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.”

A thumbs-up for (believe it or not) the New York Times

Peter Andreas

On this site, we’ve long been critical of the New York Times for its consistent readiness to publish op-eds, memoirs, and even news stories that whitewash Communism. In recent weeks, for example, we’ve singled out Peter Andreas’s affectionate recollection of his Maoist mother and Vivian Gornick’s nostalgia, as her title put it, for the days “When Communism Inspired Americans.”

Harvey Klehr

So when the Times runs something sensible on the topic, we feel obliged to give the Gray Lady a tip of the hat. Such is the case with veteran scholar Harvey Klehr’s splendid, comprehensive articleAmerican Reds, Soviet Stooges,” which appeared in the Times on July 3.

Dalton Trumbo

While the Times, like many other liberal mainstream media, routinely likes to portray American Communists (such as the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo) as essentially benign super-liberals who had little or or no real connection to the Soviet Union, Klehr, perhaps America’s leading expert on the topic, firmly corrects the record, stating flat-out that “the Communist Party of the United States of America was an instrument of Soviet foreign policy,” taking orders directly from the Kremlin on its policy positions and its choice of leaders.

Earl Browder

“In both 1929 and 1945, Moscow demanded, and got, a change of party leadership,” recalls Klehr. When Earl Browder fell afoul of Stalin and was ousted as party head, “virtually every Communist who had hailed Browder for years as the symbol of an Americanized Communism then shunned him. He was even forced to find a new dentist and a different insurance agent.”

Adolf Hitler

Klehr recounts other specific Kremlin-directed actions by the CPUSA, some of which we’ve discussed previously on this site – notably the Party’s shifting positions on FDR and the war with Hitler. “Anyone who remained a Communist for more than a few years,” notes Klehr, “had to be aware that the one constant [in the Party] was support for whatever policy the Soviet Union followed. Open criticism of the U.S.S.R. was grounds for expulsion.” Soviet lies were echoed faithfully. The CPUSA

insisted that the show trials during Stalin’s purges had uncovered a vast capitalist plot against the Soviet leader. Party members dutifully repeated Soviet fabrications that Trotsky had been in the pay of the Nazis. Worst of all, many Communists applauded the execution of tens of thousands of Soviet comrades, denouncing those who were executed as bourgeois spies and provocateurs. When Finnish-Americans who had returned to Soviet Karelia in the late 1920s and early ’30s to build socialism were purged, their American relatives were warned by party authorities to remain silent, and most did so.

Nikita Khrushchev

As Klehr notes, the CPUSA was funded by Soviet money – delivered, ironically, by two double agents who were really working for the FBI. Klehr also points out that hundreds of CPUSA members were also outright Soviet spies. As we’ve observed more than once here, it wasn’t until Khrushchev’s 1956 “secret speech,” in which he outlined in grisly detail the brutal crimes of Stalin, that many members of the CPUSA were convinced of what he had already been obvious for years to virtually all other sentient beings. Thanks to Khrushchev, CPUSA membership dropped from a high of nearly 100,000 to fewer than 3,000 in 1959.

Vivian Gornick

Peter Andreas to the contrary, American Communism wasn’t adorable. Vivian Gornick to the contrary, it wasn’t inspiring – except to a bunch of very troubled people whose twisted psyches caused them to prefer tyranny to freedom. A big thanks to Harvey Klehr for providing a timely reminder of the dark reality of the CPUSA – and, amazing though it sounds to say this, thanks, as well, to the New York Times for bringing his article to us.

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.

The Gray Lady – or the Lady in Red?

The headline could hardly have been more repulsive: “When Communism Inspired Americans.” It appeared in the New York Times on April 29. The article, by Vivian Gornick, was an unashamed exercise in nostalgia for the good old days of American Stalinism.

Vivian Gornick

The piece was reprehensible, but it should not have been surprising. After all, the Times, which is often referred to as the Gray Lady, has often, over the decades, seemed to deserve, rather, the nickname “The Lady in Red.” Recall, for example, that it was the home base of none other than Stalin-era Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty, this website’s own mascot, who, as we wrote in our mission statement, “did more than any of his contemporaries to spread Soviet propaganda under the guise of news – and to discredit colleagues who dared to tell the truth about the brutality of Stalin’s regime.”

Walter Duranty

Duranty, as we pointed out, “defended the Gulag (in which millions died), the forced collectivization of peasants (ditto), and the 1938 show trials (used by Stalin to wipe out potential opponents). He also vigorously denied the reality of the Holmodor, the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine, which was deliberately engineered by Stalin and which also resulted in millions of deaths.” Malcolm Muggeridge, who had been a Moscow correspondent at the same time, later maintained that the Times had published Duranty’s pro-Stalin propaganda even though it was “so evidently nonsensically untrue” not “because the Times was deceived” but because “it wanted to be so deceived.”

