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GOING PUBLIC IN SUPPORT:
AMERICAN DISCURSIVE OPPOSITION TO NAZI ANTI-SEMITISM, 1933-1944
JEFFREY SCOTT DEMSKY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
It is a pleasure to acknowledge those faculty, colleagues, friends, and staff at the
University of Florida who helped me in the research and writing of this dissertation. Few written
works are solely individual pursuits. This was indeed my experience. The ideas and inspiration,
the funding and the fun, appeared from a wide range of sources. Scholarship is a lonely process,
but the constant involvement of others helped to ensure that I was not alone.
Professors Geoffrey Giles, Ronald Formisano, and Charles Montgomery provided me the
initial opportunities to pursue my scholarship. Moreover, I had the immense good fortune that
the Graduate Program in History at the University of Florida is vibrant and strong. During my
more than eight years of doctorial studies, I was grateful for the countless number of teaching
and research appointments that I received. I appreciated the outstanding administrative work of
Linda Opper. My colleague Jeremy Cohen spent considerable time reading and commenting on
this project, particularly during the earliest drafts.
My dissertation committee, chaired by Dr. Louise Newman, and comprised of Drs.
Mitchell Hart, William Link, Larry Dodd, and Alan Petigny, devoted many hours to training me
as a scholar. Dr. Dodd from the Political Science department provided invaluable support, both
in the project's early stages, and over the course of my five-year candidacy. Dr. Hart was a
knowledgeable cochair who inspired me to reach greater levels of methodological rigor. In any
number of coffee shops and diners, Dr. Petigny sat many hours with me, helping me to rework
my prose and clarify my arguments. I owe my most weighty debt, however, to the chair, for
directing the final version of this dissertation. Professor Newman demonstrated superior
intellectual curiosity and great skill, agreeing simultaneously to share with me her mastery of the
historians' craft while learning more about a field with which she was not entirely familiar. In
our scheduled weekly meetings, as well as in informal discussions, her guidance helped me
immensely. The project's scope, tone, and analysis are richer for her efforts. So, too, is my
personal and professional view of life inside the academy. I can only hope to repay this deep
appreciation, for the committee's collective effort, through a continued improvement in my
work, habits, and propriety.
Taking nearly a decade to finish my doctorate, the dictates of human sanity have required
me to maintain outside networks and friendships. In many cases, experiences that appeared
seemingly tangential to my studies in fact served to facilitate my progress. I would like to
acknowledge Pam and Chuck Kinnard, as well as Keith Singleton, for making possible my
employment at the Salty Dog Saloon. The wages and tips earned, the personal connections
established, have helped to sustain me during my years in Gainesville. Likewise, for many years,
close friends such as Paul Heymach, Matt Magenheim, Steffan Alexander, Sean Atwater, and
Amanda Johnson have included me in pursuits wholly unrelated to my scholarship. I thank them
completely for their companionship and loyalty. My last acknowledgement is to my mother,
Leslie Derenfeld, a professional librarian, with a remarkable affection for literature. Nearly three
decades ago, she taught a young boy to read and opened the doors of possibility. Her unwavering
efforts have made this accomplishment possible.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.............................. ..................... 2
LIST OF TABLES..................................... ..................... 5
ABSTRACT .................................... ............................... 6
1 INTRODUCTION: AMERICAN DISCURSIVE OPPOSITION TO NAZI ANTI-
SEMITISM, 1933-1944..................... . . . . . ..8
2 CONGRESS BEGINS A PUBLIC DISCOURSE CONDEMNING NAZI ANTI-
3 ARCHIBALD MACLEISH AND THE GROWING DISCURSIVE
OPPOSITION TO NAZI ANTI-SEMITISM, 1933-1941......................... 65
4 THE OFFICE OF WAR INFORMATION: SCULPTING AMERICAN
ATTITUDES WITH BROCHURES, 1942-1943. .............................. 93
5 INTEREST-GROUP ADVOCATES PUSH FOR A MORE TANGIBLE
RESPONSE,-1942-1943 ..................... . . . . ................. .. 115
6 THE WAR REFUGEE BOARD: THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF
AMERICAN DISCURSIVE OPPOSITION TO NAZI ANTI-SEMITISM, 1944 .... 147
7 CONCLUSION............................... .................... 171
LIST OF REFERENCES.............................. .................... 180
LIST OF TABLES
2-1 Number of House Remarks and Resolutions Related to Religious Intolerance
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
GOING PUBLIC IN SUPPORT:
AMERICAN DISCURSIVE OPPOSITION TO NAZI ANTI-SEMITISM, 1933-1944
Jeffrey Scott Demsky
Chair: Louise Newman
Cochair: Mitchell Hart
Shortly after Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany, Christian and Jewish Americans
initiated an argument that held Nazi anti-Semitism did violence to their democratic freedoms.
They observed the scapegoating of Jews, the hallmark feature of German fascism, indicated a
pervasive hostility toward the civil liberties outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Publicly contesting
Nazi anti-Semitism became a recurring topic in public discourse. Politicians used the reports of
Jewish persecutions to differentiate between fascist and democratic values. Social commentators
and artists saw in the issue a path for softening sociocultural attitudes domestically. As members
of the Christian majority learned more about Hitler's wide-ranging intolerance, some concluded
that tolerating similar domestic prejudices was harmful to society.
Rejecting Nazism-and, specifically, its negative portrayal of Jews-became part of a
much larger reconfiguration in mainstream American attitudes. Evidence that citizens, both
private and public, opposed Nazi anti-Semitism appeared in periodicals, political statements,
plays, motion pictures, novels, private correspondences, and government publications. The
common thread binding these texts together was the expression of hostility toward Nazi religious
intolerance. Although for some Americans, negative sentiments toward ethnic, racial, and
religious minorities undoubtedly persisted, there is a larger story involving the ways both Jews
and Christians used the issue of Nazi intolerance toward religious minorities as a tool for
promoting a more pluralist worldview.
AMERICAN DISCURSIVE OPPOSITION TO NAZI ANTI-SEMITISM, 1933-1944
The cause of liberty, freedom and justice, three of the most important parts of modem
civilization, has received its most recent blow at the hands of Adolf Hitler and his
subsequent persecution of the Jews. Americans everywhere recognize the rights of
human beings to worship God as they please.
-Representative Jesse Swick to House, May 22, 1933)1
Any man who loathes fascism will fear anti-Semitism. Fearing anti-Semitism, he will
fear also the various conditions which encourage its appearance. Any nation that permits
a minority to live in fear of persecution is a nation that invites disaster.
-Editors of Fortune, Jews in America, 1936)2
In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded
upon four essential human freedoms...the freedom of every person to worship God in his
own way-everywhere in the world.
-From Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" Declaration, January 6, 1941V
America is a dream of justice, a light held aloft to the sacred ways of humanity. Speak for
us and give not only the Jews, but mankind back its fair name. The Jews have only one
voice left. It is the voice of prayer. Perhaps the Four Freedoms will hear it.
-Closing to We Will Never Die, Madison Square Garden, March 9, 19434
Shortly after Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany, Christian and Jewish Americans
initiated an argument that held Nazi anti-Semitism did violence to their democratic freedoms.
They observed that the scapegoating of Jews, the hallmark feature of German fascism, hinted at
a much more pervasive hostility toward civil liberties-e.g., freedom of speech and religious
assembly-as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Publicly contesting Nazi anti-Semitism became
a useful exercise for those Americans interested in differentiating between two starkly opposite
'CongressionalRecord, H 73, 1st sess. (May 22, 1933): 3968.
2 Editors of Fortune, Jews in America (New York: Random House, 1936), 10-11.
SFor the full text, see
4 Palestine Statehood Committee Papers, 1939-1949, ed. Katherine Morton (Wilmington:
Scholarly Resources, 1982), reel 8: 0146.
ideological visions. These discussions also helped some to provoke further debates about
sociocultural attitudes in the United States. As members of the Christian majority learned more
about Hitler's wide-ranging intolerance, some concluded that upholding or tolerating similar
domestic prejudices was harmful to society.
To date, historians have ignored these expressions of outrage and have instead examined
the utterances and activities of Americans who saw little to fear from the new German regime.
During the 1930s, Ambassador Joe Kennedy lauded Hitler's government;5 the pilot-icon Charles
Lindbergh established a German residency during the Third Reich; and Henry Ford visited
Berlin to accept a medal from Nazi representatives.6 Although striking, these expressions of
support caused each man-Kennedy, Lindbergh, and Ford-irreparable damage to his public
credibility. Indeed, during the 1930s and early 1940s, rejecting Nazism-and, specifically, its
negative portrayal of Jews-became part of a much larger reconfiguration in mainstream
American attitudes toward ethno-religious minorities.
Evidence that Americans, both in and outside the government, opposed Nazi anti-
Semitism appeared in periodicals, political statements, plays, motion pictures, novels, private
correspondences, and government publications. The common thread binding these artifacts and
texts together was the expression of hostility toward Nazi intolerance. Although negative
sentiments toward ethnic, racial, and religious minorities undoubtedly persisted for many
Edward Renehan Jr., "Joseph Kennedy and the Jews," http://hnn.us/articles/697.html;
Neal Gabler, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (New York: Crown,
6 For a photo of Charles Lindbergh and Hermann Goering enjoying a laugh, see Susan
Hertog, Anne Morrow Lindbergh (New York: Nan Talese, 1999), 321. For photos of Henry Ford
accepting his medal, see Kees van der Pijl, The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class (New York:
Verso, 1984), 221.
citizens, the larger story involved the ways that both American Jews and Protestants came to
As early as 1911, leaders in the American Jewish Committee had lobbied officials in
Congress and the executive branch to punish Czarist Russia for violating the liberties of Jewish
Americans traveling abroad. They argued that the rights of citizenship were universal, even
outside the nation. Congress agreed. In 1912, both houses voted overwhelmingly to abrogate a
long-standing American-Russian trade treaty to protest the Czarist abuse.' During the early
decades of the twentieth century, Americans of multiple faiths continued to promote a secular
identity by joining new organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League (1913) and the
National Conference of Christians and Jews (1928).' Jews and Christians worked together to
organize nationwide boycotts against racist newspapers such as Ford's Dearborn Independent.10
Following episodes in which Jews stood accused of sensational crimes, such as the Massena
SMarc Dollinger, Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern America
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 48; Matthew Frye Jacobson, THIhit, i,, of a
Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1999), 188; Stuart Svonkin, Jews against Prejudice: American Jews and the
Fight for Civil Liberties (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 15; Stephen J.
Whitfield, American Space, Jewish Time (Hamden: Archon Books, 1988), 93-94.
8 Judith Goldstein, The Politics ofEthnic Pressure: The American Jewish Committee
Fight against Immigration Restrictions, 1906-1917 (New York: Garland, 1990), 162-83; Allen
Hertzke, Representing God in Washington: The Role ofReligious Lobbies in the American Polity
(Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988), 38; Gary Dean Best, To Free a People:
American Jewish Leaders and the Jewish Problems in Eastern Europe (Westport, Ct.:
Greenwood, 1982), 17, 142-44.
Naomi Cohen, Not Free to Desist: The American Jewish Committee, 1906-1969
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1972), 159, 453-54.
10 Neil Baldwin, Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production ofHate (New York:
Public Affairs, 2001), 103, 173.
Blood Libel (1924) and the Leopold and Loeb Affair (1924), these groups and their supporters
played a pivotal role in defusing social anxieties."
Jews further benefited from new ideas such as "cultural pluralism." During the first
decades of the twentieth century, the American philosopher Horace Kallen insisted that the truest
test of U.S. democracy lay in the nation's ability to highlight, rather than homogenize, the ethnic
variances among its citizens. Neither Jews nor Catholics could ever "become American" if that
designation exclusively denoted Protestantism. Cultural pluralism offered a rationale for
embracing those tens of millions who otherwise remained outside of the mainstream.12 In many
cases, the ideas associated with cultural pluralism found expression through the efforts of such
liberals as John Dewey and Joseph Pulitzer. These men and their many associates, followers, and
admirers embraced the Progressive notion that an enlightened government based on secular
values was the surest way to improve society.13
During the 1930s and 1940s, numerous ethno-minority groups in the United States
gained greater social status within the political world. Historians have already started to explain
For the Massena case, see Abraham Foxman and Alan Schwartz, "Blood Libel: A
Lifetime Ago But Not So Far Away," Jewish Journal 23 (1998): 54-61; and Saul Friedman,
Incident at Massena: The Blood Libel in America (New York: Stein and Day, 1978), 179. For
anti-Semitism and the Leopold and Loeb Affair, see Gini Scott, Homicide by the Rich and
Famous: A Century ofProminent Killers (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood, 2005), 176-77.
12 William Toll, "Horace M. Kallen: Pluralism and American Jewish Identity," American
Jewish History 85 (1997): 57-74; Sidney Ratner, "Horace M. Kallen and Cultural Pluralism," in
Milton Konwitz, ed., The Legacy ofHorace M. Kallen (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson
University Press, 1987), 48-61; Michael Walzer, "Pluralism in Political Perspective," in Michael
Walzer et al., The Politics ofEthnicity (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1982), 9-11.
13 For early twentieth-century liberalism, see Gary Gerstle, "The Protean Character of
American Liberalism," American Historical Review 99 (1994): 1043-45; Alan Dawley, Struggles
for Justice: Social Responsibility and the Liberal State (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1991); Robert Westbrook, John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University
Press, 1991), 430-39; and Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of
American Political Thought since the Revolution (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955), 3, 259.
how events such as the Great Depression and the Second World War forged a new national
identity. The many millions of immigrants and first-generation citizens who lived through the
experiences emerged as bona fide "Americans."14 On the cultural landscape, radio and movies
projected the nation's new character.15 The federal government also took bold and unprecedented
actions to promote ethnic variety. Organizations such as the Farm Security Administration, the
Works Progress Administration, and the Office of War Information dedicated significant
resources to disseminating images of the many different people who lived in the U.S. As early as
1938, radio programs such as American All, Immigrant All, a twenty-six-week-long nationally
broadcast series sponsored by the federal government, reset the domestic boundaries of ethnicity,
religion, and race. These programs presented Protestant citizens with richly detailed-and
complimentary-portraits of the various new ethnicities and races now included within the
But if cultural pluralism was affecting a broad range of subgroups-African Americans,
Italians, Poles-then why is it necessary to examine the Jewish experience independent of the
14 Neil Baldwin, The American Revelation: Ten Ideals That Shaped Our Country from the
Puritans to the Cold War (New York: St. Martin's, 2005), 158; Walter Jackson, Gunnar Myrdal
and America's Conscience: Social Engineering and Radical Liberalism, 1938-198 7 (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 1-9; and Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal:
Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 54,
15 Barbara Savage, Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War and the Politics ofRace, 1938-
1948 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 21-30; Steven Ross, Working-
Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shap pig of Class in America (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1998), 10, 242; Gabler, Empire, 315, 317.
16 Nicholas Nathanson, The Black Image in the New Deal: The Politics ofFSA
Photography (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 4-9; Monty Noam Penkower,
The Federal Writers' Project: A Study in the Government Patronage of the Arts (Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 1977), 9, 17, 27; Jerry Mangione, The Dream and the Deal: The
Federal Writers'Project, 1935- 1943 (New York: Avon, 1972), 273.
other groups that were making their way into the mainstream? The theme of this dissertation is
that the appearance of Nazism-a thoroughly antidemocratic and antireligious
philosophy-intensified the drive to transform American national identity, making it more
secular. Jews clearly had something tangible to fear from Nazism. That other citizens felt
similarly is a fact sometimes overlooked in discussions of the 1930s.1"
Examining the relationship between opposition to Nazism, on the one hand, and a
reconfiguration of American attitudes, on the other, provides a pathway to the field and subfields
of Holocaust Studies. During the 1960s, scholars began to publish books and articles
documenting the Nazi destruction of Europe's Jews. Raul Hilberg was one of the first historians
to depict the Nazi war crimes in intricate detail and to assess the world's reaction.18 Hilberg
designated the Germans as perpetrators of genocide and developed additional categories such as
bystanders and witnesses to indicate his belief that the Western democracies, by not intervening,
had failed to act on their moral responsibility.19 This view has proved remarkably resilient. Many
Holocaust Studies researchers, particularly those who specialize in the American response to
Nazi anti-Semitism, have based their inquiries on the presumption that the nation's leaders chose
not to intervene on behalf of Europe's Jews.20
1" Judy Kutulas, The Long War: The Intellectual People's Front and Anti-Stalinism,
1930-1940 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 95; Geoffrey Smith, To Save a Nation:
American Counter-subversives, the New Deal and the Coming of World War II (New York:
Basic Books, 1973), 60.
18 Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (London: Allen, 1961), 672, 683.
19 Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims and Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe, 1933-
1945 (New York: Asher, 1992), 3, 249.
20 Deborah Lipstadt, "Witness to the Persecution: The Allies and the Holocaust," Modern
Judaism (1983): 323.
Hilberg's work also set a stylistic benchmark for the subfield. Having served with the
U.S. War Crimes Documentation Commission, he was fully conversant with the Nuremburg
Trial transcripts. He accessed many dozens of state archives, pursuing multiple long, winding
paths of inquiry that at times exasperated his dissertation advisor.21 However, this fine-grained
method-that is, a Rankean approach to selecting source materials and evaluating
artifacts-became standard in many of the field's later publications.22 The Destruction of the
European Jewry offered advances in theory as well. Hilberg's decision to compress the entire
narrative of European anti-Semitism within the twelve-year Nazi regime was unique.23 His
conflation provided an accepted linear framework that, owing to the fact the Third Reich and
New Deal were almost contemporaneous, encouraged later historians to contrast various facets
of Nazi and American behaviors.24
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Arthur Morse's While Six Million Died: A
Chronicle ofAmerican Apathy, Saul Friedman's No Haven for the Oppressed, Henry Feingold's
The Politics ofRescue, and David Wyman's Paper Walls followed this blueprint.25 Focusing on
21 Mitchell Hart, "The Historian's Past in Three Recent Jewish Autobiographies," Jewish
Social Studies 5 (1999): 149.
22 John Mendelsohn, "The Holocaust: Rescue and Relief Documentation in the National
Archives," Annals of the American Academy ofPolitical and Social Sciences 450 (1980): 240-
23 Hart, "Historian's," 134-35.
24 Roosevelt and Hitler both took power in March 1933. Both ruled continually until their
deaths in the spring of 1945. The two men grappled with many of the same challenges, leading
their respective nations through the Great Depression and into World War II. For an excellent
discussion, see John Garraty, "The New Deal, National Socialism and the Great Depression,"
American Historical Review 78 (1973): 907.
25 Saul Friedman, No Haven for the Oppressed (Detroit: Wayne State University Press,
1973), 34, 77; Henry Feingold, The Politics ofRescue The Roosevelt Administration and the
Holocaust, 1938-1945 (New York: Holocaust Library, 1980), 328; David Wyman, Paper Walls:
America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941, 2nd ed. (New York: Pantheon, 1985),164; Arthur
Morse, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle ofAmerican Apathy (New York: Random House,
1967), 118-19, 376.
political events and persons from the 1930s and 1940s, these scholars argued that American
indifference to European issues-what Wyman termed "nativist nationalism"-permeated the
government and society.26 Of course, not all officials were bigots. However, archival research in
the records of the State Department and other federal agencies suggested that anti-Jewish
feelings limited expressions of sympathy.2
Some historians reached even starker conclusions. Herbert Druks argued, in The Failure
to Rescue, that Franklin Roosevelt and the British government had "prevented" the release of
European Jewry.28 Richard Rubenstein suggested that American attitudes toward racial
minorities provided German leaders with justifications for their behaviors.29 In 1978, David
Wyman ratcheted up the field's rhetoric with his article "Why Was Auschwitz Never Bombed?"
His counterfactual approach lent sway to the growing perception that the United States had
possessed the wherewithal, but not the moral gumption, to destroy the death factories.30
During the early 1980s, the opening of additional State Department records led to
repetition of this charge. "The American government," Monty Penkower argued, in The Jews
Were Expendable, "discriminated in their unwillingness to save European Jewry."31 Wyman's
The Abandonment of the Jews frankly stated that little compassion existed for those with the
26 Wyman, Paper, 10.
27 Richard Breitman, "The Allied War Effort and the Jews, 1942-1943," Journal of
Contemporary History 20 (1985): 143.
28 Herbert Druks, The Failure to Rescue (New York: Speller, 1977), 98.
29 Richard Rubenstein, The Cunning OfHistory: The Holocaust and the American Future
(New York: Harper Colophon, 1975), 38-41.
30 David Wyman, "Why Auschwitz Was Never Bombed," Commentary 69 (1978): 40;
Roger Williams, "Why Wasn't Auschwitz Bombed?" Commonweal 105 (1978): 746.
31 Monty Noam Penkower, The Jews Were Expendable: Free World Diplomacy and the
Holocaust (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 146.
