Upcoming book accuses Hollywood of collaborating with Hitler
Studios, many run by Jews, collaborated with Nazi censors and propagandists, author claims
The list of institutions and industries that have been accused of whitewashing their links to the Third Reich is long, including various governments, the Vatican, Swiss banks and US corporations like IBM and General Motors.
Now a young historian wants to add a more glamorous name to that roll call: Hollywood.
In The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler, Ben Urwand draws on a wealth of previously uncited documents to argue that Hollywood studios, in an effort to protect the German market for their movies, not only acquiesced to Nazi censorship but also actively and enthusiastically co-operated with that regime's global propaganda effort.
In the 1930s "Hollywood is not just collaborating with Nazi Germany", Urwand said by telephone from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is currently at Harvard's prestigious Society of Fellows. "It's also collaborating with Adolf Hitler, the person and human being."
Urwand's book, to be published in October by Harvard University Press, has been seen by few scholars. But his research, which was summarised this month in the online magazine Tablet, is already creating a stir.
On page after page, Urwand shows studio bosses, many of them Jewish immigrants, cutting films scene by scene to suit Nazi officials; producing material that could be seamlessly repurposed in Nazi propaganda films; and, according to one document, helping to finance the manufacture of German armaments.
"I think what this guy has found could be a blockbuster," said Dr Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust historian at Emory University. "I'm very anxious to see this book. I found it breathtaking in the audacity of the story it seems to be trying to tell."
Other scholars familiar with the period, however, question both its claims to originality and its insistently dark slant, starting with the title.
"The word 'collaboration' in this context is a slander," said Dr Thomas Doherty, a historian at Brandeis University and the author of the recent book Hollywood and Hitler: 1933-1939, which covers some of the same ground. "You use that word to describe the Vichy government. Louis B. Mayer was a greedhead, but he is not the moral equivalent of Vidkun Quisling."