Trayon White: A disgrace even by the usual Democratic city government standards

Trayon White

Is he dumber than he is anti-Semitic, or more anti-Semitic than he is dumb? Your call.

First, on March 16 of this year, Trayon White, a member of the city council in Washington, D.C., posted a Facebook video of a snowfall along with a comment of his own suggesting that “the Rothschilds” are “controlling the climate to create natural disasters that they can pay for to own the cities, man.” It soon emerged that this was not the first time he had expressed the opinion that Jews run the weather.

Baron David René de Rothschild, current French chairman of N. M. Rothschild & Sons

International outrage led him to issue an apology. No sooner had the leaders of Jewish organizations accepted the apology and claimed to regard it as sincere did the City Council release video of a February 27 breakfast event at which White had accused the Rothschilds of controlling the federal government and World Bank. White apologized for this, too, writing that “Somehow, I read and misconstrued both the Rockefeller and Rothchild [sic] theories. At that breakfast, I indeed misspoke, was really misinformed on the issue and ran with false information. I think I heard other similar information before about the theory around the World Bank and put it all together.” Makes sense to us! No, seriously, let bygones be bygones. No reason to deprive the people of Washington of such a stellar intellect simply because he got a little confused.

The late Mayor Marion Barry

White, by the way, is a protégé of late Washington mayor Marion Barry, most famous for having been convicted of smoking crack. White is also a former member of the U.S. capital’s Board of Education, which to anyone familiar with public education in D.C. will not be all that surprising. He’s also donated money to Louis Farrakhan’s rabidly Jew-hating Nation of Islam. 

Anyway, after his Rothschild remarks, White, as an act of “conciliation” with the Jewish community – i.e., a PR move – agreed to take a 90-minute guided tour of the Holocaust Museum. Great idea, right? Nope.

U.S. Holocaust Museum

As the Daily Mail reported, when he saw a 1937 picture of “a woman surrounded by Nazi soldiers with a sign hanging from her neck that read: ‘I am a German girl and allowed myself to be defiled by a Jew,’ White asked, ‘Are they protecting her?’” The tour guide explained that they were not: they were marching her down the street to shame her. “Marching through,” replied White, “is protecting.” The guide, with what reads like a patience that passeth all understanding, said, “I think they’re humiliating her.”

And then, 90 minutes apparently being too much of a test of his attention span, he left the tour before it was over. He claimed to have a meeting to get to, but was later “seen walking around aimlessly outside of the museum.” Meanwhile one of his aides, who had decided to stick with the tour to the end, replied to a mini-lesson about the Warsaw ghetto by asking if it was like “a gated community.”

Rafael Shimunov

If there was anything more reprehensible than White’s unashamed display of bigotry and ignorance, it was the readiness of some members of the Washington, D.C., Jewish community to stand by him. In the Forward, Rafael Shimunov, an official of the Working Families Party, co-founder of ResistHere, and veteran of a long list of left-wing activist groups, argued that “many in the DC community and the Jewish community need to examine how easily they found themselves mocking a black man who has devoted his life to the public service of America’s most vulnerable.” Nice try, but no dice. It is preposterous that a fool and knave like White can hold high elective office in Washington, D.C. The best thing he can do to serve“ America’s most vulnerable” is to quit his job and work for the election of somebody with a minimally acceptable I.Q., education, level of intellectual curiosity, and moral compass. 

The Red Cross and the Nazis: a dark chapter

Gerald Steinacher

Sometimes the people who end up being useful stooges can be those who have – or who think they have – the noblest of intentions. A new book by University of Nebraska historian Gerald Steinacher, Humanitarians at War, draws attention to the lamentable conduct of the International Committee of the Red Cross during World War II. Founded in 1863, the ICRC was responsible for the conference that first formulated the Geneva Conventions, and during the wars that followed was permitted by all belligerents to operate behind their lines and take care of wounded soldiers and prisoners of war. The Red Cross, it must be said, was a remarkably modern and humanitarian conception.

