Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Quanza - A Moral Victory

In 1939, the ship St. Louis sailed from Europe with Jews fleeing the Nazi take-over. The ship was refused entry to any port in the Americas, and had to return to Europe. Anti-Semitism was alive and well in the United States, and the Nazis had a field day, crowing how no one wanted the Jews.
The following year, 317 passengers charted a Portuguese ship to take them to New York and Mexico. They had visas, but the captain suspected some were forged, and demanded they buy return passage should no one admit them.
A model of the SS Quanza on display in the University of Richmond law school library. 
The Quanza arrived in New York City on August 19, 1940, where 196 passengers, American citizens or visa-holders, disembarked. The other 121, nearly all Jewish refugees, were barred entry.
In Veracruz, Mexico, only 35 passengers were allowed to disembark. Local authorities ordered the ship to return to Europe with the remaining 86 passengers, primarily Belgian Jews.
When the Quanza arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, to refuel, a Jewish maritime lawyer filed suit in federal court, suing the Portuguese National Line for breach of contract on behalf of four of the passengers. During the six days the ship was held in port, Jewish-American associations lobbied for the passengers’ admittance to the United States. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was apprised of the situation and appealed to her husband. The president sent Patrick Murphy Malin, a member of the President’s Advisory Committee for Political Refugees, to investigate the refugees’ status. He issued them all visas and they entered the United States on September 14.
President Roosevelt received roses with a note reading, "With everlasting gratitude for your humane gesture, from the refugees of the SS Quanza."

The State Department vehemently opposed their admittance. Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long, a rabid anti-Semite, worked to block further immigration and, by mid-1941, almost no war refugees were admitted to the U.S.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Lebensborn means source of life. During the Nazi era, it meant tearing families apart and traumatizing children.
The birth rate had been falling for decades in Germany. The Nazis determined to reverse the trend. They rewarded mothers who gave birth to large families. Advertising for birth control was banned, as was abortion. Still, the population didn’t increase sufficiently.
In their effort of creating the ideal Aryan race, the Nazis combed through the children in conquered nations and stole 300,000 “racially valuable” children. Most came from Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Examiners measured blond, blue-eyed children for head size and body size, making sure they had no Jewish aspects. Those determined as capable of being Germanized were sent to Lebensborn homes in Germany. From there, they were given to adoptive or foster parents.

A Polish child is grabbed for the Lebensborn program.

Heinrich Himmler headed the Lebensborn program and organized his paramilitary Schutzstaffel (SS) to be the vanguard of Aryan supermen. He encouraged them to have children with racially pure women, whether or not they were married.
The pregnant women could apply to give birth in a Lebensborn home, after which their children were often parceled out to adoptive families. While in the homes, the children were allowed little contact with their mothers, who were discouraged from talking to or cuddling their children. For all of them, their lifestyle was severe, to produce strong, ruthless future Aryan leaders. They needed love but got discipline.
Anni-Frid Lyngstad of the Swedish pop group ABBA is the child of a Norwegian mother and German soldier father. After her birth in November, 1945, her mother and grandmother were branded as traitors and ostracized in the Northern Norway village. They emigrated to Sweden, where Anni-Frid’s mother died of kidney failure before her daughter was two.
In the postwar years, many birth families searched for their missing children. Sometimes they were found and sent back. For young children with no memories of home, this was more traumatizing than the original kidnapping. All traces of their former lives and language were erased. They spoke only German, and returned to a country where all things German were hated. Even those who lived with their birth mothers found their mothers unwilling to reveal the truth about their fathers.
These children had been kidnapped or bred to be racially pure, strong, confident leaders of the master race. Instead, they often suffered low self-esteem and uncertainty about who they were. The Lebensborn program was a colossal tragedy.

Recommended Reading: Hitler’s Forgotten Children: A True Story of the Lebensborn Program and One Woman’s Search for Her Real Identity by Ingrid von Oelhafen and Tim Tate.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hollywood's Spies

Ever since World War II, questions have been raised as to why the American Jews didn’t do much to aid the beleaguered Jews of Europe. The absence of a strong national organization handicapped the American Jews. Their decentralized culture led to bickering. When solidarity was most needed, internal differences prevented them from finding common ground.
But they didn’t do nothing.
Antisemitism’s worst period in U.S. history coincided with the Nazi rise to power. Germany played an active role in fomenting political antisemitism in the U.S. For eleven years, from 1934 to 1945, the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee maintained an active, if hidden, defense and counterpropaganda program against Nazi infiltration in the United States.
The LAJCC carried on covert fact-finding partnered with non-Jewish organizations and individuals. Working with groups like the American Legion kept their findings from being discarded because they came from Jewish sources. If Jews protested against the far right, the fascist would claim their protests were proof of their communist allegiances.
Informants found their way into the Friends of New Germany, forerunner of the German America Bund, and documented the relationship between Berlin and FNG. They provided warnings for new activity, such as the desire of FNG to acquire blueprints of National Guard armories. Anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi books and newspapers written in English in Germany for American audiences were shipped to America on German tourist ships for distribution.
From 1939 to 1941, the LAJCC, operating under the name News Research Service, published News Letter, a weekly, timely expose with information from their files, linking past and current events. Most of the major U.S. periodicals subscribed to News Letter—Life, Look, New Republic, Saturday Evening Post, Time—and used this research for their own articles and requested more information. The News Letter influenced national opinion makers with credibility to publicly confront Nazis in the U.S. in a way no Jewish defense group could.

Some of the biggest names in Hollywood supported the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee.
From left: Louis B. Mayer, Eddie Cantor, George Cukor, Jack Warner, and David O. Selznick

While the Jewish community was divided in how to deal with Nazism and different groups appeared to compete for funds and status, this wasn’t a problem in Los Angeles. The LAJCC maintained its undercover operations because of the support of movie moguls of Hollywood. Dozens of Hollywood actors, directors, producers, and writers lent their money.
Los Angeles Jewish community fought its fight against Nazism with the financial support and skills and contacts of the motion picture industry to effectively enter the national political arena. The Hollywood moguls were not absent from the fight. They were merely hidden.

Recommended Reading: Hollywood’s Spies: The Undercover Surveillance of Nazis in Los Angeles By Laura B. Rosenweig, coming in September.