Still More to Learn about Corporations’ Complicity with the Third Reich

July 3 Update: Owing to the NY Times article I cited on first publication of this post, Publishers Weekly reports today that Harvard University Press has moved up by two weeks the release date of The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler. I’m pleased to see so much early momentum gathering for this important book.

In 2000, while an editor at Crown Publishing, I acquired a book that later became an international sensation and a bestseller in the US. It was IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation by Edwin Black. I believed it was imperative that the book be published because it documented hitherto unknown revelations such as the fact that IBM’s punch card tabulation system was licensed to the Third Reich which then used the technology to catalog and keep track of Jews and others under its rule they deemed undesirables. Turned out that corporate complicity with Hitler was as American as cherry pie.IBM

In the years since Black’s book was published, I’ve seen a lot of other histories of the Third Reich, but few have struck me as packing the same historical punch as the book on IBM. Until today, that is. Reading the NY Times on the web, I saw this headline, “Scholar Asserts That Hollywood Avidly Aided Nazis,” tipping an article about a forthcoming book,  The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, by Ben Urwand, a 35-year old historian from Australia. The story by Jennifer Schuessler reports Urwand has found copious documentation showing how very willing Hollywood executives were to make their movies in ways that would please Nazi officials, including Hitler himself. Some of these execs were Jewish, but they cooperated anyway. The Times reports that in Urwand’s book,

9780674724747“On page after page, he shows studio bosses, many of them Jewish immigrants, cutting films scene by scene to suit Nazi officials; producing material that could be seamlessly repurposed in Nazi propaganda films; and, according to one document, helping to finance the manufacture of German armaments.”

Urwand also found that Jack Warner, of Warner Bros., personally ordered that the word ‘Jew’ be removed from all dialogue in the 1937 film ‘The Life of Emile Zola,’ which focused on Zola’s defense of the persecuted Jewish soldier, Alfred Dreyfus. Mr. Urwand writes that Warner Bros. was the first studio to invite Nazi officials to its Los Angeles headquarters to screen films and suggest cuts. . . . ‘There’s a whole myth that Warner Brothers were crusaders against fascism,’ Mr. Urwand said. ‘But they were the first to try to appease the Nazis in 1933.’”

The cooperation, or as the author insists, collaboration, continued until well after Kristallnacht in November 1938. He found evidence that in December 1938, MGM was financing German armament production as part of a deal to circumvent restrictions on repatriating movie profits, according to the Times, which adds, “Urwand said that he found nearly 20 films intended for American audiences that German officials significantly altered or squelched. Perhaps more important, he added, Jewish characters were all but eliminated from Hollywood movies.”

I’m eager to read Urwand’s book when it comes out in October from Harvard University Press, and in the meantime I recommend you read Schuessler’s story. There’s also been early coverage of Urwand’s book in Tablet magazine in an article by David Mikics. And here’s video of Urwand talking about his book:

A Deranged Shooter, a Blues-loving Author, and Reflections on Aesop–3 Great Reads in Sunday’s NY Times

After reading three terrific and interesting pieces in the NY Times this morning, I tweeted about them and so as night falls now want to share them here too. I’ll add a bit more about each story below the original tweets.

The ballplayer Waitkus was a member of the 1948 Philadelphia Phillies; he recovered, though spent several months in a wheelchair after the deranged shooter wounded him. Steinhagen had never met him till that day, and had become weirdly fixated on him. She was institutionalized for some years afterward, but never went to prison, and was then released. She outlived all her relatives, and just died in Chicago last December. The Times obit by Bruce Weber explains her death would have gone unreported had not it been discovered in the course of unrelated reporting. Weber suggests that Bernard Malamud was aware of the incident when he published his novel The Natural in 1952, in which protagonist Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford in the 1984 movie) is shot by a female fan.

