In June of 2013, I was perusing the New York Times book reviews and one caught my eye. Little did I know it would become my mission to fight that book, its author, and his heinous premise for over two years, which would include a public face-to-face confrontation here in Sydney by the end of that year.
The review was for The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand and published by Harvard University Press, no less. Urwand’s explosive claim was that my great-uncle, Louis B. Mayer, and the other Jewish moguls, had collaborated with the Nazis. You can imagine how shocking and deeply painful that would be, and if true, how shameful it would be.
However, I knew that it was not true.
But like a nightmare in slow motion, as soon as the book was released, the author became an overnight celebrity with prime time media interviews, talks in Jewish cultural centers and Holocaust museums, and high profile mainstream and Jewish media coverage. It was sickening to watch, almost as if people were instantly ready to believe the absolute worst about the Jewish moguls. There was a strong undercurrent of anti-Semitism behind this, and sadly, ambivalence from some fellow Jews, which I found disheartening and inexplicable.
Thankfully, I was joined in my fight by dozens of esteemed academics, historians and film historians, including Thomas Doherty, Steven Ross, David Denby, and Mark Horowitz, who wrote major rebuttals (listed here).
I also wrote several articles, including this one for the Jewish Journal. Eventually Harvard Press blamed me by name, as if I was somehow organizing these great thinkers into action, when in reality they were as shocked as I was that such poor scholarship had gotten published.
A couple of years ago, I heard that Steven Ross and Laura Rosenzweig were separately working on books documenting how the moguls fought back against Nazism and Hitler. I have been eagerly awaiting those books because I knew, along with the earlier rebuttals, they would be the last nails in The Collaboration coffin.
Here is Thomas Doherty’s excellent review of both books, which he advises should be “read as companions rather than competitors.”
From Laura Rosenzweig’s book, Hollywood’s Spies: The Undercover Surveillance of Nazis in Los Angeles:
“The moguls were not indifferent to Nazism. They did take political action to combat the problem at home, but they did so discreetly, offscreen.”
Exactly, because what needed to be done you didn’t advertise in Variety. In fact, Laura Rosenzweig also recounts that the moguls paid for spies to infiltrate pro-Nazi groups that were spawning across Los Angeles.
This from Steven Ross’s book, Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America:
“Urwand accuses the moguls of cowardice, complicity, and collaboration. He could not have been more wrong.”
And there’s a twist that I learned today about a key player, a Nazi, who I also thought was the ultimate bad guy, but it turned out he was a double agent. What a shame I didn’t know this all the way back in December of 2013, when I stood up and asked the question I knew Urwand could not answer even with what I knew then.
I am thrilled I can bring this whole saga full circle, not only for my great uncle’s memory and that of the other moguls, who were unable to defend themselves, but also to place it in front of all who were immediately willing to think the worst of them.
To those who wrote rebuttals between 2013 and 2015, to Thomas Doherty for his book, Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939, to Steven and Laura, and to everyone who tweeted, messaged, emailed and managed to contact me to assure me that The Collaboration was nonsense, thank you!
Finally, I can lay down my sword.