A Look Back at the New York Times: Was it Anti-Semitic in the WWII Era?
Following the cartoon recently published in the New York Times’ International print edition, Mike Smith explores the publication’s stance on anti-Semitism throughout history.
By Mike Smith
By now, I am willing to bet that you have seen and/or have read about the nasty cartoon that was published in the New York Times’ International print edition on April 25, 2019. As the New York Times itself recognized, it was “an appalling political cartoon.” Indeed. The Times issued two apologies, and stated, “In the 1930s and the 1940s, the Times was largely silent as anti-Semitism rose up and bathed the world in blood. That failure still haunts this newspaper.”
The Times’ self-declared silence in the midst of the rise of anti-Semitism in the 1930s and 1940s is intriguing from a historical point of view.
This was an era when the Detroit Jewish News and the Detroit Jewish Chronicle, and other Jewish media sources like the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, had stories nearly every week citing the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, their rotten laws and despicable treatment of Jews, as well as other groups, culminating in the Holocaust. It is hard to believe that the Times could remain relatively un-engaged with these stories.
So, I decided to see what I could find on this subject in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. Arthur Horwitz, executive editor/publisher of the JN, and I thought we might find an editorial or two on the subject, especially because Philip Slomovitz, legendary founding editor of the JN, was no shrinking violet.
He was not shy about addressing anti-Semitism whenever and wherever he found it. But, in the archive, there are thousands of pages that cited “Slomovitz” and/or New York Times and/or “anti-Semitism.” It was a needle-in-the-haystack search. Sometimes, the archive just has too much information (this is a good thing!) However, it is also full of surprises.
I did find a reprint of a quotation from the Times condemning Nazi anti-Semitism and atrocities in the Dec. 12, 1942, issue of the JN. The Times was not completely silent during this era.
But more interesting stories were about the Times publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, being an “avowed” anti-Zionist as stated in an editorial in the Nov. 11, 1942, issue of the JN.
One of the main criticisms of Sulzberger was that he would not support the formation of a Jewish Army — an army of Jews from around the world — to fight the Nazis. The question was: Did this make him an “anti-Zionist?”
It just so happened that I just finished reading Racing Against History (New York: Encounter, 2018) by Rick Richman. This is an interesting read, thoroughly researched using previously unpublished sources, and very readable.
It is the story of three main proponents of Zionism before there was an Israel in 1948: David Ben-Gurion, Vladimir Jabotinsky and Chaim Weizmann — the leaders of the left, right and center of Zionism at that time.
In 1940, each of these giants of Zionism, on separate excursions, came to America for several months to try to convince the public and civil authorities to raise a Jewish army to fight Hitler. By this time, the events leading to the Holocaust were unfolding, and Great Britain was virtually alone fighting the Nazis.
Racing Against History is ultimately a story of failure. Unlike WWI when there was a Jewish Legion (both Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion were members of the Legion), a Jewish Army never materialized.
Thousands upon thousands of Jews, however, did fight the Nazis but in the armies of the U.S., Great Britain, Russia and other nations. But, America was greatly divided in 1940 with a large percentage of the population still isolationist, wishing to stay out of foreign entanglements.
Of course, most of these folks changed their minds after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
But, in 1940, plenty of American Jews did not believe in supporting a Jewish Army, nor did all Jews at the time support the Zionist dream. Sulzberger was not alone. But, was he or were they anti-Semitic? This is still a question without a definitive answer.
I highly endorse Racing Against History as a good piece of historical writing. And, as always, I recommend reading the historic pages of the JN and Chronicle for further good historical information on the important issues for Detroit Jews over the past 100 years.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.
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