Carl Jacob Burckhardt

But the execution has not always matched the conception. The ICRC’s record is not spotless, and the worst chapter in its entire history undoubtedly came during the Holocaust, when the ICRC was under the de facto leadership of its official second-in-command, Carl Jacob Burckhardt (its president, Max Huber, was largely out of commission during that period), a Swiss diplomat and anti-Semite. As Samuel Moyn, a professor of law and history at Yale, notes in a recent review of Steinacher’s book for the Wall Street Journal, Burckhardt’s fear of Communism caused him to view Nazism “as a bulwark of civilization and a necessary evil.” Although the ICRC, since 1933, had been receiving letters from German concentration camps making it clear just how horrible the treatment of inmates was, Burckhardt was determined to keep a lid on it all, praising the commandant of Dachau, for example, “for his discipline and decency.”

That was just the beginning. Not long after the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, at which Nazi leaders agreed on the objective of exterminating the Jews of Europe, the ICRC became aware of this resolution. But it said nothing about it and did nothing about it.

Samuel Moyn

To be sure, it could be argued that there was little or nothing the ICRC could have done to prevent the execution of Hitler’s Final Solution. But Burckhardt’s problematic attitude persisted after the war. Silent on the Holocaust, he spoke up against the Nuremberg trials, calling them “Jewish revenge.” “Red Cross officials,” writes Moyn, “attempted to whitewash the record of Nuremberg defendant and high-ranking Nazi diplomat Ernst von Weizsäcker. After the Holocaust, the ICRC—by then helmed by Burckhardt—even abetted the flight of Nazis such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele by providing them with travel papers.”

Adolf Eichmann

It has been known for a long time that the ICRC helped Nazis escape Europe; at first, the ICRC’s excuse was that a relatively small number of Nazis had successfully misrepresented themselves as innocent refugees and taken advantage of an overburdened Red Cross bureaucracy to evade justice. But Steinacher’s research on the subject, published in his 2011 book Nazis on the Run, showed that the numbers of Nazis helped in this fashion by the ICRC – as well as by the Vatican – were “much higher than thought.” Thanks to the ICRC, in fact, no fewer than “90% of ex-Nazis fled via Italy, mostly to Spain, and North and South America – notably Argentina.” As Steinacher has documented, individual ICRC officials and local ICRC delegations in Europe knowingly held out a helping hand to Hitler’s former henchmen. Their motives varied: some were acting “out of sympathy for individuals”; others had sympathy for the Nazi cause. Whatever the case, the Nazi chapter of the ICRC’s history is a profoundly tainted one, serving as a salutary reminder that even the most pristine of images can be seriously deceptive.

“I must take children”: Chaim Rumkowski’s final solution

Jews being deported from the Lodz ghetto

The date was September 4, 1942. The day before, the Nazis had ordered Chaim Rumkowski, the Jewish head of the Lodz ghetto, to hand over all of the residents of the ghetto who were sick, under the age of ten, or over the age of sixty-five. Rumkowski, knowing that these pdeople – 20,000 in all – would be sent to their deaths, gathered together the residents of the ghetto and delivered a now-notorious speech. Entitled “Give Me Your Children,” it read, in part, as follows:

Rumkowski with his Nazi superior, Hans Biebow

A grievous blow has struck the ghetto. They are asking us to give up the best we possess – the children and the elderly….Yesterday afternoon, they gave me the order to send more than 20,000 Jews out of the ghetto, and if not – “We will do it!” So, the question became: “Should we take it upon ourselves, do it ourselves, or leave it for others to do?” And, we reached the conclusion that…I must perform this difficult and bloody operation – I must cut off limbs in order to save the body itself! I must take children because, if not, others may be taken as well.

