Debbie Hall

The Apathy of Hollywood’s Jews

I’d originally planned to write about the historical apathy among Hollywood’s Jewish community toward Jewish suffering.  I’d planned to write about how the majority of the Jewish community of Los Angeles said and did nothing while fellow Jews were being gassed alive by the Nazis and their allies in Poland and elsewhere.  However, when I began researching, what I found was even more disturbing.  Every Jewish-owned studio, Carl Laemmle of Universal, Jack and Harry Warner of Warner Brothers, Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn of MGM, William Fox of 20th Century Fox, Adolph Zukor of Paramount, and Harry Cohn of Columbia acquiesced to German censorship to ensure their films were Aryan-friendly.  According to an article in Haaretz, they accomplished this by “banning movies by directors such as Ernst Lubitsch, films starring Marlene Dietrich, and excising credits of actors or directors who were Jewish or considered politically objectionable, as well as cutting scenes that Nazi censors found offensive.”

Apparently it started when the German premiere of the anti-War film, All Quiet on the Western Front, produced by Universal, was disrupted by Nazis in Berlin and the Weimar government agreed to ban the film.  In an effort to get the ban removed, Carl Laemmle agreed to the Germans’ demand to edit the film to their liking, not just for the German release, but for the entire international community.  Carl Laemmle complied and the film was released in its new, German-friendly form across the globe.  The studio heads regularly met with Georg Gyssling, a Nazi who acted as Germany’s official censor via the German Consulate in Los Angeles, to obtain Gyssling’s orders on which changes would be necessary to have the films approved.  The Germans used the film industry’s own Hollywood Production Code, which operated from 1930 to 1968 and required that film productions ensure specific moral standards as leverage.  If Gyssling felt something in a film was insulting to Nazis or Germany, he used this code to have the film censored.  The entire balagan is highlighted in two books on the topic, Ben Urwand’s, The Collaboration:  Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, and Thomas Doherty’s, Hollywood and Hitler.

Ultimately, productions from Universal and Warner Brothers were banned from Germany, yet the other Jewish studios, and all studios, continued to comply with the Nazi’s demands.  The fact that the studios were aware of the Nuremberg laws against Jews, were required to remove anything that could be identified as a Jewish person or as Jewish in general, apparently wasn’t enough for the alarm bells to go off.  In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, a young woman in Berlin, Johanna Rockmann, wrote a pointed plea to Harry Warner asking him for either an affidavit to bring her to the US or $50 so she could escape to the Dominican Republic.  Her letter was read and went unanswered by the Hollywood mogul.  Johanna Rockmann died at Auschwitz.

There is a solitary standout in the face of this disgusting and deplorable appeasement of Nazi Germany by the studio heads, and that was Carl Laemmle at Universal.  Based on his initial experiences with the German censor and having family still residing in Germany, he was in touch with them and was constantly apprised of the growing threat.  Laemmle realized that Jews were in grave danger and after selling his studio and retiring in 1936, he spent his time obtaining visas and bringing over approximately 200 Jews to Los Angeles, saving them from the genocide that was about to happen.

While today’s Hollywood Jews demonstrate extreme awareness about the Holocaust as seen from the sheer numbers of films produced on the subject, and with Steven Spielberg’s founding of the Shoah Foundation, we must once again examine their complicity in doing absolutely nothing in the face of the suffering, persecution, and murder of Jews today.

Unlike 1930, today Jews have a homeland.  Israel was founded out of the British Mandate for Palestine two years after the Arab partition, Jordan, became an independent country.  The only Jewish country on the planet has been under attack ever since.  The narratives around Israel’s formation, how Israel deals with Palestinians, and Israel’s very existence, have become increasingly hostile around the globe and are largely based on historical fallacy and an utter absence of facts.  I’ve discussed the causes of this demonization of Israel in other articles, so for the sake of brevity I won’t get into all the whys here, but suffice it to say that the Arab world’s oil leverage, their exceptional propaganda finesse, and people living in struggling economies seeking a scapegoat are a large part of it.  It comes from both the right and the left.

