The Harvard Nazi [:Ernst “Putzi” Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl]

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The Harvard Nazi [:Ernst “Putzi” Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl]

Postby admin » Mon Feb 19, 2018 1:38 am

The Harvard Nazi [:Ernst “Putzi” Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl]
by John Sedgwick
5/15/2006, 3:42 p.m.



Many amateur genealogists delve into the family archives in search of heroic ancestors—royalty, most commonly—to make them feel better about themselves. What if, instead, they turn up a villain, and not just some charming rogue, but a committed Nazi who was instrumental in bringing Adolf Hitler to power? How should they feel then?

Historian Stephen Norwood raised this discomforting topic for me when he claimed, at a Boston University conference on the Holocaust, that Harvard had been “complicit in enhancing the prestige of the Nazi regime.” His evidence? The school’s warm welcome in 1934 to Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl upon Hanfstaengl’s return for his 25th reunion. Hitler’s leading international propagandist, Hanfstaengl was cheered by several admiring classmates when he gave the Nazi salute. He was also recommended for an honorary degree by the Harvard Crimson and invited to university president James Bryant Conant’s house for tea. “[Harvard’s] record was shameful and unjustifiable,” Norwood told the Boston Globe. It went without saying that Hanf-staengl’s was worse.

That’s Ernst Franz Sedgwick Hanf-staengl, with an emphasis on the Sedgwick. Putzi is—or was —my cousin, albeit a distant one. His familial line branched off from mine seven generations back, making him my fifth cousin. Like so many Sedgwicks, he was a person of some worldliness, culture, and sophistication. Though dead since 1975, he is also the one Sedgwick who will never go away, the one who calls all the others into question.

I am up on Putzi, I should explain, because I have spent a couple of years now researching my extended family for a multigenerational memoir. Growing up, I’d heard intriguing bits about him—that he was Hitler’s piano player and a remarkable whistler but not much more than that. A cousin, Irene Briedis, visited Putzi at his house in the town of Uffing, outside Munich, in the mid ’60s. He was very charming with her, Irene said. He played the piano in the bravura style that had won over Hitler, and he showed her the attic where his wife had briefly sheltered the future führer after the failed beer hall putsch of 1923. She told me Putzi was “very nice.”

I gathered more details about him from the many volumes of Hitleriana, including the recent accounts of Ron Rosenbaum and Lothar Machtan, who turned to Putzi as an eyewitness to Hitler’s sexual perversions. (It’s for this reason that Putzi was featured in a CBS miniseries about Hitler in 2003.) I read Putzi’s Unheard Witness, a breezy memoir of his Hitler years written in the 1950s, when Putzi was trying to rehabilitate his image. I tracked down a Ph.D. dissertation about him and reviewed his FBI file. Without quite realizing it, I was searching for exculpatory evidence, proof that, even with a Nazi, things are never black and white.

Born near Munich in 1887, Putzi was a hulking bear of a man with a massive head. He had an aristocratic bearing and, with it, an air of superiority that could be irksome. This may account for a reputation as a pompous buffoon that he spent much of his life fighting. Third Reich chronicler William Shirer, for example, called him “an immense, high-strung, incoherent clown.” Still, Putzi was extremely well connected in artistic and social circles on both sides of the Atlantic, and he was a talented, if showy, pianist. At Harvard, he played fight songs at pep rallies for the football team, once banging away on an upright piano perched on the back of a flatbed truck steaming through the streets of Cambridge. After graduation, he ran his father’s New York art gallery and occasionally dropped by the Harvard Club and played the piano there at breakfast for a young New York State senator, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was a contact that would prove useful later.

Putzi met Hitler through a friend from Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club after returning to Germany. The friend put Putzi in touch with an American military attaché who had just discovered “a most remarkable fellow.” When Putzi went round to a local beer hall to hear Hitler speak, he was initially disdainful. With his “odd little mustache,” Hitler seemed “like a waiter in a railway station restaurant.” But when Hitler began his speech, decrying the many deprivations and humiliations of Germany after its defeat in World War I, Putzi was mesmerized by his words and by the dynamism of his voice.

He joined the nascent Nazi party and quickly worked his way into the inner circle. The piano, however, was his entré to Hitler himself. In 1923, Putzi visited the Nazi leader at his apartment in a rundown section of Munich. There was an upright piano out in the hall, and one day, Putzi played a bit of Wagner’s Meistersinger. He played it in a grand, Lisztian way that won over Hitler, who, Putzi wrote, marched about the hall, “waving his arms.”

There were peculiarities, no question: the trench coat and slouch hat that made Hitler look like a desperado, the heavy whip he liked to carry and snap suddenly. Those touches were almost comically sinister. But what Putzi found most disturbing was Hitler’s eerily submerged sexuality. Indeed, Putzi’s close-up view has proved fascinating to modern scholars determined to explain Hitler’s rage as sexual repression. Machtan, in his widely castigated The Hidden Hitler, describes the homosexual undertones of the pair’s friendship. (Not for the first time: Putzi was labeled “Hitler’s boyfriend” in a New Republic article in the late ’30s.) In Putzi’s memoir, though, he is, if anything, fiercely homophobic, claiming one of the things that soured him on the Nazis was the number of “fairies” in the inner circle.

Beyond these troubled meditations, Putzi was surprisingly tolerant of the man who ultimately became a synonym for evil. To believe the memoir, the two made a rather charming odd couple, one whose differences seemed only to strengthen the friendship. When Putzi played some of the rousing football marches from his Harvard days, he writes, he had Hitler “fairly shouting with enthusiasm. ‘That is it, Hanf-staengl, that is what we need for the movement, marvelous,’ and he pranced up and down the room like a drum majorette.” Putzi wrote more marches for the führer, including one that took the cheer “Harvard! Harvard! Harvard! Rah! Rah! Rah!” and turned it into the infamous “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!”

Putzi drove Hitler to museums in an attempt to give him some cultural gloss, joined him for the melodramatic movies Hitler loved, and once snuck him through a communist checkpoint by passing himself off as an American businessman and Hitler as his valet. In one cozy moment, Putzi advised him to grow out the mustache—that “ridiculous little smudge which made him look as if he had not cleaned his nose.” He recommended something more manly, like a Van Dyke. Hitler, of course, demurred.

Things turned more serious in the beer hall putsch of November 1923, when Hitler finally tried to make good on his threat to remove the communists from their seats of power in the German government. With his lieutenants in tow, and backed by a gang of henchmen, Hitler interrupted a speech by a government official to declare that, in effect, he was in charge now. When the insurrection was put down, Hitler fled the city, seeking cover at the Hanfstaengls’ farmhouse in Uffing. It was an unlikely choice. But Hitler had always displayed a fascination with Putzi’s attractive wife, Helene. Bizarrely, Hitler often gave her flowers and hand kisses, once even dropping to his knees to profess his love for her.
When the frightened Hitler burst in that night, Helene hid him in the attic. In the morning when she rushed upstairs to tell Hitler the police had come to arrest him, she found him “in a state of frenzy.” He pulled out a revolver. “This is the end,” he declared. “I will never let these swine take me. I will shoot myself first.” In Putzi’s account, Helene grabbed the gun and jerked it out of the startled leader’s hand before he had a chance to pull the trigger. If that happened—and there are no other accounts to corroborate it—it was one of the most fateful single acts in modern history. Moments later, the police hauled Hitler away to prison.

Putzi was there to host a quiet celebratory dinner after Hitler emerged a year later. He had a hand in editing the memoir Hitler wrote in prison, Mein Kampf, “crossing out his worst adjectives and the excessive use of superlatives” but leaving the deranged core largely intact.
Gradually, though, Putzi lost influence. His inside position went to savages like Joseph Goebbels. For Hitler, image-buffers like Putzi were useful only on the way up. Once he was in power, they may have only reminded him of his social deficiencies.

Ironically, Putzi had been pretty well shunted aside by the Nazis when he attended his Harvard reunion. The trip, in fact, revealed how isolated he was. While a few Nazi sympathizers may have cheered for him, most Americans he encountered treated him only with scorn. When he arrived in New York, he was greeted at the docks by thousands of protesters calling him a Nazi. Worse for Putzi, in Harvard Stadium he was photographed shaking hands with a Jewish judge—a picture that eventually got into Hitler’s hands. Putzi considered it a PR coup, taking the anti-Semitic stain off the Nazi regime, but Hitler was furious that Putzi was consorting with enemies of the state.

Still, Putzi was determined to prove himself to the führer. So he was thrilled when, in 1937, a special assignment came to him from party headquarters to fly to Spain, then in the midst of its civil war, and brief some German correspondents. As Putzi recounts the story, he was summoned to the cockpit just 10 minutes after takeoff and informed by the pilot that the plan was to drop him over enemy lines. Putzi was terrified, sure he would be shot by Spanish communists before he ever touched the ground. The party had sent him on a suicide mission! The pilot took pity on him and, feigning engine trouble, brought the plane down near Leipzig for “repairs.” There, Putzi slipped away to the train station and escaped to Switzerland. A letter from Hitler lieutenant Hermann Goering, Putzi’s erstwhile friend, somehow reached him at his Zurich hotel. It asked Putzi to please come back; all was forgiven. “I assure you the whole affair was only intended as a harmless joke,” Goering wrote, adding in a handwritten postscript, “I expect you to accept my word.”

As presented in Putzi’s memoir, the letter seems like another chilling example of the Nazis’ black art, attempting to lure Putzi back into their clutches so he could be liquidated. But David Marwell, a historian, concluded that the episode was indeed a joke, a kind of elaborate frat-house prank intended for the amusement of Hitler and Goering. According to one report, the two Nazis viewed a short film made during the incident, finding the footage so uproarious that at one point Hitler stood up and clapped his hands. Then, unaware his seat had snapped up behind him, he tumbled to the floor when he tried to sit down again.

Marwell had gotten a copy of the film from the original cameraman and showed it to me one evening in New York City. It opens with Putzi being escorted from his apartment, then cuts to Staaken airfield. There is a darkly lit interior scene of Putzi sitting in his seat, then the fateful exchange with the pilot. Finally the disembarking on the ground near Liepzig. And that’s it. There is only one moment to suggest this is, indeed, all a big joke. It comes at Staaken airport when a young attendant, standing behind Putzi, appears to be trying to do everything he can to keep from laughing.

Putzi found it unbearable to think of himself as the butt of such a joke,
according to Marwell. “He wanted so desperately to be taken seriously,” he told me.

Despite all this, Putzi spent the next two years in England, scheming to return to Germany. The matter was soon out of his hands. When the war broke out in 1939, Putzi was seized by British authorities as an enemy alien, then shipped to a Canadian detention center. There he managed to get a letter to his old Harvard Club friend FDR, offering to provide analysis of the Nazi regime in exchange for his freedom. The president bit, and though he wasn’t freed, Putzi was eventually quartered at Bush Hill, a rural estate outside Washington. He monitored Nazi radio broadcasts and wrote the president advisory memos but offered no useful tips.

The FBI would, in time, develop a 131-page file on Putzi, essentially concluding that he could not be trusted. As a relative, I’d always assumed his greater pull was to the country of my family. He may have had a postadolescent fascination with Hitler, but surely, I thought, once the tanks started to roll across Europe and news began to surface about the Nazi death camps, Putzi would have severed his youthful allegiance. The truth seems to be more complex. Despite his Sedgwick blood and countless other American connections, including a son who joined the American army, Putzi Hanfstaengl was never one of us. He was one of them. That’s why he returned, after the war, to Germany.

