Entry for March 05, 2007

Photo of LaGuardia from his bio at History Central. There’s an interestingreport on Laguardia at the American Jewish Historical Society.

In reading about events that had happened on this date in history, I was disappointed to learn that Cordell Hull, U.S. Secretary of State had written a note of apology to the German ambassador regarding anti-Hitler remarks by New York Mayor LaGuardia. I was able to find this fuller report in Review of the Year 5697 (pp 214-318) abou how

considerable excitement had been caused by statements made in public by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia of New York City. At a meeting of the women’s division of the American Jewish Congress in New York, on March 3, Michael Williams, editor of The Commonweal; Catholic weekly, suggested that a building “devoted to human and divine liberty,” erected at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, would “strike a blow that would be American and universal.” In his address to the same meeting, the Mayor declared: “I will add an annex to Dr. Williams’ suggestion. I would have a chamber of
horrors added to this temple. In it I would place that brown-shirted fanatic, who is now menacing the peace of the world.”

To the surprise of many Americans, Mayor La Guardia’s remark evoked vicious attacks in the German press, not only against him but also against the American people as a whole. It was reported by American newspaper correspondents in Germany that much of the language used in these attacks was unprintable in American newspapers. The day following the Mayor’s remarks, Dr. Hans Thomsen,
counsellor of the German Embassy, personally protested to Secretary of State Cordell Hull
. The latter took occasion at a conference with newspapermen to declare that the United States regretted all utterances calculated to be offensive to a foreign government.

On March 5, James C. Dunn, then Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs in the State Department, issued, on behalf of Secretary Hull, the text of an oral statement which had been made to Dr. Thomsen. “In this country,” the statement declared, “the right of freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution to every citizen and is cherished as a part of the national heritage. This, however, does not lessen the regret of the government when utterances either by private citizens or by public
officials speaking- in an individual capacity give offense to a government with which we have official relations.” The statement concluded with an expression of regret over utterances which had given offense to the German Government, and the assurance that these did “not represent the
attitude of this government toward the German Government.” German-American organizations and newspapers meanwhile echoed the German attacks on La Guardia, though in much milder terms.

In the course of one of its articles attacking Mayor La Guardia, Der Angriff, a Nazi newspaper published in Berlin, known to be the personal press organ of Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, referred to the women who had attended the luncheon at which the Mayor had made his “brownshirted fanatic” remarks as “women of the streets.”

On March 8, Mrs. Stephen S. Wise, in a telegram to the State Department, asked that it “insist upon a disavowal of this deliberately insulting and false utterance, and an expression of regret from the Nazi government, which is responsible for everything that appears in Nazi
publications.”

On March 11, Secretary of State Hull announced that the utterances in the Nazi press had been
made the subject of “emphatic comment” to the German government. Later, it was reported from Berlin that on March 12, Ambassador William E. Dodd had called at the German Foreign Office and protested against the virulent attacks on Americans in the Nazi press, declaring to Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath that they were of unprecedented indecency and shocking to all decent
minds. He said that the United States could not overlook the venomous and unfounded insults heaped upon America and its people by the Government-controlled press, even though it had never before protested against the many derogatory statements concerning the United States published in the German press.

The Nazi government, however, made no public apology. According to a report to the New York Times, Foreign Minister von Neurath merely gave an “explanation” to Ambassador Dodd. In a semi-official communique, the incident was dismissed in the following terms: “United States Ambassador Dodd called the attention of the Foreign Office yesterday to the comments of some of the German newspapers on the notorious speech in New York of Mayor La Guardia. It is assumed that the calumny La Guardia uttered was bound to produce an understandable general resentment in Germany. If the language of some of the German newspapers went, perhaps, beyond desired limits, this was due
only to irritation. An insult to the American nation was by no means intended. For the rest, the assumption is justified that the American diplomat’s attention was called to the continuous malicious and untrue attitude on the part of the American press respecting German problems.”

