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.

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