The definitive words were spoken at the end of his life. Asked about Hitler in an interview with Marwell, Putzi seemed unable to get the Nazi leader out of his bones and appeared preoccupied with the führer’s tactical mistakes. “He forgot the winter,” Putzi said bitterly, referring to Hitler’s ill-fated march on Moscow. “He forgot the distance.”

So he was a Nazi to the end.
What does that make me? No Nazi, certainly. Nor a sympathizer. But it does reduce the degrees of separation between Hitler and me. A humbling reminder, I think, about evil—that there is no clear line of demarcation around it but merely gradations of complicity. I remain at a safe remove, but I can’t say I am entirely in the clear. Adolph Hitler was, after all, a friend of the family.
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Re: The Harvard Nazi [:Ernst “Putzi” Franz Sedgwick Hanfstae

Postby admin » Mon Feb 19, 2018 1:48 am

Hitler’s Harvard Man: Ernst Hanfstaengl
by Andrew Nagorski
World War II Magazine



On his way up, the Nazi leader had help from a source steeped in American culture.

On a cold spring morning in 1906, a canoeist on the Charles River in Boston lost control in the swift current and tipped into the water. At that moment, several Harvard students were nearby on the shore trying out for crew; one young man immediately grabbed a boat and rowed to the canoeist, who was floundering badly. Fully clothed, the rower jumped into the frigid water and managed to push the man up into the boat. The next day, the husky, tall (6-foot-4) Samaritan discovered he was an instant local celebrity. A Boston Herald headline proclaimed: “Hanfstaengl, Harvard’s Hero.”

The beneficiary of this publicity, Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl, claimed that as a result of this incident he got to know Theodore Roosevelt Jr., a fellow Harvard student and elder son of the president. This, in turn, led to an invitation to the White House, where at a stag party in the basement Hanfstaengl played the piano
so enthusiastically he broke seven bass strings on a Steinway Grand. This was a young man who loved the spotlight—and who would soon embark on an unlikely journey, from Harvard and the White House to the beer halls of Munich and the entourage of a rising firebrand named Adolf Hitler. Once he was at Hitler’s side, Hanfstaengl took on the role of court musician, spin doctor, and go-between—especially with American correspondents, diplomats, and visitors. “It is a far cry from Harvard to Hitler, but in my case the connexion is direct,” he would write years later. Or, as Putzi put it to one interviewer in recalling the chain of events that led him to Hitler, “All that is just by some artistry of fate.”

BORN IN BAVARIA IN 1887 and therefore a German citizen, Hanfstaengl called himself “half American” because he had a German father and an American mother. Putzi—the term in the local Bavarian dialect for “little fellow” that stuck as his nickname from an early age—was proud of his roots. On his father’s side, Putzi’s ancestors were “well known as connoisseurs and patrons of the arts,” he pointed out. His grandfather had been famous for his art reproduction work, a business his father expanded by opening galleries in London and New York. Putzi’s mother was a Sedgwick, of the very eminent New England family. Her uncle was General John Sedgwick, a Civil War hero. Her father, William Heine, a European-born architect, had fled his native Dresden after the Revolution of 1848, worked on decorations for the Paris Opera, emigrated to the United States, and joined Admiral Matthew Perry as an illustrator on Perry’s expedition to Japan. Heine, too, became a general during the Civil War.

Given such a lineage, it was hardly a surprise that young Hanfstaengl would be sent to Harvard, where he mingled with the likes of T. S. Eliot, Robert Benchley, John Reed, and Walter Lippmann. A gifted pianist, Putzi was equally at ease playing Wagner and Harvard marching songs. After graduating in 1909, he returned to Germany for a year of military service in the Royal Bavarian Foot Guards, followed by a year of studies in Grenoble, Vienna, and Rome, and a return to New York to take over the family gallery on Fifth Avenue. Eating often at the Harvard Club, Putzi met yet another Roosevelt—Franklin Delano, then a New York state senator. And he reconnected with the elder Theodore Roosevelt, discussing both art and politics. “Hanfstaengl, your business is to pick the best pictures,” he said the former president told him.“But remember that in politics the choice is that of the lesser evil.” With no sense of irony, Putzi wrote in his memoir that the phrase “has stuck with me ever since.”

In 1920, Putzi married Helen Niemeyer, a matronly but still attractive young woman he had met when she wandered into the Fifth Avenue gallery. The daughter of immigrants from Bremen who made sure she spoke German at home, Helen was born and raised in New York. Her American identity is on full display in family photos dated 1912–13, when she was around 20. She is decked out like a model for the Statue of Liberty, holding a large American flag on the steps of Hoboken’s City Hall. In 1921, after the couple’s first child, Egon, was born, they moved to Munich.

For Putzi, it was a disorienting homecoming. Postwar Germany was“riven by faction and near destitution…, a madhouse,” he noted. That madhouse was produced by Germany’s humiliating defeat in World War I and the Weimar Republic’s chaotic birth and simultaneous economic collapse, with hyperinflation plunging millions of middle-class families into abject poverty— a perfect setting for demagogues of every stripe.

IN NOVEMBER 1922, Putzi met Hitler—and, yes, he did so through a Harvard connection. Warren Robbins, a Harvard classmate serving at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, called Hanfstaengl in Munich to ask him to assist Truman Smith, a young military attaché about to visit the Bavarian capital (see “Eye on a Juggernaut,” March/April 2012). Robbins wanted Putzi to help Smith cultivate contacts there, but before the men could get together the highly resourceful attaché contacted a broad range of political and military figures. One of Smith’s most interesting meetings was with Hitler, whom Smith described as “a marvelous demagogue…. I have rarely listened to such a logical and fanatical man.” Smith wrangled a press pass to a Nazi Party rally at a popular Munich beer hall. When Hanfstaengl and Smith did connect, on the latter’s final day in Munich, the Berlin-bound diplomat gave Hanfstaengl his pass to that evening’s event and urged him to go. Putzi had never heard of Hitler, but he decided to see what Smith found so compelling about this political newcomer.