The residents of the ghetto wept and wailed. But over the next few days, the round-up was carried out by the Nazis with brutal efficiency. Every home was searched and emptied of its young and old and sick, with over 500 ghetto residents being killed in the process. The archives of the U.S. Holocaust Museum contain several eyewitness testimonies to this round-up, including the following by a sixteen-year-old girl:

I saw two wagons full of little children drive past the open gate. Many of the children were dressed in their holiday best, the little girls with colored ribbons in their hair. In spite of the soldiers in their midst, the children were shrieking at the top of their lungs. They were calling out for their mothers.

Rumkowski with Heinrich Himmler and several other Nazi officers

What happened to those children, elderly, and infirm Jews is described as follows on the museum’s website:

The deportation trains traveled 37 miles northwest to the Chelmno killing center. Arriving Jews were greeted by the camp’s German staff, who spoke of work, better food, and a shower. After leaving their clothes behind for disinfection, the Jews crowded into trucks to ride to the baths. Chelmno’s trucks, however, were engineered so that deadly engine exhaust filled the cargo compartments. German guards sealed the airtight doors, and the driver started the engine. After 5 to 10 minutes, the screams from the suffocating prisoners stopped. The bodies were dumped in mass graves.

Beginning in spring 1942, the gassed victims’ bodies were destroyed in one of two crematoria built two miles from the camp’s headquarters. The ashes of Chelmno’s dead, including the Lodz ghetto children, were buried in the nearby fields.

Primo Levi

Rumkowski’s argument that he had to allow the children to be taken lest others be taken too proved to be meaningless, of course, for in the weeks and months that followed, others were taken. Less than two years later, in August 1944, Rumkowski and his family were among them. He had managed to get the Nazis to save them for the end – they were on the very last transport to Auschwitz. When he got there, Rumkowski was killed instantly – not by the Nazis whom he had assiduously served, but by Jewish inmates who could not forgive him for being such a loyal toady to the murderers of their people. As for Rumkowski’s Nazi overlord, Hans Biebow, he was tried after the war in a Polish court and executed in 1947.

“Had [Rumkowski] survived his own tragedy,” the distinguished author and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi would later write, “no tribunal would have absolved him, nor, certainly, can we absolve him on the moral plane.”

The Nazis’ most loyal Jew: Chaim Rumkowski

Chaim Rumkowski tasting soup

During the last few days we’ve been examining the supremely sobering topic of the Jewish ghettos in Poland during the Nazi occupation. We’ve seen how Chaim Rumkowski, installed by the Nazis as head of the ghetto in Lodz, pursued a policy of wholehearted collaboration. One survivor of the ghetto later recalled that Rumkowski, in his dealings with Jews, “was an incomparable tyrant who behaved just like a Führer and cast deathly terror to anyone who dared to oppose his lowly ways.” But with the Nazis, “he was as tender as a lamb and there was no limit to his base submission to all their demands, even if their purpose was to wipe us out totally.” Rumkowski would presumably have argued that by responding to the invaders with docility – and by building up a vibrant local industry that supplied many of the material needs of the Wehrmacht – he would keep his people safe.

Jews entering the Lodz ghetto after being evicted from their homes

Yet Rumkowski’s assumption that a productive ghetto would remain a protected ghetto proved to be false. Eventually the Nazis began sending the Jews of Lodz to the death camps. And it was Rumkowski who personally made up the lists of names. He took the opportunity to consign to their deaths people he considered enemies. And he brooked no resistance. If anyone tried to escape deportation, Rumkowski made sure he or she ended up in Nazi hands. Even as the Nazis began draining the ghetto of Jews (the first large-scale deportation occurred in December 1941), Rumkowski continued to believe that his exceedingly meek and accommodating approach to the Nazis was the correct one.