"particular misfortunes of being foreign and Jewish."32 During the 1980s, historians specializing
in the U.S. response to Nazi anti-Semitism began to assert as fact the proposition that bigotry in
the American government and society played a tangible role in the destruction of European
Jewry. The degree to which scholars allowed their feelings of grief or regret to influence their
interpretations has varied. Michael Marrus stated, in The Holocaust in History, that "clearly
more could have been done."33 Indeed, he dedicated an entire section of his monograph to
discussing the "bystander" nations that had allowed the Holocaust to occur without
impediment.34 However, Alan Kraut and Richard Breitman argued, in American Refugee Policy
and European Jewry, 1933-1945, that humanitarian considerations are "not easily translated"
into government policy.35
In addition to highlighting anti-Jewish sentiments within the State Department, one of the
most provocative debates from the 1980s involved the question of Jewish American behaviors.
In The Terrible Secret, Walter Laqueur and Richard Breitman have noted that prominent Jews in
the United States dismissed the atrocity reports as false.36 During the First World War,
sensational news stories describing German brutality against noncombatants were common and
often incorrect. The news of Nazi gas chambers, crematoria, and millions of murdered faced a
residue of the skepticism that those earlier reports had engendered. However, Haskel Lookstein
32 David Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1942-1945
(New York: Pantheon, 1984), 340.
33 Michael Marrus, The Holocaust in History (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New
England, 1987), 173.
34 Ibid., 156-84.
35 Richard Breitman and Alan Kraut, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry,
1933-1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 10.
36 Walter Laqueur and Richard Breitman, The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth
about Hitler's "Final Solution" (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980), 3-5.
still examined the obvious question. In Were We Our Brother's Keeper? he speculated that a
more "active concern" from American Jews might have saved "millions."3" Rafael Medoff
agreed. His study, The Deafening Silence, likewise claimed that the leaders of Jewish American
organizations had turned away from their European brethren.38
Sustaining or attacking the view that Jews in the United States did little to publicize or
combat the outrages in Europe has led to additional observations. Henry Feingold, in an article
first published by American Jewish History, argued that Jewish leaders did not wish to contradict
the prevalent social mood. Well aware that the federal government had "relocated" hundreds of
thousand Japanese, German, and Italian American citizens, Jews in the United States feared any
type of discussion in which they might appear to exhibit interest in foreign affairs. Feingold
characterized the academic effort to assign guilt an anachronistic form of "self-flagellation."39 As
Karen Greenberg reminded scholars in her essay "The Burden of Being Human," the true
enormity of the Holocaust-the killings, cremations, deciding who was guilty and who would
escape condemnation-exceeds the limits of the cognitive process. The people involved with the
Holocaust were human beings who struggled to understand, as later generations continue to do.40
Haskel Lookstein, Were We Our Brother's Keepers? The Public Response ofAmerican
Jews to the Holocaust, 1938-1944 (New York: Vintage, 1984), 185.
38 Rafael Medoff, The Deafening Silence: American Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust
(New York: Shapolsky, 1987), 183.
Henry Feingold, "Courage First and Intelligence Second: The American Jewish
Secular Elite, Roosevelt and the Failure to Rescue," American Jewish History 72 (1983): 459-60.
40 Karen Greenberg, "The Burdens of Being Human: An Essay on Selected Scholarship
of the Holocaust," in Verne Newton, ed., FDR and the Holocaust (New York: St. Martin's,
It was not until the 1990s that the Holocaust became entrenched as a part of the American
collective consciousness. The opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington,
D.C. (1993) marked a significant point along this path. Public schools throughout the nation
began teaching a Holocaust curriculum to their older students. Movies such as Schindler's List
(1992) and survivors-turned-celebrities such as Elie Wiesel have widened the locus of
enlightenment further.41 Have Christian Americans, particularly those born after 1945, accepted
an inherited responsibility for the past persecution of Jews? This is the conclusion that Frank
Brecher has reached.42 In The Holocaust in American Life, Peter Novick has also stressed this
point.43 He has concluded that Christian Americans today join with Jews in seeing the defeat of
Hitlerism as the grand metaphor for the U.S. victory over fascism.44 This argument conflicts with
earlier claims by Hilberg, Wyman, and others and reflects a new effort to revise long-standing
assessments of guilt.
As Robert Rosen has recently argued, perhaps no two men in the world differed so
dramatically and publicly on the "Jewish Question" than did Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf
Hitler.45 Scholars whose methodology requires a negative conflation of German and American
actions often overlook the many ways that American leaders expressed their aversion to Nazi
41 Norman Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation ofJewish
Suffering (New York: Verso, 2000), 45, 144.
42 Frank Brecher, "David Wyman and the Historiography of America's Response to the
Holocaust: Counter-Consideration," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 5 (1990): 423-24.
43 Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999),
44 For a similar statement from General Dwight Eisenhower, see Joseph Bendersky, The
Jewish Threat: Anti-Semitic Politics of the U.S. Army (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 350.
45 Robert Rosen, Saving the Jews: FDR and the Holocaust (New York: Thunder's Mouth,
opinions. Hitler's Nuremberg Laws (1935) specifically barred Jewish employment in the Reich
government. However, Roosevelt's administration employed a number of Jews at both the
Cabinet and senior staff levels. He also appointed two German Jews to the U.S. Supreme Court.
William Rubenstein explained in The Myth ofRescue, once we abandon the urge to blame the
U.S. and its leadership for European crimes, we could unwind a broader narrative that reflects
changes in attitudes, representations, and mentality.46 The overriding challenge for historians lies
not in divining the numbers of European Jews who might have lived. A far more meaningful
exercise is trying to understand how Americans altered their opinions about Jews after they came
to understand the threats that Nazi anti-Semitism posed to the Western liberal tradition.
The shift toward a less condemnatory interpretation has fostered new paths of discovery.
Scholars have started examining the ways that the Second World War diluted religious biases.
The Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Americans who fought to uphold Western liberal values
became the defenders of a new "Judeo-Christian" ethic.47 Jews, in particular, earned a greater
degree of tolerance. Charles Stember and others have concluded that in the decades immediately
following the Second World War, Christians in the United States expressed significantly less
anti-Jewish bigotry than in previous epochs.48 Americans now supported a global defense of
46 William Rubenstein, The Myth ofRescue: Why the Democracies Could Not Have Done
More to Save the Jews from the Nazis (New York: Routledge, 1997), 4, 10, 216.
47 Deborah Dash Moore, "Jewish GIs and the Creation of the Judeo-Christian Tradition,"
Religion and American Culture 8 (1998): 35-36; Dollinger, Quest, 63; Karen Brodkin, How the
Jews Became White (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 113-17.
48 Leonard Dinnerstein, Anti-Semitism in America (New York: Oxford University Press,
1994), 150; Charles Stember et al., Jews in the Mind ofAmerica (New York: Free Press, 1966),
209; Melvin Tumin, An Inventory and Appraisal ofResearch on American Anti-Semitism (New
York: Freedom Books, 1961), 44.
what diplomatic historian Akira Iriye has termed "core values" such as the freedom of speech,
assembly, and unfettered worship.49
Anti-Jewish attitudes and expressions of bigotry did not entirely disappear. During the
1960s, George Lincoln Rockwell's American Nazi Party advocated and perpetrated violence
against Jews.50 In turn, these actions provoked added bloodshed, sponsored by the members of
organizations such as the Jewish Defense League.51 However, the larger point is that, for some,
the seeds of greater tolerance took root. The fight against fascism became the backdrop against
which a more secular American identity started to take form. What historians have failed to
recognize is that the postwar turn toward a more ethnically varied national identity appeared in
its nascent outline during the 1930s, from Hitler's first days as chancellor, specifically after
Christian and Jewish American learned more about Nazi hostility toward private worship.
The broad question, then, becomes one of timing. When and how did Americans begin to
recognize that Nazi anti-Semitism represented an inherent threat to the Western vision for
humankind?52 For historians who specialize in documenting the American reaction to the
Holocaust, answering that query opens a pathway to a series of related issues. Who were the
people involved with highlighting the common threat that Nazism posed to Jews and Christians
49 Akira Iriye, "Culture and International History," in Michael Hogan and Thomas
Patterson, eds., Explaining the History ofAmerican Foreign Relations (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1991), 217. See also Immanuel Wallerstein, The Decline ofAmerican Power
(New York: New Press, 2003), 79, 166.
50 Frederick Simonelli, American Fuehrer: George Lincoln Rockwell and the American
Nazi Party (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 47, 100 and Lawrence Powell, "When
Hate Came to Town: New Orleans' Jews and George Lincoln Rockwell," American Jewish
History 85 (1997): 393-419.
51 Novick, Holocaust, 174.
52 A useful study is Benjamin Alpers, Dictators, Democracy and American Public
Culture: Envisioning the Totalitarian Enemy, 1920s-1950s (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2003), 67, 72.
alike? What mediums did they employ to raise levels of public awareness? Were these efforts
influential, or did a schism exist between announcement and action? Do historians face
methodological problems when trying to arrange and understand the different texts in which
opposition to Nazi religious intolerance appeared, or does a common thread help to bind
seemingly disparate artifacts?
Uncovering early discursive evidence of American opposition to Nazi religious
intolerance would significantly modify current scholarly understandings. The finding that public
officials and private citizens offered European Jews expressions of solidarity should prompt
historians to revisit their understandings of the 1930s as a wholly isolationist and anti-Semitic
era defined by the Father Coughlins and Henry Fords.53 There is an urgent need to contrast this
settled conclusion with the various public expressions of concern that appeared during the 1930s
and 1940s. That the rhetoric perhaps holds greater weight today than it did during the period in
which it first appeared is an important intellectual point, but one that remains outside this
dissertation's purview. The language has gained additional significance, not necessarily because
of its influence on historical events but rather because it contradicts the canons of a well-known
This is the untold story of the American response to Nazi anti-Semitism and the
Holocaust. It is a tale that depicts Christians and Jews struggling with a difficult problem in
uncertain and dangerous times. Not always successful in obtaining the full results that they
desired, they took repeated steps to raise levels of sociocultural and political awareness about the
53 For Coughlin and anti-Semitism, see Ronald Carpenter, Father Charl ', Coughlin:
Surrogate Spokesman for the Disaffected (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood, 1998); 27-37; Alan
Brinkley, Voices ofProtest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin and the Great Depression (New York:
Knopf, 1982), appendix 1. For Ford and anti-Semitism, see Steven Watts, The People's Tycoon:
Henry Ford and the American Century (New York: Knopf, 2005), 23, 117.
many dangers associated with German fascism. Such a finding-that Americans embraced the
challenge to confront and condemn intolerant behaviors-stands in sharp contrast with
mainstream academic claims. To date, no scholars have explored the various public discussions
in which the prevalent theme was that Nazi hostility toward Judaism posed a larger threat to
Americans of all faiths and creeds.
Evidence that both Jews and secular-minded Christians began to discuss publicly anti-
Semitism appeared most clearly after the rise of German Nazism. Starting in March 1933,
various members of Congress offered detailed remarks and resolutions that bound together
Jewish and Christian concerns with such intolerance. Chapter 2 presents remarks and resolutions
from the Seventy-third and Seventy-fourth Congresses (1933-35), in which members opposed
anti-Jewish biases because they did violence to long-standing Western beliefs. In the
congressional dialogue, historians will find the basic formula that Americans applied when
framing later condemnations. Nazi anti-Semitism was antiliberal, harmful to democratic ideals,
and an insidious threat to the pluralist vision that many citizens embraced. The claim that Nazi
religious intolerance did violence to humankind became a distinctive facet of public opposition
during the period 1933-44.
Congress was not the only source for information. Chapter 2 also documents cultural
efforts to publicize the emerging Nazi threat. During the 1930s and 1940s, the New Republic,
Nation, Reader's Digest, C( r[jiiat Century, and Time Magazine discussed Nazi hostility to
democratic structures. At the same time that Congress was learning about the menace, the
themes of fascist violence and sociocultural intimidation also appeared as plotlines in best-
selling novels, theatrical productions, and major motion pictures. One did not have to follow
congressional debates to learn that Nazism was dangerous, anti-Jewish bigotry was abhorrent,
and the two phenomena were inexorably linked.
Chapter 3 presents a microstudy of one prominent American. Prior to the U.S. entry into
the Second World War, Archibald MacLeish, the poet laureate and Librarian of Congress,
grappled with these related issues. MacLeish did not contribute to the preexisting congressional
discourse. However, he expanded upon the observation that Nazi anti-Semitism was a threat to
the democratic values that Americans claimed to cherish. From 1933 to 1941, he dispersed news
of this nascent argument throughout the nation.
MacLeish is vital to this story, perhaps more so than others who spoke out on behalf of
Jews-such as the president, Robert Sherwood, and Edmund Wilson-because he hammered
away at the point through various public media. As editor of Fortune, he proposed to investigate
the spread of Nazi anti-Semitism in the United States. In 1936, he published a book that
addressed the topic. As Librarian of Congress and head of a federal information agency,
MacLeish took advantage of numerous opportunities to explain publicly his belief that
Americans should reject the phenomenon. During W.W II, his specific anxiety for European
Jewish welfare remained apparent during his tenure at the Office of War Information, as well as
in the State Department as undersecretary for cultural affairs.
What facilitated his concern? In memorandums and private letters, MacLeish explained
his belief that anti-Semitism blighted heterogeneous societies. Bigoted sentiments were atomistic
and lent support to the Nazis' "divide and conquer" strategy. In addition, MacLeish directed his
creative efforts toward combating the threat by promoting a more cosmopolitan national identity.
This was not simply a case of artistic license: MacLeish corresponded with Jews, befriended
Jews, dined with Jews, and on occasion sponsored Jews for memberships into exclusive social
The poet was a Protestant-establishment figure who used his professional talents and
positions of power to publicize the dangers associated with Nazi intolerance. His prolific record
of written and oral statements decrying anti-Semitism makes him an attractive subject of study
when investigating discursive opposition. Historians have not yet examined his numerous
efforts, and they have overlooked entirely MacLeish's role in binding a defense of religious
freedom to discussions of Nazi behaviors. Particularly before the United States entered World
War II, these labors hinted at later assertions that Americans would uphold democratic liberties
This course of thought was not capricious, nor was it out of step with the political
mainstream. Well before the United States entered the fighting, President Roosevelt had
included the unfettered right to worship in his "Four Freedoms" (1941) declaration. Chapter 4
offers a discussion of the governmental efforts to connect condemnations of Nazi religious
intolerance with the war effort. The Office of War Information was a midlevel bureaucratic
agency designed to provide Americans with an "informed and intelligent" understanding of the
war's aims and progress. One way they fulfilled this charge was through the publication and
distribution of brochures that connected stories of the fighting to larger messages of why
Americans waged the struggle.
The agency administrators selected certain themes to shape the public's enlightenment.
These themes-upholding the Four Freedoms and religious liberties, condemning the Holocaust,
and promoting racial tolerance-appeared throughout public discussions of the period.
Moreover, men who had publicly committed to spreading these ideas, such as Archibald
MacLeish, worked in the agency and had a direct hand in steering this sort of subject matter
toward the American public. Such politicized brochures ultimately provoked reprisals against the
bureau's leadership. However, hidden in the backlash is evidence that administrators in the
Office of War Information-and their efforts to join sociocultural issues to discussions of the
fighting-contributed to an ongoing discursive contest over the treatment of Jews and other
A decade after some in Congress had first voiced concern, the opposition to Nazi anti-
Semitism was entrenched in political, cultural, and bureaucratic discourses. Chapter 5 builds
upon the variegated nature of a decade of American response. Specifically, interest groups
formed that took advantage of the issue's resilience in public circles. Their activities produced a
more targeted strain of American discursive opposition, one in which scholars will observe
familiar themes-the defense of religious freedom and opposition to intolerance-juxtaposed
against desperate reports of the escalating atrocities. During 1942-43, interest groups and their
leaders reconfigured the public discussion by demanding that government officials transform
their prior expressions of support into more concrete policy.
These efforts revived dormant congressional debates. Legislators, some of whom had
served during early 1930s, now learned that the earlier Nazi bigotry had evolved into a program
of murder. In November 1943, interest-group leaders had two resolutions introduced in the
Congress-one in each chamber-that advocated the creation of a specific federal agency to
formulate an official response to the killings. After nearly ten years of disparate talk in various
public forums, American opposition to Nazi intolerance would now emanate from a specific
Chapter 6 covers the War Refugee Board. In January 1944, amid interest-group,
congressional, and intrabranch pressures, President Roosevelt devised this agency to develop
"immediate actions that forestalled the Nazi plan to exterminate Jews and other persecuted
minorities." This was no half step. The action mirrored exactly the sentiments of interest groups
and a unanimous U.S. Senate. Moreover, the president's decision to empower a War Refugee
Board was no empty measure. Roosevelt provided the agency with a $1-million budget directly
from his emergency operating funds.54 In taking this action, the president forged a common
cause with those Americans concerned by Nazi anti-Semitism.
During the Second World War, no other country created a specific government entity to
combat the genocide. The new bureau represented a capstone to a decade-long effort that bound
together Jewish and Christian opposition to Nazi anti-Semitism.
In Chapter 7, I consider future avenues of inquiry, which include possible
interdisciplinary paths. Currently, the arguments that hold the most sway mirror the views
underlying Hilberg's "bystander" category and Wyman's "abandonment" thesis. Sustaining
those findings, however, requires that historians continue along the path of a predetermined
narrative. Rather than creating new methods with which to assess and analyze fresh evidence, the
challenge has become sustaining a well-worn indictment that holds the United States partially
culpable for the Nazis' homicidal actions. Even studies that do not stress this syllogism rely
upon the same timeline and evidence. There is little effort devoted to disentangling the
complexities that surrounded this thorny sociocultural and political issue.
54In contrast, that same year the domestic branch of the Office of War Information
received a $50,000 congressional appropriation. See A Guide to the Microfilm Edition of
Information Control and Propaganda: Records of the Office of War Information complied by
Janice Mitchell (Frederick, Md.: University Publications, 1986), 6.
Additional research into newspapers, magazines, movies, novels, and theater would
widen the locus of investigation. Describing and classifying the many forms of public activity
that emerged in opposition to Nazi anti-Semitism would be helpful and would represent a clear
methodological achievement. Enterprising scholars might compare and contrast domestic anti-
Semitic utterances with statements of tolerance. They might weigh the variations between
Christian and Jewish statements or explore the significance of a Jewish issue emerging from a
predominantly Christian discourse. Of course, the most challenging project would involve
connecting these nascent ethno-religious rumblings from the 1930s and 1940s with the full-
blown emergence of postwar pluralism.
My study contributes to scholarship about the U.S. reaction to Nazi anti-Semitism.
Historians who specialize in this subfield will find herein many forms of evidence that
Americans, both in and outside the government, unwound a sustained and intricate discursive
opposition to Nazi anti-Semitism. Starting in March 1933 and continuing until the war's
conclusion, citizens spoke out, terming ethno-racial bigotry a collective threat to humankind.
Such a finding-that Americans embraced the challenge to confront and condemn German
behaviors-stands in sharp contrast with claims outlined in Hilberg and Wyman's work.
Thus, my dissertation splits with the current scholarly consensus that the U.S.
government and society abandoned Europe's Jews to the Nazis, and thus must bear a portion of
responsibility for later German behaviors. Setting aside such guilt-ridden expressions opens the
way to reconsidering the intricate public nature of American reactions. Contrary to the claims of
pervasive neglect, my study aims to make more familiar the different types and tones of
American discursive opposition to Nazi anti-Semitism.
CONGRESS BEGINS A PUBLIC DISCOURSE
CONDEMNING NAZI ANTI-SEMITISM, 1933-1941
I can no longer sit back quietly and trust that Germany will come to her senses.
Christianity cannot ignore the debts she owes to Judaism.
-John McCormack (D-MA) to the House, June 9, 1933)1
On June 4, 1941, Congressman M. Michael Edelstein (D-NY) rose before the House of
Representatives to rebut the latest round of anti-Jewish invective delivered by John Rankin, a
Mississippian known for making inflammatory statements. In this particular instance, Edelstein
responded to the charge that Jewish banking interests wished to steer the United States into war.
One week earlier, Edelstein had submitted a statement into the Congressional Record that
addressed aspects of this popular public calumny.3 However, in his spontaneous, direct, and
verbal response to Rankin and to those onlookers who sympathized with his views, historians
will uncover the clearest evidence of an ongoing effort to oppose these divisive sentiments. "I
deplore the idea," Edelstein informed his colleagues, "that men in this House and outside this
House attempt to use the Jews as their scapegoat.... It is un-American." "We are living in a
democracy," the New York Democrat proclaimed, "all men are created equal, regardless of race,
creed or color." 4
These impromptu remarks by Edelstein would be his last. Shortly after exiting the floor,
he suffered a fatal heart attack and expired in the House cloakroom. Fellow New York Democrat
Samuel Dickstein, who had observed the entire episode, eulogized Edelstein almost immediately
1 Congressional Record, H 73, 1st sess. (June 9, 1933); 5441.
2 Edward Shapiro, "The Approach of War: Congressional Isolationism and Anti-
Semitism," American Jewish History 74 (1984): 49, 55.
