As citizen historians around the country partner with us to investigate local press coverage of the Holocaust, they often become quite engaged by their discoveries. In this guest post, Bernard Gordon describes his case of “research fever.” Bernard has been volunteering with the project since December 2015.
Dry as Dust?
I guess most of us think that only Professor “Dryasdust” would enjoy being asked to dig into musty old newspapers looking for long-forgotten news items. He’s not the only one. In an effort to discover what Americans learned and did about the Holocaust and other matters from 1933-1945, as reported in their local newspapers, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a call for volunteer citizen historians. I became interested in participating in the project, contacted Citizen History Community Manager Eric Schmalz, and joined up. So far I have found my experiences to be personally fulfilling, socially meaningful, and —much to my surprise and delight— thoroughly enjoyable.
Dr. Seuss and the Holocaust
In my hunt for a “local” newspaper, I came up with PM, a small progressive paper that began publishing in New York City in 1940, and lasted until the late 1940s. Besides furnishing me with several articles that were useful for the project, the paper turned up a gem I was unaware of. One of its leading political cartoonists at that time was Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, the world-renowned children’s book author. He was a progressive who used his satirical wit and razor-sharp pen to voice his opposition to anti-democratic forces that came to his attention. For example, he criticized Charles Lindbergh in a cartoon within days of Lindbergh’s infamous speech of September 11, 1941. Lindbergh had been generally successful in keeping his antisemitic views to himself until that speech. On that day, Lindbergh echoed the statements put forward by Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, claiming that Jews controlled much of American life, including the government, and were pushing the country into war.
Priest or Racketeer?
Another notorious antisemitic American I tracked down in print was Charles Coughlin, the so-called “Radio Priest,” who reached millions of listeners with an ostensibly religious program he conducted weekly in the decade leading up to World War II. In it he espoused his anti-Communist, isolationist, and antisemitic views, going so far as to hold the Jewish victims of the Nazis responsible for their own persecution. It came as no surprise to me that many accepted his statements without question. Therefore, I was especially pleased to find that a community in Rochester, New York, challenged him on his antisemitism by holding a “public trial” of him.
Many of the items I have found and submitted have taught me a great deal about the events taking place then and their relationships to each other. I cannot praise this project highly enough. I would recommend it wholeheartedly to all people who have the research bug and a social conscience.
[From Eric: Thanks, Bernard! Do you have stories to share about your own discoveries? If so, I would love to hear from you. Please email me at eschmalz [at] ushmm [dot] org or call me at 202-382-0211.]