Yellowing Journalism

Saturday, September 27, 1941: Bold headlines scream across the front page of the New York Post:


And ...

"F.D.R. Hails 14 Liberty Ships as Blow at Hitler."

This yellowing edition of '40s journalism was sealed behind a painting I bought recently, and reading it has been a fascinating trip back in time. Reflecting the era they come from, and with the benefit of history, the various stories in this single newspaper issue are both enlightening and disturbing, revealing and infuriating, telling and common. Like life itself can be, then and now.

The war in Europe rages, but the U.S. has yet to enter it. A mere 41 days before the Imperial Japanese Navy would attack Pearl Harbor, this window into a single day of news also provokes a profound and disturbing question: why did it take the Japanese attack for the United States to finally enter the war and confront the atrocities Hitler was unleashing across Europe and its Jewish citizens?

At home, on the other side of the planet, the baseball World Series is days away -- Dodgers vs Yankees -- and the Post is alive with analyses and predictions about the fate of these bitter New York rivals...

"Experience Counts. Yanks Are Series Vets, Dodgers 'Green'."

The Post is right: the Yankees would win in five games. It would be another six years before the game of baseball would allow a black player into its ranks, and another fourteen before the Bums from Brooklyn would finally triumph over their cross town arch rivals in a World Series, and then abandon storied Brooklyn and their die-hard fans for the bright lights of Los Angeles. Post Sports also reports that Ted Williams figures he needs 5 hits in the Red Sox' last three games against the Kansas City Athletics to end the season with a .400 batting average. He gets it done, and he's the last baseball player to ever reached that lofty average. The Post also advertises upcoming reviews by the champ himself, Joe Louis, "The Brown Bomber," on fights that will take place in the few weeks before he reports for military duty at the Chicago Draft Board.

"Thriller-Chiller Movie On Tap."

From the Entertainment pages, The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart, is set to debut at New York City's Strand Theater the following Friday, with Mary Astor and Gladys George providing "femme allure in the picture." The Post funny page strips include Superman, Nancy, Dixie Dugan and Dinky Dinkerton - Secret Agent 6 7/8. And you wonder how they came up with that number.

"Jewish Theaters Open Wednesday."

Another story announces "Jewish Theaters Open Wednesday," saying "The Yiddish theater season is set to open Oct 1 with curtain raisers scheduled at four Jewish theaters in the metropolitan area."

And numerous other peeks into life as it was back then: "Dope Smuggler Jails 3 Swindlers" (pitched as morphine, cocaine and heroin - what it was was milk powder and baking soda); "Messenger Vanishes With $4000" (a 19 yr old kid - who then sends his mom a telegram from Boston, where he's fled. So much for vanishing); "New DeSoto has 115 H.P," and also features running boards and concealed headlights.

1941 -- the year of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, the completion of Mt. Rushmore and the Grand Coulee Dam, the first Captain America comic book and the release of Citizen Kane -- and Dumbo.

But given the times, the overarching theme coursing through this September 27, 1941 issue of the New York Post is the war. In amongst the otherwise innocuous reporting of routine daily Jewish activities, and ringing with historical resonance, there are stories about the domestic conflict between anti-Semitism and the efforts of many to confront it. All of it a full seven years before David Ben-Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish State of Palestine, declares the establishment of a Jewish state, to be known as The State of Israel.

The war rages: Hitler's Germany, aligned with Mussolini's Italy, is scourging Europe and Europe's Jews; Japan has signed an axis pact with both tyrants, but is not, yet, a military participant. Russia is defending itself against German invasion. And the US is nowhere to be seen.

"Nazi's Plan Great Europe-U.S. High Seas Battle!"

... says an advertisement in the Post, announcing an upcoming NY Post special edition. "While American appeasers are talking U.S. isolation, Nazi Admirals are talking U.S. invasion! ... The Nazi's say that war with the U.S.A. is inevitable! Read these startling revelations in Sunday's PM." The Nazi's had it right in a twisted kind of way, but it would be Japan that would invade the U.S.

And given the U.S.'s reluctance to enter the war, it is deeply disturbing to see references to the plight of Jews under Hitler and his Nazi's. If it's this prevalent, in a single issue of a major daily newspaper, then any argument of "we didn't know" becomes utterly inexcusable and without a scintilla of credibility.

A wide range of empathetic support for Jews at home is also reported.

Some, like America's Charles Lindbergh, are arguing for do-nothing isolationism. "Lucky Lindy," a world-renowned American hero 14 years earlier for his solo Trans-Atlantic flight, and now just back from three years of self-imposed exile to Europe, is being accused of anti-Semitism:

"Clerics Attack Lindbergh. 700 Denounce Him for Anti-Semitism."

... reads this headline, and the article goes on to describe how 700 Protestant Churchmen from all parts of the US have signed a document attacking a speech Lindbergh made nearly two weeks earlier (Sept 11, Des Moines, Iowa, Who Are the War Agitators?), declaring Lindbergh's "anti-Semitism is anti-Christianity," likening it to "the Hitler technique in Germany."

Earlier in this same year (Jan 23), Lindbergh testified before Congress and recommended the US negotiate a neutrality pact with Hitler. This is less than two years after Lindbergh returns to the U.S. from a self-imposed three-year exile to Europe.