M. Michael Edelstein, "Americans of Jewish Extraction Do Not Act and Think En
Bloc," Congressional Record, H 77, 1st sess. (May 28, 1941); A 2542.
4 M. Michael Edelstein, Congressional Record, H 77, 1st sess. (June 4, 1941): 4727.
after his passing. In a statement on the floor of the House, Representative Dickstein directed his
fire at Rankin and praised Edelstein's willingness to "protect his people, his integrity and his
Americanism." Congressman Edelstein, he continued, died a "martyr" to the cause of promoting
The significance of this event lies more in the resonance of, rather than the reasoning for,
Edelstein's assault on anti-Semitism. Negative Jewish stereotypes, Edelstein had argued, were
blatantly "un-American" in that they did violence to the national creed. A number of other
lawmakers also praised their fallen colleague for his valor. Due to the uproar, Rankin quickly
backtracked, apologizing profusely for his intemperate statements.6
The Edelstein incident was a significant event in an ongoing rhetorical effort to combat
religious bigotry that stretched back into the early 1930s. Indeed, only weeks after Hitler's
seizure of total power in Germany, congressmen from varying regions, religions, and parties
spoke out against anti-Semitism. Disparaging Judaism, they maintained, was part of the Nazi
doctrine and was incompatible with Western ideals. Despite such passionate rhetoric, however,
the challenge for antifascists in the United States lay in convincing the larger public that Nazism
meant more than only the targeting of Jews: it meant persecuting Catholics, victimizing Quakers,
oppressing Jehovah Witnesses, and outlawing labor organizations. The very tenets of Nazism
threatened core American values such as the freedom of speech and the protection of individual
The congressional rhetoric that appeared soon after Adolf Hitler's rise to power opens a
pathway to a much larger story-one in which elected government officials used the issue of
Samuel Dickstein, Congressional Record, H 77, 1st sess. (June 4, 1941): 4727.
6 Shapiro, "Approach," 63.
combating Nazi anti-Semitism to signal their disgust with ethno-racial bigotry. The vicious
character of the Nazi regime, immediately apparent, helped to launch a broad reassessment of
fascism and dictatorship among those who had cautiously admired it.' Over the course of the
1930s and 1940s, the view that sociocultural intolerance was itself intolerable took greater hold.
A distinctive American mind-set emerged that welcomed Jews, blacks, and first-generation
citizens into the mainstream. The specter of Nazism-specifically its ethno-religious bigotry and
related antidemocratic doctrines-had provided a catalyst for reconfiguring the contours of
acceptable thought and speech.
Uncovering various public forums in which American expressions of outrage with Nazi
intolerance evolved into a related discussion of bigotry in the United States might present a
problem to the received narrative. According to the historian David Wyman, during the 1930s
the U.S. government and society exhibited a purposeful indifference to the plight of European
Jewry.8 Christian Americans viewed European Jews as a threat, an attitude that Wyman argues is
perhaps best captured by the negative Judeo-Bolshevik construct, in which Bolshevism is
considered as a Jewish ideology intended to subvert Western liberal societies.9 Many Jewish
Americans did not wish to risk implication by becoming involved with the matter.1" Such
collective inaction lent weight to the arguments of those scholars who maintained that the
SAlan Brinkley, The End ofReform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (New
York: Vintage, 1995), 155.
8 David Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1942-1945
(New York: Pantheon, 1984), x-xii; Brecher, "David Wyman," Holocaust and Genocide Studies
5(1990): 423, 431.
Andre Gerrits, "Anti-Semitism and Anti-Communism: The Myth of 'Judeo-
Communism' in Eastern Europe," Eastern European Affairs 25 (1995): 49-72 and Jerry Muller,
"Communism, Anti-Semitism and the Jews," Commentary 86 (1988): 28-39.
10 Aaron Berman, Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism, 1933-1948 (Detroit: Wayne
State Press, 1990), 23.
Western world "abandoned" Europe's Jewry to the Nazis. Far from being a period where
scholars might expect to uncover public sympathy for an ethnic concern, Wyman's argument
depicts the 1930s as an ominous decade when Americans were oblivious to the protection of the
human rights of minorities.
One reason that scholars continue to omit discussions of European Jewry from their
survey of American society during the 1930s is a flawed methodology that privileges the
executive-branch power over the legislative. Richard Breitman and Alan Kraut have outlined a
sweeping argument about American passivity toward Nazi anti-Semitism based solely on a
review of State Department records." Monty Noam Penkower has followed a similar path,
concluding that American callousness reflected the fact that "stateless Jews commanded no
political leverage."12 These studies are merely the tip of the iceberg. In scores of monographs
that have come to define this subfield of Holocaust Studies, the prevalent view is that
Americans-that is, State Department officials-stood aloof from Jewish suffering.13
The behaviors of dozens of members of the U.S. Congress, however, reveal a markedly
different story. Far from exhibiting indifference, the discourse in the Congressional Record
shows sustained levels of opposition. Scholars who have, either purposefully or unwittingly,
Richard Breitman and Alan Kraut, "Anti-Semitism in the State Department: Four Case
Studies," in David Gerber, ed., Anti-Semitism in American History (Chicago: University of
Illinois Press, 1986), 176, 182, 186.
12 Monty Noam Penkower, The Jews Were Expendable: Free World Diplomacy and the
Jews (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 300; Henry Feingold, The Politics ofRescue:
The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945 2nd ed. (New York: Holocaust
Library,1980), 19, 168.
13 Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 48-
51; The Myth ofRescue: Why the Democracies Could Not Have Done More to Save the Jews
from the Nazis (New York: Routledge, 1997); 3; Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims and
Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe, 1933-1945 (New York: Asher, 1992), 241, 243.
concentrated solely upon the executive branch are missing a vital component of the historical
record. Congressional officials, or representatives, offer a credible glimpse of alternative strains
in public opinion. Moreover, the themes and rationales that officials presented in their floor
statements and in committee hearings would reappear in later public forums.
The Seventy-third Congress (1933-34) convened more than two decades after the famed
revolt against Speaker Joe Cannon (R-IL). While the Speaker's power over debate and
assignment declined, the Rules Committee retained its centralized control.14 During the famous
first "hundred days," House Rules Committee chair Edward Pou (D-NC) was extraordinarily
efficient. His committee reported out ten pieces of "closed" legislation, including such major
bills as the Emergency Banking Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act.15 Following Pou's
death in the spring of 1934, his successor ran an equally orderly committee. On its face, a period
of tight centralized control would seem to be incongruent with attention dedicated to
nonessential issues. This would especially be the case at the height of the Great Depression. It
therefore would be unusual for any European concern-let alone opposition to Nazi religious
intolerance-to appear in this environment.16
14 For the Rules Committee, see Keith Krehbiel, "Restrictive Rules Re-Considered,"
American Journal ofPolitical Science 41 (1997): 920; Douglas Dion and John Huber,
"Procedural Choice and the House Committee on Rules," Journal ofPolitics 58 (1996): 25-26;
and Bruce Oppenheimer, "The Rules Committee: New Arm of Leadership in a De-Centralized
House," in Oppenheimer and Lawrence Dodd, eds., Congress Reconsidered (New York:
Praeger, 1977), 96-116.
15 A "closed" bill denotes no House debate prior to voting. See Robert Himmelberg, The
Great Depression and the New Deal (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood, 2001), 39.
16 For Congress during the early 1930s, see Clyde Weed, The Nemesis ofReform: The
Republican Party during the New Deal (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 38-44;
Gary Dean Best, Pride, Prejudice and Politics: Roosevelt versus Recovery (New York: Praeger,
1991), 26-39; Barbara Sinclair, "Party Leadership and Policy Change," in Gerald Wright, Leroy
Rieselbach and Lawrence Dodd, eds., Congress and Policy Clhung (New York: Agathon Press,
1986), 196, 199; and James Patterson, Congressional Conservatism and the New Deal
(Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1967), 11, 19.
But appear it did. In March 1933, less than two months after Adolf Hitler became
Germany's chancellor-but before he acquired dictatorial power-the Congress debated House
Resolution 24. Outraged by the Nazi scapegoating of Jews, the resolution's drafters called on the
U.S. State Department to express strong displeasure with the Nazi mistreatment of its Jewish
citizens. "Once again humanity is aroused from its lethargy by the persecution of a member race
of the human family," thundered Representative Joe Gavagan, a Catholic Democrat from New
York. He asked his colleagues, "[I]s there a more appropriate legislative body in the world than
the House of Representatives to send forth an appeal against this injustice and iniquity?"
Apparently Gavagan's remarks struck a chord with his fellow legislators; the resolution passed
If the passage of House Resolution 24 represented a burgeoning concern over the
treatment of Jews in Germany, an intriguing conversation that took place eight days later points
to a phenomenon of equal significance. Indeed, the open floor debate provides a portrait of the
ways in which some Americans tied their outrage over anti-Semitism abroad to fears of anti-
Semitism at home.18 Members of both parties spoke out, from various religions and regions of
the country. The motivation for condemning Nazi anti-Semitism-and related forms of domestic
intolerance-related to a larger wish to express support for a pluralist democratic vision.
On March 27, 1933, William Sirovich, a New Yorker of Jewish origins, addressed the
House for ten minutes. In his stirring remarks, Sirovich blasted the "foul, iniquitous, and brutal
17 Joe Gavagan, Congressional Record, H 73, 1st sess. (March 22, 1933): 771-77.
18 This chapter presents Congressional Record statements from the House during the
Seventy-third Congress (1933-34) and the first session of the Seventy-fourth Congress (1935).
Unless otherwise noted at the pagination, the rhetoric reflected floor remarks. The famous
"hundred-day" session met March 9-June 15, 1933. It was, in fact, a ninety-nine-day period. See
Members of Congress since 1789, 2nd ed. (Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1981),
treatment of the nationals of Jewish extraction by the cowardly, sadistic, paranoid madman in
modern Germany, Adolf Hitler."19 Additional lawmakers-Christian Americans from states with
small Jewish constituencies-joined Sirovich in a collegial exchange. They noted that anti-
Jewish discrimination existed in the United States as well. What followed was an exchange in
which statements initially tailored to condemn Nazi intolerance evolved into a discussion of
American bigotry. Thomas Blanton, a representative from the 17th District in Texas was
especially explicit, complaining about the "unreasonable, foolish and cruel persecutions of the
Jews right here in the nation's capital."20 Why should we, he asked, "tolerate without protest
Jewish persecution here in Washington?"21
It is important to acknowledge that opposing foreign religious bigotry was a legislative
oddity with little precedent. No quantitative mechanism exists to demonstrate how many
members of Congress drew a connection between Nazi anti-Semitism and domestic anti-
Semitism. It may not be possible to determine how many members became more sympathetic to
the plight of Jews, but it is possible to observe that, during 1933-35, congressional concern over
German mistreatment of its Jewish citizens became a part of the public record. Since the House
of Representatives provides the most credible record of public discourse in the United States,
these remarks may be said to capture the beginnings of the American discursive opposition to
Nazi anti-Semitism that emerged during the 1930s and 1940s.
19 William Sirovich, Congressional Record, H 73, 1st sess. (March 27, 1933): 881.
Following Sirovich's unexpected death in December 1940, M. Michael Edelstein served until his
own untimely death in June 1941. See Shapiro, "Approach," 60.
20 Thomas Blanton to Sirovich, Congressional Record, H 73, 1st sess. (March 27, 1933):
Table 2-1 contains the aggregate data related to floor remarks and resolutions made in the
House of Representatives during 1931-35 addressing Nazi hostility toward German Jews. The
Congressional Record indexed this activity mainly under the categories of "Jews" and
"Germany." The Record contains no floor statements under the category of "Jews"-in fact, no
such category existed-during the Seventy-second session (1931-32). But in 1933-34, the time
in which Adolf Hitler gained power, there were a total of forty-four remarks or resolutions in
which Judaism was addressed. In 1935, thirty-eight instances were recorded. It would seem that
once Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany, some members of Congress recognized a potential
danger and shared their concern with their colleagues.
One such person was Emanuel Celler (D-NY). In remarks he delivered in April 1933,
Celler depicted the Nazis in an extremely negative light. "Hitler may not be murdering the Jews,
but he is killing them economically and starving them into submission." He warned, "There are
repercussions far beyond Germany's borders as anti-Semitism is rearing its foul head in other
countries."22 The sentiments of Edith Nourse Rogers (R-MA), recorded less than a week later,
were expressed even more powerfully than Celler's floor statements. "Mr. Speaker," she began,
"I take the floor to protest the brutal and unwarranted treatment of the nationals of Jewish
extraction in Germany by Adolf Hitler. Our forefathers fled from religious oppression to New
England. We from that section especially sympathize with any persecuted race. Jews are being
subjected to unwarranted treatment in Germany today."23
22 Emanuel Celler, Congressional Record, H 73, 1st sess. (April 20, 1933): 2019. See also
Phyllis Cohen, "Representative Emanuel Celler: A Case Study in Legislative Behavior, 1923-
1950" (master's thesis, New York University: 1952), Box 35. Emanuel Celler Papers, 1924-73,
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
23 Edith Nourse Rogers, Congressional Record, H 73, 1st sess. (April 26, 1933): 3289.
Two months later, Massachusetts' John McCormack spoke out on the issue. "I have
watched with increasing anxiety developments in Germany since Adolf Hitler assumed
controlling power," he began. "Like members throughout the session, McCormack expressed
concern that the "ruthless agonizing of the Jews" in Nazi Germany reflected a much larger
hostility to democratic principles such as "liberty, justice, and equality."24
The most pertinent observation about this type of rhetoric-that appeared consistently
throughout 1933-is that members bound together Jewish and Christian American outrage.
Moreover, many officials used their statements to signal a larger commitment to promoting
democratic pluralism, expressing their support for Jews as a worthy people. In stark contrast to
the earlier Judeo-Bolshevik construct that had depicted Jews a threat to American liberties, some
citizens saw the task of defending Jews as a way to demonstrate the strength of democratic
rights. One might both oppose Nazism and still harbor unseemly opinions about Jews, but that
particular strain of thought would have seemed especially strained, and was not apparent in
The second session of the Seventy-third Congress opened in January 1934. Almost
immediately, some lawmakers renewed their warnings about the evils of Nazism. Samuel
Dickstein introduced a resolution proposing a new panel charged with investigating Nazi
propaganda efforts in the United States. The proposal carried overwhelmingly, and by so doing,
it gave birth to the first House Special Committee on Un-American Activities. Ironically, a
24 John McCormack, Congressional Record, H 73, 1st sess. (June 9, 1933): 5441.
committee that would later become infamous for its so-called Jewish red baiting had its origins
in an effort aimed at combating religious intolerance.25
Not surprisingly, members who had previously been active in condemning anti-Semitism
sought out leadership positions on the new committee. Chairing the seven-member body was
John McCormack. Serving as the vice chairman was Samuel Dickstein.26 During 1934, they
scheduled hearings in several cities including Washington, D.C.; Newark, New Jersey;
Asheville, North Carolina; and New York City. In their investigations, the members focused on
the domestic dispersion of Nazi propaganda, which in practical terms was wholly anti-Jewish
The charge, leveled by Dickstein and others, that Nazis abroad were cultivating Nazis
here at home was not without substance. In Germany, fascist leaders like Deputy Fiihrer Rudolf
Hess and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels recognized that racially based arguments might
very well appeal to Germans living in the United States.27 The challenge for antifascists in
25 The vote was 168 to 31. See Francis MacDonnell, Insidious Foes: The Axis Fifth
Column and the American Home Front (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 41; Sander
Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States, 1924-1941 (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1974), 157-58; Leland Bell, In Hitler's Shaion\ The Anatomy ofAmerican Nazism (New
York: Kennikat, 1973), 14, 55; and esp. Walter Goodman, The Committee: The Extraordinary
Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux,
26 Dickstein had investigated Nazi anti-Semitism for the Congress previously. In
November 1933, he read passages from Hitler's Mein Kampfbefore a subcommittee hearing.
Specifically, he noted Hitler's belief that the German imperial government should have used the
cover of World War I to "exterminate completely all these Jewish instigators of the people." See
U.S. Congressional Committee Hearings Index, 73rd Cong., 1st sess., (H)-(Imm.) November 13,
1933; 63. Hereafter cited as U.S. Hearings.
27 For an excellent discussion, see J.P.H. Grill and Robert Jenkins, "The Nazis and the
American South in the 1930s: A Mirror Image?" Journal of Southern History 58 (1992): 668-71.
See also MacDonnell, Insidious, 42-43 and Leland Bell, "The Failure of Nazism in America:
The German American Bund, 1936-1941," Political Science Quarterly 85 (1970): 586-87.
America was opposing the effects of negative Jewish depictions by explaining how bigoted
portrayals threatened the liberties of all citizens. This would not prove an easy task. During the
early and middle 1930s, more than 120 private organizations distributed anti-Jewish literature in
the United States. The Committee on Un-American Activities was a clear, official step taken by
the Congress to ensure that the purveyors of hate speech, as well as their possible adherents,
understood that their views were outside the pale of acceptability.28
In May 1934, the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated a group called
the "Friends of New Germany." Led by a publicity-seeking demagogue named Heinz
Spanknoebel, the "Friends" received their charter and funding directly from Berlin. Spanknoebel
maintained affiliates in New York City and Chicago, and at its peak the group's size ranged
anywhere from five thousand to ten thousand members. His greatest strength lay in his
organizational ability. Spanknoebel was particularly effective at bringing together disparate anti-
Jewish associations. His ability to stoke bigoted sentiments, however, contributed to his hurried
departure from the United States. When Immigration Committee chair Dickstein alerted Justice
Department officials that Spanknoebel had failed to register as a paid foreign agent, deportation
procedures commenced, and Spanknoebel clandestinely left the country.
28 Although not a member of the committee, Adolph Sabath (D-IL) also fought against
the domestic spread of anti-Semitic literature. In April 1936, responding to a constituent's
compliant, he requested the Post Office's chief inspector to investigate a Chicago newspaper
entitled American Gentile. The reply correspondence advised him that the paper was "not
regarded as unmailable." See Aldrich to Sabath, April 24, 1936, box 1/12, Adolph Sabath
Papers, 1903-52, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati. For more on the American Gentile, see
Phillip Jenkins, Hoods and Shijr The Extreme Right in Pennsylvania, 1925-1950 (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 120.
29 Diamond, Movement, 99-100, 113-19; Bell, Shadwi/-, 26-30; Joachim Remak, "Friends
of the New Germany: The Bund and German-American Relations," Journal ofModern History
29 (1957): 38, 42-43.
But while Spanknoebel returned to Germany, his "Friends" remained behind. In May
1934, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed the new leader, Fritz Gissibl, to
explain his group's political objectives.30 "Does your association see its discontent and anger
against the Jew in general?" asked Chairman McCormack. Gissibl's response was somewhat
ambiguous. He replied, "We are against those that were against the Germans." "Well you [and
your associates] came over here and engaged in activities against the Jewish people," responded
McCormack. The witness replied, "I do not think it was that so much, Mr. Chairman, as it was to
organize the Germans and unite them." Apparently Gissibl's explanation did not go very far in
satisfying Chairman McCormack, who pointed out that the efforts of the Friends of New
Germany "were directed only against the Jews."31
Later in the hearing, committee counsel Thomas Hardwick succeeded in baiting the
witness. Gissibl blurted, "I believe that if one is attacked, he has a right to defend himself." The
counselor stopped: "[L]et's see about that a minute now. Take the Jew. He did not raise a row
about Germany until Hitler went to persecuting him and removed him from his place of
domicile. They are merely defending themselves, are they not?" In his curt response to
Hardwick's question, Gissibl conceded the point.
30 Dickstein also inquired with the State Department about Gissibl's immigration status.
In the request for information, the vice chairman attached for Secretary of State Cordell Hull's
review a two-page memorandum containing redacted testimony in which Gissibl acknowledged
that he received his orders directly from Adolf Hitler. See Dickstein to Cordell Hull, December
5, 1935, box 5/3. Samuel Dickstein Papers, 1923-44, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati.
31 US. Hearings, 73rd Cong., 2nd sess. (H)-HS (May 17, 1934): 100-101. In 1936, the
"Friends" changed their name to the "German-American Bund." Gissibl played a leading role in
selecting the new Bund leader, Fritz Julius Kuhn. See Diamond, Movement, 162, 217-18; Bell,
Shiadwi\, 55-58; Goodman, Extraordinary, 17.
32 U.S. Hearings, 73rd Cong., 2nd sess. (H)-HS (May 17, 1934): 142. See also Diamond,
Walter Kappe, the editor in chief of the pro-Nazi Deutsche Zeitung, was another witness
hauled in before the committee. The Zeitung was an American-based paper geared toward
German immigrants. In practice, it served as a domestic outlet for Nazi propaganda. Dickstein
saw the Zeitung for what it was. "As a member of Congress I have tried to clear the air in this
country," he proclaimed. "But you and your paper made unjustifiable attacks upon me as a Jew."
