Trude Lash to Eleanor Roosevelt

views updated

Trude Lash to Eleanor Roosevelt

1 October 1945 [New York City]

Dearest Mrs. Roosevelt:

I am returning Capt. Rose's letter and the report of his interview with Pastor Niemoeller. Your letter, it seems to me, answers his questions though I am not sure he will understand after having misunderstood so completely your column. His interview proves nothing as you did not question Pastor Niemoeller as a Christian or even a Church leader—but only as a political leader, and there is not a single sentence in Capt. Rose's interview which proves that Pastor Niemoeller is not a pan-Germanist and does not want a soft peace for Germany. I do think professional Christians are very easily fooled.

                                        My love to you, Trude


1. "James Roosevelt Gets British Film," NYT, 16 July 1940, 21; "Mrs. Roosevelt Filmed for Anti-Nazi Picture," NYT, 18 July 1940, 26; "The Screen in Review," NYT, 21 September 1940, 20.

2. Niemöller, with five other recently released prisoners of war, addressed a news conference in Naples June 5 in which he made several statements reprinted in papers nationwide. The first dealt with the German attitude toward citizenship, in which he declared that "the German people like to be governed, not to mingle in politics," that his countrymen were "incapable" of American-style democracy, that "every country has a different kind of democracy," and that the key challenge was to "find the kind of democracy which would be useful for Germany."

The second series of statements dealt with his own outlook. As Sam Pope Brewer reported, Niemöller, a naval commander during the First World War, acknowledged that when World War II began, even though he was imprisoned in Dachau, he volunteered for Hitler's navy. He justified this action as a decision made by "a German father whose sons had been drafted into the fighting line." Rather than renounce fascism or Hitler's government, Niemöller stated that he opposed the Fuhrer because "he was unable to accept any authority that claimed a right to override that of the church."

His final comments dealt with horrors of the concentration camps. He responded to reporters' questions about his own detention by saying that he "did not receive ill treatment" and that he, like most Germans, was "shocked and shattered" by the photographs depicting life in the death camps (Sam Pope Brewer, "Niemoeller Asks Iron Rule of Reich," NYT, 5 June 1945, 11; "Topics of the Town," NYT, 8 June 1945, 18).

3. Although the statement to which ER refers is unknown, the popular New York Times "Abouts" column asked readers on May 13, 1945, if there were "no independent-minded Germans left to take over the leadership of their country?" It then answered its own question: "Well, there's Pastor Martin Niemoeller. He said from the start: 'God is my Fuehrer,' and he stuck to it" (NYT, 13 May 1945, SM2).

4. Niemöller had been scheduled to speak on July 31, 1945, at the Protestant chapel at the headquarters of the United States Forces, European Theatre (USFET), about "the responsibilities and opportunities of the Christian church." The Associated Press reported that although USFET gave no reason for canceling the speech, "it is understood from an authoritative source" that "the pastor's recent observations on his desire to serve as a U-boat commander in World War II, as he did in World War I, and the political character of some of his recent remarks" made him an "unacceptable speaker" ("Niemoeller Talk Canceled by U.S. Occupation Force," NYT, 1 August 1945, 7).

5. In 1940, a British film company turned Pastor Hall, a dramatic account of Niemöller's life written by the Jewish exile Ernst Toller, into a widely distributed film. James Roosevelt handled its American distribution and ER appeared in its prologue. Four years later, in Paramount's The Hitler Gang, the docudrama the New York Times called "a reasonably absorbing chronicle of Hitler's rise to power," Ivan Triesault's portrayal of Niemöller depicts the pastor as the personification of the heroism necessary to outlast Hitler's tactics and to assist the "Allied counterattack" ("James Roosevelt Gets British Film," NYT, 16 July 1940, 21; "Mrs. Roosevelt Filmed for Anti-Nazi Picture," NYT, 18 July 1940, 26; "The Screen in Review," NYT, 21 September 1940, 20; "The Screen," NYT, 8 May 1944, 15).

6. Established in Germany after its defeat in World War I, the Weimar Republic (1919–33) struggled to cope with the consequences of the harsh and unpopular Versailles Peace Settlement. Weakened by pressure from Hitler's Nazi party, and unable to deal effectively with the inflation, unemployment, and rebellion that followed in the wake of the treaty, the Weimar Republic finally collapsed. Following his 1932 reelection, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor. After a fire destroyed the German Reichstag (parliament) building, Hitler declared a national emergency and, when Hindenburg died in 1934, he named himself president and founded the Third Reich (OEWH).

7. See n2.

8. Pan-Germanists, who believed in the superiority of the Nordic or German "race," favored the political unification of all German-speaking peoples and the domination of central and eastern Europe by Germany (NEB, vol. 9).

9. ER's files do not identify those with whom she spoke.

10. Ben Lacy Rose, "As Niemoeller Sees Germany's Future," The Christian Century, vol. 62, 10 October 1945, 1155-57.

11. Rose interviewed Niemöller in Frankfurt, Germany, on September 3, 1945. The four-page, typed transcript Rose forwarded ER included twenty-four questions and responses, including the following exchanges.

