Return in Uniform. Walter Albert Eberstadt and the Beginning of Radio Hamburg

Hans-Ulrich Wagner

Source Description

After the end of the Second World War only few Jewish men and women returned from exile to Germany. The same is true for the media sector which was to be newly organized under the supervision of the respective Allied occupation forces after the collapse of the “Third Reich.” Walter Albert Eberstadt (1921–2014), son of Jewish parents and a former student at Hamburg's Johanneum school, was one of the few Jewish returnees who participated in the rebuilding of German radio broadcasting. Eberstadt's access pass issued on February 23, 1946 illustrates that he was a so-called “returnee in uniform,” i. e. a refugee who came back to Germany as an employee of the British occupation authorities. His pass was issued by the Broadcasting Control Unit, the military authority in charge of regulating broadcasting in the British occupation zone. It authorized its bearer, “Major Everitt” – Eberstadt's name during his time in military service – to access the premises of Radio Hamburg on Rothenbaumchaussee. In 2000, Eberstadt made this document available as a loan to the author for an exhibition project titled “Rückkehr in die Fremde? Return to a Foreign Country?. Initiated by the study group of independent cultural institutes Arbeitskreis selbständiger Kultur-Institute, the Foundation German Broadcasting Archive  Stiftung Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv, and the Foundation Archive of the Academy of the Arts  Stiftung Archiv der Akademie der Künste, this project presented the first systematic study of the role remigrants played in rebuilding broadcasting in the four Allied occupation zones.
  • Hans-Ulrich Wagner

The beginnings of Radio Hamburg

The English-language access authorization to the broadcasting studio in Hamburg, the official stamp of the Broadcasting Control Administration, and the signature of a high-ranking British officer all show that the rebuilding of broadcasting in Hamburg after the end of the Second World War is a part of British-German history. British troops began the occupation of Hamburg on May 3, 1945. The broadcasting house in the Harvestehude district existed since 1931 and had remained largely intact during the war. At 10 a.m. on May 4, it was taken over by the victorious British troops. Broadcasting resumed the very same day at 7 p.m. The British national anthem and the announcement, made in both English and German, “Here is Radio Hamburg, a Station of the Allied Military Government,” „Hier ist Radio Hamburg, ein Sender der alliierten Militärregierung“, signaled the new beginning of broadcasting in the British occupation zone after an interruption of only 23 hours.

A small special unit of the British 21st Army Group made it possible for Radio Hamburg to become the first station in Germany that was able to go on air after the end of the Second World War. Having gone back on air so quickly, it was important to decide matters of programming and to produce daily broadcasts. This was no small challenge, because the British overall were behind in their planning where their information and media policy for occupied Germany was concerned. Together with the Americans they had formed a Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) that was under the direct supervision of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). Its SHAEF law 191 of November 1944 prohibited any involvement of Germans in the media in occupied Germany. The end of the war and the takeover of the broadcasting facilities meant that there was an immediate need for action, however. Among the servicemen deployed to Hamburg in May 1945 was Walter Albert Eberstadt, a 24-year old officer. Now named Walter Everitt and wearing the uniform of a British major, he returned to the city where he had attended school ten years earlier.

Exile biography

Walter Albert Eberstadt, for whom this access authorization for Radio Hamburg was issued, was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Frankfurt am Main in 1921. In January 1924 the family moved to Hamburg, where his father made his career as a banker. The son attended the Johanneum school in Hamburg. The family's years of success and growing wealth were interrupted by the Great Depression before they were ended by the National Socialists' rise to power soon thereafter. Assimilated families like the Eberstadts initially believed themselves safe due to decorations earned during the First World War. When the Nuremberg Laws were passed, however, the parents sent their now 14-year old son to England in late 1935. They followed him a year later. Walter Albert Eberstadt attended a state school in England until 1939 and was able to study at Oxford for a short time before he, like many other German emigrants, was temporarily interned as an “enemy alien” in June 1940. Yet this young emigrant wanted to do his part for Great Britain. “I still wanted to be very, very British,” Walter Albert Eberstadt, Whence We Came, Where We Went: From the Rhine to Main to the Elbe, from the Thames to the Hudson. A Family History, New York 2002, p. 219. Eberstadt wrote many years later (2002) in his autobiography. He volunteered for military service and became a regular in a pioneer corps. In 1942 he was given the opportunity to rise to the rank of officer. After a brief training, Eberstadt, not yet 21 years old, was made a second lieutenant in July 1942. In October 1944 he assumed the name Walter Everitt, which is the name entered on his access authorization. He remained a German citizen, however, since the British government had generally halted naturalizations at that time.

After Everitt was transferred to an information control unit in the fall of 1944, he received a brief training at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and at a training center near Cobham. Around the end of 1944 and now a captain, he was transferred to the Allied Headquarters in Europe, where he would support the British and American programming of Radio Luxembourg. Everitt, one of thirteen feature writers at Radio Luxembourg, celebrated the end of the war during a walk with his American colleague, future historian Golo Mann. A few days later, new tasks in Hamburg followed. Everitt was assigned to the 4th Information Control Unit and charged with ensuring regular broadcasting in Hamburg.

Control Officer at Radio Hamburg

“The British personnel did the writing and broadcasting. In the first weeks there was no German program staff,” Walter Albert Eberstadt, Whence We Came, Where We Went: From the Rhine to Main to the Elbe, from the Thames to the Hudson. A Family History, New York 2002, p. 332. Eberstadt remembered of his first days at Radio Hamburg. At the broadcasting studios on Rothenbaumchaussee, he was responsible for “talks and features,” which meant the entire scripted program. It soon became clear to the few British officers on the ground, but also to the supervising military authorities and their planning staff, that in the long run reliable German employees had to be hired for this program.