In his Des Moines speech, Lindbergh said, "Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance," he said, "is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation."

And he included this warning: "Their (the Jewish people's) greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government." Ours (emphases added).

With a left-handed gesture, he did go on to condemn Nazi Germany's form of anti-Semitism: "No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany." Lindbergh declared. In Germany. But stay out of the war.

Lindbergh then tries to explain himself: "... I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction."

President Roosevelt, for one, was "... absolutely convinced Lindbergh is a Nazi." (Wayne S. Cole, Charles A. Lindbergh and the Battle Against Intervention in World War II, University of Wisconsin Press, 1974, p 131).

As reported by the Post, the clerics who attacked Lindbergh accuse him of attempting "to destroy democratic government in the U.S. by conditioning the people to hate a special group." The article goes on to quote the clerics' public declaration: "American Christians ... dare not make the same mistake of the German Christians, who failed to condemn anti-Semitism when it started in Germany."

Except the "same mistake" is already evident across the land. But not at the University of Buffalo, as exemplified in this article from the same edition of the NY Post:

"14 U. of Buffalo Educators Urge U.S. War Entry Now."

Contending that "this is the moment to strike," 14 faculty members, including the Chancellor, "... today urge immediate U.S. entry into the war as 'the surest and swiftest road to peace'." They advocate "all out use of American naval and air forces, seizure of additional islands ... whatever military measures are necessary to hold these bases, and immediate repeal of the neutrality law."

Meanwhile, more evidence of our mistake ...

"Nazi Reprisals Jolt Europe.
Hostage Killings Seen as Periling Legal Foundations."

Citing an article from the Zurich magazine Die Weltwoche, the Post reports: "The Nazi practice of shooting civil hostages in occupied territories is ripping away continental legal foundations and increasing the difficulty of unifying Europe," as evidenced by the Nazi slogan, 'What serves Germany is legal; what injures it is wrong'."

Die Weltwoche (The World Week, a Swiss weekly) was launched in 1933, and was sympathetic to Nazi Germany's government early on - but soon joined other Swiss media in vigorously opposing it. "The world paid little attention to the Nazi shootings so long as they were confined to Germany and the Third Reich's Jews." But now, according to Die Weltwoche, "The rule is being applied to the 'French, Poles, Czechs, Norwegians, Croats and many others," and it's this broader application of the Nazi's practice that threatens European unification.

"The problem, argues Die Weltwoche, "is not sentimental, but political."

And this profound foreshadowing of what was to come ...

"Japan Observes Axis Pact
Messages Sent to Hitler and Duce (Mussolini)"

Acknowledging the first anniversary of Japan's adherence to their three-power pact, Japan's Foreign Minister Toyoda urges renewed faith in the tri-partite ideal, an "accomplishment of the noble mission of mankind ..." and goes on to congratulate Hitler and Mussolini "...for the progress being made in construction of the new order."

It also cites The Japan Times and Advertiser, "an organ of the foreign office:" "As one of the big three," it says, "Japan restrained the United States and checked Britain ... had Japan not played a part, "Germany and Italy would have had to bear additional weight of democratic military force."

And then, "... although Japan was a peaceful member of the alliance, it was nevertheless a military factor."

Meanwhile they've got the attack on the United States fully planned and orchestrated to launch a mere 41 days later. (In March, Japanese spy Takeo Yoshikawa had arrived in Honolulu to begin studying the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, working closely with German Abwher agent Bernard Kuehn; David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace, Pearl Harbor and the Japanese Spy Family Part 2, 3;

"Racial Bias Denied by British Here at Film Agency."

As reported, the British Purchasing Commission was alleged to be refusing to employ Jews, Germans and persons from the south of Ireland. They denied it, saying they employed all of them - "with the provision that they be American-born, and of American-born parents. "The reason is obvious," said David Willis of the BPC, "if employees had parents living in Germany, they might be subject to blackmail methods by the Nazi's."

More historical currency reported in the New York Post that anti-Semitism is pervasive: A Senate subcommittee was investigating the film business (Charlie Chaplin, a suspected Communist, had already been subpoenaed to appear before them the following week, having been accused of "un-American activities. A year earlier Chaplin, whom many suspected was Jewish (he was not) had released The Great Dictator, a stirring condemnation of Hitler, Mussolini and anti-Semitism - actually viewed as controversial since the US was still formally "at peace" with Nazi Germany. One of the characters Chaplin played in the film was "A Jewish Barber," a defiant response to the Nazi's belief that he was Jewish. The Tramp was banned from the US in 1952, and would not return until 1972).

It is both fascinating and disturbing to gain a peek back in time, with the grand benefit of history and hindsight, and the wonder of it all. And the horror, the horror -- a fitting quote from Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. The seemingly routine intermingling of our national pastime, and movie debuts, with unfolding horrific events that would change the course of world history. Unfortunately -- unforgivably -- and despite great strides across the land and around the world, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head to this day.

Meanwhile, back then, on that same Saturday in late September, 1941 the New York Post radio listings feature several program choices around the dial, including Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy on WEAF and Inner Sanctum on WJZ, this episode "The Haunting Face." And WOR's special Yom Kippur program.

Only in America.


Tim Arnold
22 Oct 2014