Hamid, author of the new novel How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, is very worldly, and his responses in the Times’ weekly feature, ‘Download’ about what he’s currently reading, listening to, following, watching, and appreciating, are very interesting, with good recommendations. I had not heard of online cultural aggregator 3quarksdaily, and it looks cool. I was delighted to see he’s a big fan of the blues and had not thought about denizens of river cities being especially susceptible to the charms of the American music.

Hoagland’s essay is not only important, in a planetary sense, it also has some of the most surprising and interesting linguistic invention and wordplay I’ve encountered in a long time. There’s a lightness to the way it’s written that reminded me of E.B. White. Hoagland lives in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, also home to writer Howard Frank Mosher, author of the great novel of the region, Disappearances, and while it’s not White’s Maine, Hoagland and Mosher are also writers steeped in a powerful sense of New England place.

A Tired Meme Rears its Head at the NY Times–Obama as Too Cool to Care

Count on the NY Times to be dickish the day before President Obama’s 2nd Inaugural. The article leading off today’s Week in Review is a familiar litany of complaint from someone–David Rothkopf is who, please?–poking darts this time at Barack Obama’s management style. I read the whole column and found nothing about it persuasive as a critique. The presidency isn’t a business, and management isn’t necessarily the only goal, or holy grail, of leadership.

The opinion expressed in the column is unsurprising, even overly familiar but I have an even bigger beef with the illustration accompanying it. The artist, Mark Ulriksen–perhaps at the suggestion of Times op-art editors, or at least with their final approval–has created an aloof Obama in baseball uni with a bunch of dropped balls all around him, as one floats in the air above his hand. It seems to say, “Will he drop this one, too? Meanwhile, the caricatured president has his nose stuck up in the air striking an arrogant pose. I instantly found it offensive, perpetuating a meme of the president as unfeeling, uncaring, even a bit lazy, as if he can’t be bothered to catch the balls tossed his way. I’m sick of these portrayals of the president. Would anyone unfeeling have gone so gray in four years and often appear so careworn, even while his smile does still break out like a sunbeam, as in the official White House photo unveiled last week?Barack Obama portrait

I want to add that I’m not the only blogger to find this column odd, at the least. At TPM, Josh Marshall has asked people to read it and send him their thoughts on it. I’ll send my take to Josh.

There are times when I hate the NY Times, among other things for its smugness, its know-it-all air, and its attempts at coining the establishment line and minting conventional wisdom. This is one of those times. They’re the arrogant party here, not the president. Here’s a screenshot of the column as presented online, and the drawing on its own. Please let me know what you think, especially if you see it differently than me, or agree, and see aspects of the unfortunate meme that I’ve overlooked. For instance, maybe the subtext of the drawing is even more overtly racial than I suggested above. Could be. Obama drawing onlyObama column&drawing

Chuck Hagel is Kryptonite to Shamed Neocons


The debate over President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is prompting unpleasant reminders of the worst of the Reagan and Bush years, with discredited right-wingers attacking Hagel over matters they were catastrophically wrong about only a decade ago. Steve Benen, of the MaddowBlog, read the same James Rutenberg article in the NY Times that I had tweeted about above. He ends his post with this observation:

“Or put another way, the decorated combat veteran [Hagel] who’s reluctant to launch new invasions is being lectured on war-avoidance by the same ‘chicken hawks’ who left their credibility in Iraq–and most of the GOP doesn’t find this odd.
I’m reminded of an on-air conversation Rachel [Maddow] had with Chris Hayes last April about the neocons’ failures: ‘No one [on the right] has ever had to face up to what happened, this sort of magnitude of the error is just completely erased by history. It’s like those old Stalinist books where they just get rid of the people that were disappeared.’
At the time, Chris was talking about folks like Dan Senor taking a leading role in the Romney campaign, despite his role in ‘the worst period of American foreign policy in 100 years, quite plausibly.’ But the problem obviously continues.”

It’s easy to see why hopeless characters like Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, and Bill Kristol are showing such an aversion to Chuck Hagel. He didn’t hesitate to call them out for their  specious arguments justifying the invasion of Iraq, and they can’t get over it. Oh, well, the bigger the pig poked the louder it squeals.