Eberstadt became one of the most influential control officers involved in the search for qualified German staff. His Jewish origin did not play a role in this process; it was his knowledge of Germany and the fact that he was a native speaker that were crucial. Whenever possible, the British occupation authorities deliberately created teams of broadcasting officers whose biographies differed widely. Eberstadt's colleagues in Hamburg were made up of British radio experts, experienced career officers, and Alexander Maass, a German remigrant who had gone into exile for political reasons. These teams had wide-ranging authority and hired new staff themselves while testing very pragmatic forms of the job interview on the ground.

Among the first members of the programming staff who underwent screening by Major Everitt were Axel Eggebrecht and Peter von Zahn. Both later went on to become well-known radio journalists. As an editorial duo, they could not have been more different. Axel Eggebrecht was an independent leftist intellectual without any party affiliation; Peter von Zahn, who had received a strictly conservative upbringing that had instilled a sense of class honor in him, had been a military officer and war correspondent during the “Third Reich.” According to Eggebrecht, during his job interview he said to Everitt: “Can we agree on the wording that you won the war for us? For those who never said yes to this Nazi regime from beginning to end []. Now we can finally speak.” Axel Eggebrecht, Der halbe Weg. Zwischenblanz einer Epoche, Reinbek 1981, p. 320. In his autobiography Peter von Zahn gave a sympathetic portrait of his former Controller Everitt. Both men being pipe smokers, they immediately hit it off with each other and developed a lifelong friendship. “We were [] close friends. In those first weeks of peace [] we became comrades during the beginnings of building a democratic Germany,” Eberstadt said at Peter von Zahn's funeral service in 2001 in Hamburg, and he continued to say: “Despite all that Peter went on to achieve later on, I believe he always looked back at the year 1945-46 as the most productive twelve months of his long working life. And I feel the same.” Walter Albert Eberstadt, Obituary for Peter von Zahn, August 6, 2001 [typescript], Forschungsstelle Mediengeschichte, Hamburg.

Emigration as a lucky chance

Everitt's access authorization for the broadcasting studios at Rothenbaumchaussee was only issued in February 1946. Therefore it certainly was not the first document of its kind that controllers and all the newly hired German staff members had to present to the security guards posted in front of the building. Everitt's pass does not even bear his own signature, as was usually required. He only used this pass for a short time. For even before it expired on June 30, 1946 he quit the service in early summer 1946. The British Control Commission in Germany / British Element (CCG /BE) had to save money. Due to their successful policy of finding and hiring German staff, the occupation authorities were able to reduce their own personnel. Thus Eberstadt's / Everitt's significant contribution to the establishment of a democratic broadcasting service in Hamburg spanned only a short period of time of less than a year.

Only few Jewish returnees remained in Germany at the time. By mid-1946, Eberstadt, too, was eager to return to Great Britain and Oxford, where he finished his interrupted university education. From 1948 until 1951 he worked as an editor for the Economist. He then moved to the United States, where he embarked on a career as a very successful investment banker. In 1970 he became a General Partner in the investment bank Lazard Ltd. Starting in the mid-1970s he held many important positions, including that of board member of the New School in New York. He was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit  Bundesverdienstkreuz in 1987, one of many honors bestowed upon him.

The question why he did not stay in Hamburg and build a career there must remain unanswered. His decision certainly was not based on a dislike for the Germans, who had forced him and his family into exile. The most interesting parts in his autobiography are those where he, a New Yorker by choice who later became a U.S. citizen, reflects on his positive relationship to Germany. They culminate in his confession that for him, forced emigration turned into a lucky chance, namely the beginning of a fulfilled life.

Select Bibliography

Peter von Rüden / Hans-Ulrich Wagner (eds.), Die Geschichte des Nordwestdeutschen Rundfunks, Hamburg 2005.
Hans-Ulrich Wagner, Rückkehr in die Fremde? Remigranten und Rundfunk in Deutschland 1945 bis 1955. Eine Dokumentation zu einem Thema der deutschen Nachkriegsgeschichte. Begleitbuch zur gleichnamigen Ausstellung, publ. by Arbeitskreis selbständiger Kultur-Institute / Stiftung Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv / Stiftung Archiv der Akademie der Künste, Berlin 2000.
Peter von Zahn, Stimme der ersten Stunde. Erinnerungen 1913–1951, Stuttgart 1991.

Selected English Titles

Walter Albert Eberstadt, Whence We Came, Where We Went: From the Rhine to the Main to the Elbe, from the Thames to the Hudson. A Family History, New York 2002.
Hans-Ulrich Wagner, Repatriated Germans and ‘British Spirit’. The transfer of public service broadcasting to northern post-war Germany (1945–1950), in: Media History, 21 (2015) 4, pp. 443–458.

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About the Author

Hans-Ulrich Wagner, Dr. phil., is senior researcher at the Hans Bredow Institute and director of the Research Centre for the History of Media. His research interests include the history of public communication through the media, especially questions about media and migration as well as media and processes of communitization.

Recommended Citation and License Statement

Hans-Ulrich Wagner, Return in Uniform. Walter Albert Eberstadt and the Beginning of Radio Hamburg (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, August 07, 2017. <> [April 17, 2024].

This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the work is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.