When Kappe retorted, "[O]nly as one that is fighting and saying things about Germany that are
in my estimation untrue," Dickstein continued to press the witness. "If I said the Nazis have
removed certain Jewish doctors, lawyers, and judges, that is not an untrue slander against
Germany," he asked. In his reply, Kappe answered "no." "And if I said that Germany has put
certain Jewish peoples into a concentration camp," continued Dickstein, "that was not lying
about Germany was it?" Once again, the witness agreed.33
These and other exchanges expanded congressional knowledge of the Nazi supporters in
their midst. They revealed the existence of nefarious plans to smuggle and distribute anti-Jewish
propaganda within America's borders. Since anti-Jewish representations were the hallmark of
Nazi propaganda, one line of defense lay in characterizing such stereotypes as "un-American."
As the historian Leland Bell observed, Nazi leaders believed that "all Germans were united in a
racial community which bound them to the Fatherland by their common blood."34 This was the
message that fascist sympathizers promoted within the United States through newspapers,
pamphlets, and public demonstrations.35 It was an idea that some in Congress tried to dilute by
U.S. Hearings, 73rd Cong., 2nd sess., (H)-HS (May 17, 1934): 154. See also Diamond,
34 Bell, "Failure," 587.
SIn general, Nazi propaganda efforts in the United States proved clumsy. See Eugene
Rachlis, They Came to Kill: The Story ofEight Nazi Saboteurs in America (New York: Random
House, 1961), 161.
helping citizens to understand how and why Nazi ideology was incompatible with American
By July 1934, Chairman McCormack and Vice Chairman Dickstein convened the House
Committee on Un-American Activities sixteen times. Some hearings focused on domestic
groups such as William Dudley Pelley's "Silver Shirt Legion."36 Others examined Nazi summer
camps for children located on Long Island, New York.3 Some sessions were public, others were
private [executive session]. But, on each and every occasion, the committee examined the issue
of Nazi anti-Semitism in the United States. Over a seven-month period, elected officials deposed
scores of witnesses regarding the domestic dissemination of such propaganda. They further
submitted a report that found that Adolf Hitler "made every effort to disturb American citizens
of German birth in this country and through the form of propaganda to have twenty million
honest-to-goodness Americans subscribe to his racial philosophies."38
Congressional concern over the intolerant aspects of Nazi ideology also appeared outside
the Un-American Activities Committee. Additional members began speaking out. In the minds
of these lawmakers, religious discrimination was unacceptable whether directed at Jews or at
fellow Christians. One such person was William Connery. An Irish Democrat from
36 For Pelley, see Jenkins, Hoods 120-25; and Ribuffo, Old, 25-79. Before becoming a
demagogue, Pelley wrote a number of Hollywood movies. He penned a romantic comedy
entitled What Women Love (1920); a western called Backfire (1922); and a drama titled The
Light in the Dark (1922) depicting a worker girl struck by a wealthy matron's car, as well as
contributing to the period's gangster genre with The Sh i k (1923), starring Lon Chaney.
7 In 1937, a number of lawmakers spoke out against Nazi summer camps operating in
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Michigan. Representative Dickstein tracked this
activity; his private files contain numerous reports published in the New York Times, New York
Post, and New York World-Telegram. See Dickstein Papers, box 16/5.
38 Samuel Dickstein, Congressional Record H 74, 1st sess. (July 25, 1935): 11861. See
also "U.S. Finds Nazi Menace," Pennsylvanian Weekly News, February 25, 1934, box 16/6,
Massachusetts, Connery blasted the new German leadership. In remarks on the House floor, he
reminded his colleagues that the Nazis were not "confining their brutality to just Catholics and
Jews," but rather that their actions were a part of a larger pattern of religious oppression.39
Democrat John Higgins expressed similar sentiments, as did a freshman member from
Connecticut named James Shanley, and Representative Thomas Ford from California.40
In their discussions of Nazism, lawmakers did not confine their criticism entirely to
religious issues. Some members addressed the seemingly bizarre fact that Nazi Germany would
host the upcoming Olympic Games.41 Others expressed concern that German Jews faced
difficulties securing entry visas into the United States. But concerns over Germany's ill-
treatment of Catholics occurred even more frequently-indeed, ten such statements from
different members addressed this issue. This activity suggests that a larger process was under
way, one in which some Americans felt compelled to speak out against ethno-religious
persecution. The lawmakers' opposition stemmed from an aversion to despotic rule that had its
origin in the Nazi suppression of secular rights, suppression that arose from-above all
else-Nazi religious intolerance.
Members of Congress were not the only Americans publicly discussing threats to the
Western liberal tradition. Indeed, during the 1930s, writers, newspaper editors, artists, and actors
William Connery to Celler, Congressional Record, H 74, 1st sess. (July 22, 1935):
40 John Higgins, Congressional Record, H 74, 1st sess. (June 10, 1935): 9009-9010;
Thomas Ford, Congressional Record, H 74, 1st sess. (August 20, 1935): 13827; James Shanley,
Congressional Record, H 74, 1st sess. (August 23, 1935): 13863.
41 For the 1936 Berlin Olympics, see Richard Mandell, The Nazi Olympics (New York:
Macmillan, 1971), 73-83; and Bell, Sh/iadwi-, 39-42. Leni Riefenstahl's film Olympia (1937) is
also instructive. During the games, Hitler at times smiled and waved to onlookers. However,
after several Jesse Owens victories, Riefenstahl's cameras showed him and his entourage
hurriedly departing Berlin's Olympic stadium. See also Donald Niewyck, ed., The Holocaust
(New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 3.
also spoke out. Cultural mediums proved to be important conduits for enlightening citizens about
events occurring outside the United States. Defeating "fascism"-a term that could have been
applied to governments in Italy, Spain, Japan, or Germany-emerged as a larger metaphor used
to highlight the differences between life in the United States and in foreign lands. As the decade
evolved, and as the collision between liberal and fascist worldviews took on a military nature,
writers and artists played a vital role in presenting citizens with a nuanced portrait of the enemy.
Notably, the themes that had first appeared in Congress later permeated the cultural
discourse. During 1934-41, Americans had the opportunity to both read about and watch
depictions of fascist violence and intolerance. Just as no quantitative method exists for
determining how many Americans learned about Nazi anti-Semitism from congressional
rhetoric, it is likewise impossible to determine the number of Americans who gleaned that
information from cultural sources. Nevertheless, the larger point is that a number of popular
discussions existed from which citizens might have learned of the Nazi contempt for religious
From the industry's earliest days, Hollywood studios bosses, with a clear influence over
American public opinion, introduced citizens to foreign political threats. During 1917-22, silent
movies scripts detailing communist subterfuge were in particular demand. In Bolshevism on
Trial (1919), misguided Americans fall prey to cunning Bolshevik agents who infiltrate their
bourgeois reform organization. It was a case of earnest, Progressive-style advocacy gone
horribly awry. The film's message explained that communist subversion was an unpleasant fact
in the United States, encouraging Americans to exercise greater caution in their public and
private dealings.42 In Dangerous Hours (1920) and The New Moon (1919), moviegoers observed
images that are more sinister. They saw representations of wanton destruction, the murder of
42 Ross, Working-Class, 115-19.
children, and repeated scenes documenting an alleged Bolshevik decree that rendered Russian
women the communal property of all male Party members.43
This increase in public attention might have damaged Jewish portrayals. Some
Americans perceived communism-or, more specifically, Soviet Communism as derived from
Marxist-Leninism-as a modern example of Jewish efforts to upset the democratic order. These
observers noted that the ideology had provided a devastating critique of the Western liberal
tradition by questioning private property ownership and the legitimacy of Christian institutions.
A reasonable person could conclude that such doctrines were "Jewish heresies" since Jews also
seemed uncomfortable with the dominance of Christian norms. Hollywood studio moguls,
almost all of whom were Jewish, were acutely aware of these calumnies, and took care to offer
audiences generic, faceless themes such as mob violence and the international Comintem.44
In films such as The Red Viper (1920) and The Great Shadwi- (1920), Americans learned
about a host of presumed threats: anarchists, Bolsheviks, unionists, and social reformers.45 The
Volcano (1919), which depicted the spate of Bolshevik bomb plots directed against U.S. officials
immediately following the First World War, featured a modified anti-Semitic storyline. The
movie's hero, originally "Captain Garland," became instead "Captain Nathan Levinson." The
hook-nosed antagonist remained, but in the remake he delivered the decisive line: "I am not a
Jew. I am a Bolshevik."46
41 Ibid., 135-43.
44 Gabler, Empire, 320.
45 Ross, Working-Class, 115, 141.
46 Ibid., 141. Changing a character's ethnicity by modifying his/her surname was a
common technique. Sensitive to charges of anti-Semitism, the poet Archibald MacLeish changed
one letter of his 1933 work Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller's City. In the book's second edition, the
fictitious Comrade Levine instead became Comrade Devine. See Archibald MacLeish, Frescoes
for Mr. Rockefeller's City (New York: John Day, 1933), 25. See also Michael Denning, The
Cultural Front: The Laboring ofAmerican Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Verso,
These efforts to use a foreign political issue to ignite a larger discussion about cultural
identity are most enlightening when viewed as part of an ongoing public contest. Hollywood
studio executives might have wished to downplay the connection between communism and
Judaism, but to some Christian Americans, this silence was deafening. Film historian Steven
Carr has termed the emerging concern about Jewish control of the entertainment industry-and
about this cohort's ability to sculpt social norms-the "Hollywood Question."4 This idea, which
Carr has juxtaposed against the more familiar "Jewish Question" construct, helped Christian
Americans during the 1920s and 1930s to recognize that new technologies had allowed Jews to
exercise influence within American society that was disproportionate to their numbers.
During the middle and late 1920s, the most successful expression of the idea that Jews
posed a threat to Christendom involved arguments published in The Protocols of the Elders of
Zion. This fabricated work, which first appeared in Czarist Russia at the turn of the twentieth
century, described a sinister plot hatched by a shadowy group of Jews seeking to enslave
Christians.48 The work became hugely popular in Europe following the First World War, and
later appeared in the United States. Automobile manufacturer Henry Ford was particularly
involved with sharing the Protocols'message with Americans. In 1923, his Dearborn Publishing
Co., which boasted a peak circulation of 700,000, issued a four-volume set of bigoted tracts
known collectively as The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem. This compendium
1996), 62; and Scott Donaldson, Archibald MacLeish: An American Life (New York: Houghton
Mifflin, 1992), 231-32.
7 Steven Carr, "The Hollywood Question: America and the Belief in Jewish Control over
Motion Pictures before 1941" (Ph.D. diss., Austin: University of Texas, 1994), 45, 171.
48 Stephen Bronner, A Rumor about the Jews: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of
Zion (New York: St. Martin's, 2000), 71.
included the Protocols, as well as stories previously published in his anti-Semitic weekly paper
In The International Jew, Ford shared with readers his suspicions that Jews controlled the
world's banking systems and the American education system and were sowing the seeds of
sociocultural and political disruption. In topical chapters such as "Jewish Supremacy in the
Theatre and Cinema" and "Jewish Jazz Becomes Our National Music," Ford further outlined his
belief that the emerging entertainment industry had provided Jews too much influence in shaping
opinions.50 Restating the Protocols' overarching theme, the magnate alerted his readers that a
reckoning day between Anglo-Saxons and Jewish "Orientals" was at hand. He implored
Christian Americans to recognize that nothing less than the fate of the twentieth century was at
Countervailing pressures from secular-minded Americans-both Jewish and
Christian-compelled the magnate-turned-hatemonger to truncate his public activities. In 1927,
domestic boycotts of his automobile company, as well as a string of lawsuits filed by the Anti-
Defamation League, resulted in his "open letter" of apology.52 This backlash demonstrated that
even during the nativist 1920s, there were occasions where bigoted sentiments met with public
49 Max Wallace, The American Axis: Henry Ford, Ch/arld Lindbergh and the Rise of the
ThirJ Reich (New York: St. Martin's, 2003), 17-20; Albert Lee, Henry Ford and the Jews (New
York: Stein and Day, 1980), 13-44.
50 Carr, "Hollywood," 149-53.
51 Some scholars have indeed argued that the Jews "won" the twentieth century from its
Christian stewards. See Yuri Slezkine, The Jewish Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 2004), 44.
52 The Jewish American performer Billy Rose wrote a song commemorating Ford's
enlightenment. Entitled "Since Henry Ford Apologized to Me," the ditty began, "I was sad and
blue but now I'm just as good as you. Since Henry Ford apologized to me. I've thrown a-way-a
my lit-tle Che-vro-let and bought my-self a Ford Cou-pe. My mother says she'll feed him if
he calls Ge-fil-te-fish and mat-zo-balls." See Lee, Ford, 82-83.
rebuke. Of course, this is not to suggest that public aspersions directed against the Jews
desisted.53 Even following Ford's change of heart, the ongoing contest to define a range of ethnic
Take, for example, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's The Callahans and the Murphys (1927).
This silent film-a slapstick summer comedy-provoked condemnation from Protestants,
Catholics, and Jews alike. Adapted from an identically titled novel written by Kathleen Norris,
the movie was set in a New York City tenement neighborhood. The screenplay delivered a basic
"Romeo and Juliet" plot that relied heavily on anti-Irish stereotypes to portray the two feuding
families. There were images of excessive alcohol consumption, promiscuity, violence, and
stubbornness. The film's leading characters, Mrs. Callahan and Mrs. Murphy, were tawdry
drunks. "This stuff makes me see double and feel single" read Mrs. Murphy's (Polly Moran)
line-card as the camera captured her drinking a large bottle of beer in a saloon. In a later scene,
the two matrons, who were now both drinking in the saloon, soaked each other's blouses in
booze before instigating a barroom brawl.54
These lowbrow representations of non-Protestant ethnicities captured the sociocultural
tensions apparent in the United States during the twenties.i Naturally, Catholics resented the
depiction of Irish women as bawdy and ill-tempered. Their husbands were effectively absent,
5 The Samuel Dickstein Papers include a file devoted to political cartoons. One
document was a reproduction of an image first published in 1927 by the Paris paper Le
Boulevardier. The slide depicted Ford's apology by representing him as an angel in loincloth, set
upon by a gang of merry Jewish angels who pricked and poked him for blood with Stars of
David. See "The Return of the Prodigal Son," box 16/6, Dickstein Papers.
54 "Bar Movie about Irish," New York Times, September 2. 1927.
55 Francis Walsh, "'The Callahans and the Murphys': A Case Study of Irish-American
and Catholic Church Censorship," Historical Journal ofFilm, Radio and Television 10 (1990):
either simpletons or, worst of all, British. The Time magazine review, entitled "Irish Belittled,"
noted "Mrs. Callahan and Mrs. Murphy hurl garbled Hibernian-English at each other over a
backyard fence. They grab at each other's hair, throw pots and pans. They swat their children,
who make love in cow-like fashion."56 Editors at the Irish World and Independent Liberator
coyly identified the larger problem: "Hollywood [Jews] should confine their talents to the
Rebeccas of their own families. If they [Jews] want stupidity and indecency, they needn't go out
of the [Jewish] Ghetto to find it. If they [Jews] want grotesque figures, Hester Street is full of
them."5" However, Jews also disliked the movie, particularly its subplot about the machinations
of "international bankers." This theme hinted at a contemporary euphemism, specifically the
"Merchants of Death" thesis that held Jewish bankers and munitions makers responsible for the
outbreak of war in 1914.5" Shortly after its release, in the face of intense public outcry, studio
executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer responded to the backlash by removing the film from
The public's intensity following the negative onscreen depiction of Irish-Catholics was a
precursor to the fury unleashed later that same year when Path6 studios released Cecil B.
DeMille's The King of Kings (1927). On the face of it, one might think that a film about the life
of Jesus between the Crucifixion and Resurrection would have interested Christian Americans.
However, many citizens found the treatment blasphemous, despite the fact that DeMille was a
56 Time Magazine, August 22, 1927, 8. One month earlier, Time had published a far more
positive review. "In the best tradition, Mrs. Callahan and Murphy squabble incessantly over the
backyard fence which is comical because their children are inter-engaged." See also Time
Magazine, July 25, 1927, 17.
7 As quoted in Carr, "Hollywood," 177. See also Jacob Riis, How the Other HalfLives,
2nd ed. (New York: Dover, 1971), 91.
Matthew Coulter, The Senate Munitions Inquiry of the 1930s: Beyond the Merchants of
Death (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood, 1997), 6-14.
Catholic whose earlier screen credits included The Ten Commandments (1923). As was the case
with The Callahans and the Murphys, Jewish Americans also protested the film. These citizens
worried that Kings was little more than modem "passion play" that served to reinforce the notion
that the Jews-and not the Romans-had killed Jesus Christ.59 By late 1927, the Anti-
Defamation League had joined with Christians in protesting the film because it promoted
invidious anti-Jewish stereotypes.60 Despite finally reaching some level of agreement with
protest organizations, boycotts continued into 1928 in Denver, Colorado, and Omaha, Nebraska.
By the close of the 1920s, Jews had been associated with Bolshevism, heresy, bigotry,
and murder. Those responsible for publicizing such depictions varied; so, too, did those who
benefited. The larger point, however, is that throughout the decade Americans had yet to
embrace the pluralist sociocultural identity that later emerged as mainstream. A useful point for
inquiry becomes trying to understand when and why Americans became more accepting of
ethno-religious minorities. The challenge therein lies in reconciling the hostility of what
Jonathan Sarna has termed the "tribal twenties" with evidence that this tension lifted in the
following decade as the national identity became more ethnically varied.61
Lizabeth Cohen has examined this phenomenon. She has concluded that the role that
first-generation Americans played in promoting economic recovery following the Great
5 Carr, "Hollywood," 179.
60 As quoted in Carr, "Hollywood," 179-80. Scholars also point to the film Dracula
(1931) as stoking Christian fears of Judaism. Of particular note was the Star of David that the
parasitic lead character wore throughout the film. The Jew-as-bloodsucker is a well-worn
stereotype that again appeared on the silver screen in the 1981 film An American Werewolfin
London. See Scott Spector, "Was the Third Reich Movie Made? Interdisciplinarity and the
Reframining of 'Ideology,'" American Historical Review 106 (2001): 472; and David Deutsch and
Joshua Neuman, The Big Book ofJewish Conspiracies (New York: St. Martin's, 2005), 43.
61 Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press,
Depression changed the nation's identity. Blue-collar, unionized workers, mostly Catholics,
forged a path into the heretofore-Protestant middle class.62 Additional macrochanges in the
society brought Americans closer together. Disappearing, for example, were local grocery stores.
In their stead, national supermarket chains emerged that also functioned as cultural agents.
Executives at the Atlantic and Pacific (A&P) company, a leading supermarket chain during the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, began stocking a range of ethnic foods and nontraditional
wares. Since A&P stores comprised a national chain, patrons throughout the United States had
access to the products. As citizens consumed similar foods-a probability due to marketing,
coupons, and recipe cards-a distinctive American diet emerged that reflected the nation's new
In a similar way, Broadway musicals also helped to soften hardened attitudes about Jews
and other minorities becoming part of the mainstream. Productions such as The Jazz Singer
(1925), Whoopee (1928), and Babes in Arms (1937) dealt with some of the issues that Jewish
immigrants faced during their assimilation into a predominantly Christian American society. In
these plays, the characters-and the audience-first must recognize who they are (e.g., Anglo-
Saxons, Asians, Celts, Tartars, Teutons, Jews). They next must learn to hone whatever
sociocultural skills would best facilitate the path to acceptance.64
62 Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in C(ii agn, 1919-1939 (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 54, 111, 125. See also Kenneth Heineman, A
Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh (University Park, Pa.:
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 43.
63 David Hogan, Selling 'em by the Sack: White Castle and the Creation ofAmerican
Food (New York: New York University Press, 1997), 6; William Walsh, The Rise and Decline
of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (Secaucus, N.J.: Lyle Stuart, 1986), 25, 29-37.
64 Andrea Most, Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 2004), 20, 26-27.
An Anglican disposition was not necessarily preferred. The Jazz Singer (1927) portrayed
the son of an immigrant Russian Jewish family who disguised himself as an African American to
pursue a career in vaudeville.65 In Whoopee (1928), the famous Jewish American actor Eddie
Cantor played a Protestant. The fact that audiences knew of Cantor's ethnicity, but his various
interlocutors remained oblivious, made the goings-on more comical. Indeed, by the early 1930s,
Broadway audiences were "comfortable with Jewish ethnic humor and characters performing on
stage."66 A further observation might be that audiences were starting to learn that a person's
sociocultural identity could not be accurately exhibited, or gauged, solely through physical
All of this activity suggests that by 1933, when Adolf Hitler became the leader of
Germany, Americans were perhaps familiar with Jews, fascism, and their relationship to life in
the United States. A review of popular novels, plays, and movies from the period demonstrates
that writers and artists played a role in publicizing fascist intolerance toward religious and civil
liberties. Ideas that first appeared in the congressional statements, such as upholding democratic
values in the face of autocracy, reappeared in the cultural discourse. Moreover, unlike the
political attention, which waned in the middle and later 1930s, there was no apparent drop-off in
cultural interest. As the decade evolved, so, too, did the commitment that artists and writers
dedicated to raising levels of public awareness.
