A CHILD OF
Novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Ben Hecht
was comfortable with his Jewish origins but by his own
admission took little interest in them until 1939. Approached by Peter Bergson, Samuel Merlin and Yitzhak Ben Ami to help in the project to create a Jewish Army in
Palestine (strongly opposed by the British), Hecht became their ally for the next decade. He engaged with them not only in the (unsuccessful) struggle for a Jewish army, but in the fight to raise awareness in the United States of the ongoing Holocaust (many in the American Jewish leadership were afraid that the fight against the Nazis would be seen as a Jewish war if the murder of Jews became an issue) and then, after the war, in the fight to force the British out of Palestine.
In the course of this decade, Hecht learned a lot
about Jews, for his dedicated efforts produced a sea of
vituperation--from Jews. Much of what Hecht writes remains pertinent, indeed assumes greater pertinence now than it had some years ago. For once again we are in a time of crisis, a period which seems to bring out the worst, most dysfunctional behavior in Jewish leadership.
In the next Outposts, we plan to bring you a series of segments from that part of Hecht's autobiography dealing with his "Jewish" experiences. Herewith the first in our proposed series, and although in this case Hecht describes his experience with famous Jews, not with Jewish leadership, what he writes is equally instructive:
The Reader's Digest Magazine broke the American silence attending the massacre of the Jews in February 1943. It printed my article called "Remember Us," based on Dr. Greenberg's data.
Reading it in the magazine, I thought of a larger idea and set out to test its practicality. Thirty famous writers (and one composer) were assembled at George Kaufman's house by my friend, his wife Beatrice. All had written hit plays or successful novels. Put their names together and you had the box-office flower of American culture. In addition to success, wit and influence, they had in common the fact that they were all Jews.
I had said to Bea that thirty New York dinner guests might save the surviving four million Jews in Europe. The first massacre scores had come in: dead Jews --two million; anti-Germany butchery protests--none.
I looked eagerly at the thirty celebrities in Bea's drawing room. Some were friends, some enemies. Some wrote like artists (almost), some like clodhoppers. Some were insufferably fatheaded, some psychotically shy. But such variation was unimportant. Bold, shy, Shakespeare or Boom McNutt--they had a great common virtue. They could command the press of the world.
What would happen if these brilliant Jews cried
out with passion against the German butchers? If these socially and artistically celebrated Jews spoke up in rage at the murder of their people? How they could dramatize the German crime! How loudly they could represent the nightmare to America and the world!
When we sat with coffee cups, Bea said to me, "Why not talk to them now, before they start playing games or something?"
I recited all the facts I knew about the Jewish killings. I said I felt certain that if we banded together and let loose our talents and our moral passion against the Germans we might halt the massacre. The Germans now believed that the civilized world looked with indifference on their extermination of Europe's Jews.
How could they think anything else? Had anybody (but the biased kinsmen of the victims) protested? Had England's great humanitarian, Churchill, spoken? Or our great keeper of the rights of man--Roosevelt? No, nary a word out of either of these politically haloed gentlemen. And out of that third champion of all underdogs--Stalin--no more hint of Jews than if they had all bowed out with Moses.
Consider (this was part of my speech to the thirty
Jewish geniuses of New York City), consider what would
happen to the Germans if they were to hear that their crime was sickening the world! If a roar of horror swept the civilized earth and echoed into the land that was once
Goethe's and Beethoven's! Imagine the effect on the
I had said to Bea that thirty New York dinner guests might save the surviving four million Jews in Europe.
descendants of Schiller, Wagner, Kant, Hegel, etc., etc.,
were they to hear a universal shout go up! "You are not
heroes. You are monsters."
And to back up my theory I wheeled out my sole exhibit--the King of little Denmark. Peter Freuchen, the writer and explorer, had told me the story. He had been in Copenhagen at the time the Germans announced they were going to "clean" Denmark of Jews.
The King of Denmark, with the German heel on his neck, had answered that the Danes would never stand for this crime against humanity. He had put the yellow arm band identifying Jews on his own sleeve and requested his people to do the same. They did. The Jews of Denmark went on living, protected by the moral passion of an otherwise powerless king.
I concluded with another argument. I said that an outcry against the massacre would have an important effect on the British. The British were not a bloodthirsty,
murderous people. If they heard that millions of Jews
(Continued on p.12)