The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler
The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand. (Harvard University Press, 324 pp. $26.95)
Between 1933 and 1939, Hollywood films were extremely popular in Nazi Germany. The country was the second largest importer of American films.
Based on unearthed secret documents, Ben Urwand, a junior fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, found that Hollywood movie studios—including those led by Jewish moguls Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer and others—allowed the German consul in Los Angeles, Georg Gyssling, to censor their films. Because of Gyssling, a project that attempted to document the Nazi persecution of Jews was sidelined.
As the Third Reich intensified its persecution of German Jews, Gyssling insisted that film that referred to Jews, let alone their persecution, be banned. In capitulating to blackmail, Hollywood was also responding to growing isolationism and increased anti-Semitism in the United States. Beginning in the 1920s, the studios were sensitive to attacks from anti-Semitic groups and Catholic organizations that argued that movies were too powerful a propaganda weapon to be entrusted to a group of East European Jews.The studio heads reacted to this threat by establishing the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, the industry’s self-censorship organization, which created the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. Its chief enforcer was Joseph Breen, a notorious anti-Semite.
Urwand, however, regards the fear of an isolationist and anti-Semitic backlash as a cover to protect the studios’ profits in German markets. He notes that following Kristallnacht, the Nazi Propaganda Ministry released a blacklist of around 60 anti-Nazi personalities whose films would not be permitted in Germany. On the list were Jewish performers Al Jolson and Paul Muni; prominent anti-Nazi activists James Cagney, Frederic March and Silvia Sidney; even Ernest Hemingway, who had worked on an anti-Nazi documentary.
The Nazis dictated the terms of every film—even after World War II broke out—and, Urwand notes, “the collaboration remained as strong as ever,” with profits trumping concern for fellow Jews.