Beate Sirota Gordon, an Exemplary Life

For more than five years, from 1992-97, I worked for Kodansha America, the U.S. division of what was then the largest Japanese publisher, and for the last few years of my tenure was Editor-in-Chief of KA, as we called it. We had a sister company, based in Tokyo, Kodansha International, known as KI. KA published an excellent general list, with a minor emphasis on books about Japan and Asia, while KI published almost exclusively on Japanese and Asian subjects. Among KI’s books was The Only Woman in the Room, Beate Sirota Gordon’s memoir chronicling how she came to play a central role in drafting the sections of Japan’s postwar constitution on the rights of women. As the above referenced obituary in the NY Times makes clear, Ms. Gordon led a remarkable and exemplary life, and her book is also very good.

Bigoted Orthodox Men Deny Jewish Women Equal Status in Israel

NY Times article by Jodi Rudoren reports on appalling behavior by men in the Orthodox establishment that proceeds largely unchallenged by the Israeli justice system.

Young Adult and Homeless in U.S. Cities

As reported by Susan Saulny in Wednesday’s NY Times, more and more young people are suffering financially in the wake of the recession and lingering weak economy and are unable to keep themselves sheltered in homes of their own. Saluny traveled to Seattle, one of the few American cities that has outreach services specifically geared to helping people ages 18-25. She profiles young people like Duane Taylor, 24, who was,

“Studying the humanities in community college and living in his own place when he lost his job in a round of layoffs. Then he found, and lost, a second job. And a third.

Now, with what he calls ‘lowered standards’ and a tenuous new position at a Jack in the Box restaurant, Mr. Taylor, 24, does not make enough to rent an apartment or share one. He sleeps on a mat in a homeless shelter, except when his sister lets him crash on her couch.

‘At any time I could lose my job, my security,’ said Mr. Taylor, explaining how he was always the last hired and the first fired. ‘I’d like to be able to support myself. That’s my only goal.’

Across the country, tens of thousands of underemployed and jobless young people, many with college credits or work histories, are struggling to house themselves in the wake of the recession, which has left workers between the ages of 18 and 24 with the highest unemployment rate of all adults.”

Although data on this overlooked population is scarce, it’s clear that Taylor’s situation is part of a growing trend.  Saulny reports that the Obama administration has begun outreach with employment counseling and other services in a number of cities where this population has grown more visible. “New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Boston are among the cities included in the effort.”

She writes also about a 20-year old man named Roman Tano who’s recently been staying,

“At YouthCare’s James W. Ray Orion Center [in Seattle], another shelter for young adults that offers training programs. In October, its capacity grew to 20 beds from 15.

Two months ago, Mr. Tano gave up an apartment in his native Dallas after losing his job. He sold his Toyota and sought opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.

He rented a room and set out with his résumé (expertise: fund-raising). But when his $2,000 in savings withered to nothing, “I ended up sleeping on the street for the first time in my life,” he said. ‘I just kind of had to walk around and try to stay warm.’

Mr. Tano found the YouthCare shelter online, and has been staying there for a month. He has a new job as a canvasser for an environmental organization.

‘Coming into it, I was, like, completely out of my element,’ he said of YouthCare. ‘But in the time I’ve been here, it’s a pretty diverse group of people. There are a lot of people just trying to work to get out of this.’

‘After I get my paycheck,” he said brightly, “I should be on my way.’”

As readers of this blog may recall, I wrote a personal essay, Three Years Ago Today, on my own search for meaningful and remunerative work in the wake of a layoff amid the recession, and have linked to the site called Over 50 and Out of Work, which republished that essay as Warding Off the Demons of Disemployment, but I was unaware until tonight of young people being affected so dramatically by the economic crisis. I hope young Mr. Tano is soon on his way to a better situation, but I must add that it is crazy and misguided for Republican representatives and senators to be criticizing President Obama’s request for more economic stimulus, instead demanding deficit reduction and austerity even though we have so many people suffering with lack of work and career advancement. You may click on this link to see the video with interviews of Duane Taylor and Roman Tano accompanying Ms. Saulny’s well-reported article.

