Was the technology behind EWTN from the Third Reich?

Teil Funf: War die Technologie hinter EWTN aus dem Dritte Reich?

[Note to the reader: For your viewing pleasure, I have taken the liberty of offering the reader a chance to view some these television shows. At the end of this document, right before the Works Cited section, feel free to watch a selection of these shows included in this latest installment into the “Deutschland und die Katholische Kirche” series. I went the extra mile in searching all across the Internets in locating some of this timeless footage, and only the best were included. -JNE]

On 15. August 1981, a rather peculiar event happened for the Church Militant (at least in America, that is). Mother Mary Angelica, PCPA, an American Poor Clare, created what became known as the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), dedicated to Roman Catholic programming (“About EWTN”). Technologically, EWTN is hardly a breakthrough by any degree. While it is true that television sets have been commonplace in American households since the 1950s, the technologies for both the television set and the broadcasting system it picks up have been around long before World War II. That being said, where did the technologies come from? Quite literally, they came from das Dritte Deutsche Reich unterm Führer Adolf Hitler.

Indeed, aside from discerning the value of this technology to the Church Militant, this document will also be discussing about whether the television set can be used to forward societal development from a Catholic perspective. Nothing more, nothing less.

As surprising as it will be for the reader to learn that televisions were being used in its modern form during the reign of Adolf Hitler’s Germany, it is important to note that the technology dates its roots back to the old days of Germany’s Second Reich. Near the turn of the 20th century, German Paul Nikow spearheaded the first televisions in 1884, about some 97 years prior to EWTN. The Nikow Disc, as it was referred to at the time, would provide the general basis behind television sets (in their modern form). Following the Second Reich and the Weimar Republic, in 1934, the television (Fernseher auf Deutsch) became equipped with quality imagery and sound, which was made possible thanks to the Fernseher acting as a transmitter that relayed a live feed from a nearby televised broadcasting system (“History of Early Television in Germany”).

Unfortunately, the archival footage of the television shows did not become available to the public until after the Berlin Wall fell, since the locations of the archives were within the former East Germany. This is the reason why this document contains links to just some of those television shows, a few excerpts and a German documentary that delves into the subject, complete with plenty of excerpts of these shows. Some of these shows were news, sports, weather, music, crime drama, comedy, documentaries, and even the first reality tv shows. Ironically enough, it seems that the reality tv shows were the ones laced with party propaganda:

“When the Allies overran Germany, engineers were on the point of a technological breakthrough to allow TV pictures to be transmitted to screens and sound to radio receivers. They had also recorded programmes on news, sport and education.

Prototype programmes included Family Chronicles: An Evening With Hans And Gelli, an early reality TV show depicting the wholesome Aryan life of a young German couple for the rest of the population to model themselves on.” (Stewart)

During the War, the nature of the programming reflected the wartime feel as a result. Examples include a reality TV show about Hitlerjugend boys joining the Luftwaffe, a 1940 newsflash showing Joseph Goebbels addressing a speech before an audience of BDM girls, and another reality TV show about German leg amputees learning how to enjoy life with a replacement prosthetic leg. Unfortunately, due to the war then coming to the Third Reich itself, televised broadcastings for the German Fernseher ended in 1944 („Fernsehen unterm Hakenkreuz”).

For the Church Militant, particularly those who live in a post Vatican II era, what is there to be learned from knowing this seemingly trivial information? As with all entries, of the Vergangenheit and of the Zukunft, there is always something to be learned. The fact that television can be used as a potential vehicle to sway public opinion. In recent times, there are literally some Catholic parents who do in fact show consideration about what their children views on the Fernseher, for this Wundertechnologie can indeed influence how their children’s Catholic education develops as they grow older. This was already the case in the Third German Reich, considering that it was used as vehicle to promote National Socialism soon after it became practically feasible.

But just as how the Fernseher was used as a propaganda tool, the implications of it being used as a tool for evangelization were already there too. The latter especially, considering how the concept of Catholic programming was later brought to the attention of Mother Angelica, who used a refined, Americanized version of the original technology that Paul Nikow developed to start EWTN and her show, “Mother Angelica Live.”

Nevertheless, one has to be admit, for better or for worse, this piece of technology was just one of several German ideas shaped the post-War world in a radical direction…

A Selection of German television programs, circa 1930s-1940s

Historical Doku: “History of early television in Germany”

Wartime Cabaret Dance Show (featuring Ilse Werner’s “Ja, das ist meine Melodie (1941)”)  

Crime Drama Show from 1939 (Act I)

Crime Dram Show from 1939 (Act II)

Excerpts of Some Shows

Note: The Doku „Fernsehen unterm Hakenkreuz” contains various excerpts of some of these programs. Of course, one must watch the whole Doku in order to see all of them.  

Works Cited

“About EWTN.” EWTN. Eternal Word Broadcasting Network, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.

“History of Early Television in Germany.” YouTube. Huntley Film Archives, 13 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.

Stewart, Will. “Hitler Planned ‘Big Brother’ Style Television to Broadcast Nazi Propaganda.” Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers, Ltd, 21 Oct. 2008. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.


  1. Personally, I still like this blog post among other things, if I must admit because of its historical value to television as we know it. If only more people were about the history of television, and how its true origins came from the Third Reich.


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