When Rose asked Niemöller if the Confessing Church, which he led, "spoke out against concentration camps, persecution of the Jews, etc.," Niemöller replied, "Yes, it spoke against them to Hitler himself in no uncertain terms."

When Rose asked, "On exactly what points did you openly oppose the Nazis?" Niemöller said:

I spoke of the forgeries in the church elections, of the lies of the Goebbels propaganda, of the plan for the destruction of the Churches and of the Christian way of life, of the persecution of the Jews, of the education of party-members and leaders to enmity against the Bible and the Christian faith, and I showed by my sermons how these things must lead to the ruin of our whole nation and people.

When Rose asked the pastor why, after he was imprisoned in Dachau, he offered to serve in the German navy, Niemöller replied:

It was certainly not for the reason that I wanted to fight Hitler's war for him, and most assuredly not with any idea of trying to redeem myself with the Nazis. I was thinking only of my people and my country. At that time I saw three possibilities ahead for Germany: 1. total defeat, which would be bitter for Germany, 2. total victory for the Nazis, which would be even bitterer for Germany, and 3. to fight on in the hope that the Nazis might be thrown out of government and a negotiated peace reached. It was on the latter that I pinned my hopes. If the latter occurred, and I had good hopes that it might, I did not want to be in prison but wished to be free in order that I might do my part for the future of my country …

When Rose asked if he had told reporters after being freed, "Do not dare say that Niemoeller is liberated," Niemöller said, "No, I had no reason to say that and never did."

When asked if "the German people are responsible for the War and Nazism," Niemöller argued that "inasmuch as they allowed Hitler to come to power with his party" they were; however, "the nation was too worn out to oppose [Hitler] with strength."

When Rose followed up by asking "Should the German people be punished in any way for the war," Niemöller responded:

The German people have been punished already by God; its young people, and the old ones as well, have died at the front and at home; its cities and towns have been destroyed with all their contents; the people are starving, how much so the next winter will show; and the hopes and ideals of the whole nation have been shattered.

When asked "Should the world just say to Germany, 'We forgive you', and then start again? Are not punitive and corrective measures necessary?" Niemöller replied:

'The world' will not be able to say, 'We forgive you', but the Christians in the world should say so, and they should just start anew with us. Punitive measures against the nation will not help. The Christian people of Germany and many who begin once more to believe in God know that no man can punish them more than God has done. The others would only be made to say, 'Hitler was not the worst, after all'. So they would turn to radicalism and underground propaganda of all kinds. But corrective measures are necessary and wholesome, beginning with a new way of youth education and a slow re-education to public responsibility. I think the way in this direction will be open" (Ben L. Rose, "An Interview with Pastor Martin Niemoeller," Frankfurt on Main, Germany, 3 September 1945, AERP).

12. In December 1946, when Niemöller arrived in the United States to make a speaking tour at the invitation of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, ER again protested (MD, 4 December 1946). See Document 164 and Document 165.

On the New York City Mayoral Race

ER followed the New York City municipal elections and the political rivalries in labor with increasing concern. Not only had La Guardia's sudden announcement that he would not seek re-election startled her, but labor, the Democrats' most stalwart ally, seemed to be preoccupied in an internal political battle that could weaken the Democrats' chance to recapture the mayoralty. In 1944, David Dubinsky and Alex Rose, key leaders in the garment industry unions, thought Communists had secured too much influence in Sidney Hillman's American Labor Party, and instructed their followers to leave the ALP and help them create the Liberal Party.1 Both parties had supported FDR, but FDR's death accentuated the Hillman-Dubinsky rivalry2 and ER feared that Dubinsky's automatic rejection of William O'Dwyer, the Labor Party candidate, would create a wedge in voter turnout that could cost the Democrats the election.3 Furthermore, La Guardia had just announced his sponsorship of an independent No Deal Party and pledged August 8 in a fifteen-minute radio address a "real, hard, open fight against the Tammany combination as well as against the other political machine tickets" to insure that the city would "not be turned over to the political bosses, to big-shot racketeers, to the 'home breakers and judge-makers'" who would "return to the old time of political control with patronage, privilege, pap, perquisites and pilfer."4

The night of La Guardia's broadcast, ER's close friend, National Women's Trade Union League President Rose Schneiderman,5 called to express concern over ER's rejection of the NCPAC position,6 and to discuss the campaign. ER then wrote Dubinsky August 9 that she "ought to tell" him she thought the Liberal Party shortsighted "in backing Judge Goldstein7 who is Governor Dewey's candidate, just because you never really want to agree with the American Labor Party…. This fight in New York City may have an effect on the state and the nation and I am not at all sure that the Liberal Party has taken the long view." She offered her help in resolving the differences between the two organizations and urged Dubinsky not to "hesitate to ask" for her help. He need not worry about any fallout she might receive by entering this fray because she was "not worried about being involved too deeply on either side of this slight difficulty which exists between your warring factions."8

Just as La Guardia used the radio to make his position known, ER used her August 9 column to express her concerns about an election she predicted would be viewed by many as "the opening gun" in a series of critical state and national elections. The New York Times found her position so noteworthy that it reprinted the column August 10 under the headline "Democrat Backed by Mrs. Roosevelt."9