The Prompt, spontaneous, and courageous reaction of the American press to the reign of Nazi terror in Germany, sending a stormy wave of indignation clear across this Continent, forms a new and magificent chapter in the proud history of American journalism. The splendid work of the American correspondents on the spot, carrying on under much difficulty, and at the risk of their own safety, has already been commended in many quarters and even at public meetings. The victims of the outrages, Jewish and other, and their kinsmen, will long continue to bless them for the speedy opening of the only channel that was left for their outcries of anguish and despair.
Led by the New York Times and by other outstanding metropolitan dailies including the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Evening Post, the New York World Telegram, the American press with its great newsgathering agencies though-out the country, gave excellent evidence of its very fine skill in garnering the news, its readiness for any emergency, its fearlessness in exposing cruelty and wrong and its quickened sympathy with suffering and distress. It was a manifestation calculated to strengthen our belief in the American idea of fair play, and to reaffirm our shaken faith in humanity.
But newspapers, like all other institutions, are bound by their basic purposes and inevitable limitations and as the harrowing events, ushering in the new Hitler regime, were drawn out and the German occurrences ceased to be first page news, or were replaced by newer happenings of wide interest, new manifestations reflecting part of the public attitude, came to the fore, and one of the curious indications of mass psychology was displayed in the symposium of readers’ opinions which followed the series of notable articles in the New York Evening Post contributed by H. R. Knickerbocker.
Naturally, Americans of German origin or affiliation, and others who have come under the influence of German circles, were loath to believe all of the strange and grotesque stories, unfortunately based on fact, which came out of Germany, and it was more difficult still to give credence to the reports of cruelties of an unprecedented character. They prompted many readers to ask questions, or to rush to the defence of the new regime. Leaving out the question of the alleged exaggeration of so-called “atrocity stories” (with the authentic horrible stories still coming over, why should anybody try to exaggerate?), there is a certain inevitable reaction on the part of those who hate to believe the worst, and who, after the shock received by the first revelations, attempted a certain mental justification or search for excuses.
ANTAGONISM IS AROUSED
There are those whose sympathy is on the surface, or who can only temporarily overcome latent feelings of antagonism. There was Robert Williams of Newark, N. J., who at first felt sorry for our people in Germany, and then rather suddenly changed his mind. On April 15, he wrote as follows:
To the Editor of the Evening Post:
Sirâ€”Up to a few days ago I sympathized with the German Jews. Now I wish that Hitler woud become somewhat more fanatical. What caused this change? Not the Knickerbocker articles! I believe they are true and criticism of them is unwarranted. The hysterical Jewish letters which you printed alienated me and no doubt many others. And incidentally, why say that the American people as a whole is indignant? It isn’t.
Newark, N. J., April 15, 1933.
Mr. Williams thought that some of the Jewish correspondents of The Post were too hysterical and he did not like that. Others were displeased by the too emphatic denunciation of the Nazi offenders, and this leads right up to the question of protests after the psychological moment for public outcries passes away, and the time comes for a change of measures or of change of auspices under which public appeals should be made.
CONTRARY EFFECT REACHED
In Washington, several years ago, an old friend, a non-Jew and a diplomat of distinction with whom I had been discussing lamentable out-breaks against the Jews which were then occurring in an East European country, asked me in a candid, but nevertheless friendly, way, if I did not think that continued complaints of injustices and constant reiteration that the Jews were being persecuted did not ultimately produce upon the outsider a peculiar kind of effect, creating a feeling of mingled pity, bewilderment and irritation, and he wondered whether it was good for the Jews at all times to emphasize wrongs being done to them in different parts of the world. I argued that this unfortunate circumstance was inherent in the deplorable conditions of life and human nature that caused intolerance and racial hostility, that the indictment was against the world, and that we had very little recourse outside of complaint and protests.
But the misgivings of my Christian friend have since then recurred to my mind on many occasions, bringing a sense of uncertainty as well as helplessess.
In Paris at the time of the trial of Sholom Schwarzbard, a distinguished French university professor, also a non-Jew, with whom I was talking about the Ukrainian pogroms which brought on this celebrated deed of reckless daring, exclaimed, “Ces pauvres juifs!”, with such peculiar intonation of indifference and blend of subtle suggestions that it kept me puzzled for many days. Long before I was perplexed by these elusive yet troubling nuances, others have asked the question whether the constant public restatement of wrongs is not also subject to that psychology of suggestion, which is presumably the foundation of all high-powered advertising and publicity.
PRIMITIVE AND CULTIVATED REFLEXES
Study of the curious things which go on in the Gentile mind on hearing about the same inexplicable occurrences and the same utterances of resentment over and over again, undoubtedly verges on the morbid, and is in any event outside the limit of my researches. But the discussions which went on in the columns of the New York Evening Post, revealed various phases of mental processes, from the operation of the primitive mind, which is reflected in immediate antagonism to those who differ or is irritated by any kind of separateness, to the cultivated which comprehends and makes allowances for differences and complexities.
“Captain Dreyfus is worse than a traitorâ€”he is a bore,” said Mr. Dooley, otherwise Finley Peter Dunne, when the celebrated case had been drawn out for years, and when it is recalled that these words occurred in an article that was scathingly critical of the French militarists, and thoroughly sympathetic with the “Children of Get-to-Hell-out-of-this” (as the Irish-American wit paraphrased Zangwill’s title), you will realize that it is necessary to measure the world’s patience, as well as to gauge its sense of justice.
A number of Jewish and non-Jewish writers, including Dr. John Haynes Holmes, made vigorous and eloquent defence of the Jewish position, and among others, Samuel Newman of Brooklyn, deserves credit for having supplied important facts, on the authority of General von Deimling, of the splendid account which the German Jews gave of themselves in the armed forces of the Empire; Arthur Wiener showed excellent knowledge of original German sources and fine ability in getting an argument across in handling Nazi lies regarding alleged unpatriotic utterances of Walter Rathenau. L. Kussman displayed keen satire, and another Jewish humorist wrote under the pen-name of “Socratinsky.” Other writers, too, deserve much credit for courage and understanding, but in the issue of April 17, an anonymous writer told everything:
To the Editor of the Evening Post:
Sirâ€”The Knickerbocker articles in the Evening Post were paid for by the Jewish Congress. Christians beware.
This was essentially the spirit of a letter written on April 17, by Alice Brady, who surely deserves some recognition from the Hitler Government, in keeping with Herr Hitler’s promise to drive all women back to the kitchen.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.