Rumkowski officiating at a wedding

So much was he hated by the residents of the ghetto that they organized several strikes and public protests against him over a period of several months. In response, Rumkowski ordered the Jewish police to shut the protesters down violently. Sometimes he even brought in Nazi muscle to enforce his autocratic discipline. In time, the protesters gave up. Rumkowski, secure in his power, bragged that the ghetto, in three years’ time, would be “working like a clock.” While most members of the Lodz ghetto were compelled to work long hours and to eke by on meager rations, Rumkowski lived high on the hog, socializing with his Nazi handler, Hans Biebow, and the other Nazis whose orders he not only followed but prided himself on anticipating. Some historians describe Rumkowski as having “identified so closely with his Nazi masters that [he] became their Jewish counterpart — a Machiavellian fascist bent on separating ‘useless eaters’ from productive workers, all the while stoking his own cult of personality.”

A footbridge connecting the two parts of the Lodz ghetto

Ultimately, Rumkowski was confronted with the same challenge that Adam Czerniaków, his counterpart in Warsaw, had faced: the deportation of children. But Rumkowski took a different route than Czerniaków did. Whereas Czerniaków, as we have seen, responded to his failure to save the Warsaw ghetto’s orphans by taking his own life, Rumkowski helped arrange for the removal from the ghetto of 15,000 children under the age of 14 between January and May 1942. Later that year, when ordered by his Nazi superior, Hans Biebow, to round up another batch of children, Rumkowski gathered his ghetto’s residents together and delivered a now-infamous speech.

We’ll get to that speech, and finish up with this solemn topic, tomorrow.

 

“Jew against Jew”: the legacy of Chaim Rumkowski

Chaim Rumkowski and other ghetto leaders

Yesterday we started exploring the unsavory story of Chaim Rumkowski, the Jewish businessman who was appointed by the Nazis after their invasion of Poland to run the Jewish ghetto in the city of Lodz. As we’ve seen, Rumkowski was a man who enjoyed his power. He’s been described as “an obsessive…egomaniac” who set “Jew against Jew.” Although he ruled over a minuscule realm – one and a half square miles, inhabited by 160,000 people – he comported himself in the manner of a small-time emperor, traveling around the ghetto in a fancy carriage and with his own armed guards and official retinue. Every time his birthday rolled around, according to one source, “the ghetto’s various committees and workshops hastened to prepare annual birthday tributes for the leader, including lavish commemorative albums.” Rumkowski also oversaw the production of propaganda in which he was depicted as a messiah, the savior of the Jews of Lodz.

“In a typical propaganda poster,” according to one source,

Rumkowski is surrounded by grateful ghetto inhabitants raising their arms to hail him. In the background, the chairman’s realm is depicted not as a dilapidated ghetto, but as a leafy, productive commune. The streets are devoid of beggars, and only the fecal workers hauling away people’s waste are out roaming. Between the hovering Rumkowski and his idyllic domain, hospital workers transport a stretcher-bound woman, all while the chairman observes his handiwork.

Maia Mari-Sutnik

In real life, the people of the Lodz ghetto lived several to a room in dilapidated old wooden structures, most of them without plumbing. Everything was scarce. The sanitary conditions were perilous. Illness and malnutrition abounded. His motto was “work is the way”: if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. In a catalogue for a recent exhibition of photographs of the Lodz ghetto, curator Maia-Mari Sutnik states that Rumkowski “essentially transformed the ghetto into a slave labor camp, exploiting Jewish workers to carry out his ‘survival of the fittest’ plan in an abysmally crumbling ghetto.”

Richard Rubinstein

The ghetto’s work was done in twelve- to fourteen-hour shifts, and the food consisted mostly of bread and watery soup. Under Rumkowski’s supervision, moreover, the ghetto’s Jewish police were as fearsome as the Gestapo itself. In the prisons Rumkowski ran, “torture was inflicted on all Jews who evaded his laws or failed to execute his commands, chief of which was the command to work.” The concepts of Jewish brotherhood and Jewish mercy were alien to Rumkowski. “Save for his favorites,” Holocaust historian Richard Rubinstein has written, Rumkowski had “concern only for that remnant of the group likely to survive the ordeal of the war….He had no concern for the individual. To an extent apparently unsurpassed by any other Nazi-appointed Jewish leader, he was the Fuhrer of his tiny kingdom.” (Indeed, a 2011 novel about Rumkowski by Steve Sem-Sandberg was entitled The Emperor of Lies.)