In May 1934, Chr ijaii Century published "Will America Go Fascist?" The article drew
a direct link between the fascist hysteria of the early 1930s with the "Red Scare" of the
preceding decade. While dismissing the nation's prior fears, the article informed its readers that
65 Ibid., 32-39.
66 Ibid., 24, 45. In 1933, the same year that Hitler took power in Germany, Eddie Cantor
was the Screen Actors' Guild president.
fascism was a true menace. "Everyone who had any understanding of the American scene knew
perfectly well at the time that our post-war Red Menace was a ridiculous piece of fiction." "But
every student of foreign affairs," the article continued, "knows that fascism is not trumped up."6
The author argued that fascism appealed to those citizens who did not "understand the values
and ideals of American democracy." One way to ensure that "no doughty opposition entrenched
itself' lay in differentiating for the American public the chasms separating fascist and liberal
Author Rex Stout, best known for creating the fictitious detective-extraordinaire Nero
Wolfe, was one artist who embraced this challenge. In 1934, he anonymously published a
suspense thriller entitled The President Vanishes.69 The plot depicted a fascist conspiracy to
capture the White House launched by Wall Street financiers, munitions makers, and a
paramilitary group known as the "Gray Shirts." The book's protagonist, President Stanley Craig,
was a peace-loving man who maintained noninterventionist views. However, following a steady
stream of fascist propaganda, the tide of public opinion turned against him. When Craig became
aware that the fascists had gained in popularity, the president decided to stage his own
The gambit worked, as the American people soon concluded that fascist groups had
orchestrated the antidemocratic undertaking. The "vanishing" instigated a period of national
introspection for citizens who had forgotten the value of their civic freedoms. In the book's
closing, President Craig and his advisors acknowledged to a grateful public that they had
67 "Will America Go Fascist?" C(iritiau Century 51 (1934): 592.
68 Ibid., 593.
69 Rex Stout, The President Vanishes (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1934).
perpetrated the hoax. Stout's book sold over one million copies. In December 1934, Paramount
studios retold the story in an identically titled film.70
The fictional plot to The President Vanishes resembled a factual occurrence that General
Smedley D. Butler (Ret.) had related to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. This
is an example in which current events and culture might have become interwoven in a citizen's
consciousness. In late 1934, General Butler testified that some Wall Street brokers had contacted
him with a plan to seize the government. The New Republic reported the story as a brewing
cabal, observing, "General Butler does not habitually tell lies." Its authors concluded, "The fact
that such an attempt would be silly does not make it incredible."1
Fears of fascist subversion continued to capture the imaginations of writers, film
producers, and the public. Indeed, in 1935 Sinclair Lewis published a cautionary tale entitled It
Can't Happen Here.2 In Lewis's story, a demagogic senator named Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip
undermined the nation's democratic system. Campaigning legally, Windrip secured his party's
presidential nomination by pandering to religious, racial, economic, and social anxieties. In
Lewis's narrative, as in real life, a popular radio priest fomented unrest in the American
heartland. Additionally, Lewis's tale included some nefarious Wall Street bankers who
subsidized a paramilitary organization known as the "Minutemen." However, unlike the
0 MacDonnell, Insidious, 29-30.
1 "The Great Fascist Plot," New Republic 82 (1934): 87-88. See also Hans Schmidt,
Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions ofAmerican Military
History (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1987), 223-32; and Morris Schonbach, Native
American Fascism during thel930s and 1940s: A Study of its Roots, Its Growth and Its Decline
(New York: Garland Books, 1985), 236-43.
72 Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1936).
Revolutionary-era group, which stood vigilant in defense of civil liberties, Lewis's patriots
specialized in electoral intimidation."
Upon winning the presidency, Buzz Windrip accumulated all federal powers. Dissenting
legislators and judges faced imprisonment. The nation soon began a diversionary war of
conquest against Mexico. Individual liberties rapidly disappeared as a heightened state of
national zeal took root. A political police force known as the "Corpos" gained extensive
authority. So-called enemies of the state were murdered or sent to concentration camps, where
they disappeared forever. This plotline was a thinly veiled accounting of actual events occurring
inside Nazi Germany. Lewis had used a cultural medium-and an American setting-to explain
how fascism trampled freedom.74 It Can't Happen Here does not end with a democratic
realignment. The underground resistance group failed in its efforts; the play closed with the
protagonist's young grandson fleeing to Canada to "carry on the fight."" The audience must
ponder the tensions between the false promises offered by fascist demagogues and upholding
civic liberty. The author's latent point was that economic, religious, and cultural factions could
indeed lead to violence in the United States.76
Lewis's unsettling story earned him a Hollywood "blacklisting." His tale was widely
considered an achievement in "agitprop."" In February 1936, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer canceled
7 MacDonnell, Insidious, 30.
74 Lewis, It Can't, 57, 61, 64, 67, 69, 95, 104, 108, 114.
75 Ibid., 121, 129, 134.
76 See esp. Henry Feingold, "It Can Happen Here: Anti-Semitism, American Jewry and
Reaction to the European Crisis, 1933-1940," htpp://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2000-
77 For discussions of American agitprop, see Gary Gerstle, The American Crucible: Race
and Nation in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 164; Savage,
Broadcasting, 45-50; and Denning, Cultural, 56-58.
its commitment to produce a film based on the story. The studio had spent $50,000 for the
story's rights, but executives feared that the grim plot and unsettling resolution might lend undue
substance to the lingering charge that Jews in the entertainment industry promoted anti-
American movies. Some remained concerned that writers in Hollywood were trying to use the
Nazis' treatment of Jews to make propaganda pictures."8 Although Sinclair Lewis was Christian,
he was a member of the "Hollywood Anti-Nazi League."" During 1936-39, this organization
took an active role in leveling protest against the German regime. The League sponsored two
weekly radio programs, published a biweekly tabloid called Hollywood Now, and constituted a
number of advocacy committees designed to investigate domestic issues related to racial,
religious, and gender inequality.80
While It Can't Happen Here never appeared as a film, its message still reached the
country. In the wake of the controversy surrounding the decision to deny the play access to the
silver screen, retail sales boomed. Lewis's work ultimately reached fifth place on the 1936
nationwide best-seller list.81 The story also found a home as part of the Works Progress
Administration's Federal Theatre Project. During fall 1936, government-funded actors
performed the tale over twenty-five times in cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, San
8 Clayton Koppes and Gregory Black, Hollywood Goes to War (New York: Free Press,
1987), 22; K.R.M. Short, "Hollywood Fights Anti-Semitism, 1940-1945," in Short, ed., Film and
Radio Propaganda in World War II (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983), 151-52.
7 Michael Birdwell, Celluloid Soldiers: The Warner Bros. Campaign against Nazism
(New York: New York University Press, 1999), 25-30.
o Gabler, Empire, 328-31, 344.
81 Alice Payne Hackett and James Henry Burke, 80 Years ofBest Sellers, 1895-1975
(New York: Boker, 1977), 121.
Francisco, Cleveland, Miami, and Seattle.82 The plot's worst-case scenario about a fascist
takeover in the United States provided citizens with an accessible narrative that explained the
need for vigilance.
Reviews of the play varied. In a synopsis entitled "Fascism: Nightmarish History That
Hasn't Even Happened Yet," Newsweek reported, "Lewis had taken the bit in his teeth and
galloped off to never-never land." Other reviewers, such as Clifton Fadiman of the New Yorker,
were more charitable. Fadiman warned his readers: "It can happen here. Read Lewis's book and
find out how."83 The larger point is that by the decade's middle year, opposition to fascism and
Nazism was a clearly defined topic in political and cultural discourses. Numerous mediums
existed for Americans to learn about the impending collision between the liberal and fascist-Nazi
One of the most provocative episodes dealing with this strain occurred in February 1939,
when the German-American Bund orchestrated a massive rally at New York City's Madison
Square Garden. More than twenty thousand fascist sympathizers listened to pro-Hitler rhetoric
espoused before a thirty-foot portrait of George Washington. Along with the presence of various
Nazi paramilitary units, the more than two thousand uniformed New York City police officers
lent a martial air to the meeting. These feelings became more perceptible as both official and
unofficial authorities applied strong-arm tactics to hecklers. The Bund rally attracted national
and international press coverage. The reports of a massive convention of Nazis unnerved the
82 Lewis, It Can't, 3. For the Works Progress Administration and public culture, see
Monty Noam Penkower, The Federal Writers' Project: A Study in the Government Patronage of
the Arts (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977), 26, 72.
83 "Fascism: Nightmarish History That Hasn't Even Happened Yet," Newsweek October
26, 1935, 38; Clifton Fadiman, "Red Lewis," New Yorker, October 26, 1935, 83-84. As quoted in
MacDonnell, Insidious, 31, 197 nn.12, 16.
mainstream American public. It provided citizens with a compelling factual example-joining
the fictional accounts-of the dangerous role that German fascism could play in undermining the
However, perhaps the clearest evidence that news of the threat reached Americans
involved the film Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939). Based on a factual story involving a foiled
German spy ring operating in the United States, Warner Bros. released the picture specifically to
heighten national levels of concern.85 The decision to produce a movie that philosophically and
morally attacked Nazism was risky. Some studios executives feared they could not survive
without the German market, a rationale that enraged Jack Warner. In a postwar interview he
recalled, "The Silver Shirts and the Bundists are marching in Los Angeles right now. There are
high school kids with swastikas on their sleeves a few blocks from our studio. Is that what you
want for some crummy film royalties out of Germany?"86
American media outlets demonstrated an interest in the story. As early as 1934, the
Pennsylvania Weekly News detailed the "nefarious work" of German-funded organization in the
United States. The article noted that Hitler hoped to weaken the nation by "promoting racial
antagonism among the different national groups in the United States."" During the mid-1930s,
the possibility of Nazi infiltration, again aided by their stoking of bigoted appeals, remained a
viable issue.88 While many Nazi spy rings indeed operated in the United States, the case that
inspired Confessions ofA Nazi Spy involved an American citizen who schemed to steal blank
84 Diamond, Movement, 324; Bell, "Failure," 592; Remak, "Friends," 40-42.
85 "Witnesses Link Spy Plot to Reich," New York Times, November 5, 1938.
86 Birdwell, Celluloid, 69-70.
87 "U.S. Finds Nazi Menace," box 16/6, Dickstein Papers.
88 "Kuhn Admits Aims Are Same As Nazis," box 18/1, Dickstein Papers.
passports.89 Guenther Gustav Rumrich was born in Chicago in 1911. He grew up in Europe and
only returned to the United States in 1929. In January 1930, he enlisted in the U.S. Army but
went AWOL shortly after his induction. For this offense, Rumrich was court-martialed and
received a six-month prison term. Following his release, he opted to reenlist. During 1932-34, he
soldiered without incident in the Panama Canal Zone, as well as in Fort Missoula, Montana. In
late 1935, after going AWOL for a second time, Rumrich headed for New York City, where he
took on several jobs including dishwasher and Berlitz language instructor.90
It was not until March 1936 that Rumrich decided to pursue work as a secret agent. He
sent a letter offering his services to the official Nazi newspaper Volkischer Beobachter. Rumrich
falsely claimed to be an American army officer previously posted to Pearl Harbor. He requested
that officials in Berlin contact him through the New York Times' public notice column. The
Germans took up Rumrich's unsolicited proposal.91 Throughout 1936-37, Rumrich (aka Crown)
passed information to his Nazi handler.92 Despite his eagerness to do so, however, he was in no
position to help significantly the Fatherland. This disappointment perhaps lent itself to his
agreeing in 1938 to attempt a theft of American passports. Some aspects of his scheming,
Rumrich confessed during his interrogations, involved the possibility of using a gadget that
dispended poison gas from a pen in order to subdue American officials.93
89 MacDonnell, Insidious, 55.
90 Ibid., 52.
91 Ibid., 53.
92 "The Start of the Spy Hunt: Mysterious 'Crown' Arrested," New York Post, December
9 "Four German Spies Are Sentenced," New York Herald Tribune, December 3, 1938.
Searching for possible motive, the New York Times reported on Rumrich's marijuana use. See
"Rumrich Admits," New York Times, November 18, 1938. See also MacDonnell, Insidious, 54.
In addition to the official details of the case, a subplot soon emerged. Prior to the jury's
decision, the lead government detective, Leon Turrou, a naturalized American who moved to the
United States after living in Shanghai, Berlin, and London, penned several media contracts.94
This untoward decision put the "G-Man" publicly at odds with his superiors, and he resigned
soon after the case ended.95 Such controversy did nothing but whet the public's interest. Warner
Brothers signed the enterprising investigator to a $25,000 contract that named him "technical
advisor" on any future film documenting the case.96 Production began soon after the guilty
verdicts appeared in October 1938.
First released in April 1939, Confessions of a Nazi Spy was a trailblazer that specifically
identified Hitler's regime as an antidemocratic threat to the United States.9 The film's plot was
not fictional and the movie's cinematographer achieved a documentary feel by interspersing
newsreel. Directed by the German 6migr6 Anatole Litvak, and starring the famed Jewish actor
Edward G. Robinson as Turrou, both men were members of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.98
All the people associated with the film felt strongly about making a movie that publicized the
Nazi danger. Much to the chagrin of the studio's legal department, Jack Warner refused to open
the picture with a disclaimer indicating that the characters and events portrayed in the film were
94 "Turrou Tells about Questioning," New York Herald Tribune, November 2, 1938;
"Turrou Tells of Spy Roundup," New York Post, November 2, 1938.
9' Shortly thereafter, Turrou published Nazi Spies in America (New York: Random
96 MacDonnell, Insidious, 63.
9 Short, "Hollywood," in Short ed., Film, 154-55.
98 Birdwell, Celluloid, 70.
fictitious." The movie mirrored real-life events, and any filmgoer who had followed the
newspapers would have recognized the factual and artistic overlap.100
Much like the congressional committees five years earlier, Confessions stressed several
basic points. First, Nazi Germany sought to destroy the United States by fomenting religious,
racial, and class hatreds. Second, the Nazis maintained domestic-based propaganda organizations
that would help them to achieve this dastardly goal. Last, Americans needed to awaken to the
dangers posed by the Nazis.101 If citizens had not followed the earlier congressional discourse,
the movie offered them an additional venue. Warner Brothers provided the film with "a vigorous
and often outrageous public relations campaign" that befitted the studio's expectations that the
film would be a big winner at the box office.102
Local theater owners were encouraged to drum up interest by placing anonymous phone
calls that alerted citizens "the Nazis were coming."103 In Texas and New Mexico, the advertising
strategy for Confessions was so effective that worried citizens alerted the Federal Bureau of
Investigation. Special Agent R. J. Untreiner reported to his superiors that theater owners had
distributed "small pink cards bearing a Swastika and the words "Heil Hitler!"104 Differing
colored cards conveying similar sentiments appeared in neighboring areas. On the reverse side of
all the cards was the full title of the picture, together with the performance dates and times. In
Ibid., 65-69, 75.
100 Koppes and Black, Hollywood, 21, 27; Gabler, Empire, 341.
10' Birdwell, Celluloid, 74-75; Koppes and Black, Hollywood, 28-29.
102 MacDonnell, Insidious, 63. In fact, the movie did poorly at the box office. Warner
Bros. rereleased the film in 1940, adding new scenes that kept abreast of the current situation in
Europe. See Birdwell, Celluloid, 78.
103 MacDonnell, Insidious, 67.
Washington State, law enforcement officials received a handbill-ostensibly produced by the
Bund-that warned citizens "if you see this film Hitler will take serious reprisals on you when
he realizes his inevitable destiny over America!" In fact, the placards were publicity stunts
engineered by the local theater chain.105
The German consul in Los Angeles reacted to the movie with fervor, writing an angry
letter to Joseph Breen, head of the Hollywood Production Code Administration. This
noncompulsory office, founded in 1934, allowed the government input over movie scope and
content.106 The diplomat issued oblique threats that Confessions might result in "difficulties"
between the American and Nazi governments.10' Likewise, the German charge d'affaires
stationed in Washington D.C. complained bitterly to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Nazis
threatened the State Department by saying that German filmmakers would respond to
Confessions with their own series of quasi-documentary films that depicted America as a land of
greed, corruption, crime, and general discontent.108 The German government banned the film, as
did their Axis partners. A number of European countries-Ireland, Hungary, Switzerland,
Holland and Norway-refused to show the film. In light of what would happen to those nations
during the next five years, all might have benefited from watching the movie and taking its
message regarding the need for vigilance to heart.109
105 As quoted in MacDonnell, Insidious, 67-68.
106 For more on Breen, see Felicia Herman, "American Jews and the Effort to Reform
Motion Pictures, 1933-1935," American Jewish Archives Journal 53 (2001): 14; Birdwell,
Celluloid, 71-72; and Gregory Black, The Catholic Crusade against the Movies, 1940-1975
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 141.
107 Koppes and Black, Hollywood, 27-29.
lo Birdwell, Celluloid, 76.
109 MacDonnell, Insidious, 69; Koppes and Black, Hollywood, 30.
In the United States, Confessions earned positive critical reviews. The New York Daily
News rated the movie "good to excellent."110 Taken as pure cinema," Franz Hoellering wrote for
The Nation, the story was "first class a new style of movie journalism,"111" Such encouraging
responses also reflected a new appreciation for Jack Wamrner's decision to level a public attack
against Hitler and his followers. To this end, in May 1939, Variety published a particularly
prescient story. After praising Warner Brothers for making a movie of great importance, the
piece closed by noting "decades from now what's happening may be seen in perspective. And
the historians will almost certainly take note of this daringly frank broadside from a picture
Movies did not have to strike alarmist tones in order to convey a negative sense of
Nazism. Perhaps the best-known film about the issue was a comedy that ridiculed the danger.
Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) delighted Americans with its farcical plot of two
identical-appearing citizens from the fictitious country of Tomania. The storyline centered on a
pedestrian Jewish barber with amnesia who at times is mistaken for the nation's dictator,
Hynkel. The barber is unable to comprehend, or remember, why strangers cheer him. The
dictator, conversely, is unable to understand why he sometimes received treatment befitting a
commoner. Chaplin's impersonation of Adolf Hitler via Hynkel was notable for both his
uncanny physical likeness, and his mastery of explosive, gibberish-laden diatribes.113 A huge
success in the United States, The Great Dictator was the all-time highest-earning Chaplin project
110 As quoted in MacDonnell, Insidious, 69, 204 n. 84.
As quoted in Birdwell, Celluloid, 77, 200 n. 101.
112 As quoted in MacDonnell, Insidious, 70.
113 For Chaplin's satire, see Alpers, Dictators, 87-88; Birdwell, Celluloid, 84; Koppes and
Black, Hollywood, 31-32; Gabler, Empire, 347; and Short, "Hollywood," in Short, ed., Film,
and, indeed, was the third-highest moneymaking film of the ten-year period from 1933 to
As the decade of the 1930s ended, the issue of combating Nazism as a fundamental
American responsibility appeared in various public discourses. The theme that appeared most
frequently was that a civic democracy, such as the Founding Fathers had envisioned, protected
minority rights. On the other hand, fascist dictatorships, the path that Adolf Hitler favored, used
any means necessary to trample individual freedoms. During 1933-41, whether from Samuel
Dickstein, Rex Stout, Sinclair Lewis, Edmund G. Robinson, or Charlie Chaplin, American
citizens had opportunities to learn what the looming struggle against the Nazi enemy denoted. In
sharp contrast to the 1920s-a period during which citizens paid little attention to events
occurring outside the United States-the 1930s featured efforts to raise levels of public
awareness about Nazi hostility. Specifically, some observers noted the connection that existed
between the Nazis' disparaging of Jews and their attack on democratic liberties. Americans
faced a clear challenge, one in which they were asked to consider the idea that all forms of
bigotry and social proscription contradicted the democratic freedoms that generations of citizens
had claimed to cherish. Changing socio-cultural thinking, however, would be a gradual process,
one that would require leadership. In the next chapter, we find one such prominent American. A
member of the Protestant establishment elite who used his professional talents and positions of
power to sculpt new attitudes in which the protection of Jews and other persecuted minorities
held inherent moral value.
114 Alpers, Dictators, 87-88.
Table 2-1 Number of House Remarks and Resolutions Related to Religious Intolerance (1931-
72nd (1931-1933) 0
73rd (1933-1934) 44
74th (1935; 1st sess.) 38
Source: Congressional Record Index (H) 72nd through 74th Congresses.
ARCHIBALD MACLEISH AND THE GROWING DISCURSIVE OPPOSITION TO NAZI
There is anti-Semitic talk around the country. The activities of Mr. Hitler in Germany
have had their effect here. This particular antipathy flourishes because no one has ever
dug down to get at the underlying facts.
-Archibald MacLeish, editor, Fortune magazine, to Henry Luce, November 14, 19351
The unbelievable record of Nazi barbarities concerns non-Jews as well as Jews. Any
man who loathes fascism will fear anti-Semitism.
