Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Hollywood Schindler's List during WWII

Here's a fascinating story students might read about heroism during the Holocaust in the 1940s.

Most everyone knows Oskar Schindler, thanks to the book and the movie, Schindler's List. The German businessman saved over 1100 Jews from certain death in the Nazi concentration camps.

Fewer people know the Hollywood mogul, Carl Laemmle, who is credited with saving over 300 Jews during World War II. That is remarkable because Laemmle is probably the only Hollywood mogul to even get involved with the German Jews. Laemmle was the president of Universal Pictures.

According to this excellent story in the New York Times called "Laemmle’s List: A Mogul’s Heroism," Neal Gabler explains that most Hollywood Jews were just trying to fit in. He notes, "almost from the inception of the American film industry, the Hollywood Jews were dedicated to assimilation, not religious celebration. They had come to America to escape their roots, not embrace them."

Laemmle, like Schindler, was different from his peers. Gabler says that he "was terrified of what Hitler’s ascension would mean for his country, for the village of Laupheim (where he was born), for members of his family — many of whom had remained in Germany — and, perhaps above all, for his fellow Jew."

That concern prompted him to risk his fortune to save as many Jews from his hometown as he could. He furnished the American consul with hundred of affidavits, which "were pledges of support that were required of every immigrant to ensure that the individual would not become a public charge."

The story is fascinating, like Schindler's, with twists and turns.

Gabler notes two recent books about Hollywood during World War II say very little about Laemmle. “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact With Hitler” by Ben Urwand and “Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939” by Thomas Doherty both deal with the complicity of Hollywood with Nazi Germany.

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