When Putzi arrived at the Kindlkeller, he wasn’t sure what to expect. His first glimpse of Hitler left him distinctly underwhelmed. “In his heavy boots, dark suit and leather waistcoat, semi-stiff white collar and odd little mustache, he really did not look very impressive—like a waiter in a railway station restaurant,” Hanfstaengl recalled. But once Hitler took the floor, the atmosphere became “electric.” Hitler displayed a mastery of “innuendo and irony,” starting in a light conversational tone and then cranking up his rhetoric as he blamed Jews, communists, socialists, and Weimar republicans for Germany’s predicament, promising a national rebirth that would sweep away those enemies. Putzi observed how Hitler entranced his audience, “especially the ladies”—including one young woman who was “transfixed as if in some emotional ecstasy.”

“Impressed beyond measure,” Putzi afterward made his way to the speaker, who was drenched with sweat but relishing his triumph. After introducing himself, Hanfstaengl declared, “I agree with 95 percent of what you said and would very much like to talk to you about the rest some time.” Hitler couldn’t have been friendlier. “Why, yes, of course,” he replied, Putzi wrote later. “I am sure we shall not have to quarrel about the odd 5 percent.”

From that moment on, Putzi effectively joined Hitler’s movement, seeing his new acquaintance as a self-made man who could rally Germans to a cause that would prove a strong alternative to the communists, who were also pushing for power. Putzi would later maintain that his “5 percent” disagreement had to do with Hitler’s Jew-baiting, but no records indicate that anti-Semitism seriously troubled Hanfstaengl—quite the contrary. Hitler’s claims that Jews were profiting shamelessly from Germany’s misery was “a charge which was only too easy to make stick,” Putzi noted. He was more genuine in his disdain for the “dubious types” in Hitler’s entourage, like party ideologist Alfred Rosenberg. Putzi always believed he was more sophisticated and worldly than others in that group, and worked hard to ingratiate himself with its leader. He saw Hitler as an unconventional but gifted politician on the rise, and was eager to rise with him.

After selling his share of the family gallery in New York, Putzi put up $1,000 to turn the Nazis’ four-page weekly Völkischer Beobachter (People’s Observer) into a daily, hired a cartoonist to redesign the masthead, and claimed credit for coining the propaganda sheet’s original slogan, Arbeit und Brot (Work and Bread). Hanfstaengl also claimed that he tried to educate Hitler about the world, particularly the growing importance of the United States. “If there is another war it must inevitably be won by the side which America joins,” he told the Nazi leader, urging him to advocate friendship with the Americans.

But Hitler seemed less interested in Putzi’s political theories than in his skill at the piano. When Putzi first played Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for him, Hitler started marching up and down, waving his arms as if conducting. When Putzi added Harvard songs, Sousa marches, and improvisations to the mix, explaining how at his alma mater music and cheerleaders helped whip crowds to the point of “hysterical enthusiasm,” Hitler became even more animated.“That is it, Hanfstaengl, that is what we need for the movement, marvelous,” he said, prancing about like a drum majorette. Putzi would later write several marches used by the Brown Shirts, including the one they played as they paraded through Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on the day that Hitler took power in 1933.

WHEN PUTZI introduced the Nazi leader to his Helen, he said the future chancellor “was delighted with my wife, who was blonde and beautiful and American,” Hanfstaengl recalled. Hitler became such a frequent visitor at the couple’s residence on Gentzstrasse that the Hanfstaengls jokingly referred to their apartment as the Café Gentz. In her fragmentary postwar notes, Helen wrote in a precise hand with unconcealed pride: “It seems he enjoyed our home above all others to which he was invited.”

Although Helen reported that her first impression was colored by Hitler’s “quite pathetic” appearance in cheap mismatched clothes, she was as taken by him as her husband was, claiming that the Nazi leader was “a warm person” who loved playing with Egon. Helen was fascinated by Hitler’s tendency “to talk and talk and talk,” as she put it, refusing to allow anyone else to get in a word. “His voice had an unusually vibrant, expressive quality, which it later lost, probably through overexertion.” She attested to its “mesmeric quality” as he expounded on his political vision. “His plans for the renaissance of the country sounded ideal for most citizens,” she declared, alluding to the chaos of the times. Nor did the main subject of those monologues put her off. “The one thing he always raved against was the Jews,” she said, recalling that he blamed Jews for preventing him from getting jobs when he was living in Vienna.“It began as personal but he built it up politically.”

Putzi, who believed Hitler had “no normal sex life,” came to think that the Nazi leader had developed “one of his theoretical passions” for Helen. Helen didn’t disagree, seeing Hitler as an admirer who was also probably “a neuter.” Whatever emotions flowed between Hitler and Helen, they led to one of the most bizarre episodes in the future dictator’s rise—and a moment that may have literally changed the course of world events.

Hitler was about to spend nine months in Landsberg Prison (an episode that would prove more productive break than punishment, allowing him as it did to dictate Mein Kampf). Few know that Helen Hanfstaengl, an American, may have kept Adolf Hitler alive at his lowest moment.

The evening of November 9, 1923, Hitler suddenly appeared at the Hanfstaengls’ country house in Uffing, about an hour southwest of Munich. He and his coterie, including Putzi, had just tried and failed to seize control of Bavaria. In a violent street confrontation that left 14 Nazis and 4 policemen dead, the authorities had quashed the rebellion. When the so-called Beer Hall Putsch failed, Putzi fled to Austria, but Hitler’s car broke down. He decided to seek refuge with Helen. “There he stood, ghastly pale, hatless, his face and clothes covered with mud,” she recalled. Hitler had dislocated his left shoulder, probably in a fall when the authorities opened fire on the Nazis as they marched arm in arm and the man at his side went down. A doctor and a medic tended to the injured insurrectionist during the night, and Helen could hear Hitler moaning as they forced his shoulder and arm bones back together.

The next morning, Helen’s mother-in-law, who lived nearby, phoned to say that the police were in her house. Helen went upstairs to alert Hitler that he was about to be arrested. The news devastated him. “Now all is lost—no use going on,” he exclaimed, picking up a revolver that lay on a cabinet. “But I was alert, grasped his arm and took the weapon away from him,” Helen recalled. Alarmed that her guest might have killed himself, she shouted, “What do you think you’re doing?” She berated Hitler for thinking of leaving his followers in the lurch. “They’re looking for you to carry on,” she said. Hitler sank into a chair, and Helen quickly hid the gun in the kitchen flour bin. The police did arrest Hitler, leading to the trial that made him truly famous. He took full advantage of sympathetic judges to proclaim his goal of overthrowing the Weimar Republic.

On December 20, 1924, the guards at Landsberg released Hitler. He promptly came to dinner at the Hanfstaengls’ elegant new home on Munich’s Pienzenauerstrasse. Both Hanfstaengls were there to greet him; as soon as the authorities made clear they would not arrest other Nazis over the abortive putsch, Putzi had returned from Austria. At first Hitler turned on the charm, apologizing to Helen for the episode in Uffing. But once he had eaten a turkey dinner followed by his favorite Austrian pastries, he launched into one of his tirades. “We will reduce Paris to rubble!” he thundered.“We must break the chains of Versailles!”

Putzi insisted much later that he felt “almost physically sick” whenever Hitler started in that vein. “He seemed to have come out of Landsberg with all his worst prejudices reinforced,” he concluded. As was typical, Putzi was trying to portray himself as morally and intellectually superior. He argued that hangers-on like Rosenberg and Rudolf Hess had unduly influenced the Nazi leader, arousing Hitler’s “latent radical tendencies.” In fact, Putzi’s postwar recollections are transparently self-serving, as he tries to justify his infatuation with the dictator-in-waiting and argues that he somehow was trying to push the Nazi leader in a moderate direction, particularly regarding the United States. Putzi claimed he alone could reason with Hitler, an effort the others constantly undermined with their racialist harping. “He had failed to absorb any of the information I had kept trying to give him and merely regarded America as part of the Jewish problem,” he wrote. Yet none of this kept Putzi from working for Hitler; he insisted later that his aim was to guide “this unpredictable genius.”

ALTHOUGH HITLER WAS BACK, as the German economy began to recover, events increasingly marginalized his movement. In the May 1928 parliamentary elections, the Nazis won a paltry 12 seats, compared with 153 for the Socialists and 73 for the Nationalists. Then came the Wall Street crash of October 1929. In September 1930, the Nazis won 107 of 577 parliamentary seats— and Hitler’s march to power began in earnest. This turnaround renewed interest in the Nazi leader among American correspondents, diplomats, and visitors. And for most Americans, the key go-between for personal meetings and interviews with Hitler was, of course, the “half-American” Putzi.

Hanfstaengl wanted his American contacts to come away impressed with Hitler’s leadership qualities, but the face-to-face encounters he engineered often had the opposite effect. Accompanied by Putzi, Rudolf Hess, and Hermann Göring, Hitler met with U.S. Ambassador Frederic Sackett on December 5, 1931. The envoy later said he was struck by the fact that this “fanatical crusader” never looked him in the eye. Should Hitler come to power, “he must find himself shortly on the rocks, both of international and internal difficulties,” Sackett predicted. “He is certainly not the type from which statesmen evolve.”

In the same vein, Putzi had arranged for Dorothy Thompson, the era’s most famous female foreign correspondent, to interview Hitler in November 1931. Thompson’s immediate judgment: There was no way, given his “startling insignificance,” that Hitler would lead Germany. “He is inconsequent and voluble, ill-poised, insecure,” she added. American radio newsman H. V. Kaltenborn, another of Putzi’s Harvard friends, emerged from an August 1932 interview with Hitler that his former classmate had set up for him and two other American reporters convinced that the Nazi leader was an unlikely threat. “After meeting Hitler I myself felt almost reassured,” Kaltenborn recalled. “I could not see how a man of his type, a plebeian Austrian of limited mentality, could ever gain the allegiance of a majority of Germans.”

Americans gravitated to Putzi, mocking him even as they sought him out. “Fussy. Amusing. The oddest imaginable press chief for a dictator,” Thompson wrote. Once Hitler took power in 1933, he and Putzi did awe some Americans, like Martha Dodd, the 20-something daughter of the new U.S. ambassador, William Dodd. Others had the opposite reaction. William Shirer called Hanfstaengl an“immense, high-strung, incoherent clown.” U.S. Consul General George S. Messersmith dismissed him as pompously arrogant and a notorious womanizer, calling Hanfstaengl out when he caught him fondling a female tablemate at an embassy dinner party.

Putzi fought back by spreading rumors that Messersmith and correspondents critical of the new regime were Jews. Despite his postwar attempts to distance himself from Nazi anti-Semitism, here Hanfstaengl left a trail of damning evidence. “The Jews are the vampire sucking German blood,” he told James G. McDonald, visiting head of the New York–based Foreign Policy Association, in March 1933. “We shall not be strong until we free ourselves of them.” Quentin Reynolds of the International News Service admitted he initially found Putzi “a likeable fellow,” until he drew the mouthpiece’s wrath for filing a story about a mob that savaged a German woman for wanting to marry a Jew. Reynolds concluded,“You had to know Putzi to really dislike him.”

MANY OF THE TOP NAZIS who knew Hanfstaengl from the early days had reached the same conclusion, although they had to wait until Hitler began losing interest in Putzi before they could undercut him. Joseph Goebbels, the regime’s propaganda chief, made no secret of his contempt for Hanfstaengl and his desire to cut the Bavarian out of the inner circle. As Goebbels’s influence grew, Putzi’s diminished. “The evil genius of the second half of Hitler’s career was Goebbels,” Hanfstaengl complained. Soon Putzi’s foreign press office had been unceremoniously moved away from the Reich Chancellery, leaving him feeling isolated. After Helen divorced Putzi in 1936 he felt he had lost another connection to Hitler, who still had a soft spot for her. Hanfstaengl’s ever more tenuous position led him to start smuggling gold and platinum objects to London. He claimed later that he had lost faith in Hitler’s policies, but the real source of Putzi’s disillusionment was his own dwindling stature.

Fittingly, Hanfstaengl’s abrupt exodus from Germany in February 1937 plays as either drama or farce. Informed by the Chancellery that he was to go to Spain to help German correspondents covering the civil war there, he was rushed aboard a military transport plane and instructed to strap on a parachute. Once they were aloft, the pilot said he had orders to drop Putzi “over Red lines between Barcelona and Madrid.” Alarmed, Putzi protested that this would be a death sentence. The pilot gave Hanfstaengl a meaningful look as he turned off one engine and landed, ostensibly for repairs, at a quiet airfield near Leipzig. Under cover of darkness, Putzi slipped away and hopped a train, fleeing first to Munich and then to Zurich. Putzi arranged for his son Egon, who was at boarding school southwest of Munich, to follow him to the neutral country. In Switzerland, Putzi received a letter from Göring claiming that the whole affair was “a harmless joke” and that if he returned he would be safe.

Helen had returned to New York. Putzi moved with Egon to London. Egon continued his schooling in Britain until 1939 when, following in his father’s footsteps, he enrolled at Harvard.

When World War II started, Putzi was among Germans in Britain rounded up as security risks. Interned in Canada, he contrived to smuggle out a plea for assistance that reached the desk “of my Harvard Club friend, Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” as Putzi grandiosely put it later. His bold move worked. The Canadians transferred him to American custody. When he arrived in Washington he was met by Egon, who had interrupted his studies at Harvard to join the U.S.Army. Sergeant Hanfstaengl greeted his father in uniform. From 1942 to 1944, Putzi provided information to American intelligence officials on Hitler and other Nazi leaders, along with analysis of German broadcasts. At war’s end he was sent back to Britain and eventually interned again, this time in Germany, before being released on September 3, 1946.

Neither Putzi nor Helen ever quite lost their sense of wonderment that they had been so close with Hitler. In the mid-1950s Helen left New York for Munich a second time, dying there in 1973. Putzi and Helen’s grandson Eric, born in 1954 in New York but raised in Germany, lives in the house on Pienzenauerstrasse where the Hanfstaengls feted the future dictator after his release from prison. Eric recalls his grandfather endlessly regaling listeners about the old days, in effect boasting of being an intimate of the Führer. While Putzi could be jovial and entertaining, Eric said,“most of the time he was on the Hitler trip—it was terrible.” In an interview with Hitler biographer John Toland in 1971, the elder Hanfstaengl declared that Hitler was “still in his bones.” He died four years later at 88.

Originally published in the June 2013 issue of World War II.
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Re: The Harvard Nazi [:Ernst “Putzi” Franz Sedgwick Hanfstae

Postby admin » Mon Feb 19, 2018 2:53 am

Nazi In Our Midst
by Michael M. Grynbaum
February 10, 2005



There’s bound to be many a skeleton in Harvard’s closets, but the possibility of links to Hitler rattle a little louder than others. Last October, the media came running when a University of Oklahoma professor, Stephen Norwood, announced that he had found evidence tying Harvard to Nazi Germany. Speaking at an academic conference at Boston University, Norwood declared that Harvard had warmly received Nazi officers in the 1930s, formally recognized German universities taken over by Hitler, and voiced support for the Third Reich.

These were serious accusations—so how come we haven’t heard anything about them since? Norwood has returned to obscurity, and Harvard has declined to issue any apology or acknowledgement of wrongdoing in connection with the historian’s claims. What happened?

Norwood’s research was legitimate—it was the spin he placed on his findings that appears shaky. Central to his claims is the tale of Ernst “Putzi” F.S. Hanfstaengl, a popular member of the Harvard Class of 1909 who, when he returned as a class officer at his 25th reunion in 1934, was a chief Nazi press officer and personal acquaintance of Adolf Hitler. Norwood argued that by inviting the prominent Nazi sympathizer to an official event, Harvard missed a chance to criticize Hitler’s regime and ignored reports of Jewish persecution trickling in from across the Atlantic.

Harvard—which did not send a representative to Norwood’s talk—responded in a November 2004 press release that College tradition calls for inviting all alumni back for their reunions. University spokesman Joseph Wrinn noted that James B. Conant ’14, Harvard’s president at the time, had refused to accept contributions from Hanfstaengl. “Harvard University and President Conant did not support the Nazis,” Wrinn wrote.

Harvard never explicitly condoned Nazism, but it subscribed to the genteel anti-Semitism that pervaded the elite institutions of the country in the early years of the 20th century. The Hanfstaengl incident reveals a campus divided over the rising fascist regimes of the 1930s, but an administration that ultimately refrained from confronting the Nazi in their midst.


Son of a prominent New York art dealer and a well-known figure in the city’s social circles, Hanfstaengl was the quintessential Harvard man of his time: as an undergraduate, he rowed crew, enjoyed personal visits with President Charles W. Eliot, Class of 1853, and entertained students and faculty with his renowned piano skills. In an unfortunate bit of foreshadowing, he was particularly fond of reciting Wagner’s compositions.

Decades after his time in Cambridge, this blueblood remained a legend among Harvard students.

“In the early 1960s, we knew about this man,” said Jeffrey S. Mehlman ’65, professor of French Literature at Boston University, who attended Norwood’s lecture. “He was known as a good musician, and the big story was that Harvard was so powerful it had friends all over the world on all sides of every issue.”

