Mae West and Her Eerie Letter of August 15, 1940

More from my great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings’ scrapbook:

A very interesting letter from Mae West to Ida dated August 15, 1940 stating her deep support for ‘the Jewish race’ and making a financial contribution to the Los Angeles Jewish Home. What I find so amazing about this letter is that it could have been written yesterday – check out that second paragraph: “But to-day, the people of the world have become brutal and cruel and given themselves up to destruction, murder and violence.”

Of course, we know what dots she was connecting: Hitler’s rise to power was tragically well established by then, and Jews were being viciously attacked and subjected to increasingly restrictive laws. Concentration camps, many of which were soon to become nightmarish extermination camps, were already in use. On the very day Mae West wrote her letter, Auschwitz’s ‘Crematorium I’ actually began operation; she could not have known this, but it is an eerie coincidence.

Remarkably, August 15th, 1940 was also known as Black Thursday, marking the day the German Luftwaffe mounted its largest number of sorties during Day 37 of the Battle of Britain. However, the Luftwaffe also suffered its greatest losses, leading the British to refer to it as The Greatest Day.

Sadly, the end of WWII was still years away, as well as the horrors Russian and Allied troops were to discover. In fact, the 70th anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and other death camps was just last year and spanned several dates across 2015.

And yet… with rising anti-Semitism across the world, and particularly in Europe, as well as terrorist attacks hitting people of all religions and cultures, it is chilling to see how little the world has changed.

I would like to finish on an upbeat note – it is the beginning of the year after all – so perhaps I can urge all of us to be more tolerant, more caring, and more helpful on a daily basis. As Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” We are enriched by giving on so many levels, which was the secret my great-grandmother Ida realized. She was so deeply fulfilled by dedicating herself to helping others, and this is why I admire her so much.

Small gestures, such as Mae West’s letter and financial contribution, can make a difference. It is wonderful to read her letter many decades later and realize she was on the side of good, and took action so that it should succeed over evil.

I will look at Mae West in a different light from now on.

(Photos: A newspaper dated August 15th, 1940. A child after the bombings. An intrepid milkman does his rounds. Jewish families being pushed out of their homes and onto the streets prior to being transported to a concentration camp.)

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