February 16: For Sale to Humanity

On this date in 1943, the following 3/4-page ad appeared in the New York Times:

70,000 JEWS

“Roumania is tired of killing Jews,” said the text, written and signed by Ben Hecht. “It has killed one hundred thousand of them in two years. Roumania will now give Jews away practically for nothing.” The ad was placed by the Committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews (CJA), a pressure group founded by Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook), showman Billy Rose, and Hecht, among others, and was in response to an offer that had been made to the Allies by upper-echelon members of the Romanian government to assist in the transfer of some 70,000 Jews from their fascist state to Palestine or elsewhere. CJA was denounced by mainstream Jewish organizations as alarmist, unethical, and overly militant, but the campaign did prompt the American Jewish Congress, with the backing of AFL-CIO unions, to create a public protest at Madison Square Garden on March 1, demanding American action to rescue the Jews. Eight days later, also at Madison Square Garden, the CJA presented a pageant, “We Will Never Die,” with a script by Ben Hecht, a score by Kurt Weil, direction by Moss Hart, and performers that included Paul Muni and Edward G. Robinson. The pageant was performed all over the U.S. and was viewed by Eleanor Roosevelt, Supreme Court justices, and many other people of influence. Still, no rescue plan was forthcoming from the State Department.

“The corpse of a people lies on the steps of civilization. Behold it. Here it is! And no voice is heard to cry halt to the slaughter, no government speaks to bid the murder of human millions end.” —Ben Hecht, “We Will Never Die”

Watch a Fox Movietone News report about the March 9, 1943 “We Will Never Die” pageant at Madison Square Garden.

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Comments (3)

  1. Primo Levi, in the chapter called “Cerium” of his wonderful set of memoirs THE PERIODIC TABLE, writes that he and his fellow prisoners were delighted when the allies bombed the chemical plants at Auschwitz because they knew the raids were directed against the Nazis and not the prisoners. If the chemical plants could be bombed, why not the crematoria and the gas chambers? Why not the railroad lines leading to the camp? What if there had been more publicity? What if the Times had featured news about the extermination of the Jews? Would American policy have been different?

  2. When my parents came to America and were dumped in a refugee slum in Brooklyn after the war, there were American Jews who said (really ‘sensitive’) things like: “Gee, we didn’t know so many of you were still alive.” (Only 1 of 11 Jews of Poland had survived.) And: “We suffered, too, during the war; we could only buy chicken twice a week.” I swear these are amongst the things “Americane yoldim” (always in reference to American Jews , not to gentile Americans of whom so little was expected) would say to Final Solution survivors. It was good to know that there were American Jews who took seriously what was happening in the killing centers and mass graves, as little as that knowledge and pressure affected the State and War Departments (largely oil-driven even then) and the outcome of Nazi annihilation plans. Interesting bedfellows in the cause: Palestinian rightist like Bergson and American leftist writer like Hecht. The meeting of militants on the common ground of trying to arouse a sadly frightened and quiescent American Jewish community. I understand the fear. I just wish it were otherwise. Cautious gradualism in the face of rapid-fire mass death is an absurdity and that absurdity is still being played out in the comedy of American Jews, still envious of the perceived chutzpah of contemporary Jews of Europe and Israel.

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