More tomorrow.

The notorious Chaim Rumkowski

Chaim Rumkowski

Yesterday we took a brief look at the Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Warsaw and at Adam Czerniaków, the Jewish politician appointed by the Nazis to run it. If the ghetto in Warsaw was the largest one to be established by the Nazis in Poland, the very first such ghetto was the one in Lodz. Surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, it had a population of about 230,000, and the man whom the Nazis put in charge of the Judenrat, the ghetto’s ruling council, was Chaim Rumkowski, a Jewish businessman who had previously been the director of an orphanage.  

Like Czerniaków, Rumkowski chose the path of collaboration, working closely with his immediate superior, Hans Biebow, a German businessman turned Nazi officer. But in his efforts to please his Nazi masters, Rumkowski went even further than his counterpart in Warsaw. A stern taskmaster, he turned the Lodz ghetto into an industrial hub. Over a hundred “inmate workshops” churned out textiles, books, building supplies — “everything from children’s toys to military equipment.” In 1942 alone, the ghetto earned the Third Reich a profit of ten million marks. It is no exaggeration to say that the Lodz ghetto became a highly productive part of the Nazi war machine. And this was precisely Rumkowski’s intention. His assumption was that as long as the Jews of Lodz continued to be of such immense service to the Nazis, providing them with valuable wartime commodities, they would stay safe. What kind of an occupying power, after all, would want to harm people who were so useful to them? Little did he realize, at the start, that, as the regional governor, Friedrich Übelhör put it in December 1939, the Lodz ghetto, like all the other ghettos, was “only a transitional measure,” the ultimate objective being to “cleanse” Lodz of the “pestilential boil.” known as the Jews.

Entrance to the Lodz ghetto

But Rumkowski was not exclusively, or even principally, perhaps, interested in saving the lives of his people. He was interested in power. Put in charge of the ghetto on October 13, 1939, he personally named the members of his own Judenrat, only to denounce all of them three weeks later to the Nazis for failing to be sufficiently subservient to him. The Nazis are known to have executed most of them forthwith; it is not clear what happened to the rest. Rumkowski then picked another Judenrat, which stayed in line, allowing Rumkowski to rule the ghetto like a king.

Rumkowski on a postage stamp

And a king he was, arrogant and tyrannical. In fact he was referred to as “King Chaim.” He confiscated private property. He personally controlled food distribution and the allocation of housing. He put his own picture on the stamps. He arranged in detail all cultural events. He even officiated at weddings (the Nazis had put the kibosh on the rabbinate) and changed the ancient Jewish marriage laws. Jews who incurred his wrath could end up with a brutal beating. Several women and young girls endured sexual molestation at his hands.

But that was just the start of Rumkowski’s infamy. We’ll get to the worst of it tomorrow and later this week.

Collaborating in Warsaw

German soldiers marching in Warsaw shortly after the start of the Nazi occupation

When the Nazis rolled into Poland in September 1939, starting World War II, they quickly crushed the Polish Army, occupied the cities, subdued the population, and eliminated politicians and intellectuals. Soon enough, of course, their attention soon turned to the Jews. There were many Jews in Poland, but the Nazi death machine had yet to be fully set into motion. As a temporary measure, therefore, in one Polish city after another, the Nazis evicted Jews from their homes and relocated them to neighborhoods that were then surrounded by high walls and vigilantly guarded. No one could leave, and no one could enter. These were the Jewish ghettos.