“A Few Genuine Songs . . . All But Drowned out by the Loud Siren of Ambition”

In “Censoring Myself for Success,” a strikingly candid Op-Ed published yesterday in the NY Times, Somali-Canadian  poet, rapper, singer, and songwriter K’naan laments the influence of his label A&M/Octone on his latest album “Country, God and the Girl.” Coming after the worldwide fame that attached to him when his first hit song “Wavin’ Flag” became the anthem of the 2010 World Cup, K’naan writes that his early songs drew directly from his childhood experiences of a country trapped in continuous conflict, but then:

“A few days before I was to record [my third album], which was released in October, I received a phone call saying my record label wanted a little talk—before the songs were written. (I like to write in the moment.) For the first two albums, there were no such talks. But that was before my name was familiar. So let me start my story there.

In 2005 I found cheap recording space and sang about the killing ground of Somalia:

‘We begin our day by the way of the gun… you don’t pay at the roadblock you get your throat shot I walk with three kids who can’t wait to meet God lately, Bucktooth, Mohamed and Crybaby.’

In 2008, with a recording budget, I went on my own to Jamaica, to Bob Marley’s old studio, and sang of a lovely, doomed young friend:

‘Fatima Fatima, I’m in America, I make rhymes and I make ’em delicate, you woulda liked the parks in Connecticut… Damn you shooter, damn you the building, whose walls hid the blood she was spilling, damn you country so good at killing, damn you feeling, for persevering.’ …

Over breakfast in SoHo, we talked about how to keep my new American audience growing. My lyrics should change, my label’s executives said; radio programmers avoid subjects too far from fun and self-absorption.

And for the first time, I felt the affliction of success. When I walked away from the table, there were bruises on the unheard lyrics of my yet-to-be-born songs. A question had raised its hand in the quiet of my soul: What do you do after success? What must you do to keep it?

If this was censorship, I thought, it was a new kind—one I had to do to myself. The label wasn’t telling me what to do. No, it was just giving me choices and information, about my audience . . . who knew little of Somalia. How much better to sing them songs about Americans. . .

And there I was, trembling between doubt and self-awareness. I had started . . . striving to make (and please allow room for grandiosity here) my own ‘Natty Dread’ or my own ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’.’ But now, after breakfast, another voice was there, whispering how narrow the window of opportunity was. . . 

So I had not made my Marley or my Dylan, or even my K’naan; I had made an album in which a few genuine songs are all but drowned out by the loud siren of ambition. Fatima had become Mary, and Mohamed, Adam.

I now suspect that packaging me as an idolized star to the pop market in America cannot work; while one can dumb down his lyrics, what one cannot do without being found out is hide his historical baggage. His sense of self. His walk.”

Later, I found this posted by K’naaan on his Facebook page:

“After your overwhelming response, I’m inclined to write you all a quick note. Starting with the question: WHERE DID YOU PEOPLE COME FROM?!!! What an amazing and articulate bunch you are. You should know, I’ve read every single word in every single post underneath my essay, and, I am deeply moved. Have no fear, whatever you hear coming from me next, good or bad, will only be born from the intention to express. No other voice shall ever trespass into the sovereign continent of my words. I really do, from the bottom of my heart, thank you all. For gathering around me, like you did. I feel energized. Let it be a wondrous journey, thank you for riding along.

So much love to you guys,

In K’naan’s Op-Ed, I was struck as much by his self-criticism as by his critique of the execs who suggested he change his artistic approach. I suggest you read his whole Op-Ed for yourself, and note that the NY Times web page also includes a nice spoken word by K’naan, talking about Somalia and poetry. Finally, if you haven’t heard K’naan here is a video of his performance of “Wavin’ Flag on the CBC program “Q”: