YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 7, 2013

Ben Hecht v. Ben Urwand, the un-Jewish Left, and ‘assimilated’ Jews

Ben Hecht

Ben Hecht

I have read four times the controversial Ben Urwand book that claims that Hollywood was in bed with Hitler. Upon rereading, I saw that Urwand’s sensationalistic argument that Hollywood moguls and established Jewish organizations had failed to oppose the Third Reich in the 1930s and even afterwards, reached its climax with the trotting out of novelist, journalist, polemicist, screenwriter, and playwright Ben Hecht as Urwand’s role model and inspiration. Urwand  appropriated Hecht’s life and politics to demonstrate that there was indeed one Jew who protested against weak-kneed “Hollywood’s” toleration of the Third Reich’s antisemitism,  but who was, like much of the New Left, no “Zionist.”

And so I wrote the following three blogs, but these were formulated before reading Hecht’s autobiography, in which I could see how Urwand, an aspiring screenwriter himself, could pounce on the imagined “collaboration” by moneybags moguls, while distancing himself from “Zionists”—and more, that Urwand failed to understand that Hecht was, for eight years, a strong ally, even a leader, to the “terrorist” Irgun, and that when Hecht referred to “Zionists” he referred solely to the Jewish Agency that was baring its neck to the British Empire that had no intention of giving up the Palestine Mandate and that wanted Moslem allies. Hecht was harshly critical of such Anglophiles as Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion, Moshe Shertok, and Golda Meyerson (later Golda Meir), in the last section of A CHILD OF THE CENTURY (1954). That the “moderate” Palestine Jews could have killed fellow Jews in the sinking of the Altalena and the murder of some of the fighting  underground’s greatest heroes would seem to have broken Hecht’s heart, for he quickly wound up his book after this (intra-Jewish) world-shaking event.

http://clarespark.com/2013/06/13/hollywoods-pact-with-hitler/

http://clarespark.com/2013/09/13/urwands-collaboration-hollywoods-pact-with-hitler/

http://clarespark.com/2013/10/10/urwand-undoes-chaplins-dictator/ (Hecht was an admirer of Chaplin’s “great” artistry.)

http://clarespark.com/2013/11/23/the-pitfalls-in-writing-history-of-the-movies/

Ben Hecht, though clearly an ally to “the common man” even threw FDR overboard, as he recalled FDR’s betrayal of Holocaust survivors seeking a haven in Palestine (soon to be Israel), by making promises to the Nazified Ibn Saud that FDR would keep refugee Jews out of Palestine.

Make no mistake: Ben Hecht was no lover of Hollywood  movies, which he wrote, he says, to replenish his ever dwindling coffers. Nor was he an admirer of the moguls, nor of the quality of the trash that Hollywood generally turned out, to the detriment of the high culture that Hecht embraced as a lifelong autodidact and genius. Hecht admits that his sympathy for Jewish life was aroused initially by his poor immigrant Yiddish-speaking relatives, and then his shock and horror that the Nazi massacre of European Jewry was proceeding apace without publicizing by “good Jews”, e.g. Rabbi Stephen Wise, the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith, and the entire Jewish establishment. There were two American Jews who stood by him, as he tells it: Moss Hart and Kurt Weill (the latter a refugee from Germany of course).

(For more on Ben Hecht’s pageant that raised funds for the Irgun and the committee led by Peter Bergson, aka Hillel Kook, Google “WE WILL NEVER DIE”.)

Scene from We Will Never Die pageant

Scene from We Will Never Die pageant

I have been through the previously restricted Ralph Bunche UN papers at UCLA, and can testify that Hecht’s rage at the United Nations was entirely justified. Bunche’s early opposition to antisemitism among blacks in America would seem to have been inspired by the communist Left’s opposition to antisemitism in the 1930s. No sooner had Bunche been co-opted by liberals, he was on board with the US Department of State and the British Empire in opposing “Jewish” expansionism.  Ben Hecht, by contrast, ended his autobiography with a shout out to Eretz Israel, a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. (Hecht may have been the most articulate inheritor of Vladimir Jabotinsky.)

eretzisrael

Ironically, Ralph Bunche made a secret visit to Menachem Begin in 1947, and was enthused about an enlarged Eretz Israel, in which there was room enough for all. But all that was before Bunche got the message from on high, and succumbed to his fellow persons of “color,” the classy Egyptians who courted him, unlike the vulgar Jews who assassinated Count Bernadotte, the latter a flunkey for Brits and antisemitic Americans in the State Department.

For the Wiki biography of Ben Hecht see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Hecht. But better still, read all the Hecht you can get your hands on, especially A CHILD OF THE CENTURY (1954). It will clear your head of cobwebs.

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13 Comments »

  1. There is another very interesting book that I had forgotten to mention about Ben Hecht and his group’s activity in the rescue of European Jews and sensibilization on the issue:

    Comment by HaDaR — January 5, 2014 @ 4:51 pm | Reply

  2. Urwand’s book really understates how much antisemitism existed in the USA in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Birth of a Nation in 1915 did revive the KKK — membership went from about 50,000 to over 6,000.000. In many states in the Midwest and South, all the lawyers, except for the Jews, were in the Klan. In 1915, Leo Frank was lynched for a crime he did not commit. Father Coughlin was on the radio two or three times a week or more.

    From the 1890’s to WW2, Jewish boys outside NYC grew up being attacked by good Catholic boys for being Christ killers. What happened to nearly all Jewish boys at least once was being chased down by at least a half-dozen guys, getting tackled to the ground, their pants pulled down, and their limbs splayed out under the weight of the boys standing upon their legs and arms, while they pissed on the JEW. Jewish men never forgot that type of thing, although they would never talk about it. They sure as hell would not go to the police because the police would not do a thing about it, except perhaps arrest the Jewish boy’s parents for making the “false complaint” since everybody knows things like that didn’t happen.

    Comment by bigguyboleslaw — December 22, 2013 @ 9:25 am | Reply

    • Not only outside of NYC but well within the Fives Boroughs… The “ginos” were beating-up Jewish kids calling them “mazzacrist” (a term used in the very popular movie of the early ’70s “Mean Streets” in the pub by Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro when they talk about the two Jewish girls in the typical Italian spiteful manner. Watch it and pay attention to the detail). The term is a deformation of the Italian “ammazza cristo”, that is christ killer.

      Comment by HaDaR — December 24, 2013 @ 6:03 am | Reply

  3. RE. Hecht: be sure to read ERIK DORN if you want to see all the intricacies and contradictions of his Jewish self-identity views as they changed in the decades before the second war. I tried to cover some of this in a long monograph on Hecht in TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICAN JEWISH FICTION WRITERS, vol. 28 in the Gale Biography Series, a while back. His papers are still at the Newberry archives in Chicago.

    Comment by mark bernheim — December 20, 2013 @ 5:22 pm | Reply

  4. […] Ben Hecht is the only good Jew in Urwand’s book; indeed his departure from his early Zionism seems to have inspired Urwand. But Urwand hasn’t cited  PERFIDY (by Hecht) that displayed Hecht’s own social climbing and insult at the home of an antisemitic New York socialite, while Hecht went on to blame Rudolf Kastner,  a Hungarian Jew,  for collaboration with the Nazis.  (See http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Power-and-Politics-Perfidy-revisited. This is a big and apparently unresolved fight.) Urwand is following longstanding trends among left-wing Jews: apparently to condemn anti-Semitism (thus distinguishing themselves from contemptible commercial Jews), while separating antisemitism from anti-Zionism. The remainder of this blog considers the distinction between “intellectual Jews” (like Urwand and his mentors at UC Berkeley) and “commercial Jews” (like the moguls). [Update: since writing this blog, I have read Hecht's autobiography, and Urwand utterly misunderstood Hecht's objection to "Zionists." Hecht supported the Irgun and called the Anglophile Jewish Agency members "Zionists." Could Urwand have even read the final section of A CHILD OF THE CENTURY? See my blog on that subject http://clarespark.com/2013/12/07/ben-hecht-v-ben-urwand-the-un-jewish-left-and-assimilated-jews/.) […]

    Pingback by Urwand’s THE COLLABORATION: HOLLYWOOD’S PACT WITH HITLER | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 14, 2013 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

  5. thanks for this

    Comment by yisrael medad — December 9, 2013 @ 8:00 am | Reply

  6. BTW, I got this twenty two years ago first hand from Rose Kahan, z”l, widow of Fred Kahan, z”l, founder of the West Coast Jewish National Fund, who around 1942 broke off a long friendship with S.S. Wise over his “callous refusal to do anything to bring the Holocaust to public attention in the Jewish Community and outside of it, not wanting to spoil his personal relationship with FDR”.

    Comment by HaDaR — December 7, 2013 @ 11:08 pm | Reply

  7. In case you did not read it, I strogly suggest the reading of Ben Hecht’s “Perfidy”…not easy to find but available…
    Also connected to his, Rabbi Kotler, zt”l, and Hillel Kook’s, zt”l, work on behalf of the Jews DURING the Shoah in the Vaad Hatzalah, I suggest the reading of “A Fire in His Soul”, a biography of Irving Buni, zt”l, which higlights how few were those who, among US Jews, did anything to save the Jews living under nazi boots.
    It’s to be noted that the NY Times, following FDR’s and the Reform Jewish establishment’s dictates, practically ignored the issue during the whole war, except publishing a piece on an event organized by Hect & the above mentioned people at the Madison Square Garden.
    The book “The Abandonment of the Jews” by David Wyman also points out a few “unpleasant” truths.
    Have a good week.

    Comment by HaDaR — December 7, 2013 @ 11:04 pm | Reply

    • Recall that Ben Hecht’s autobiography was published in 1954. By 1970 he would be dead, and it was not until 1986 that Wyman and Lipstadt published their exposés of Roosevelt and Churchill. But I don’t remember any allusions to Hillel Kook or the Irgun. It may be my faulty memory.

      Comment by clarelspark — December 7, 2013 @ 11:08 pm | Reply

      • Wyman’s book was published in 1984, some time after the top secret documents were revealed by Congress. It’s a very interesting reading, updated a few years later (I saw an expanded edition from 1998) in several other editions.
        Hecht’s “Perfidy”, is about the Kastner Trial, mainly, yet it gives lots of info on the period.
        The most detailed – and even moving at times – is Irving Bunim’s biography “A Fire in His Soul”, which highlights the UNIQUE work of the Vaad Hatzalah (Commision to Save the Jews).

        Comment by HaDaR — December 7, 2013 @ 11:15 pm


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