Hanfstaengl traveled to Europe after World War I. “I returned to Germany, finding the country ‘flourishing’ under the blessings of the Versailles treaty,” he wrote in his reunion class book. “A year later I ran into the man who has saved Germany and civilization—Adolf Hitler.”

Always a bombastic self-promoter, Hanfstaengl soon became a close friend of the Fuhrer, reportedly delighting the rising politician with his Wagner renditions. By 1934, Hanfstaengl was supervising the Nazi Party’s foreign press office. He even acquired a nickname from his boss—“Putzi”—a moniker that would stick.

When Hanfstaengl’s 25th class reunion approached, he was invited by class marshal Elliott Carr Cutler, Class of 1909, to act as a vice marshal at the reunion. His reputation as a consummate Ivy Leaguer superseded concerns about anti-Semitism among students and faculty.

“He was an international celebrity, a good musician, and that was enough for his classmates,” Mehlman said.

But not all Harvard affiliates were happy to see their institution warmly welcoming a prominent Nazi. News of Hanfstaengl’s invitation spurred a flurry of protests from Jewish alumni and anti-Nazi student groups.

Harvard administrators initially responded with a shrug: the decision to offer the position was made by the independent reunion committee—it was out of their hands.

But as criticism mounted, Hanfstaengl was pressured into resigning his marshal position. The New York Times reported on June 12, 1934, that he would remain in Germany, but two days later ran a banner headline on page one announcing his decision to attend the reunion anyway.

His arrival in New York was marked by angry encounters with over 1,500 anti-Nazi demonstrators. In Cambridge, anxious state troopers assigned him a security detail for the course of reunion week. Nevertheless, Putzi insisted on attending several receptions at the homes of prominent alumni, including a tea party at Conant’s residence. The president later wrote in his autobiography that his response to Hanfstaengl was “cold; I did not return the greetings.”

Not one to surrender the spotlight, Hanfstaengl held several press conferences throughout the week,
entertaining questions from the pack of journalists hounding his path around Boston. On a stroll through Harvard Yard with reporters, Hanfstaengl was asked by a rabbi about concerns over treatment of German Jews. “I will say that the Jews’ situation in Germany is going to be normal before long,” he responded.

Tension came to a head at the commencement exercises on June 21, 1934. Two female undergraduates chained themselves to benches in the Yard and interrupted Conant’s commencement speech, chanting “Down With Hanfstaengl!” and “Down With Hitler!” The women were arrested for breach of peace, along with seven other undergraduates who protested in Harvard Square among nearly 2,000 others. Despite pleas for clemency on the part of Conant and the university, seven students were eventually sentenced to six months of hard labor.

For all the tumult, Hanfstaengl appeared nonplussed by the attention. “It has been the most enjoyable and successful vacation that I have had in years,” he wrote several months later.


While Norwood has focused on the Hanfstaengl incident as an example of what he says were “deliberate ties” formed by Harvard and Nazi Germany, the decision to invite Putzi appears to have been motivated more by Harvard tradition than politics.

“I think it was a time when it would have been unusual to refuse entrance to a Harvard graduate to his class,” said Richard M. Hunt, retired University marshal and co-author of Harvard A to Z. “Harvard has all kinds of heroes and also all kinds of rogues who come back all the time. I think this was something [Hanfstaengl] was entitled to.”

Mehlman, the Harvard alum, said that while Hanfstaengl was “no portrait in moral courage,” Professor Norwood “may have been naïve to be that shocked, given the sense that Jews had been systematically excluded from Harvard in the 1930s.”

Some students spoke out in favor of Hanfstaengl’s appearance, notably the editorial staff of The Crimson. In a June 13, 1934 editorial, Crimson editors argued that “if Herr Hanfstaengl is to be received at all, it should be with the marks of honor appropriate to his high position in the government of a friendly country.” The Crimson also referred to Nazi Germany in an editorial as a “great and proud nation.”

“There certainly was a strain of anti-Semitism that was quite pervasive, although not talked about very much,” said John T. Bethell ’54, author of Harvard Observed and former editor of Harvard Magazine. Indeed, Hanfstaengl’s invitation wasn’t the only nod to Nazism on display at the commencement: the Class of 1924 celebrated their tenth reunion by goose-stepping into Harvard Stadium for the playful Class Day exercises, holding their hands in a mock Nazi salute. The incident was blithely described by The New York Times in its account of the event and spectators did not seem perturbed.

“There was a lot of pretty tasteless stuff that went on then. There’s a lot of pretty tasteless stuff that goes on in the early 2000s,” Bethell said. “I’m afraid it’s not a great tribute to the younger generation of those years. Some of them were taken by Hitler, which they shouldn’t have been. ”While Harvard hosted Putzi for the week, his attempt to leave a longer-lasting legacy was blocked. Months after the reunion, Conant rejected a $1,000 scholarship offer from Hanfstaengl, who hoped to endow a traveling fellowship to Germany for interested students.

Hunt said Conant showed “courage and conviction” in refusing to accept the gift. “It showed that there was in Conant and in the administration’s mind a clear awareness that this was an unacceptable gift from an unacceptable regime,” Hunt said.

Bethell takes issue with Norwood’s take on the scandal. “The university’s handling of it was much more responsible” than Norwood describes it, Bethell said. “He’s really got it in for Harvard I think.”

For all the hubbub, Hanfstaengl may not have been as substantial a figure as he’s been made out.

Hunt met Hanfstaengl in 1959 for his 50th reunion. “There was no publicity about him,” Hunt said. “While he was a rather imposing-looking man, he was unable to convince me that he was more than a lightweight.” Hunt maintains that many Harvardians saw Hanfstaengl as a bit of a “buffoon,” a social butterfly who had little tangible influence on Hitler aside from his skills at the keyboard.

“He played this all up,” Hunt said. “He was very adept at making himself appear greater and more important than he really was.”

