Black on White

From teeming memories of the newspaper craft I cull a few that may be matter of special interest or special curiosity for Bulletin readers:

I.

In every newspaper office there is a collection of “obits” (obituaries of living persons) ready to be put into type the moment the death of a public character is flashed. Indeed, any person sufficiently notorious or celebrated to merit an obit may easily find out what the papers will say about him after he has passed on. It has already been said and only awaits the signal for release.

These obits are kept up to date, rewritten from time to time to include the latest facts. Well, a reporter in a news agency had just completed the revised obituary on Dr. Sigmund Freud. It was, like all such documents for posthumous publication, highly flattering.

The editor read copy, his blue pencil poised over the yellow paper. When he reached the last line he looked reprovingly at the reporter.

“By the time this is printed,” he said, “Dr. Freud will be dead. There is no need putting in that dirty crack.”

And he struck out the dirty crack—the unwarranted insult to a dead scientist. It was the simple declarative statement:

“Dr. Freud was a Jew.”

II.

Our journalistic friend M., who has since become one of the best-known old hands in the foreign correspondents’ game, knew very little about politics at the time. He had been rushed down to Livorno—this was in 1921—to cover the national conference of the Socialist Party of Italy.

It was an epoch-making conference. That was where the powerful party split into at least three sections. The split in turn provided the Fascists under Mussolini with the opportunity to seize power. It was where the Communist Party of Italy was born, soon to be driven underground.

But to reporter M. it was all a lot of “hooey.” All this talk about Rights and Lefts and Centrists meant less than nothing to him— just a lot of radical nuts shooting of their mouths. What his readers in America learned about this conference and its significance is a fearful thing to contemplate.

As far as M. was concerned it was all a Jewish mess. There was the fellow Karl Marx whose picture hung on the platform, and a lot of other bewhiskered gentlemen on the platform making speeches who, M. was sure, must be Hebrews. Even Serrati and Bombacci, Left and Centrist leaders and both unadulterated Italians, were a couple of Jews to this American Journalist.

One day we were leaving the Goldoni Theatre where the Party was in session and walking towards our pensione—M., Norman Matson (who has since attained ### fame as a novelist) and my### M. stalked along between as and aired his views—that it was all a Jewish business. Look at all the beards. And they say Marx was a rabbi. And why don’t they stop messing things up in the world.

Finally our unbroken and ominous silence penetrated his sluggish consciousness. He stopped in his tracks and stared from one to the other.

“Say!” he exclaimed, “You aren’t both Jews yourselves, are you?”

“No,” I laughed, “only half of us.”

Whereupon, humbly and in em###assment, M. turned to Mat###d apologized.

III

The foreign correspondents, some twenty of us, were on an official junket, following the course of the Volga. When we reached Kazan, the capital of the Tartar Soviet Republic, our official monitors informed us that a Tartar professor, straight out of the Kazan University, would come on board ship to tell us all about his republic.

The professor came. He lectured at great length about Red Tartary, its dark past and its bright future.

“We Tartars,” he said, “have at last received our freedom. We have thrown off the yoke of Tsarist oppression. We Tartars are building a new life.”

Over and over again he used the expression “we Tartars.” Only three of four of us in the party were Jews. The spokesman of Red Tartary carried a name curiously Semitic, Ben-Something, with a real Biblical flavor. When the lecture was over we cornered him and asked him some personal questions.

“We Tartars” turned out to be a Jew from Dvinsk. The story spread far and wide and for years thereafter in Moscow Tartar was used as a synonym for Jew.

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