters, cast in lead alloy, were expensive and switching to a new typeface required a significant financial investment, so the two businessmen probably tried to put the brakes on.

It's also doubtful that these two, although they were committed Nazis, believed Bormann's nonsensical explanation for the change. Bormann claimed: "Just as they later took control of newspapers, Jews living in Germany took control of printing presses when these were first introduced and that is how printers in Germany came to use Jewish letters from Schwabach."

Anyone who knew the first thing about the history of printing, as Amann and Müller likely did, could tell that there wasn't a word of truth in this allegation. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the early days of the printing press, strict guild rules almost completely excluded Jews from this new industry.

This typeface damages German interests both at home and abroad.

That is why the first books to be printed in the Hebrew alphabet in Central Europe were produced by Christian printers such as Thomas Anshelm in Tübingen or Johannes Boeschenstein in Augsburg. At the time, there were also a few Jews who had converted to Christianity, such as Antonius Margaritha, who owned a pharmacy in Frankfurt am Main. However, the first converted Jew who managed to have any significant role in printing was Chajim Schwarz, who founded his own printing press in 1542. By that time, Gothic lettering had long been the norm for books in German.

The link to the town of Schwabach near Nuremberg is also entirely invented. The town's mayor even wrote a letter to Bormann explaining this. The typeface that later came to be referred to as Schwabach letters first appeared around 1470, but didn't come to be associated with Schwabach until 60 years later, when the Articles of Schwabach, an important document in the history of the Reformation, was printed in this typeface.

Ten days after Bormann's memo, Hans Heinrich Lammers, Chief of the Reich Chancellery, instructed all high-up officials to replace the typeface with Antiqua. By then the reason given was apparently that "the use of this typeface damages German interests both at home and abroad, because most foreigners who speak German cannot read it."

The Gothic font was replaced by a roman typeface — Photo: Paul Baxter

Another ten days later, on January 23, 1941, the Reich treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz ordered that from then on the roman typeface should be used "for all printed material such as administrative documents, forms, certificates and labels'. As a former administrative official in the city government of Munich, however, Schwarz was aware of the cost implications and added: "This change should be instigated for all reprints and new editions. Remaining stock must of course be used up first."

In wartime, Schwarz was especially frugal: "These measures should on no account lead to increased demand that exceeds the usual need for materials such as paper, ink, etc."

On February 1, 1941, the Berlin edition of the Völkischer Beobachter was printed in Antiqua for the first time. Joseph Goebbels noted the change in his diary, writing in the early morning of 2 February: "The Führer commands that from now on only Antiqua will be considered a German typeface. Very good." The propaganda minister was not interested in the official reason. He supplied his own: "At least children don't have to learn eight alphabets any more. And our language can truly become a global one."

Amann and Müller don't seem to have found the continued use of so-called "Jewish letters' particularly contentious. Up until 1943, although most copies were in roman typefaces, there were still editions of Mein Kampf printed in Gothic type. That is perhaps why Gothic type remains so strongly associated with Nazi-era Germany to this day.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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