Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots against Hollywood and America.
by Steven J. Ross, Bloomsbury Press, 432 pages, $30
"ON APRIL 27, 1939, Warner Brothers declared war on Germany," Steven J. Ross announces. Ignoring German protests that the film was biased, the studio released Confessions of a Nazi Spy, a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller starring Edward G. Robinson. This premiere marked the start of open hostilities between Hollywood and Berlin--but, Ross argues, that war had long been underway.
"For Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, no American city was more important to the cause than Los Angeles, home to what he deemed the world's greatest propaganda machine, Hollywood.... Goebbels and Adolf Hitler had one thing in common with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin: they saw Hollywood as central to their efforts to win over the American public and the world to their cause.... American films were eagerly watched throughout Europe, Latin America, and Asia; if properly controlled, they could help advance Germany's quest for world domination. While Reds tried to control Hollywood through infiltration, Nazis planned to do it through intimidation and murder."
In Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots against Hollywood and America, Ross maps the skirmishes of a covert war. He documents how Jewish groups monitored Nazi plotters in prewar Los Angeles and aided the FBI after the war began.
The hero of this book is Leon Lewis--"the most dangerous Jew in Los Angeles," one hard-bitten Nazi declared. Lewis worked in Hollywood for the AntiDefamation League, lobbying against antiSemitism in the film industry. Behind the scenes, he organized agents who infiltrated anti-Semitic groups in Southern California. These included the Friends of New Germany (Nazis backed and secretly funded by Germany), immigrant storm troopers with half-baked plans to seize National Guard armories, and a host of homegrown fascist brotherhoods: the Ku Klux Klan, the Silver Shirts, the American Labor Party, and the American White Guardsmen.
Through the 1930s, Lewis's agents reported ugly, crazy talk. There were plots to kill celebrities, to kidnap and hang 20 prominent civic leaders, to spray Jewish neighborhoods with machine-gun fire, even to kill Jews with poisoned needles shot from a fountain pen. On a different front, Lewis could watch the very public efforts of German diplomats to influence how Hollywood portrayed the Nazi regime. The German consul in Los Angeles, Georg Gyssling, had been charged with stopping production on films that defamed Nazi Germany.
As the United States moved toward war, the tenor of Nazi activity changed. Rather than undisciplined local extremists, Lewis encountered serious spies and inquisitive would-be saboteurs. One of his undercover sources, Charles Slocombe, wormed his way into the confidence of German agents overseen by a spymaster known as Count Ernst Ulrich von Bulow, who asked about minefields and harbor defenses. (For Lewis and the Anti-Defamation League, Slocombe proved an unlikely but reliable ally--a Klansman who hated communists, but not Jews.)
Another of Lewis's men, Neil Ness, testified for the House Un-American Activities Committee that German agents found it easy to enter the United States through loosely guarded ports on the West Coast. "Playing up the threat of a hundred Nazis poised to blow up docks, aircraft factories, and waterworks," Ross sums up, "newspaper headlines across the United States and Canada reported Ness's warning about Nazi plans for espionage and sabotage."
After Pearl Harbor, Lewis worked closely with the FBI. The evidence in his files supported deportation proceedings and criminal charges (trials for sedition and conspiracy) that kept enemy sympathizers in jail throughout the war. "By early March  the once lively Nazi headquarters on the corner of West Fifteenth Street and Figueroa had gone virtually dark," Ross writes.
Nazis were not the only foes caught up in Lewis's net. Two British operatives, expelled for operating without US State Department approval, had given his office a list of Japanese operatives in the United States--material that Lewis handed over to federal agents. Nor was Lewis the FBI's only source on German undercover action. Secretly, Georg Gyssling loathed the regime he served, so fiercely that he befriended Austrian-born journalist-turned-film producer Julius Klein. What Gyssling told Klein, Klein relayed to an officer he had met in the Illinois National Guard, George Catlett Marshall.
Hitler in Los Angeles is dense with detail, which Ross marshals ably. Partly written to contest claims that Jewish filmmakers colluded with Hitler and Goebbels --in particular, claims made by historian Ben Urwand in The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler--Ross's narrative pans slowly across a disturbing landscape. It holds its own with those films that chronicle the dark, forgotten history of Southern California.
ALLEN D. BOYER
Staten Island, New York
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|Author:||Boyer, Allen D.|
|Publication:||America in WWII|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2017|
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