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Charlie Chaplin was not Jewish — he was baptized and raised in the Anglican church — but Nazi propaganda in the 1930s said otherwise, identifying him as “Karl Tonstein,” a Jew and a communist. The rumors stuck, especially after Chaplin’s release ofThe Great Dictator in 1940, and he consistently refused to deny being Jewish, since to do so, he said, would “play directly into the hands of anti-Semites” (he sometimes added, like a true Jewish chauvinist, that “all geniuses have some Jewish blood in them”). On this date in 1936, Chaplin released Modern Times, an ode to working-class suffering and resilience that remains one of the funniest movies of all time. To see Chaplin in action, look below.
“I am for people. I can’t help it.” —Charlie Chaplin
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.