The Clare Spark Blog

October 10, 2013

Urwand undoes Chaplin’s Dictator

Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel

Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel

One of Ben Urwand’s chief claims in his THE COLLABORATION: HOLLYWOOD’S PACT WITH HITLER, is that Jews virtually disappeared from Hollywood films after Hitler “came to power,” owing to Hollywood greed in preserving their business with Germany . One of his examples compares the copyrighted 1938 version of THE GREAT DICTATOR to the version released in 1940.

[Urwand, p.219] …Back on November 10, 1938, when the first reports of Kristallnacht were hitting American newspapers, Chaplin had rushed the first version of his story to the U. S. Copyright Office.  …Hinkle [sic] the dictator of Ptomania, had devised a scientific test to separate Jews from Aryans. All Jews were sent to concentration camps, and one named Charlie, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Hinkle, broke out. He was mistaken for the dictator, and he gave a speech that convinced the country to abandon fascism. Suddenly music filled the streets. Everyone started dancing. Prisoners were released from the camps. Storm troopers were dancing with Jews.

[Urwand, cont.:] The script ended with an epilogue: “Through the music comes the playing of a bugle call. The scene shifts back to the concentration camp. Charlie wakes up with a smile as a storm-trooper enters. The storm trooper starts to smile back, then ashamed of his softness he bellows: ‘Get up, Jew! Where the hell do you think you are?’” [footnote refers to Copyright Records, Ms. Division, Library of Congress]

[Urwand, cont.:] Chaplin took this chilling idea and turned it into a hilarious but less effective film. He shifted the location of the persecution of the Jews from a concentration camp to a ghetto. He gave a long rambling speech at the climax that had virtually nothing to do with the Jewish question. And he replaced the twist at the end…with his audience responding with cheers and applause. [Clare:] The footnote refers solely to the 1940 film; Urwand is perhaps unaware that 19th century German Jews were assimilated and that ghettos were created in Occupied Europe where they did not already exist, as prelude to extermination. A more sensitive reader might have looked at the Chaplin biography, and the emancipation of the Jews in Western Europe, especially Germany. Added: 1012-13: an academic friend has reminded me that Victor Klemperer’s diary describes how Jews were moved around to all Jewish buildings, but there were no walled ghettos as such in Germany.]

“Nothing to do with the Jewish question?!” My first response after a viewing of The Great Dictator was that Chaplin doesn’t do dark and depressing movies very well (e.g. Monsieur Verdoux, that developed a cult following only. See ), in contrast to his comic genius in the tour de force of  this and earlier films. But upon re-reading Urwand’s synopsis, I thought of Chaplin’s ambiguous identity as constructed by others: For antimoderns, he was the Wandering or Eternal Jew as Tramp. (See ). The 1938 version (assuming that Urwand got it right), suggests that being taken for a Jew was terrifying to Chaplin. Whereas in the 1940 finished film, the Jewish barber finds his voice and gives a ringing speech echoing not only the Hebraism of progressive Protestantism, but one that would imbue his war- weary or isolationist audience with the will to fight the Nazis. His quote from the New Testament is resonant with universal ethics, worldliness, science, technology, and liberty. It is also consistent with the internationalist ideology of the anti-fascist Popular Front, and an affront to the notion of the racially pure organic nation as perpetrated by Nazis and their sympathizers. [Urwand devoted a long, seeminly irrelevant  footnote criticizing the ineptitude of Chaplain as orator,  See endnote 99, pp. 262-263, referring back to p. 41. I am baffled as to why Urwand is so obsessive about Chaplain’s movie.]

Chaplin speech

Here is the text of that final speech, with paragraphs added to make the speech more user-friendly:

[Chaplin/Barber speech; the humble character is mistaken for Adenoid Hynkel, conqueror of Osterlitz (the Mussolini character, played by Jack Oakie, suggests Napoleon, but calling Austria Osterlitz fuses Austria with the Battle of Austerlitz:]

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an Emperor, that’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible, Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another, human beings are like that. We all want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful.

But we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in; machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity, more than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all.

Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me I say: do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass and dictators will die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men die liberty will never perish. Soldiers: don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you as cattle, as cannon fodder! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men!! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate, only the unloved hate. The unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers: don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written: – “The kingdom of God is within man.” Not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men: in you! You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power, let us all unite! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfil their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people.

Now let us fight to fulfil that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! In the name of democracy: let us all unite!”  [end Jewish Barber speech]

For more details on the making of The Great Dictator, see It is worth noting that Paulette Goddard, a fighting Jew in the movie, ends the film listening to the speech on the radio,  moves from despair to optimism, with her eyes lifted to the sun breaking through the clouds, confirming the message of Enlightenment and activism on behalf of humanity. The gesture is resonant with, but not identical to, the Christian gaze to Heaven for inspiration and eternal life.



  1. […] This is an impression of Harvard Junior Fellow Ben Urwand’s new book, to be released in October.  I was initially appalled when I saw a puff-piece in TABLET. (See I had not yet read the book and expected some archival research that would establish the veracity of Urwand’s title.) In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined such a mendacious book published by one of the most prestigious academic presses. In this brief blog, I will mostly focus on the depths of antisemitism between the wars, and then suggest that calling the moguls “Jews” plays fast and loose with what it means to be a “Jew” in America, today or any other day. For a related blog that quotes from Urwand, see, […]

    Pingback by Urwand’s COLLABORATION: HOLLYWOOD’S PACT WITH HITLER | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — October 10, 2013 @ 7:55 pm | Reply

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