When Hollywood Turned against Hitler

For most of the 1930s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) steered clear of politics, declining, for instance, to produce a cinematic version of Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, about a fascist takeover of the U.S. That changed in 1940 with the production of A Mortal Storm, recently restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It tells the story of a German Professor Roth whose life, and that of his family, is upended by Hitler’s rise to power. Thomas Doherty writes:

Professor Roth (played by Frank Morgan) is an esteemed scholar-scientist, . . . a man beloved by his family, worshipped by his students, and honored by his profession. [But] the professor is “non-Aryan.” “Non-Aryan” is as close as the film will come to designating what the new regime would call professor Roth’s racial type. At no point is he explicitly identified as a Jew; at no point is the word uttered on the soundtrack. Still, one would have to be a very dense spectator indeed not to understand what makes him a born enemy of the Third Reich. Later, when Roth is hauled off and imprisoned in a concentration camp, the sleeve of his prison uniform will bear a conspicuous “J.” . . .

One of the most chilling—and, these days, resonant—scenes in The Mortal Storm takes place in the university lecture hall. . . . He is teaching what he has always taught: the biological unity of all mankind, “the scientific truth” that blood is blood. His once-admiring students are now a squad of menacing brownshirts who will not tolerate his heretical rebuke to Nazi eugenics. They storm out of the lecture hall and call for a boycott of his classes. . . .

As the highest profile of the anti-Nazi films [released between the beginning of World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor], the film was a ripe target of opportunity for the extreme edges of the political spectrum, right and left. . . . In the wake of The Mortal Storm, Nazi officials tersely informed MGM that its pictures would henceforth be banned in the Greater Reich and the occupied countries. Stateside, fifth columnists in the German American Bund sought to intimidate exhibitors playing anti-Nazi films with bomb threats and vandalism. . . . Taking dictation from Moscow, the official organs of the Communist Party USA [in the heyday of the Nazi-Soviet pact] lambasted Hollywood’s anti-Nazi [films] as errant warmongering by capitalist merchants of death. . . .

In Washington, a bipartisan cohort of isolationist U.S. senators eyed Hollywood’s anti-Nazi cycle and saw . . . an insidious propaganda campaign designed to sucker America into the European maelstrom.

Brought before a Senate committee holding hearings about “propaganda” in the film business, Nicholas M. Schenk—the president of Loew’s, which owned MGM—was asked by the isolationist Senator D. Worth Clark if he thought The Mortal Storm “contributed to harmony and national unity.” Schenk retorted, “I don’t think you want unity with Hitler.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewry, Communism, Film, Isolationism, Nazism, World W II

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict