Rudi Josten, who covered the rise of Adolf Hitler for The Associated Press and went on to build the news agency’s German-language service after World War II, died Sunday in Bretten, Germany. He was 99.
Josten’s friends and former AP colleagues had been preparing a celebration of his 100th birthday on Feb. 2. Richard O’Regan, the agency’s former Germany bureau chief, said Josten told him by phone Christmas Day that he was looking forward to the gathering.
Josten died at an old-age home in Bretten, said his daughter, Heidemarie Perabo.
In a letter that would have been given to Josten on his birthday, AP President and CEO Tom Curley paid tribute to his work in re-establishing AP’s operations in Germany after the end of the war and leading the German-language service, AP GmbH, in the years that followed.
“To the best of our knowledge, you lived, experienced and reported more German history than any other AP staffer who worked in the German bureau,” Curley wrote.
Rudolf E. Josten was born in Berlin in 1907 and began working for the AP in 1925. Among his first tasks was serving as a ladder carrier, helping photographers see over the crowds at the many demonstrations in the politically unstable Germany of the 1920s and 1930s.
As head of the agency’s German photo service from 1935 to 1939, he organized coverage of the 1936 Berlin Olympics and accompanied Adolf Hitler’s motorcade as the dictator swept into Austria in 1938 at the time of its annexation by Nazi Germany.
Josten recalled that the cheering crowds greeting Hitler so damaged his coat that the AP had to buy him a new one. He also covered the German occupation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland region the same year.
In 1939, he switched to the news side of the wire service and worked there until 1941, when the Nazis closed AP’s local operations after Germany declared war on the United States.
Josten continued to send stories through an indirect telex address in South America. That worked for a few months, until Josten was summoned to the office of Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels.
“They told me, ‘Herr Josten, we don’t know why this is,'” Josten recalled. “‘But we see that when you send something to South America it shows up the next day in The Associated Press and we think you should stop it.'”
“I told them I didn’t know why that was but I thought I should stop it too,” he said.
Josten spent the war years monitoring English-language shortwave news broadcasts from abroad for the German news agency Transozean. After their office was destroyed by bombing in early 1945, Josten left Berlin in the direction of the advancing American forces. Still carrying his 1941-issue AP press ID, he met up with AP war correspondent Ed Ball in the just-captured city of Weimar and resumed his work for the agency shortly before the war ended in May 1945.
In 1946, he became head of AP’s German-language newsgathering, and subsequently led the German service as it covered the Berlin Airlift, the building of the Berlin Wall and the Munich Olympics before his retirement in 1972.
In 1973, German President Gustav W. Heinemann awarded Josten the Verdienstkreuz, or Cross of Merit, first class, for his work in journalism.
Former Germany bureau chief O’Regan recalled Josten’s humor and personal warmth. “I met Rudi right after the war and his warm, cheerful personality in the face of adversity then and up to his last hours was an inspiration to all who knew him,” O’Regan said.
“Rudi ensured that the AP’s high standards of objectivity and sound news reporting gained tremendous respect among German newspaper and broadcast editors,” O’Regan said.
Josten is survived by his daughter. His wife, Frieda, died in 1985.
A funeral service is scheduled for Jan. 10 in Bretten.