And Duranty was just the beginning. As Frances Martel noted at Breitbart, Duranty’s “style of fabrication” about Communism “continued well into the 1960s when writer Herbert Matthews leveraged his newspaper’s influence to promote the Cuban Revolution.” Throughout Castro’s reign, Martel observed, the Times “regaled Castro – who sent thousands, including Christians, LGBT Cubans, writers, and dissidents generally, to labor camps and killed thousands of others using firing squads – as a ‘victorious guerrilla commander in 1959’ and lauded the alleged ‘medical advances’ and ‘racial equality’ of communist Cuba in November when the Cuban government claimed Castro had finally died.”

Josef Stalin

The Times‘s publication of Gornick’s April 29 piece reminds us that the paper hasn’t changed its stripes. Nor has Gornick. The author of a 1978 book called The Romance of Communism, what she offered in her Times piece, all these decades later, was basically a thumbnail version of that book. She didn’t exactly defend or deny any of Stalin’s atrocities – she just swept them under the rug. Or, rather, she acted as if she and her family and their intimate circle of Communist Party members in New York had been totally unaware of all these well-publicized crimes against humanity until Khrushchev gave his so-called “secret speech” in February 1956. Yet despite those crimes, she sought, just as in her 1978 book, to depict mid-century American Communists not as totalitarians or world-class dupes but as moral exemplars – indeed, as the very noblest of souls.

Communism is every bit as vile an ideology as Nazism. Stalin took more even lives than Hitler. But while no self-respecting American newspaper would publish an old Nazi’s affectionate memoir of the Third Reich, the Times has always treated Communism differently. If Gornick’s piece wasn’t a good enough reminder of the Times‘s double standards on the Berlin and Moscow versions of totalitarianism, the newspaper actually published yet another such piece only a couple of weeks later. We’ll look at it tomorrow.

Always a Communist: Pete Seeger

The Weavers

As we saw yesterday, the folk singer Pete Seeger was, in the late 1930s, a slavish servant of the Kremlin line who was capable, at a moment’s notice, of making a 180-degree change in his position on any issue whatever. To continue the story: in the 1950s, he was a member of the Weavers, whose hits included the old tunes “Goodnight, Irene” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”; in the 1960s, this time as a solo act, he became a symbol of leftist protest. Identified strongly with the civil-rights and Vietnam War eras, he co-wrote such songs as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, which became hits for performers ranging from The Byrds to Marlene Dietrich. Seeger also helped make “We Shall Overcome” an anthem of the protest movement. (He claimed that he was the one who changed the auxiliary verb in the title from “will” to “shall.”) Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1955, he refused to answer questions; six years later he was found guilty of contempt of Congress, but his conviction was overturned. In November 1969, he led half a million protesters in singing “Give Peace a Chance” outside the White House.

Speaking to the House Un-American Activities Committee

According to some sources, Seeger became disillusioned with Communism, quitting the Party in 1949. Other sources, however, say that he considered himself a Communist all his life. “I still call myself a Communist,” he said in 1995, “because Communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it.” On the one hand, he went to Russia in 1965 and to North Vietnam in 1972. On the other hand, he sang at a benefit concert for Poland’s anti-Soviet Solidarity movement in 1982. At some point he also publicly apologized for having thought Stalin was anything other than a monster – but he watered down the apology by saying, “I guess anyone who calls himself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Muslims by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. ought to apologize for stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving blacks.”

Performing with Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, and Arlo Guthrie in 1968

And so on, for several more sentences, the point being that everybody alive today has ancestors who did horrible things that need to be apologized for. The difference, of course, is that today’s Christians did not personally work with Torquemada or take part in the Crusades – whereas Seeger himself was a willing tool of Stalin, mindlessly following his orders and tailoring the message of his music to the Kremlin directives of the day. Then again, in 2007, heeding a critical article by historian Ronald Radosh, Seeger wrote “Big Joe Blues,” a song in which he accused Stalin of ruling “with an iron hand” and of having “put an end to the dreams / Of so many in every land. / He had a chance to make / A brand new start for the human race. / Instead he set it back / Right in the same nasty place.”

Good try, but it could be argued that this is pretty weak stuff. Did Stalin really set humanity back “in the same nasty place”? Or did he, by injecting sheer terror into the daily lives of an entire country and by imprisoning, torturing, and murdering tens of millions, take it to places far nastier than those anyone else (excepting perhaps Hitler and Mao) had ever conceived of?

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.