-Editors of Fortune, Jews in America, 19362
When the Nazi regime took power in Germany, Archibald MacLeish was a little-known
American literary figure. A member of the Protestant elite, he was seemingly unthreatened by
the persecution of European Jewry. Yet during the period from 1933 to 1941, Archibald
MacLeish employed various media to put forth an argument that expressions of religious
intolerance-whether in Germany or the United States-did violence to Western liberal values.
Much like Congressmen Samuel Dickstein and John McCormack, as well as the writer Sinclair
Lewis and the movie mogul Jack Warner, MacLeish feared that Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda
could become a powerful weapon in subverting the democratic values of heterogeneous Western
societies. In books, speeches, radio plays, and governmental brochures, MacLeish contributed to
an ongoing discursive effort to raise levels of awareness about this insidious threat.3
"Luce," November 14, 1935, box 8, Archibald MacLeish Papers, 1907-81, Library of
Congress, Washington D.C.
2 Editors of Fortune, Jews in America (New York: Random House, 1936), 9-11.
Benjamin Alpers, Dictators, Democracy and American Public Culture: Envisioning the
Totalitarian Enemy, 1920s-1950s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 86;
Marc Dollinger, Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern America (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2000), 74.
Archibald MacLeish's contributions to a larger public dialogue-one in which
expressions of religious tolerance signaled his support for pluralist rationales-remain
insufficiently understood, even though several scholars have documented MacLeish's life as a
poet, playwright, and government official.4 Moreover, in none of these works will scholars find
an adequate discussion of his unique use of Nazi anti-Semitism, against which he articulated his
own pluralist view of cultural tolerance. In scholars' accounts of the U.S. response to Nazism,
MacLeish has appeared as a minor figure. For example, in Richard Breitman's masterful study
of American handling of reports concerning Nazi atrocities, MacLeish appears unexpectedly and
departs quickly, with Breitman simply claiming that MacLeish feared a "morbid" result were the
reports to be released domestically.5 Clayton Laurie, a student of Breitman, has argued that
under MacLeish's leadership, the Office of Facts and Figures "accomplished little due to a lack
The most influential historiography of the 1930s has focused on the growth of anti-
Semitism that occurred in this period, perhaps making it difficult for scholars to appreciate the
full complexity of the U.S. response to Nazi anti-Semitism and the part played in that response
by people like Archibald MacLeish. For example, historians such as John Higham and Alan
Brinkley have argued that the nation's economic depression led to unseemly episodes in which
4 Scott Donaldson, Archibald MacLeish: An American Life (New York: Houghton
Mifflin, 1992), xiv; Bernard Drabeck, Helen Ellis, and Seymour Rudin, eds., The Proceedings of
the Archibald MacLeish Symposium, May 7-8, 1982 (Lanham, Md.: University Press of
America, 1988); R.H. Winnick, ed., The Letters ofArchibald MacLeish, 1907-1982 (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1983); Warren Bush, ed., The Dialogues ofArchibald MacLeish and Mark
Van Doren (New York: Hutton, 1964).
Richard Breitman, Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the British and
Americans Knew (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998), 134.
6 Clayton Laurie, The Propaganda Warriors: America's Crusade against Nazi Germany
(Topeka: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 65.
anti-Semitism played an increasingly visible role in damaging Jews.' What has received much
less scholarly attention is that during the same period, rural and elite citizens throughout the
United States proved willing to embrace-or, at a minimum, tolerate-public calls for religious
tolerance. Indeed, MacLeish's expressed interest in combating Nazi anti-Semitism offers stark
contrast to the views and actions of his contemporaries H. L. Mencken, Ernest Hemingway, F.
Scott Fitzgerald, and John Dos Passos, all of whom employed anti-Semitic language in their
depictions of modernity.8 The challenge for historians, however, is not to argue which set of
views-pluralist or nativist-held greater sway, but rather to explore the contest that was under
way. Even prior to Hitler's unprovoked declaration of war against America, citizens recognized
autocracy as the greatest threat to democracy, and they increasingly defined their own nation as
the antithesis to foreign dictatorships.9 MacLeish was a deep thinker, particularly sensitive to
dangers that democratic societies faced when handling episodes of sociocultural and political
persecutions. In his efforts to "sound the alarm,"we can also observe wider changes in elite
attitudes toward Jews and others non-Protestant citizens.
Currently, Gary Gerstle, Peter Novick, Marc Dollinger, and Deborah Dash Moore argue
that prejudices against Jews, Catholics, African Americans and other non-Protestant citizens
softened after the Second World War, as the nation's collective struggle against Hitlerism
SAlan Brinkley, Voices ofProtest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin and the Great
Depression (New York: Knopf, 1982), 270; John Higham, Strangers in This Land: Patterns of
American Nativism, 1860-1925 (New York: Atheneum, 1971), 282-84.
8 For Mencken and anti-Semitism, see S. T. Joshi, Mencken's America (Athens: Ohio
University Press, 2004), 145. For Hemingway, see Matthew Bruccoli, Fitg- ild and
Hemingway: A Dangerous Friendship (London: Andre Deutsch, 1994), 34. For Fitzgerald, see
Richard Lehan, The Great Gatsby: The Limits of Wonder (Boston: Twayne, 1990), 51-52. For
Dos Passos, see Manhattan Transfer (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1925), 42-43, 103.
Alan Brinkley, End ofReform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (New York:
Vintage, 1995), 155.
reshaped American identity.10 However, there are hints that a readjustment in attitudes was under
way in earlier decades. The tragic events associated with the Leo Frank case (1912) alarmed
Jews and Christians alike." The anti-Semitic prejudices that led to Frank's conviction
demonstrated that seemingly innocuous prejudices could beget deadly consequences. Following
the affair, citizens of multiple denominations formed new organizations such as the Anti-
Defamation League (1913) and the American Civil Liberties Union (1920).12 Members of these
groups coordinated boycotts of racist-owned businesses and sponsored campaigns designed to
dilute "poison pen" letters that injured Jews socially.13 Their message of tolerance no doubt
found some common cause with associates in the National Conference of Christians and Jews
10 Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 12, 119; Dollinger, Quest, 56; Peter Novick, The
Holocaust in American Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 85; Deborah Dash Moore,
"Jewish GIs and the Creation of the Judeo-Christian Tradition," Religion and American Culture
8 (1998): 34.
For the Leo Frank Case, see Stephen Goldfarb, "The Slaton Memorandum: A Governor
Looks Back at His Decision to Commute the Death Sentence of Leo Frank," American Jewish
History 88 (2000): 327; Nancy MacLean, "The Leo Frank Case Reconsidered: Gender and
Sexual Politics in the Making of Reactionary Populism," Journal ofAmerican History 78 (1991):
917; David Levering Lewis, "Parallels and Divergences: Assimilationist Strategies of Afro-
American and Jewish Elites from 1910 to the Early 1930," Journal ofAmerican History 71
(1984): 547; Leonard Dinnerstein, The Leo Frank Case (New York: Columbia University Press,
12 Note also the earlier National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(1909). By the 1920s, Jewish leadership in the group was vital. See Lewis, "Parallels," 553; and
Eugene Levy, "Is the Jew a White Man?: Press Reaction to the Leo Frank Case, 1913-1915,"
Phylon 35 (1960): 220.
13 "Poison pen" letters are correspondences sent en masse to public media outlets (for
example, letters to the editor) in which the author vilifies Jews. They often appear published
anonymously, or under a nom de plume. During the 1930s and 1940s, a common theme found in
such documents was the alleged Jewish control of American foreign policy, as well as references
to the "Merchants" thesis. See Stephen Norwood, "Marauding Youth and the Christian Front:
Anti-Semitic Violence In Boston and New York During World War II," American Jewish
History 91 (2003): 238-239, 249.
An impatience with the inherently gradual nature of change in pluralist societies has
caused historians to overlook the larger connections between these earlier public pleas for social
equality and subsequent efforts to condemn Nazi bigotry. In order to trace and understand this
dynamic, it is useful to focus on a figure like Archibald MacLeish, who was actively involved in
combating Nazi anti-Semitism during the 1930s and 1940s. That Archibald MacLeish articulated
an unflinchingly pluralist position is perhaps not remarkable. Like others in his milieu, he
believed that all citizens should enjoy civic equality, and that the civil government was the
proper vehicle for promoting such egalitarianism.14 His life's story, however, provides historians
access to a more intricate tale of changing social attitudes. He was part of a much larger
generational cohort, one whose experiences fighting to uphold democratic structures during
World War I had instilled in them the value of opposing autocratic behaviors such as the
persecution of religious minorities.
Born in 1892, in Glencoe, Illinois, Archibald MacLeish was the offspring of an
immigrant Scottish father and a mother whose lineage traced back to the Pilgrims. Andrew
MacLeish operated a successful retail store in Chicago. Martha Hillard MacLeish graduated
from Vassar College in one of its first classes during the 1880s, and later served as president of
Rockford Woman's College.15 During his earliest years, Archibald experienced two different
visions of American society. His father, who spoke with a distinctive accent and still adhered to
European customs, imbued in his son an appreciation for cultural heterogeneity. Accompanying
14 James Connolly, The Triumph ofEthnic Progressivism: Urban Political Culture in
Boston, 1900-1925 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 17; Stephen Skowronek,
Building a New American State: The Expansion ofNational Administrative Capacities, 1877-
1920 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 286; John Buenker, John Burnham, and
Robert Crunden, Progressivism (Cambridge: Schenkman, 1977), 32; Arthur S. Link, American
Epoch: A History of the U.S. since the 1890s (New York: Knopf, 1955), 35-36.
15 Donaldson, MacLeish, 6-8; Drabeck and Ellis, eds., Reflections, 16.
the elder MacLeish on the streets of Chicago, Archibald observed the many ethnic cohorts that
constituted the city's identity. From his Progressive-minded mother, who also served as an
officer in the National Conference of Christians and Jews,16 MacLeish learned there was a larger
social value associated with promoting religious tolerance. This theme-the formation of a
unified culture from differing wellsprings-remained with him throughout his life.
At fifteen years of age, Archibald moved, by himself, to Lakeville, Connecticut, where he
attended the Hotchkiss School. During the early twentieth century, life at the Hotchkiss School
epitomized white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant society.1" The institution's customs reinforced the
types of acceptable behaviors found in elite circles. MacLeish was an active and accomplished
student. He served as the yearbook editor and as president of the Forum Literary Society. He
played for both the football and the baseball squads. He was also his class poet. MacLeish's
many recorded distinctions revealed his worth to his school and peers. It further signaled
MacLeish's acceptance of, and personal comfort with, life in the nation's most exclusive
In 1915, after finishing his undergraduate degree at Yale University, MacLeish enrolled
in Harvard Law School.1" Upon returning from service in the First World War, during which,
like his fellow midwestemrner Harry S. Truman, he rose to the rank of captain, MacLeish earned
the editor's post at the Harvard Law Review. His grasp of Western legal thought, as well as his
16 Donaldson, MacLeish, 243.
SFor MacLeish's high school years, see Mischianza, Hotchkiss School yearbook, 1911,
Lakeville, Ct., 30, 60-72. Hotchkiss apparently admitted Jews to their institution. The 1910 class
registry listed a "R.A. Meyrowitz" from East Twenty-third Street in New York City.
18 At Yale University, MacLeish was a Phi Beta Kappa and the recipient of numerous
prizes for poetry. He characterized the intellectual atmosphere as "discouraging. .Yale was
really pretty close to the bottom. It wasn't an educational institution." See Drabeck and Ellis,
eds., Reflections, 16.
experiences in the war, had instilled in him an appreciation for the differences between
democratic and autocratic governments. Like so many others in his generation, the young
veteran viewed the "Great War" in more than military terms.19 It was also an ideological struggle
that had featured the capitulation of three feudal-era monarchies. For intellectuals, the challenges
of the postwar years were philosophical in nature. The grand task involved spreading Western
liberal values as a means to ending international conflict.20
MacLeish began his professional life in 1921 with a position at the Boston law firm of
Choate, Hall, and Stewart. The Sacco-Vanzetti verdict occurred just prior to his employment, but
along with others of his generation, he recollected "next to no concern."21 Indeed, during the
early 1920s, while still in his twenties, the young lawyer determined that the legal profession
would not sustain his creativity. In 1923, on the same day that his firm planned to invest in him
as a partner, MacLeish quit his job. Soon thereafter, he moved with his wife and two young
children to Paris.
19 Robert Zieger, America's Great War: World War One and the American Experience
(Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), 2, 228; Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern
Memory, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 146; Modris Eckstein, The Rites
ofSpring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989),
20 The 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact in fact rendered war "illegal." See Birdsall Viault,
American History since 1865 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989), 285-86.
21 Drabeck and Ellis, eds., Reflections, 20. The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair (1920-27)
represented the epitome of early twentieth-century American nativism. In April 1920, two men
killed a Boston-area paymaster during a daylight robbery. Police charged Nicola Sacco and
Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two recent Italian immigrants, with the crime. Their 1921 state court trial
was troubling. Judge Webster Thayer demonstrated overt and private prejudices. His instructions
to the jury encouraged a guilty verdict; and he privately referred to the accused as "those
"anarchist bastards." The men were convicted and given capital sentences. As their
electrocutions drew closer, the case gained national attention. See John Neville, Twentieth-
Century Cause Celebre: Sacco and Vanzetti and the Press, 1920-1927 (Westport, Ct.: Praeger,
2004), 12; and William Young and David Kaiser, Postmortem: New Evidence in the Case of
Sacco and Vanzetti (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985), 36.
For many American artists and writers, living in Paris during the 1920s signaled their
larger commitment to creating a new culture following the destruction wrought by the First
World War. It was a bohemian city, where Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises (1926), Dos
Passos finished Manhattan Transfer (1925), and F. Scott Fitzgerald created Jay Gatsby. Upon
first arriving, MacLeish observed the city's somber rhythms. Perhaps more than any other
nation, France suffered terribly from the First World War. "The great slaughter on the
battlefield," MacLeish noted, had produced a "vacuum" of youth. "Even the young women," he
recollected, "dressed in black, their faces unsmiling, didn't look young."22 The poet recalled that
the city's pulse lagged until the mid-1920s, when a new youth "flooded" in from Africa, Eastern
Europe, Scandinavia, and Asia.23
This massive convergence of the world's young impressed MacLeish deeply. It was the
first time that he recognized his generation's potency.24 He saw more clearly the role that he and
others could play in determining the course of human events. It was MacLeish's five-year stay in
Paris, during his early thirties, which facilitated his change from bourgeois lawyer to enlightened
cultural critic. As it did for others in his generation and milieu, living in Paris during the 1920s
provided him with a model of how to shape and defend diverse national cultures. He learned that
the challenges of living in a pluralist environment encompassed far more than the polite
cohabitation of different people. Rather, the task involved common behaviors borne from
repeated cultural exchange. These observations helped to guide MacLeish during his stay abroad
and remained useful to him once he returned to the United States, when he worked to sculpt a
22 As quoted in Drabeck and Ellis eds., Reflections, 23. See also Winnick, ed., Letters,
106; and Bush, ed., Dialogues, 27.
23 Drabeck and Ellis; eds., Reflections, 23.
24 Drabeck, Ellis, and Rudin, eds., Proceedings, 22.
new American identity that included the many millions of new citizens who entered the nation
during the early decades of the twentieth century.25
In Paris, MacLeish joined the city's other non-native residents in a social experiment.
Many of the participants, like the MacLeishes, were new to the city, and the fact that their
interactions were not based upon linguistic or national bonds may have contributed to the vibrant
cultural atmosphere that emerged. On any given day, a person functioned as a producer,
consumer, and patron of the arts. In this way, a heterogeneous mix of people, without a common
tongue or liturgy, reawakened a city. MacLeish shared a story in which his wife, Ada, a pianist
and singer, was practicing a composition by the Frenchman Erik Satie. A young man knocked on
the family's door. "Who is singing Satie?" asked the unknown visitor. "My wife," replied the
poet. "But nobody sings Satie anymore," blurted the teen as tears ran down his face.26 This
anecdote captured the ability of foreign participants to join-indeed, to help redefine-a national
culture. In his examination of nineteenth-century France, the historian Eugen Weber has
observed this process as it related to the peasantry's "mimicking" of Parisian society.2 Perhaps
drawing on limited knowledge, the outsider can still form a credible tie to dominant traditions.
For MacLeish, this organic melding of differing perspectives retaught him a lesson that he first
learned as a young boy on the streets of Chicago. Indeed, the idea of dissimilar people
achieving-or losing-collective unity was a recurring theme in his later professional writings.
25 Barbara Savage, Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War and the Politics ofRace, 1938-
1948 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 60-61.
26 Drabeck and Ellis, eds., Reflections, 37.
27 Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization ofRural France, 1870-
1914 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976), 485. See also Leslie Choquette, Frenchmen
into Peasants: Modernity and Tradition in the Peopling ofFrench Canada (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1997), 54.
The most significant work that MacLeish wrote while living overseas was Einstein
(1929), published with the top avant-garde press in Paris. Black Sun Press released the work in
the same year that saw the publication of James Joyce's Tales Told ofShi 111 and Suha\ and D. H.
Lawrence's The Escaped Cook. Einstein was a sixteen-page, free-verse soliloquy in which
MacLeish attempted to recast the atomic process as a metaphor for cultural heterogeneity.28
MacLeish used the idea of a nucleus gaining mass by incorporating disparate particles as a figure
for a civil society that became stronger by amalgamating various ethnicities. MacLeish's
decision to ground his narrative in the figure of a Jewish scientist is significant because it
connects the poet to a larger intellectual development. During the first decades of the twentieth
century, scholarship from Jews gained wider credibility in Protestant academic circles.29
Particularly at Ivy League universities, the hiring of Jewish 6migr6s broadened the curriculum
taught to the nation's most privileged students.30
Some Christian students gleaned from their personal experiences with Jewish scholars a
new admiration that persisted throughout their lives. Indeed, MacLeish studied under the Jewish
professor Felix Frankfurter at Harvard Law School; he lionized Princeton's Einstein in a major
poem. MacLeish was one of many in the Protestant establishment who was determined to
fraternize with Jews, and to raise levels of awareness about obstacles to Jewish welfare. This
28 Archibald MacLeish, Einstein (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1929), 1.
29 David Hollinger, Science, Jews and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth Century
Intellectual History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 11; Jerold Auerbach, The
Journey from Torah to Constitution (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 10; Morton
Borden, Jews, Turks and Infidels (Chapel Hill: North Carolina Press, 1984), 76-77.
30 A letter from Professor Edwin Wilson, Department of Vital Statistics, Harvard
University, recommended the hiring of a German Jewish 6migr6 named Felix Bernstein, "the
world's leading medical and biological statistician notified by the Nazi government that his
position had been vacated." See Wilson to Noback, February 27, 1936, box 1/12, Adolph Sabath
Papers, 1903-52, American Jewish Archives, Cincinatti.
cosmopolitan mind-set was becoming apparent during the late 1920s and 1930s, as Americans
began to embrace a range of ethnic and racial icons. In 1927, the same year that Charles
Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, the Catholic orphan George Herman "Babe" Ruth attracted
phenomenal acclaim for his baseball skill as well as for a lifestyle that flew in the face of the
decade's teetotaler values. At the Berlin Olympics (1936), Jesse Owens represented the promise
and power of the American "melting pot" versus the myth of Aryan racial supremacy.31 Again,
in 1938, the African American heavyweight boxer Joe Lewis became a domestic and
international sensation after defeating the German Max Schmeling in New York's Yankee
It was in this fertile atmosphere that Archibald MacLeish would ask Americans to ponder
the many textures of their national identity. Determining the degree to which his pluralist
attitudes comported with, or deviated from, others in the public sphere is an important effort that
lies beyond the scope of this project. Rather, I want to examine the more narrow issue of when
MacLeish came to connect his broad belief in promoting sociocultural tolerance with a specific
concern for combating Nazi anti-Semitism. This will allow me to present the accomplishments
of this often-overlooked historical figure while shedding further light on the increased discursive
opposition provoked by reports of German religious persecutions.
In 1929, shortly after his return from Paris, MacLeish accepted a job offer from Henry
Luce to serve as an editor for the newly created Fortune magazine. According to Luce
31 For some Americans, race-based argument remained valid. See Eric Goldstein, The
Price of qT/hin< i,, Jews, Race, and American Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2006), 35, 85, 112; Gregory Michael Dorr, "Assuring America's Place in the Sun: Ivey Forman
Lewis and the Teaching of Eugenics at the University of Virginia, 1915-1953," Journal of
Southern History 66 (2000): 257-96; Matthew Frye Jacobson, T7hin1 ut of a Different Color:
European Immigrants and the Alchemy ofRace (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999),
181-84; and Elazar Barkan, The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts ofRace in
Britain and the United States between the World Wars (New York: Cambridge University Press,
biographer John Kobler, the publishing magnate envisioned the new periodical as a cutting-edge
business journal that would reinvigorate the recently depressed financial-news market. Luce's
strategy was to recruit popular literary talent who would write "human interest stories."32 In
contrast to the drab business periodicals of the decade, Fortune featured color photographs and
splashy advertisements. In 1930, the magazine debuted with thirty thousand subscribers; seven
years later, the operation maintained a circulation of nearly five hundred thousand.33
From his editorial post, MacLeish possessed a national platform for influencing the
American public discourse. Moreover, he wished to use this powerful tool for directing the
public's awareness toward Nazi anti-Semitism. Journalists in the United States were already
reporting on the phenomenon. In October 1930, almost three years before the Nazis assumed
power, Time devoted a full column to a story titled "Plate Glass Riots," which reported that
German citizens, "stones in their pockets," had "shrewdly distributed themselves in front of
Jewish-owned stores."34 "So adroit was the vandalism," the reader learned, that "there remained
not one person to be arrested."35 An additional Weimer-era article from the New Republic told of
a "scandalous attack on Jewish students" that "constituted another link in the chain of fascist
32 John Kobler, Luce: His Time, Life and Fortune (New York: Doubleday, 1968), 83-85.
Joining MacLeish at Fortune was the journalist Ralph Ingersoll, who later founded PM
magazine. See Paul Milkman, PM: A New Deal in Journalism, 1940-1948 (New Brunswick,
N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 26, 127; Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The
Laboring ofAmerican Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Verso, 1996), 83-85.
