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Führer on Trial

Rafael Medoff

When Adolf Hitler came to power, the American press practically gushed over what they called “indications of moderation,” despite reports of Jews being beaten and jailed — nearly a decade before the Holocaust. But the journalistic whitewashing had one positive result: American Jewish organizations put Hitler on trial in front of the crowds at Madison Square Garden.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Relatively little was known in America aboutHitler when he first came to power in January 1933. Some prominent newspapers rushed to print with unduly optimistic predictions.

An editorial in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin claimed that “there have been indications of moderation” on Hitler’s part. The editors of the Cleveland Press asserted that the “appointment ofHitler as German chancellor may not be such a threat to world peace as it appears at first blush.”

At the White House, officials of the administration ofFranklinD.Rooseveltencouraged such thinking. They were quoted in the press as saying that they “had faith thatHitlerwould act with moderation compared to the extremist agitation in his recent election campaigning...” They based this belief on past events showing that “radical” groups usually moderated once in power.

The news from Germany in the weeks following Hitler’s ascension to power contradicted those optimistic predictions. Professor Stephen H. Norwood of the University of Oklahoma, author of The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower, (Cambridge University Press) who is completing a book about American and British responses to Nazism during the early years of Hitler’s rule, told Mishpacha: “Several of the Western commentators most informed about German affairs reported in 1933 that Hitler’s policies and the Nazis’ savage anti-Semitic street violence had transformed Germany into a death trap for its 600,000 Jews. They considered it unlikely that German Jewry would survive beyond a generation.”

There were reports of hundreds of Jews beaten in the streets, jailed without charge, tortured, sometimes killed. Government-orchestrated violence and intimidation were used to force Jewish judges, attorneys, journalists, university professors, orchestra conductors, and musicians out of their jobs. Legislation dismissed Jews from all government jobs and banned them from a whole range of professions, from dentistry to the movie industry. The government even sponsored a one-day nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses, with Nazi storm troopers stationed outside Jewish-owned stores to prevent customers from entering.

President Rooseveltrefrained from making any public statements about these attacks. “Had Rooseveltchosen to highlight the plight of the Jews, there is no question the American press also would have followed suit,” LaurelLeff, professor of journalism and Jewish studies at Northeastern University, told Mishpacha. “Presidents set the news agenda to a large extent, particularly on foreign affairs. This tendency was even more pronounced inRoosevelt’s case because he understood journalists so well and manipulated them so effectively.”

ProfessorLeffnotes that atRoosevelt’s press conference on March 24, 1933, a reporter asked whether any organizations had asked him to act in connection with the “reported persecution of the Jews over in Germany by theHitlergovernment.”Rooseveltreplied that “a good many of these have come in,” and they were “all sent to the secretary of state.” SaysProfessorLeff: “There was no follow-up.”

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