Julius Klein was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1901 to a wealthy Jewish family. When he was a young child, his family moved to Berlin, Germany. In 1919, Klein returned to Chicago, where he became a journalist and joined the Illinois National Guard. During World War II, Klein served as a commander in the Pacific region, and as a public relations consultant for the U.S. Army. After the war, Klein was promoted to Brigadier General, and eventually Major General. He returned to Chicago, and established his own public relations firm, which eventually expanded to include offices in Washington, DC, and Frankfurt am Main.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Klein provided public relations services for West German firms and the West German government in Bonn. After World War II, German industry faced an image crisis due to the role the large firms played during the Nazi period. Klein played a crucial role in promoting the images and interests of his industrial and political clients by ensuring that the American public did not associate German business with the atrocities of World War II. As an active Republican lobbyist, Klein’s connections in Washington, DC, made him an attractive partner. Klein had many prominent clients, including Bayer, Rheinmetall, Daimler Benz, and Mannesmann. He also worked with the state of Hessen, and prominent members of the West German government, including Chancellors Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard, Foreign Minister Heinrich von Brentano, and State Secretary Hans Globke.
However, Klein’s involvement in transatlantic public relations ignited controversy within the United States. His public defense of firms on trial for war atrocities drew the ire of the Jewish community. The Washington Post published a series of articles condemning Klein’s support of firms that profited from the Holocaust. In 1963, Klein was forced to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in response to suspicions that he was an agent of the West German government. Although the hearing did not lead to any charges, Klein lost many of his industrial clients. Klein faced further difficulties in 1966, after lobbying on behalf of Rheinmetall during its mediation with the Claims Conference, which represented former forced laborers seeking reparations from German companies. Following Rheinmetall’s settlement, Klein again faced questioning from the House of Representatives about his relationship with German industry.
By the late 1960s, Klein’s role in transatlantic politics was in decline. The constant controversy had lost Klein many of his German clients.
Wiesen, Jonathan S. "Germany’s PR Man: Julius Klein and the Making of Transatlantic Memory." in Philipp Gassert and Alan E. Steinweis (eds.). Coping with the Nazi Past: West German Debates on Nazism and Generational Conflict. New York: Berghahn Books, 2007: 294-308.
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