33 W. A. Swanberg, Luce and His Empire (New York: Scribner, 1972), 121.
34 "Plate Glass Riots," Time, October 27, 1930, 22.
36 New Republic, July 13, 1932, 224.
After January 1933, and Hitler's rise to the chancellorship, the pace and breadth of the
reporting increased. "Who Stands behind Hitler?" asked a headline in the Nation. Listing several
of Hitler's goals, such as abjuring the Versailles Treaty and reviving the German economy, the
related article closed with the observation that the new leader "emphasized the anti-Jewish
position."3 In a Time magazine article titled "Nazis Amuck," American readers learned that
German paramilitary soldiers had assaulted seven Americans traveling abroad. The story closed
by reporting that the number of German Jews attacked by followers of the new regime ranged
"into the hundreds."38 During the Nazi's six-month "coordination" period, as party members
took control of federal, state, and local governing apparatus, similar reports appeared frequently.
Americans had numerous opportunities to connect Nazism and anti-Semitism. These early
stories clearly conveyed the idea that German fascism had a violently anti-Jewish and
antidemocratic strain. They also demonstrated that a burgeoning interest among writers and
journalists was helping to bring these reports to the American public.
Stories of Nazi anti-Semitism also appeared in Christian periodicals. "Leave the Jewish
Problem Alone!" read the headline of one such piece in the April 1934 issue ofCiuiijau
Century, the period's most influential Protestant journal." "Since Locke," the reader learned,
"religion, opinions, and philosophies are personal matters."40 "If we are to carry on Western
civilization neither the state nor society has the right to deny the Jews."41 Non-Jewish readers
S"Who Stands behind Hitler?" Nation, February 22, 1933, 197.
38 "Nazis Amuck," Time, March 13, 1933, 15.
SRobert Abzug, America Views the Holocaust, 1933-1945 (New York: St. Martin's,
40 "Leave the Jewish Problem Alone," Clir(iaun Century, April 25, 1934, 556.
had the chance to learn from yet another public discourse that anti-Semitism posed a threat to all
people of faith. As public expressions of these bigoted sentiments were becoming unacceptable,
the editors of Christian publications took steps to enlighten their subscribers. To be sure, public
expressions of anti-Semitism continued to appear throughout the decade.42 The subtler point,
however, is that Christian American citizens came to learn that while anti-Semitic epithets might
earn one social acceptance in Nazi Germany, in the United States, they would place one outside
the pale of the cultural mainstream.
Similar periodicals adopted this approach, though with some variations. The prominent
Catholic periodical Commonweal focused on the Nazi harassment of priests. "A dozen priests,"
reported a story from March 1933, "were recently charged with organizing communists. This
is no time for discussion."43 Priests charged with demonstrating fealty to the Vatican comprised
many of the first prisoners sent to the Dachau concentration camp. Harassment of both the
Catholic and Protestant churches remained an unpleasant fact throughout the Nazi's twelve-year
Drumming up American public indignation over Nazi anti-Semitism was no easy task.
During the interwar years, many citizens felt compassion for the Germans impoverished by the
First World War. The historian A.J.P. Taylor has argued that these sentiments contributed to the
42 Leo Ribuffo, The Old C/ir oijn Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great
Depression to the Cold War (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983), 76.
43 "They're at It Again," Commonweal, March 9, 1934, 510.
44 Dietrich Orlow, A History ofModern Germany, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice Hall, 1991), 239; Stanley High, "The War on Religious Freedom," in Pierre van Passen,
James Wise eds., Nazism: An Assault on Civilization (New York: Smith and Haas, 1934), 25-39.
"appeasement" of the fascist powers that occurred during the 1930s.45 When placating Hitler,
Western leaders often noted the vital geostrategic position that Germany occupied as a bulwark
to the spread of Soviet communism. Acknowledging that Hitler was not "a champion of legal
and constitutional methods," the Literary Digest nevertheless included "destruction of the
communists" among Hitler's primary goals.46 Well into the 1930s, monitoring the spread of
communism-rather than of fascism-remained the primary objective for American foreign
policy experts. An additional reason for this tilt was that it served the interests of American big
business. Nazi ideology was not hostile toward private property, and Adolf Hitler's regime
promoted a variation of capitalism known as cartelism. Consequently, companies such as IBM
and Ford Motors overlooked German antagonism to other liberal freedoms.47 Neither did Jewish-
owned businesses immediately leave the German marketplace. The film mogul Louis B. Mayer
was reportedly "relieved" when William Randolph Hearst assured him that "Hitler's motives
By contrast, American worker organizations recognized the danger immediately. In
solidarity with German laborers, many northeastern unions organized boycotts against Nazi
45 Sidney Aster, "Guilty Men: The Case of Neville Chamberlain," in Patrick Finney, ed.,
The Origins of the Second World War (London: Arnold, 1997), 62-77; A.J.P. Taylor, The
Origins of the Second World War (New York: Atheneum, 1961), 67-73.
46 As quoted in Michael Zalampas, Adolf Hitler and the Th i rReich in American
Magazines, 1923-1939 (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press,
1989), 14. Throughout his political career, Adolf Hitler envisioned the destruction of Soviet
communism and International Jewry as interrelated. The extent to which American leaders
recognized this trenchant relationship in his thinking is unclear. See John Altmann, "Movies'
Role in Hitler's Conquest of German Youth," Hollywood Quarterly 3 (1948): 384.
47 Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany
and America's Most Powerful Corporation (New York: Crown, 2001), 75-105; Kees Van der
Pijl, The Making ofAn Atlantic Ruling Class (London: Verso, 1984), 78-80.
48 Neal Gabler, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (New York:
Crown, 1988), 338.
products. A 1934 poster from the Jewish Labor Committee represented this effort. It featured a
bare-and barrel-chested male worker swinging a sledgehammer down upon a two-headed snake
labeled "Hitlerism" and "fascism."49 Additional organizations such as the "Non-Sectarian Anti-
Nazi League" implored New York retailers not to sell German supplies.50 "Boycott Is the Moral
Substitute for War," read their letterhead. "Nazi Germany Is the Enemy of Western
Civilization." Despite these efforts, a significant rejection of German goods failed to materialize.
During the early 1930s, Americans were still learning who Hitler was, and they were
determining what, if anything, his Nazi Party had to do with America.51 This willingness of
many citizens to "do business" with the Germans challenged those concerned by the regime's
intolerant character to articulate more clearly the reasons for severing relations.
As an editor at Fortune, MacLeish determined that a story about Jewish scapegoating
would help Americans differentiate the vast differences between democratic and Nazi values. In
keeping with his magazine's stated mission to discuss potent sociocultural issues-and with his
personal commitment to promoting religious tolerance-he suggested a series that examined
anti-Jewish bigotry. On November 12, 1935, MacLeish sent a memorandum to Henry Luce, the
chairman of Time, Inc. On the subject line, MacLeish listed "Series on the Jew." Following a
brief introduction, he informed Luce that "the whole question comes down to whether [or
49 Abzug, America, 35; Ludwig Lore, "The Fate of the Worker," in van Passen and Wise
eds., Assault, 109.
50 In September 1933, the group's founder, jurist Samuel Untermeyer, inquired with F.W.
Woolworth Co. officials about reports that store employees continued to sell German goods. On
November 18, Woolworth's president, B. D. Miller, informed him "we are not buying goods
from Germany." See box 1/3, Samuel Untermeyer Papers, 1911-52, American Jewish Archives,
Cincinnati. See also Sharon Gewitz, "Anglo-Jewish Responses to Nazi Germany, 1933-1939:
The Anti-Nazi Boycott and the Board of Deputies of British Jews," Journal of Contemporary
History 26 (1991): 258, 261.
51 Alpers, Dictators, 13, 33; Zalampas, Hitler, 5, 214.
not] there is an anti-Semitic epidemic in this country capable of having important effects."
"If there is," MacLeish stated, "then Fortune will be usefully occupied in dragging the whole
thing into the light and air." In a "muckraking" spirit perhaps borne of his childhood days,
MacLeish expressed a view that the journalist's function was "ridding society of its festering
Two days later, MacLeish sent his boss a lengthy follow-up memo. In the second
correspondence, historians will find the clearest evidence to date that MacLeish enthusiastically
embraced the task of combating Nazi anti-Semitism: "There is anti-Semitic talk around the
country. The activities of Mr. Hitler in Germany have had their effect here." Turning to what
steps Fortune might take, MacLeish noted, "There are always racial antipathies to be faced in
this world." This particular antipathy, he observed, "flourishes because no one has ever dug
down to get at the underlying facts."53 In February 1936, inspired by factual reports of Nazi
barbarities, Fortune published an article written expressly to head off fascist-fomented prejudice
in the United States.54 MacLeish sent advance copies of the article to a number of prominent
Jews, including his former professor Felix Frankfurter. MacLeish informed Luce, "the piece was
considered valuable and should give offense to no one.
Shortly thereafter, MacLeish and the editors of Fortune with whom he coauthored the
article expanded upon this effort with a one-hundred-page study entitled Jews in America. "The
unbelievable record of Nazi barbarities concerns non-Jews as well as Jews. Any nation that
52 November 12, 1935, "Luce," box 8, MacLeish Papers. See also David Chalmers, The
Social and Political Ideas of the Muckrakers (New York: Citadel, 1964), 7, 15.
5 November 14, 1935, "Luce," box 8, MacLeish Papers.
54 Donaldson, MacLeish, 243.
55 Ibid., 244.
permits a minority to live in fear is a nation which invites disaster."56 MacLeish used this book
as another vehicle through which he could publicly discredit bigotry as incompatible with
American traditions. "The connection between fascism and Jew-hatred is not accidental. Any
man who loathes Fascism will fear anti-Semitism." Fearing anti-Semitism," the editors of
Fortune concluded, "he will fear also the various conditions which encourage it."5
The following year, MacLeish took an innovative step to remind Americans of their
responsibilities, as a free people, to uphold liberty. The Fall of a City: A Verse Play for Radio
does not specifically discuss aiding Jews, but it does employ the theme of looming autocracy
undermining democratic freedoms.58 The Fall was the first radio play ever aired in the United
States. It debuted more than a year before The War of the Worlds.59 MacLeish recognized that
radio programs were more cost-effective than stage productions, and they reached a far wider
audience. This innovation dispersed his artistry nationally and increased his stature as a
Airing April 11, 1937, The Fall of a City described an unnamed European town whose
citizens awaited an oncoming conqueror. MacLeish first wrote the play in early 936, during the
events that led to the Anschluss, the uncontested Nazi takeover of Austria.60 His theme was that a
failure to uphold collective democratic liberties had led to a society's downfall. Fall of a City
also featured some meaningful stylistic innovations. Most notable was MacLeish's use of a
56 Editors of Fortune, Jews, 9-10.
57 Ibid., 11.
58 Archibald MacLeish, The Fall of a City: A Verse Play for Radio (New York: Farrar
and Reinhardt, 1937).
59 Drabeck and Ellis, eds., Reflections, 106, 109.
60 Ibid., 107; Winnick, ed., Letters, 285-86.
"radio announcer" to unwind the story in the form of a news broadcast.61 The
announcer-MacLeish selected for this role a still-unknown actor named Orson Welles-did
more than just report the "facts." He also described the crowds, their cries, and their decisions.62
The Central Broadcasting Station broadcast The Fall of a City live in New York City, and later
in Hollywood, California. Executives estimated the program reached "well over one million
"Are we free?" one voice asked from the crowd. "Will you fight?" replied another. "You
can stand on the stairs and meet him." "There is still a niche in the streets." "You can hold in the
dark of a hall." "You can die today-or your children will crawl for it tomorrow."64 The Fall of a
City also featured never-before-used "sound effects" including marching boots, drumbeats and
the shouts of men and women. A group of schoolchildren visiting from New Jersey provided the
sounds of "glee."65 According to MacLeish, the program succeeded because it captured a sense
of desperation. Was the conquering inevitable? Would the citizens defend their liberty? Or, as a
nameless voice from the crowd declared, should they "give him [the conqueror] the town for
masterless men need a master?"66 In The Fall of a City, MacLeish took care not to politicize the
narrative too heavily. The play was less about a specific threat than it was an examination of the
61 David Culbert, News for the Everyman: Radio and Foreign Affairs in T7irn, America
(Westport, Ct.: Greenwood, 1976), 4-7.
62 Alpers, Dictators, 93. See also Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power (New York: Viking,
63 Drabeck and Ellis, eds., Reflections, 109.
64 MacLeish, Fall, 16-18.
65 Drabeck and Ellis, eds., Reflections, 119.
66 MacLeish, Fall, 28-30. See also Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom (New York:
Rinehart, 1934), 142.
ways that people might react to such a contingency. MacLeish wanted the public-the soon-to-
be-oppressed citizenry-to recognize that they were the main characters.6 Totalitarian practices
were a reality in Europe; MacLeish hoped to alert Americans that their liberty might become the
Listeners reportedly enjoyed the radio play. MacLeish recalled that he received letters
soon after the airing, and more so after the Nazi Anschluss. His work had appealed to a wide
cross section of the American society, and correspondence came from members of the
establishment and the common citizenry alike. Charles Andrew Merz, an editor at the New York
Times, inquired how MacLeish had known that the Nazis were going to enter Austria unopposed.
MacLeish told his friend, "I only know from what I read in the Times." Merz replied, "Well, we
didn't know, but what happens in your play is exactly what happened in Austria. I called to
know if you have prophetic gifts, or whether you are a phony who stumbled onto something."68
A stranger wrote MacLeish from New Orleans, telling the poet that he normally listened to the
radio while soaking in his bathtub. The man said that when he heard MacLeish's verse he had
almost emerged from his tub to change the station, but he didn't. In fact, he had thought the
program was "great."69
Building from the success he enjoyed with The Fall of a City, MacLeish produced an
additional radio play in 1938. Air Raid, which debuted in late October, protested Spanish
fascism.70 The poet first visited Spain in the 1920s while traveling with Ernest Hemingway. In
67 Alpers, Dictators, 91; Drabeck and Ellis, eds., Reflections, 107, 110-11.
68 Drabeck and Ellis, Reflections, 275 n. 35. See also John Hiden, Germany and Europe,
1919-1939 (New York: Longman, 1977), 41; and Taylor, Origins, 68, 109-10.
69 As quoted in Drabeck and Ellis, eds., Reflections, 108.
70 Archibald MacLeish, Air Raid: A Verse Play for Radio (New York: Harcourt and
1938, he joined with Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and Lillian Hellman to form a group called
"Contemporary Historians."1 These artists hoped to explain how ethno-religious strife-a theme
familiar to MacLeish-helped Francisco Franco achieve an ill-gotten victory. The backdrop of a
still-smoldering civil war provided MacLeish with a tangible and metaphoric framework for
explaining how autocratic regimes used sociocultural hostility to subvert democratically elected
Air Raid featured unnamed characters that the listener could follow throughout the play.
As its title revealed, MacLeish again employed the theme of a looming invasion. His dialogue
captured the different ways that people assessed the danger. A sick old woman recalled, "They
came when I was young once. I remember them. They had blue capes on their coats with scarlet
lining. They gave us milk to drink from jars of metal."" These were the sentiments of an elderly
citizen who had little time left to live. Near her, however, sat a young boy. He had the most to
fear from the loss of freedom. Not surprisingly, the lad blurted the most alarming statements:
"They kill children when they come. I've heard they kill the children's mother."74
A set of lovers tried to ignore the world's frailty. These characters represented young
adults who ignored their civic responsibilities. "Are you still there?" the man asked. "I dreamed
that you had gone." The two sit alone, away from the crowd. "Say that we're happy. Tell me
that we are happy," pleaded the girl. "Stay as you are," he replied. "Do not ever move. Stay as
you are with this sunlight on your shoulders." MacLeish's use of sunlight imagery, inherently
71 Judy Kutulas, The Long War: The Intellectual People's Front and Anti-Stalinism,
1930-1940. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 100-102.
72 Frank Willard, "The Spanish Civil War and the Coming of the Second World War,"
International History Review 9 (1987): 368-409.
7 MacLeish, Air Raid, 15.
74 Ibid., 16.
fleeting, symbolized the inevitability of change. Indeed, reports from the play's radio announcer
soon pierced the tender dialogue. The approaching planes were "still circling. Still wheeling. He
is working the air as a hawk would." The girl's voice returns, "Tell me we are happy. No, but
say that we are." "Just stay with this sunlight on your shoulders," says her companion, "Stay
with this sunlight on your hair."75
As with The Tale of a City, the fictional citizens in Air Raid did not uphold their
collective liberties in the face of oncoming autocracy. Though all knew of the threat, they lacked
a larger understanding of what they were fighting to uphold. They had lost sight of their civic
identity. By Air Raid's closing, the sick old woman had died, and the young lovers separated.
The men futilely went for arms, and the women took to the cellars. Chaos reigned. The men,
women, and children all eventually gathered in the town's square, in an anxious mob that
MacLeish represented through a building cacophony.76 Absent a secular order-one guaranteed
by a democratic government and defended by an active citizenry-the people in Air Raid
endured lawlessness until the forces of autocracy imposed order. In the closing scene, as the
invading planes arrived, machine-gun fire rained down from the skies, blood ran on the streets,
and a woman's shriek overlapped the sound of air raid alarms.77 The forces of tyranny had
arrived unchecked. The citizens had failed to uphold liberty, and liberty was lost.
MacLeish continued into the 1940s to publicize his concern that strains of autocracy-of
which Nazi anti-Semitism was a prominent example-loomed as a threat to the Western world.
His activities took on greater weight after he accepted a presidential offer to become the
75 Ibid., 18.
76 Ibid., 35.
77 Ibid., 36.
Librarian of Congress, as his entrance into the federal government provided him with a more
powerful vehicle for disseminating his pluralist vision."8 A March 1940 letter, sent to MacLeish
from the Department of Labor, captured his increasing centrality to public discussions of the
American identity. That year, MacLeish was selected as the keynote speaker at the Immigration
and Naturalization's program "I Am an American." At this event, MacLeish agreed to read
excerpts from his poem "America Was Promises."" So important was his participation deemed
to the program's success that the organizer was prepared to "tape his portion in advance" if the
Librarian of Congress could not attend the function personally.80
As MacLeish's stature increased, his commitment to opposing Nazi anti-Semitism
remained intact. In September 1940, he wrote a letter about the topic to Felix Frankfurter. The
letter was unsolicited, and its tone was informal. It indicated both the positive relationship that
he maintained with his Jewish mentor, as well as MacLeish's larger interest in helping Jews
during a difficult period. "Dear Felix," the correspondence began, "Stephen Wise81 called me up
last night in a state of considerable anxiety for the safety of Leon Blum [Nazi-deposed Jewish
French premier]. I gathered that you knew something of his thoughts on the matter." The
8 For his initial letter of regret ("I am afraid that I will not be of much use to the public
service because the one thing I have ever wanted to do with all my heart was to write poetry."),
see Winnick, ed., Letters, 299-301.
Archibald MacLeish, America Was Promises (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce,
1939). MacLeish dedicated the publication to Felix and Marion Frankfurter.
80 "Donnell," box 6, MacLeish Papers.
81 Rabbi Stephen Wise was a prominent figure in Washington, D.C., political circles.
During the 1940s, his American Jewish Congress was numerically the most significant domestic
Jewish interest group. Justice Frankfurter was a member of the more elite-and more
powerful-American Jewish Committee. See Spencer Blakeslee, The Death ofAmerican Anti-
Semitism (Westport: Praeger, 2002), 96; Eli Evans, The Provincials: A Personal History ofJews
in the South (New York: Atheneum, 1973), 100-102, 253-54; and Henry Feingold, "Stephen
Wise and the Holocaust," Midstream 29 (1983): 46.
well-informed Librarian of Congress assured Frankfurter that "Blum is in no danger" and that
"people here are in continual touch."82 This letter suggests that by 1940, when Wise placed his
call, MacLeish had gained some sort of reputation as someone who was sympathetic to-and,
might be in a position to assist-the Jewish people's struggles with Nazi anti-Semitism.