Ruins in the Warsaw ghetto, 1943

In each of the ghettos, the Nazis appointed prominent local Jews to serve as a council, or Ältestenrat – a.k.a. Judenrat – that was responsible for the ghetto’s internal administration and that was responsible for negotiations and other communications between the Jews and the Nazis. Each of these councils, in turn, was led by an individual who was given the title of Judenälteste. The men placed in these positions, needless to say, faced a formidable moral challenge. Aware of the vicious anti-Semitism at the heart of Nazi ideology, but perhaps not entirely aware – at first, anyway – of the form that Hitler’s Final Solution would take, the ghetto leaders were compelled to ask themselves how they could best serve the interests of their people. Should they try to find some way to openly resist the Nazis? Should they negotiate with them aggressively? Or should they be docile collaborators, going along and getting along in hopes that the Third Reich would eventually be defeated and their people freed?

Adam Czerniaków in his office in the Warsaw ghetto

Most of the ghetto leaders chose the path of collaboration. In the largest of the ghettos, the one in Warsaw, the Älteste was Adam Czerniaków, a former Polish Senator. He proved to be an obedient servant of the Nazis, believing this was the only realistic approach under the circumstances. Appointed in October 1939, he reliably followed Nazi orders for the next two years and nine months. Then, in July 1942, the Warsaw Judenrat was ordered to prepare for the “resettlement” of almost all of the ghetto’s inhabitants in some unidentified place or places to the east. Knowing these people were being sent to their deaths, Czerniaków negotiated. He won some small victories, with the Nazis agreeing to exempt certain categories of people from the deportation. But although he begged them to spare the ghetto’s orphans, they refused. Czerniaków then went back to his office, wrote notes to his wife and a fellow Judenrat member, and committed suicide by taking a cyanide capsule. “They demand me to kill children of my nation with my own hands,” he wrote to his wife. “I have nothing to do but to die.”

SS officers herding Jews during the crackdown on the Warsaw ghetto uprising

The deportations began – and so did an underground resistance movement inside the ghetto. On January 18, 1943, hundreds of Warsaw Jews rose up against the Nazis and managed to retain control of the ghetto for over three months before the Nazis finally put down the rebellion.

Czerniaków’s conduct has been the subject of much debate in the decades since World War II. Was he a useful stooge or just an honest man – and, ultimately, perhaps, a tragic hero – who sought to do his best in an impossible situation? Less debatable, however, was the conduct of Chaim Rumkowski, the notorious leader of the Judenrat in the Lodz ghetto. We’ll look at him tomorrow.

Von Karajan and other musical Nazis

Not long ago, with reference to Jonathan Petropoulos’s recent book Artists under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany, we looked at the lives of a few painters, writers, filmmakers, and composers who, faced with the prospect of working under the Nazi regime, chose either to flee the country or to stay and pursue various degrees of collaboration – some of them accepting Nazi oversight with shame and reluctance, others becoming ardent followers of the Führer.

Fritz Trümpi

Our coverage of these Nazi-era artists, of course, wasn’t comprehensive. Another new book, The Political Orchestra by Austrian scholar Fritz Trümpi, provides a highly illuminating pendant to Petropoulos’s. Trümpi’s subject, as stated in his subtitle, is “The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics During the Third Reich.” As Terry Teachout put it in a review of Trümpi’s book for the June issue of Commentary, “The story of European classical music under the Third Reich is one of the most squalid chapters in the annals of Western culture, a chronicle of collective complaisance that all but beggars belief.” Teachout makes a crucial point:

Terry Teachout

Without exception, all of the well-known musicians who left Germany and Austria in protest when Hitler came to power in 1933 were either Jewish or, like the violinist Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin’s father-in-law, had close family ties to Jews. Moreover, most of the small number of non-Jewish musicians who emigrated later on, such as Paul Hindemith and Lotte Lehmann, are now known to have done so not out of principle but because they were unable to make satisfactory accommodations with the Nazis. Everyone else—including Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Walter Gieseking, Herbert von Karajan, and Richard Strauss—stayed behind and served the Reich.