Most of Hollywood’s Jews are on the left end of the political sphere.  And when I say Hollywood’s Jews, I’m not just speaking of the motion picture industry.  I’m speaking of the average Jewish person living in Los Angeles.  They are champions for many causes such as fighting poverty and discrimination against Muslims or black people or fighting for women’s rights and health care.  They do good things in this regard and that’s commendable.  However, the one area where most remain silent, as Harry Warner did, is when it comes to Jews and Israel.  Now that the Jews have a homeland that is under attack, Hollywood’s Jews are silent, or worse, they join in on the demonization of Israel.  Israel is our safe haven.  Israel ensures that Jews who are persecuted in any country in which they dwell have a place to flee to, unlike Johanna Rockmann.

In an unfortunate discussion on Twitter, I had the displeasure of coming across one of these Hollywood Jews by the name of Rebecca.  Rebecca is a beautiful woman with two sons who writes a blog about single motherhood.  As the discussion progressed, with about nine participants, I brought up the anti-Semitism among progressives as we discussed the anti-Semitism launched at Bernie Sanders by Hillary supporters.  Rebecca stated that she had not witnessed this.  I went on to give examples.  During the discussion, Israel of course came up.  She emphatically stated that she did not want to discuss Israel.  I explained that demonization of Israel is anti-Semitism.  She rejected this.  I provided the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, crafted under the Obama administration.  She continued to get upset.  Things got heated, and several of the other nine participants started referring to Israel as an “ethnostate,” an “apartheid state,” accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” and of course the tried and true, “imperialist state,” and it was that comment that Rebecca “liked.”  Prior to that point, I thought I was merely dealing with a coward who refused to publicly support Israel.  She’d previously stated she had family in Europe and understood the kind of persecution they were facing today.  Once she hit that like on the “imperialist” comment, I saw what I was actually dealing with:  a Hollywood Jew who not only doesn’t defend Israel’s right to exist, but joins in the demonization either to be accepted, or because she actually believes these things about her own safe haven

Until Hollywood Jews, and the Jews like them, come out of their closets and actually learn about Zionism, Israel, Israel’s founding, Israel’s attempts at peace, Israel’s diverse and progressive society, Israel’s right to defend itself, and actually develop a relationship with the State of Israel, Israel will continue to be a pariah among the progressive ranks of Western politicos.  As a result, Jews will suffer persecution and murder across the world.  This constant demonization doesn’t only make Jews unsafe outside of Israel, but it weakens Israel itself due to world pressure based on distortions and lies.  I don’t agree with everything the Israeli government does, as I’ve highlighted in other articles, but I don’t think anyone agrees with every single thing any country’s government does.  What remains important is that Israel maintain a strong and noble presence in the world so Jews can have a safe country to flee to if it becomes necessary as it has for so many Jews recently in France, the UK, and Sweden, and 70 years ago when 800,000 Jews were expelled from Middle Eastern and North African countries.

At one point during the discussion, Rebecca brought up the fact that she was interviewing an elderly friend of hers who had survived the camps for a project.  I’m not really sure why she brought this up.  However, considering this, I hope she will ask this elderly survivor about Israel and why its existence and well-being (economically, politically, and geographically) are so important to every Jew on this planet.

When it comes to Jewish suffering, the myopia of the Holocaust-centric narrative seems to prevent them from seeing the Jewish civilians murdered in cold blood today at the hands of people who have called for not just Israel’s destruction, but the destruction of the Jewish people.  Hindsight is so much clearer than seeing what is directly in front of one’s face.  Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer’s assistant, once stated, “Hitler and Hitlerism will pass, the Jews will still be there.”  America, who all but slammed its doors to Jews attempting to escape the Holocaust, is not our safe haven.  We are not in charge of our destinies here.  We can become rich here.  We can become powerful here.  We can become part of the government here.  Yet, as only 2% of the population in America, we cannot dictate to the American people that our well-being is a top priority, and we will suffer as a result.  In Israel, the well-being of the Jewish people is the number one priority.  There is no substitute for that.  That is the essence of self-determination.

About the Author
Debbie Hall is a writer and activist living in the diaspora.
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