Such a conclusion appears sustained the next month, October 1940, when MacLeish
addressed a gathering of the Brooklyn Jewish Charities. At the time of his remarks, the German
Army controlled much of Western Europe. MacLeish and his audience together worried that
Nazism would become entrenched throughout the Continent. The future of Western civilization
was uncertain because "the war is not solely a war between European powers." Rather, the poet-
in-govemrnment observed that the war was between "human beings who believed different things
as to the kind of society in which men should live."83
In his closing, MacLeish specifically incorporated Jews into his sweeping defense of
democratic values. "There are those who tell us that liberty must retire that Jews must retire
and not be Jews." However, the poet implored, "Democracy will not fail if it is a democracy in
action. Faith will decide the issue." "And faith," he concluded, "cannot be a faith
against-but a faith for."84 That same month, MacLeish delivered a very similar message to a
more prestigious audience. Again, his growing appeal as a social commentator is apparent. As
the keynote speaker at the "Forum on Current Problems," a conference that Nelson A.
Rockefeller attended, the poet explained, "Fascism is an inward enemy. The defense of
democracy compels free people to build higher and stronger the house of freedom."85 These
82 "Frankfurter," box 8, MacLeish Papers.
83 "The American Cause," box 24, MacLeish Papers.
sentiments represented a continued evolution of an idea that MacLeish first conceived in Paris
twenty years earlier: people could form and defend their collective identity irrespective of
In fall 1941, with an increased social and political consciousness, MacLeish accepted an
additional assignment from President Roosevelt to serve as director at the newly created Office
of Facts and Figures. The president had conceived of the bureau as a centralized station for
answering media inquiries about the fighting.86 The poet described the midlevel agency as "sort
of a nexus" for processing war-related information.8" However, the assignment was most
significant because it placed MacLeish in a position to use the government's auspices to
influence public discourse.
Though poorly funded, staffers had the capacity to publish and distribute informational
brochures. The challenge for MacLeish lay into determining which issues best captured national
concerns. This was indeed a pressing task. More than six months after the United States had
entered the Second World War, 52 percent of the public admitted they did not have a clear idea
what the war was about. "I can see why we are fighting the Japanese," one respondent told a
Gallup pollster in August 1942, "but I cannot see why we are fighting the Germans. I
suppose we are fighting for democracy."88
Perhaps not surprisingly, one issue that MacLeish chose to publicize involved opposing
Nazi religious intolerance. In early 1942, the Office of Facts and Figures released Divide and
86 Breitman, Official, 131; Laurie, Propaganda, 51, 64-65; Drabeck and Ellis, eds.,
Reflections, 65, 153; R. Keith Kane, "The O.F.F.," Public Opinion Quarterly 6 (1942): 204-20.
SDrabeck and Ellis, eds., Reflections, 153.
88 As quoted in Richard Steele, "American Popular Opinion and the War against
Germany: The Issue of Negotiated Peace, 1942," Journal ofAmerican History 65 (1978): 708.
Conquer, a sixteen-page brochure published by the Government Printing Office. This federal
document-with 2.5 million copies distributed-outlined several reasons for Americans to fear
Nazism.89 "Hitler hopes to destroy unity in America," advised the publication. "Both physically
and mentally," readers learned, "all his tricks are now being directed against us."90 Squarely
addressing the issue of German intolerance toward Judaism, citizens read, "The Jews in Warsaw
have been packed into a ghetto." "Nazi guards," the prose continued, "patrol an eight foot wall
topped by broken glass and barbed wire."91 Divide and Conquer also contained some discussion
of persecutions leveled against Christians. "Poland's Catholic Church," the narrative continued,
"has been practically wiped out. Six hundred churches, four hundred chapels, and two
hundred convents have been destroyed or closed."92 MacLeish's imprint is apparent in the
brochure's closing. The language called to mind the fears of social atomization he first expressed
as an editor during the 1930s. "We have seen," the section began, "how Hitler's strategy was to
create internal distress in every nation he planned to attack." "Our job as Americans," this
government pamphlet advised its citizens, "is one of individual awareness to avoid falling into
As director of the Office of Facts and Figures, Archibald MacLeish also used his public
charge to initiate a related discussion "appraising the present Negro situation."94 In a cover letter
89 Information Control and Propaganda: Records of the Office of War Information,
Part I: "The Director's Central Files, 1942-1945," ed. David Culbert (Frederick, Md.: University
Publications of America, 1986), reel 8: 0049. Hereafter cited as Records, ed. Culbert, pt. 1.
90 "O.W.I.," box 53, MacLeish Papers.
9 Divide and Conquer (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942), 11.
94 "Sweetser," box 21, MacLeish Papers.
to Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, a well-known proponent of greater racial equality, MacLeish
suggested that the "federal government inform the white population of this nation of the
important role played by Negroes in the history and development of the United States."95
Secretary Ickes embraced such sentiments. "I have been concerned with this problem [the
treatment of blacks] for a number of years,"96 the secretary informed his "dear Archie." "I am
glad to see that your office has turned its attention to this worthwhile matter."9" Secretary of War
Henry Stimson likewise responded to MacLeish's outfit with a letter stating that the War
Department was considering the "color" problem.98 A final message of support also arrived from
the Office of Civilian Defense.99 These collected correspondences did not amount to much in
immediate, practical terms. However, they serve to direct our attention to the discussions under
way among the establishment elite in which expressions of concern for the plight of minorities
signaled a larger allegiance to pluralist attitudes.100 During the years from 1933 to 1941,
Archibald MacLeish was a harbinger of these upcoming changes. His mind-set was common
throughout the Roosevelt administration, and it would continue to gain sway throughout the
second half of the twentieth century.
96 In 1937, Ickes delivered a speech dealing with American racial inequality. He decried
the "bitter hate fanning a searing flame" against Jews living in fascist European nations, but he
also noted that one only has to "turn his mind from fascism to Ku Kluxism to discover here in
America a rich field of oppressions." "United States Department," box 1/13, Sabath Papers.
7 "Ickes," box 11, MacLeish Papers.
98 "Stimson," box 21, MacLeish Papers.
S"Daniels," box 6, MacLeish Papers.
100 See esp. Domenic Capeci Jr., The Lynching of Cleo Wright (Lexington: University
Press of Kentucky, 1998), 49, 62.
The appearance of Nazism clearly hurt Jews, as the fanning of religious hatreds served to
undermine the rights and security of Jewish people. But in response to this phenomenon, a
broad-based movement that transcended religious lines came into existence. In the United States,
the battle against Nazi anti-Semitism became the means through which some Protestant elite
sought to fulfill the American promise and to strengthen the national character. This liberalizing
impulse would receive additional momentum during the early 1940s, with the nation's entry into
war, and the subsequent movement that emerged ultimately outstripped all efforts that preceded
it. Once we free ourselves of a vision of the 1930s as a period in which pervasive hostility
toward minorities reigned unchecked, we can find people such as Archibald MacLeish, who
dedicated years of his life to an effort to ensure that America lived up to the lofty goals its
founders and inheritors claimed to cherish.
THE OFFICE OF WAR INFORMATION:
SCULPTING AMERICAN ATTITUDES WITH BROCHURES, 1942-1943
All available evidence points to the fact that most Americans still have little accurate
conception of what domination by the Nazis means.
-Office of War Information director Elmer Davis to
Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (R-Mass.), explaining
his agency's domestic publications division, April 2,
The Office of War Information feels a responsibility to provide information of particular
interest to minority groups.
Elmer Davis to Senator Harry Byrd (D-VA), explaining
the publication Negroes and the War, June 30, 1943101
During the early 1940s, the American discursive opposition to Nazi anti-Semitism
became more mainstream and practical. For example, in January 1941 President Roosevelt
included the right to unfettered religious worship in his "Four Freedoms" proclamation.102 Once
the United States entered the fighting, his guarantee to uphold "the civil liberties of all peoples"
became a standard theme in governmental explanations of the war effort. Federal information
officers saw in the reports of Nazi hostility to religious freedom a useful tool for educating those
who remained unclear about the struggle's significance.
One agency responsible for enlightening the American public was the Office of War
Information. In June 1942 via an Executive Order, the president empowered the neophyte bureau
with the authority to "coordinate an informed and intelligent understanding at home and abroad
100 Records, ed. Culbert, pt. 1, reel 9: 0178.
101 Ibid., pt. 1, reel 9: 0207. For more on Byrd and his opposition to the widening of the
Executive branch bureaucracy during the 1930s and 1940s, see Ronald Heinemann, Harry Byrd
of Virginia (Charlottesville, Va: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 167.
102 Delivered as the closing to the president's "State of the Union" address, the three
remaining liberties included the freedom of speech, the freedom from fear, and the freedom from
want. See http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrthefourfreedoms.htm.
of the war effort, government policies, combat activities, and general war aims."103 An expansive
midlevel agency with offices in Washington, D.C., London, New York, and San Francisco, the
new organization provided a home to a range of "New Dealers," many of who had held previous
positions in the Roosevelt administration.104 To its supporters, the Office of War Information
played a vital role in expanding the public flow of knowledge. Detractors, however, claimed that
the bureau, like others it joined in Roosevelt's "alphabet-soup" administration, represented an
effort to disseminate a partisan, pluralist vision.105
During 1942-43, the Office of War Information published many dozens of informational
brochures. Distribution levels for these documents ranged into the tens of millions, helping to
ensure the agency's public visibility.106 Writers and artists covered a wide number of topics
including The Japanese Are Tough (1942), Report of the Rubber Survey (1942), (n /ii, ,' Pilots
(1942), Why Rationing? (1943), and The Four Freedoms (1942). Officials betrayed a particular
103 For the full mandate, see U.S. Cong. Subcommittee of the Committee on
Appropriations, Hearings on the National War Agencies Appropriations Billfor 1944 78 (H), 1st
sess. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1943), 829.
104 Thomas Fleming, The New Dealers' War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the War within
World War Two (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 4-17; Clayton Laurie, The Propaganda
Warriors: America's Crusade against Nazi Germany (Topeka: University Press of Kansas,
1998), 83; Allan Winkler, The Politics of Propaganda: The Office of War Information, 1942-
1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), 55; and Joseph Barnes, "Fighting with
Information: O.W.I. Overseas," Public Opinion Quarterly 7 (1943): 34.
105 Gerd Horton, Radio Goes to War: The Cultural Politics ofPropaganda during World
War Two (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002), 44-45; Sydney
Weinberg, "What to Tell America: The Writers' Quarrel in the Office of War Information,"
Journal ofAmerican History 55 (1968): 73-89.
106 Barbara Savage, Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War and the Politics ofRace, 1938-
1948 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999, 51; K.R.M. Short, "Hollywood,"
in K.R.M. Short, ed., Film and Radio Propaganda in World War H (Knoxville: University of
Tennessee Press, 1983), 160-61; Arch Mercey, "Social Uses of the Motion Picture," Annals of
the American Academy ofPolitical and Social Science 250 (1947):101-4; and Barnes,
commitment to publicizing stories rooted in sociocultural themes such as race, creed, and
gender. War Jobs for Women (1943) and Negroes and the War (1943) examined the role that
females and African Americans played in strengthening the national effort. Nazi War against the
Catholic Church (1942) and Tale of a City (1943) condemned German hostility toward
Through its brochures, the Office of War Information unwound vision for humankind
that contrasted starkly with images of fascist atomization. There were, however, subtler aspects
to these publications. Americans, too, maintained a legacy of human inequalities borne from
ethno-racial and religious hatreds. By focusing light on the enemy's racism, administrators
attempted to hammer away at a larger point that the United States was struggling to inaugurate a
new epoch in human history in which all forms of intolerance were taboo.
One reason that scholars who specialize in American reactions to Nazi anti-Semitism
have not examined the Office's role in sculpting a more temperate public discourse is the
dominance of David Wyman's "abandonment" thesis. The discovery that some officials in
Roosevelt's State Department viewed the Nazi persecutions dispassionately has cemented the
manner in which historians frame inquires. Take the case of the oft-noted "Riegner Cable." In
August 1942, this World Jewish Congress communique to the State Department outlined in
detail the ongoing German program of murder; its authors requested that American officials
share news of the report with Jewish American leaders. Instead of disseminating the information,
diplomats suppressed the message after determining that its contents were extraneous to
"definite American interests."10' Refugee experts such as Wallace Murray and Breckinridge
10' See esp. Saul Friedman, History of the Holocaust (London: Vallentine Mitchell,
2004), 343-44; Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999),
22-23; and Michael Marrus, "Bystanders to the Holocaust," in Verne Newton, ed., FDR and the
Holocaust (New York: St. Martin's, 1996), 157.
Long Jr.108 might have cared little about the Jewish pleas for help, but others did express
concern. A need exists to widen the locus of investigation beyond a review of the utterances and
activities of men who exhibited professional incompetence and personal shortcomings.
At roughly the same time that State Department officials decided how best to ignore the
genocide, administrators at the Office of War Information discussed publicizing these types of
reports. They recognized that contrasting the stories of Nazi religious intolerance with an
exposition of American liberties would yield a tangible ideological gain. Prior to June 1944,
when the United States first landed troops in Western Europe, winning this type of battle against
the enemy took on an even greater significance.109' The accounts of German violence against
noncombatants demonstrated the very strains of repression that the nation had mobilized to
defeat. An examination of the Office's war records-its intra-agency memorandum,
correspondences, as well as published materials-reveals the efforts taken to use Nazi atrocity
stories as a foil against which to define the contours of a pluralist American society.
The president's choice to run the Office of War Information was the noted foreign
correspondent Elmer Davis. Davis possessed no previous governmental experience, but he was
knowledgeable about European affairs. In 1916, Davis covered Henry Ford's "goodwill
journey."110 Following World War I, he reported on the Paris Peace Conference. During the
1920s and 1930s, he had worked for the New York Times as both a writer and editor. Once the
Second World War began, Davis appeared on the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network.
108 Fred Israel, ed., The War Diaries ofBreckinridge Long (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1966), 303-4, 334.
109 Steven Casey, Cautious Crusade: Franklin D. Roosevelt, American Public Opinion,
and the War against Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 25-39.
110 Keith Sward, The Legend ofHenry Ford (Toronto: Rinehart and Co., 1948), 31-45.
Seven days a week, at shortly before 9 p.m., Davis told listeners about events in Europe. Citizens
reportedly enjoyed his droll wit and "Hoosier" perspective.111
Davis surrounded himself with some capable and experienced administrators. Archibald
MacLeish, who during 1941-42 had supervised the Office of Facts and Figures, served briefly as
an assistant director. Pulitzer-winning playwright and presidential speechwriter Robert
Sherwood ran the Overseas Branch.112 The Office of War Information also incorporated
hundreds of artists, writers, photographers, and editors from the Works Projects and Farm
Security Administrations.113 Agency leaders possessed a clear ability to sculpt an audiovisual
message, and to share this vision with the American public.
Indeed, the array of talent has led historian Michael Denning to conclude that the Office
was part of a much larger "cultural apparatus" that during the 1930s and 1940s helped to foster
new social norms. "The state sponsorship of writers, artists, theatres and musicians," he has
argued, "redefined American culture."114 Federal bureaucracies joined the entertainment and
I For Elmer Davis, see David Culbert, News for the Everyman: Radio and Foreign
Affairs in Tinrni1 America (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood, 1976), 125-51. See also Elmer Davis,
"Report to the President: The Office of War Information, 13 June 1942-15 Septemberl945,"
Journalism Monographs 7 (1968): 16-18.
112 For Robert Sherwood, see Illka Joki and Roger Sell, "Robert E. Sherwood and the
Finnish Winter War: Drama, Propaganda and Context Fifty Years Ago," American Studies in
Scandinavia 21 (1989): 51-69; and R. Braid Shuman, Robert Sherwood (New York: Twayne,
113 Michael Grey, New Deal Medicine: The Rural Health Programs of the Farm Security
Administration (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1999), 132; Nicholas Nathanson, The
Black Image in the New Deal: The Politics ofFSA Photography (Knoxville: University of
Tennessee Press, 1992), 4-9; Monty Noam Penkower, The Federal Writers' Project: A Study in
the Government Patronage of the Arts (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 9, 17; Jerry
Mangione, The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers' Project, 1935-1943 (New York:
Avon, 1972), 373.
114 Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring ofAmerican Culture in the
Twentieth Century (New York: Verso, 1996), 44-46, 78-82.
advertisement industries in defining the social mainstream. Contemporary observers took note of
this development. In June 1942, Edmund Wilson decried the role that "second-and-third-rate
writers" had come to play in shaping the "social consciousness."115"' "With MacLeish and
Sherwood at the White House," he noted in a letter to author Maxwell Geiser, "the whole thing
makes me uneasy."116 Wilson's specific concern with what he termed their "awful collectivist
cant" captured precisely the contest under way to reconfigure American thinking and behavior.11"
Against this landscape, the ever-escalating reports of Nazi atrocities, steeped in ancient
prejudices and medieval barbarity, clearly differentiated between the democratic and fascist
vision for humankind. Even before the Office of War Information appeared, later administrators
such as Archibald MacLeish had discussed the need to present publicly the reports of fascist
violence. Working with Robert Kitner, an executive of the National Broadcasting Company, and
political figures such as Milton Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson, Nelson Rockefeller, and Assistant
Secretary of War John McCloy, MacLeish chaired a group called the "Committee on War
Information."118" On April 30, 1942, in response to a question about the "handling of atrocity
material," MacLeish suggested first the need for a written statement covering what existed.119"'
115 Edmund Wilson, "Edmund Wilson on Writers and Writing," New York Times Review
ofBooks vol. 24 March 17, 1977.
117 Ibid. See also William Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-
40 (New York: Harper Colophon, 1963), 342.
.. For the Committee of War Information, see "Subject File," "OWI," box 52, Archibald
MacLeish Papers, 1907-81, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. See also Richard Breitman
and Alan Kraut, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933-1945 (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1987), 172.
119 "O.W.I.," box 52, MacLeish Papers.
Two weeks later, these men met to "develop a policy for the disclosure of atrocity
information." They agreed that such releases should occur with "the specific purpose of giving
the public an accurate idea of the enemy."120 One way to ensure that Americans developed a
positive image of the fledgling war effort was to depict the fascists in as unfavorable a manner as
possible.121 Attached to this agenda is an eight-page discussion of how best to present the
evidence, after "absolutely irrefutable and horrible reports come in."122 "Photographs, movies,
posters, speeches, governmental and eyewitness testimony" were possible methods listed.123 "It
would be wise to have a policy [on atrocities] ready." "If we do not prepare," the Committee on
War Information determined, "any number of unfortunate things may happen."124
Office of War Information administrators took this lesson to heart. In July 1942, only one
month after the agency's founding, George Barnes, Director Davis's assistant, authored an
internal memorandum on the topic. "Is there any facility," the message began, "for checking the
authenticity and accuracy of reported atrocities?" Citing a concern that "we shall certainly have
an increasing number of inquiries," the document closed with the statement that "we should be
prepared to answer them with some authority."125
Ten days later, Director Davis received a related letter. The message informed him that
presidential advisor Adolf Berle had shared with the Office a prospective White House statement
121 See esp. John Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New
York: Pantheon, 1986), 77, 147.
122 "O.W.I.," box 52, MacLeish Papers.
125 Records, ed. Culbert, pt. 1, reel 12: 0754.
on the topic of "civilian atrocities." This document also contained a description of a new
category termed "crimes against humanity."126 This construct connected the United States
directly with a defense of European Jewry. The category's intellectual roots held that the Nazi
actions, steeped in anti-Semitism, were incompatible with democratic values. As the memo's
author observed: "those perpetrating these atrocities must know that they cannot absolve
themselves. The crimes are being recorded in all countries with great care."127
Of course, the Office of War Information exerted modest authority. Its midlevel
bureaucratic apparatus was insufficient for stopping the genocide. The new organization also
experienced intra-agency fractures, which hastened Archibald MacLeish's departure. In his
resignation letter to Elmer Davis, penned less two months after the Office's founding, the poet
noted a "confusion" that resulted from overlapping jurisdictions.128 Indeed, the agency was but
one of several organizations involved with the collection and dissemination of war information.
On the same day that President Roosevelt had authorized Davis's bureau, he also created an
"Office of Strategic Services."129 The main distinction between the two resided in their staffs.
Elmer Davis ran a civilian organization manned by literary talents. The Office of Strategic
Services was a military unit, commanded by Col. William "Wild Bill" Donovan. A New York
lawyer and Republican friend of the president, Donovan had prior experience with information
gathering and propaganda.130 He was a forceful figure who staked out a broad vision. Perhaps not
126 Ibid., pt. 1, reel 12: 0805.
128 "Davis," box 6, MacLeish Papers.
129 Laurie, Propaganda, 36; Cedric Larson, "The Domestic Picture Work of the Office of
War Information," Hollywood Quarterly 2 (1948): 434.
130 Laurie, Propaganda, 63; Holly Shulman, The Voice ofAmerica: Propaganda and
Democracy, 1941-45 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 32.