Wilhelm Fürtwangler

Both orchestras were equally prepared to compromise with the Nazis, firing Jewish musicians and removing compositions by Jews from their repertoires. Nor did either orchestra undergo any major postwar denazification: Helmut Wobisch, executive director of the Vienna Philharmonic from 1953 to 1968, was known to have been in both the SS and Gestapo; Herbert von Karajan – who, as musical director of the Berlin Philharmonic from 1956 to 1989, was one of the preeminent names in classical during the second half of the twentieth centuries – had also had Nazi ties. At least in the early decades after the war, neither institution was terribly open about its tarnished history, but the folks in Vienna were even worse than the ones in Berlin, keeping a lid on their archives until Trümpi finally managed to pry it off in 2008; both orchestras now have substantial sections on their websites fessing up to their wartime collaborationist zeal.

Herbert von Karajan

When Hitler came along, as Teachout notes, the Berlin and Vienna ensembles were considered the two greatest symphony orchestras on the planet; they still are. Each had its own distinct “sound.” But they shared, in Teachout’s words, “a nationalistic ethos, a belief in the superiority of Austro-German musical culture that approached triumphalism.” This was a conviction they shared with Hitler himself. One consequence of this attitude was that even before Hitler came to power, both orchestras weren’t eager to employ Jews. In 1933, Berlin had four Jewish players; in 1938, when the Nazis marched into Austria, Vienna had 11, all hired before 1920 (seven of them ended up directly or indirectly dead at the hands of the Nazis). Despite the institutional anti-Semitism, the famous Jewish conductors Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter were able to work in Vienna for some time after the Anschluss.

Leonard Bernstein

We’ve spent some time on this website revisiting Leonard Bernstein’s enthusiasm for the Black Panthers and other radical-left phenomena. He figures significantly in Trümpi’s account, too. Despite the known Nazi histories of both the Berlin and Vienna philharmonics, Bernstein not only chose not to boycott them (a position in which he was far from alone) but, as Teachout puts it, “went so far as to affect a flippant attitude toward the morally equivocal conduct of the Austro-German artists whom he encountered in Europe after the war.” Writing to his wife from Vienna, Bernstein told her he’d befriended von Karajan, “whom you would (and will) adore. My first Nazi.” Writing to his parents, he acknowledged: “you never know if the public that is screaming bravo for you might contain someone who 25 years ago might have shot me dead. But it’s better to forgive, and if possible, forget.”

Outdoing Duranty? The AP in Nazi Germany

Matti Friedman

In June, the Tablet provided a useful reminder that major news media based in free countries have engaged in silent collaboration with dictatorships, covering up the latter’s crimes in order to retain “access.” “Is it better to cooperate with dictatorships and authoritarian regimes and tell half the story with hands tied—or not tell the story at all?” asked the Tablet piece by Matti Friedman, who took as his case in point the all-too-cozy relationship that the Associated Press developed with the Nazis. Citing a 2016 paper by German historian Harriet Scharnberg entitled “The A and P of Propaganda,” Friedman, himself a former AP reporter, noted that “the AP’s photo office in Germany made compromise after compromise to keep reporting under Nazi rule, obeying successive orders from the Hitler regime until it ended up as a Nazi information arm in all but name.” While other Western news organizations left Hitler’s Germany in 1935, the AP stayed on, “an arrangement the New York-based agency was eager to preserve—even if it meant removing all of its Jewish photographers in keeping with Nazi race laws, for example, and even if it meant issuing a statement to the official SS magazine swearing that the photo bureau was pure Aryan.”

Harriet Scharnberg

How close was the AP to the Nazis? Well, among the consequences of the special relationship was the use of AP photographs “in some of the vilest racial propaganda produced by the Nazi state,” such as a book called The Jews in the USA. The head of AP’s photography service in Berlin ended up as a Nazi censor; one photographer, Franz Roth, was simultaneously working for the AP and the SS. So it was that AP photos of the Wehrmacht’s advance on the Eastern front – pictures that ended up in newspapers around the U.S. – made the Nazis look like heroes and made Soviet prisoners, for example, look like “ugly human specimens.” In short, while the AP claimed to be an independent and objective news organization, it was in bed with the Nazis, covering up the reality of life in the Third Reich, the true nature of the Nazi war machine, and of course the horror of the death camps.

