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Books: Vicious Circle

4 minute read

SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE JEWS— Robert Gessner—Farrar & Rinehart ($3).

Robert Gessner was working in Hollywood, preparing the script of his Indian story, Massacre, when Hitler came into power in Germany. A broad-shouldered, heavy youth, author of a book of poems and holder of a pilot’s license, Robert Gessner, born in Escanaba, Mich, in 1907, had not thought much about being a Jew before that time. There had been a few painful instances of hostility in his boyhood, more when he got to college, but before Hitler “race hatred and the Jews were interesting subjects, but not pressing.” Now he found that even in Hollywood Jewish actors and executives were jolted out of their complacency by the realization that “a pogrom could actually occur in a highly civilized country in the Twentieth Century.” To study anti-Semitism at work, and write a book about it, he went to Germany, which left him still puzzled so he went on to Poland, then to Palestine, to Soviet Russia. He wound up with a mass of information, a collection of good photographs, a few good anecdotes, no final answer to his problem but a deep understanding of its international magnitude.

Last fortnight Author Gessner published his findings in a forthright volume calculated to force Jews to a realistic appraisal of the position of their race, to give Gentiles, except those whose prejudices have petrified, an uneasy realization of the crimes that are committed in the name of racial hatred. Mr. Gessner admits that he got very nervous, perhaps even frightened, when, on the train leaving France, an official shouted “Heil Hitler!” and a flustered lady replied, “The same to you.” He heard of atrocities, saw some oppression, was not molested himself. But after he visited a famed rabbi in Munich, wandered through the ghetto in Berlin, talked with Zionists, Jewish workers, capitalists, he found himself appalled at the conduct of the Association of German National Jews. This organization supports Hitler, fights the Jewish boycott of German goods. Another group, the Nazi Jews, advocates complete loyalty to the Nazi program, and Gessner was told they leave their meetings giving the Nazi salute shouting, “Down With Us!”

Almost more disheartened by such signs of confusion and disunity in Jewish ranks than by the tales of oppression he heard, Author Gessner went on to Poland, smuggling his notes out of Germany. The picture got blacker as he traveled East. Jews in the U. S. Middle West were better off than in Manhattan, Manhattan Jews were more prosperous than those in London, Londoners were more fortunate than Parisians, Jews in Paris were happy compared with those in Germany, but even in Germany, with anti-Semitism incorporated into the state, Jews were better off than the poverty-oppressed masses living in medieval squalor in the crowded ghettos of Poland. There Writer Gessner learned that Poland’s 3,300,000 Jews pay six and a half times more taxes than Poles. He visited Cracow, Vilna, Lodz where, when Jewish factories are closed, looms are bootlegged and operated in homes behind closed doors, and where he met more abject and hopeless poverty than he knew existed. He got to Palestine as Tel-Aviv was experiencing a building boom and as the Arab-Jew conflict was approaching a climax. He found the country confusing, exhilarating, depressing, its life a strange mixture of the Soviet Union, boom Florida and Nazi Germany. Profoundly disapproving of the Zionist policy of discrimination against Arab labor, he concluded that Jewish nationalism encouraged Arab nationalism, while the depressing of Arab wages made conflict inevitable. Jews who had been persecuted in Germany now persecuted Arabs and preached a doctrine of racial purity as relentless as the one under which they had suffered. A little dizzy from following this vicious circle all the way around, Gessner came reluctantly to a doubtful conclusion: “If we can’t get along with the Arabs, we have failed.”

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