Public discussion of this incident had all but subsided, when Mayor La Guardia caused a new barrage of anti-American attacks in the Nazi press. On March 15, at a mass meeting at Madison Square Garden in New York City, held under the auspices of the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Labor Committee, Hitlerism was branded as “the gravest menace to peace, civilization and democracy.” The meeting, which was attended by about 20,000 persons, pledged renewed, support to the boycott on
German products and services. A resolution condemned the Nazi government for “seeking the destruction of American democracy” by propaganda and by rearing a private Nazi army here, and asked Americans to support the boycott. Another resolution, presented at the conclusion
of the rally by the Rev. John Haynes Holmes, was in the form of a four-point indictment of the Nazi Government, declaring that it has “destroyed all vestiges of democracy, and human and civilized procedure in Germany and substituted for law and order a reign of oppression
borrowed from the barbarism of the Middle Ages.”

The meeting was presided over by Dr. Stephen S. Wise, and the speakers included Erika Mann, duaghter of Thomas Mann, exiled German author; Dr. Frank Bohn; B. Charney Vladeck, chairman of the Jewish Labor Committee and manging director of the Jewish Daily Forward; Dr. Joseph Tenenbaum, chairman of the Joint boycott comittee of the sponsoring organizations; John L. Lewis,
labor leader and head of the Committee for Industrial Organization; and General Hugh S. Johnson, one-time head of the National Recovery Administration.

Mayor La Guardia, who was not scheduled to speak but was nevertheless called upon to do so by the audience, made a brief impromptu address which he concluded with the statement that the “public opinion of the world had decided that Hitler is not personally or diplomatically ‘satisfationsfaehig’.”
(Freely rendered, this means that a person so referred to is too low to challenge or be challenged to a duel.)

This remark drew fr
om Der Angriff, in Berlin, a demand that President Roosevelt “intervene energetically” to prevent anti-Nazi “insults,” and the Nazi press generally scaled new heights of invective in renewing attacks on Mayor La Guardia, American Jews, democracy, liberty,
and American ideals, generally. Leading the onslaught were such papers as the Schwarze Korps, organ of Chancellor Hitler’s Schutzstaffel (elite guards), the Lokal Anzeiger, and Der Steurmer. On March 17, the German Ambassador Hans Luther called on Secretary Hull. According to press reports, Dr. Luther declared that a repetition of such insults could only carry a threat of strained relations between two friendly governments.

In an official report of the interview the State Department stated that the Secretary of State had informed Dr. Luther that nothing could be added to what had been said in response to a similar complaint on March 5. In issuing this report, Secretary Hull personally expressed the hope “that all who are participating in the present controversy, which is marked by bitter and vituperative
utterances in this country and in Germany, may soon reach the conclusion that it would to the best interests of
both countries for them to find other subjects which can be discussed more temperately.”

In the course of the anti-American propaganda campaign, following the first La Guardia utterance, Der Angriff and the official German news agency gave wide circulation in Germany to the alleged text of a speech said to have been made by Benjamin Franklin during the Constitutional Convention in 1787-8. In this reputed speech, Franklin is supposed to have prophesied that if the immigration of Jews to the United States were not restricted, the Jews would ruin the country.

The Franklin “prophecy” had first appeared in the United States on February 3, 1934, in Liberation, an anti-Jewish publication issued by William Dudley Pelley. At that time, in an article published in the Jewish Frontier, New York Jewish weekly, Dr. Charles A. Beard, distinguished American historian, declared that the “alleged Franklin document is merely a forgery and a crude one at that”; that after investigation he had found that the socalled “private diary” of Charles Pinckney from which the
Franklin statement was supposedly quoted did not exist; and that Franklin had high regard for Jews.

When the republication of the forgery in Germany was reported in American newspapers, Dr. Beard’s expose was recalled. It was corroborated by Dr. John Musser, dean of the Graduate School at New York University and authority on the life of Franklin.

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