As Friedman points out, the AP is far from the only major news organization to have been guilty of such practices:

Western news organizations that maintain a presence in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, make compromises in return for access and almost never tell readers what those compromises are. The result, in many cases, is something worse than no coverage—it’s something that looks like coverage, but is actually misinformation, giving people the illusion that they know what’s going on instead of telling them outright that they’re getting information shaped by regimes trying to mislead them.

Peter Arnett

We wrote about this topic here at Useful Stooges last year, noting that “[w]hen it comes to oppressive regimes – the type that shutter opposition media and imprison honest journalists – CNN’s policy has routinely been to retain access at all costs. Back in 1991, during the first Gulf War, CNN’s Peter Arnett was the only Western TV reporter in Baghdad, and, as such, according to Newsweek, provided “rare glimpses from inside Iraq,” even as he “provoked criticism that he and his network [were] being used as a conduit for Iraqi propaganda.”

Christiane Amanpour

After 9/11, we further observed, CNN, unlike many other news outfits, was able to keep its reporters in Baghdad for one reason and one reason alone: its “systematic refusal to report on the dark side of Saddam’s regime,” a policy that CNN news exec Eason Jordan copped to in a 2003 New York Times op-ed. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when CNN’s Christiane Amanpour sneered that Fox News reporters were Bush administration’s “foot soldiers,” Fox replied: “It’s better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.”

More tomorrow.

Pete Seeger, Stalinist toady

Pete Seeger

Born in 1919, the folk singer Pete Seeger was son of two high-profile figures in classical music – his father a composer and musicologist, his mother a violinist and teacher at Juilliard – and his siblings, like Pete himself, went on to be successful (one of them was a radio astronomer, the other a teacher at Manhattan’s Dalton School). Seeger became a radical early on, apparently under the influence of his father: at age 17, he joined the Young Communist League; six years later, he joined the Communist Party.

Woody Guthrie

In the 1940s, he collaborated with Woody Guthrie and a number of other well-known folk singers. He also helped found a folk group called The Almanacs that was ideology under the Kremlin thumb. Songs for John Doe, an Almanacs album on which Seeger played and sang, faithfully reflected the anti-FDR and anti-war (and, indeed, Hitler-friendly) Soviet line of the period following the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and Russia. When, shortly thereafter, Hitler violated the pact by invading the USSR, Moscow instantly reversed its position and ordered its American lackeys to do the same.

Accordingly, Seeger and his pals removed Songs for John Doe from the market and destroyed all the copies they could get their hands on. They then put out an album entitled Dear Mr. President, which was essentially a love letter to FDR and an enthusiastic call for all-out war to defeat the Nazis. It was right out of Orwell: we have always been allies with Eurasia; we have always been at war with Eastasia. Such was the mentality to which Seeger subscribed – this man long celebrated as a hero of the people, of liberty, and of free expression.

Henry A. Wallace

Yes, Seeger & co. expressed some admirable sentiments: they sang about racism and anti-Semitism. Then again, at the time it was an integral part of the Moscow line to emphasize America’s unequal treatment of blacks and Jews. If the Kremlin had suddenly, for whatever reason, ordered American Communists to reverse their line on racism and anti-Semitism, what would Seeger have done? Given his immediate, unquestioning turnaround on FDR, it’s a fair question.

When the U.S. entered the war, Seeger joined the U.S. Army and spent the duration entertaining troops in the Pacific. In the 1948 election he supported third-party presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace, who was famously soft on Communism (if not, in fact, an all-out closet Communist). It was Wallace who said in a 1946 speech that the U.S. had no more in common with Britain than with the Soviet Union and whose refusal to disavow his endorsement by the Communist Party USA alienated even Norman Thomas, the country’s most prominent socialist. But his views didn’t alienate Seeger.