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Breaking the Walls of Silence

Part XIV

An editorial in Der Tog on January 25, 1940, expressed the paper’s relief that the atrocity stories had broken through the “walls of silence” that the American press had erected and were now being published as front-page headlines in most American newspapers. Der Tog believed the press had felt “constrained” to publish this statement coming from such a high Catholic source, because of their millions of Catholic readers.

Der Tog feared that unless the atrocities were publicly acknowledged in the American press, American Jews might become skeptical about the veracity of the reports. Some Jews already doubted the authenticity of these horror tales because they believed American newspapers rarely suppressed news. If anything, they considered the press to be “over sensational.” If these events actually occurred, some Jews asserted, they would have been reported in the American press.

The paper concluded that perhaps the only way to convince the New York press about the failure to include news from Poland was to urge the 2,000,000 Jews of New York to flood the editorial offices with letters of protest.

Reports from Poland were given further credibility when Congressman Samuel Dickstein (D-NY), chairman of the House Immigration and Naturalization Committee, read 11 dispatches of the JTA describing the “horrors of the Nazi occupation of Poland” to the House of Representatives on January 24, 1940. Dickstein reminded his colleagues that the U.S. has a responsibility for Poland, since America had been instrumental in its creation at the end of WW I. He then called the State Department to initiate its own investigation, and if the JTA information was correct, to convince the Nazi regime to stop their inhuman treatment of innocent Jewish men, women and children.

Three days later, Howard Daniel, writing in The Nation, observed that if there were still individuals inclined to regard Jewish reports as exaggerated, an account in the Breslau Schlesische Zeitung should dispel their skepticism.

Based on German police records in the Lodz district the information first appeared in the JTA of January 3, 1940. It read:

“A hundred Jews were executed because during the house to house to house search for arms, many Jews offered resistance. Acting on a report which came to the police that Jews surrounded a synagogue in Lodz in order to prevent Germans entering, fire was opened on the Jews and hundreds of them were shot…

“Jewish streets were blocked hermetically. Jews were strictly forbidden to approach the local peasants, because it was alleged that they were obtaining milk, potatoes and vegetable for hoarding. As there was a typhoid epidemic, Jews were permitted to consult Jewish doctors on condition that these doctors prepared their own medicine. In the town of Sieradz 36 Jews were shot because they had fired on German soldiers…

“In the Kolo 217 Jews were publicly flogged because of a theft of provisions. Among the thieves were the town rabbi and 13 of his scholars.

“…The work of the authorities were simplified because in some houses many Jews committed suicide before they could be arrested. In many houses, the Jews resisted with iron rods and hatchets. More than 100 of these criminals were executed on the spot.”

After publishing other reports about the deplorable condition of Jewish life in Poland appearing in the Nation, JTA, The Jewish Spectator, The New York Times, Congress Bulletin and the Contemporary Jewish Record, Howard Daniel concluded that to remain silent under these circumstances would be to “condone an unspeakable crime”—mass extermination.

The Vatican continued its expose of life in Poland on January 28, 1940, with the publication of a memorandum submitted to Pope Pius II by August Cardinal Hlond, primate of Poland. The report was a well-documented and highly detailed account of mass shootings, plundering and persecutions conducted against the Polish people “with cold-blooded brutality ferocity.”

In The New York Times of January 30, 1940, the cardinal said that he believed Hitler was literally carrying out what he had written in Mein Kampf. Although the cardinal’s report did not mention the persecution of Jews, the American Jewish Congress and Der Tog hoped that public opinion in America would be more receptive to the horrible conditions of the Jews in the ghettos in Lodz, Warsaw, Lublin and other Polish cities.

In an attempt to “whitewash” the Polish regime and halt the adverse publicity from the foreign press, Dr. Hans Frank, governor general of occupied Poland, held a news conference for foreign journalists, reported in The New York Times on February 10, 1940. Frank claimed that he had not “in any way restricted the trade of the Jews or in any way limited their other activities. He insisted “now as before, Poles and Jews may intermarry and may join in any business enterprise.” He denied the existence of “a single concentration camp in the whole of Poland.”

This attempt to conceal the appalling treatment of Jews in Poland was thwarted by the Vatican, when it announced in March 1940 that it possessed copious documentation on the persecution of Jews in Germany, Poland and Austria. Even though much of the information had been previously revealed in Howard Daniel’s article in The Nation and elsewhere, its publication by the Vatican provided even greater credibility to the charges against the Polish government.

In April 1940, Ansel Mowrer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American foreign correspondent and author, declared that the conditions in Poland were desperate and that help was needed immediately. His report, which appeared in the New York Post and the Chicago Daily News, told of Poles being stripped of their property, of food being confiscated and of their daughters kidnapped in broad daylight from public streets to be sent to German houses of prostitution. Mowrer concluded that every German action seemed designed to “literally pulverize the Poles.”

Samuel Margoshes called upon the American press to publish additional exposes to arouse the American people to demand that their government take action against the Nazis. “We have it in our power,” he said, “to uncover all the German abominations in Poland, thus holding up the German regime to the contempt of all civilized mankind.” He did not understand why the American government had not yet initiated this response. The U.S. maintained friendly relations with the German regime that wanted to make a favorable impression on the American public.

On July 1, 1940, The New York Times quoted the Deutsches Nachrichtenbüro, the official German news agency, that several hundred Jews had been killed in Galati, Rumania, when the Rumanian army suppressed an armed Jewish rebellion. According to the German radio, 600 were confirmed dead and many wounded.

The New Republic, The New York Times and the Jewish press, including Der Tog, Opinion and the Forward, reported on this and other alleged incidents and the restrictive measures imposed on Rumanian Jewry. They rejected the specious charge that Jews had been involved in the uprisings.

According to the Contemporary Jewish Record of September-October 1940, B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Committee, The Jewish Labor Committee and the American Jewish Congress issued a statement on July 8, accusing “dominant elements in Bucharest” of deliberately “whipping up a spurious alibi” to incite pogroms, in order to divert attention of the Rumanian people from the loss of territory (Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina) to the soviet Government.” Of particular concern was the possibility the “the reported massacre of 600 Jews in Galati maybe followed by even more awful slaughter….” Three days later, the United Rumanian Jews of America condemned these actions.

On August 8, The New York Times published a statement on “a peace without Jews” that appeared in Das Schwarze Korps, the official organ of the SS. The paper attacked the Jews for cooperating with Britain in an effort to “convert all Europe into a chaotic, blood-soaked battlefield,” and declared that the Jews would pay for collaborating with Britain.

Once a German victory was secured, some area remote from Europe would be set aside from Jewish colonization. This place would be “far away from European labor and culture” and there “the scum of humanity may try to lead a life of its own toil or die a death it earned.”

According to the Times, the article implied that anti-Semitic measures “already put into effect in various European countries were too weak, and that a solution on a continental scale was necessary.”

Saul Friedlander noted that a number of months before publication of this article, Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Main Office, the SS and police agency, told a group of high-ranking SS officers that expelling Jews from one country to another had failed to solve the Jewish problem.

By Alex Grobman, PhD

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