The Russian Revolution in Historic Newspapers

In October 1917, the October Revolution took place in Russia, overthrowing a provisional government established a few months earlier. This was the first in a series of steps which led to the establishment of the Soviet Union. In this article, we look at how the October Revolution was covered in one historic newspaper, the Neue Hamburger Zeitung.


View this historic newspaper via The European Library’s historic newspaper browser.

The Neue Hamburger Zeitung (NHZ) was a liberal political paper, established in 1896. It was a relatively serious paper with middle-class readers as a target group. It appeared twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, and during the First World War almost daily special broadsheets were published and attached to roadside billboards.

On this day — Friday, November 9th 1917 — the headline on the front page of the newspaper read “Russian Provisional Government Overthrown”.

This was the first main headline for the Russian revolutionary events. From November 1st onwards, rebellion and “anarchy”, parliamentary discussion, peace proposals of the Bolsheviks and other related topics had been reported in shorter news or discussed in accompanying commentary. On November 4th one of the daily extra editions had been titled “Krawalle in Petersburg” (“Riots in Petersburg”). But it was only on the 9th of November that continuous front page coverage started.

The article presents views from various angles and perspectives, which shows in a fascinating way, how strenuously the newspaper editors tried to find traces of truth. The many sources included the Wolffsches Telegraphenbüro (WTB) and Reuters news agencies, the Copenhagen and Stockholm offices of Vossische Zeitung (a Berlin newspaper), the Neue Züricher Zeitung and several other intermediate institutions.

Also interesting is the fact that the article appears to be an exception from the propaganda driven German press coverage of October and November 1917, which mainly focused on the military progress of German and Austrian troops in Italy.

In addition to the article, there is a commentary-like addition below in which the author speaks about the tragedy of the Russian fate (”russische Schicksalstragödie”). The implications for the continuing World War on the one hand and the threat of anarchy on the other hand are voiced along with many other comments on Russia. Lenin’s peace ideas were seen as attractive to German politicians and there was sympathy for intentions to distribute arable land to the peasantry.

Many thanks to Ulrich Hagenah of the Hamburg State Library for writing this article. Explore more of the 33.175 issues of historical newspapers from the Hamburg State and University Library in our historic newspaper browser developed by The European Library. The article is also available on Europeana among millions of other cultural heritage items.


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