An Anti-Semitic History: A Different Interpretation of Hanfstaengl’s Harvard Visit
Grynbaum grossly distorts my argument when he states that I claimed the Harvard administration “voiced support for the Third Reich.” While many alumni and student leaders were anti-Semitic and sympathized with some Nazi objectives, my focus was on how Harvard’s actions helped legitimize the Nazi government in the United States.
The fiercely anti-Semitic Ernst F.S. Hanfstaengl, Class of 1909, was not just another colorful rogue, as Grynbaum implies, but the Nazis’ foreign press chief, responsible for spreading the party’s propaganda abroad, and a longtime member of Hitler’s inner circle. He provided important financial support to the Nazi party during the 1920s. Shortly after Hitler assumed power, Hanfstaengl informed American diplomat James McDonald of the Nazis’ determination that the “Jews must be crushed.” Rabbi Joseph Shubow, who confronted Hanfstaengl in Harvard Yard, did not merely express “concerns” over Jews’ treatment, as Grynbaum alleges, but, as the press at the time noted, “trembl[ed] violently,” demanded to know whether Hanfstaengl’s remarks about German Jews’ situation meant “extermination.” Although the Nazis were savagely beating Jews in the streets and had expelled Jews from the professions and university faculties, Grynbaum suggests it was acceptable for Harvard to extend a warm welcome to a leading Nazi. Grynbaum fails to mention that this institution of higher learning provided a friendly reception to a top representative of a regime that had already staged massive public book burnings. Nor does he indicate that Harvard police ripped down anti-Nazi fliers activists posted in the Yard, or that then-University President James B. Conant ’14 ridiculed those arrested for protesting against Hitler in Harvard Square. Shortly afterward, Conant officially welcomed a delegation of Italian fascist students to Harvard. The Crimson proposed that Harvard award Hanfstaengl an honorary degree.
It is astounding that Grynbaum suggests that Harvard alumni support for Hitler in 1934 can be equated with “tasteless stuff that goes on” today. And it is inappropriate for anyone to claim that I just have it in for Harvard. My criticism of Harvard is motivated by my research findings, namely that highly educated Americans capable of exerting influence against barbarism chose at critically important moments to help legitimate the Hitler regime.
Harvard’s friendly reception for Hanfstaengl was only one of numerous examples of the university’s indifference to anti-Semitic violence in Germany on which I focused at the Wyman Institute’s conference. The press at the time linked the Hanfstaengl episode with the administration’s permitting the Nazi consul to place a wreath bearing a swastika in the University chapel, calling this Harvard’s recognition of the Hitler regime. Moreover, although British universities boycotted the “Nazified” University of Heidelberg’s anniversary celebration in 1936, Harvard chose to participate in this Hitler propaganda festival, at which top Nazi leaders delivered virulently anti-Semitic speeches. Albert Einstein would not attend the Harvard Tercentenary because Conant’s guest list included Nazis. Conant’s well-known reluctance to offer prominent refugee Jewish scholars faculty positions was motivated by his own anti-Semitism, expressed in correspondences. Grynbaum ignores these cases of Harvard’s indifference to Jewish suffering and the Nazi threat, as well as many others I analyzed at the conference. Students should know about the choices the University made at that time.
STEPHEN H. NORWOOD
April 24, 2005
The writer is a professor of history and Judaic Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
Michael Grynbaum’s February 10 article in The Crimson, which has just now come to my attention, focused on Harvard’s relationship with the Hitler regime, a topic which was the centerpiece of a conference at Boston University last November, sponsored by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.
Writing less than three months after that conference, Grynbaum asked, “These were serious accusations—so how come we haven’t heard anything about them since? [Professor Stephen] Norwood (who documented the Harvard-Nazi ties) has returned to obscurity.”
If Grynbaum wanted to know what has happened on this subject during the three months following the conference, one would think he would have made a phone call to the conference’s sponsors, or to Prof. Norwood, to ask. Curiously, he did not. Here’s what we would have told him:
During the weeks following the conference, there were articles, editorials, op-eds, and letters to the editor about Prof. Norwood’s research in newspapers from coast to coast, and as far away as Turkey, India, Israel, Malta, and New Zealand. Prof. Norwood also appeared on a number of radio talk shows to discuss the issue. The combined reading and listening audiences that were made aware of Harvard’s relationship with the Nazis totalled in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Stimulating this kind of public discussion of the Harvard-Hitler issue was a major goal of our conference, as it is of most such conferences.
As for Prof. Norwood himself, he was not “obscure” prior to the conference, nor has he “returned to obscurity” as Grynbaum erroneously asserted. Norwood is the author of three critically-acclaimed books on American history (one of which won the Herbert G. Gutman Award in American Social History) and numerous scholarly articles, and he is co-editor of the prestigious Encyclopedia of American Jewish History. During the three months following the conference, when Grynbaum seems to think that nothing further happened on this issue, Prof. Norwood was completing a major scholarly essay on Harvard’s relationship with the Nazis, which will be published shortly by American Jewish History, the leading scholarly journal in the field.
Melrose Park, Penn.
April 22, 2005
The writer is Director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.