During Hitler’s rise to power, Hansfstaengl helped finance the publication of Mein Kampf as well as the purchase of the Völkischer Beobachter, which became the Nazi Party’s official newspaper. While a Boston rabbi mobilized a Jewish protest, the Harvard Crimson pooh-poohed the critics and called for Hansfstaengl, a Harvard alumnus, to be awarded an honorary degree “appropriate to his high position” in the government of “a great and profound nation.” 10

That same year prominent Harvard faculty, administrators, and student leaders visited the Nazi warship Karlsruhe when it docked in Boston harbor, flying the swastika flag. The Harvard group also attended a gala reception at which the warship captain praised Hitler. And in 1936 Harvard sent an academic delegation to celebrate the anniversary of Heidelberg University. The event was boycotted by British universities because it was highly politicized to feature Nazism in a positive light. In attendance, mingling with the Harvard delegation, were Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, and SS chief Heinrich Himmler. 11



10. Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1880-1936: Hubris (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 261; John Sedgwick,
“The Harvard Nazi,” March 2005, Boston,;
Michael Grynbaum, “Nazi in Our Midst,” February 10, 2005, Harvard Crimson, ... res-bound/.

11. Paul Hollander, From Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 109.

-- The Big Lie, by Dinesh D'Souza
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Re: The Harvard Nazi [:Ernst “Putzi” Franz Sedgwick Hanfstae

Postby admin » Sun Apr 15, 2018 12:37 am

Columbia Defends Its Nazi Links: “Everyone Was Doing It”
The Jewish Press
Dec. 8, 2006



NEW YORK — Columbia University is coming under increasing criticism over revelations that it built friendly relations with Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. Now Columbia’s provost is firing back – but he may have shot himself in the foot.

The controversy began last month when the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies publicized research by one of its scholars, Professor Stephen Norwood of the University of Oklahoma, revealing a series of steps taken by Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler during 1933-1937 to forge ties with the Hitler regime.

After first trying to avoid the issue, Columbia officials are now defending Butler’s actions on the grounds that many other prominent individuals behaved similarly.

In 1933, Nazi Germany’s ambassador to the United States, Hans Luther, was invited to speak on the Columbia campus.

Butler hosted a reception for the Nazi ambassador, whose remarks were devoted to defending Hitler’s “peaceful intentions” toward the rest of Europe. Butler said that as a representative of “the government of a friendly people,” Luther was “entitled to be received with the greatest courtesy and respect.”

Columbia, like many American universities, continued its program of student exchanges with Germany even after the Nazis came to power.

Norwood points out that a top Nazi official at the time described German exchange students as “political soldiers of the Reich” who were doing Hitler’s work abroad.

In 1936, President Butler sent a delegate to take part in anniversary celebrations at the Nazi-controlled University of Heidelberg. He did so even though the university had already fired all of its Jewish instructors, implemented a curriculum based on Nazi ideology, and even was host to a mass book-burning.

Butler defended his decision on the grounds that “academic relationships have no political implications.”
But Columbia students disputing that claim at the time held a mock book-burning on campus and a peaceful rally in front of Butler’s residence.

In an episode that seems to have been unique in the history of American academia’s responses to Nazism, Columbia expelled a student, Robert Burke, for leading that rally.

The administration’s official charge against Burke was that he “spoke disrespectfully” about President Butler, which at that time was grounds for expulsion. Despite his excellent grades, Burke was never readmitted to the university.

In a series of articles in the Columbia student newspaper, The Spectator, and elsewhere, Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff has urged Columbia to apologize for its actions regarding the Nazis, and award an honorary degree to Burke “as an acknowledgment that Columbia was wrong, and that Burke was treated unjustly.”

Professor Norwood, who is working on a book about how American universities responded to Hitler, described Columbia’s actions in the 1930’s as “shameful” and said they “helped legitimize the Nazi regime” in the West. Norwood earned his Ph.D. in history at Columbia.

The controversy at Columbia has attracted additional attention in recent weeks because another major institution, Brown University in Rhode Island, has been facing up to its own skeletons. A Brown University committee recently completed a three-year study of Brown’s links to slave-holders. The committee urged the university to make amends by building a memorial to the slaves, establishing a center for the study of slavery, and recruiting more black students.

“We cannot change the past, but an institution can hold itself accountable for the past, accepting its burdens and responsibilities along with its benefits and privileges,” Brown University president Ruth Simmons said. The Wyman Institute is urging Columbia “to follow Brown’s example and face its own troubling past.”

Columbia at first tried to duck the controversy. A Columbia spokesman told the New York Post last month that “the university was aware of the accusations, but the administration hasn’t decided whether it will investigate them.”

But in recent weeks, the controversy has snowballed, including a feature story in the online journal “Inside Higher Ed,” a widely respected voice in the academic community.

Columbia provost Alan Brinkley has now responded, telling Inside Higher Ed, “If the events that Professor Norwood describes are examples of ‘collaboration,’ then the collaborators include many thousands of leaders and citizens of the United States, Britain, and many other nations.”

“That kind of everyone-was-doing-it attitude is appalling,” said Medoff. “Is that the kind of message that one of the most prominent universities in America wants to send to its students – that if many people are doing something, it can’t be so bad…?”

An associate dean at Columbia, Professor Michael Rosenthal, has also jumped into the fray. But his defense of Columbia and Butler is raising some eyebrows. Rosenthal is the author of a recent biography of President Butler, called “Nicholas Miraculous.”

In an interview with a Columbia students’ website earlier this year, Rosenthal said that Butler “was in the forefront” of limiting the admission of Jews to Columbia, “but he was doing nothing that the other schools didn’t do.” Rosenthal said Butler “was anti-Semitic, but not in a rabid way.” Rosenthal also said that Butler “supported Italian fascism” in the 1930’s, but it was “a time when many people did … the notion that he was a Fascist is absurd.”

Regarding the current controversy over Butler and the Nazis, Rosenthal told Inside Higher Ed that Robert Burke was “expelled not for the anti-Nazi substance of his protest, but for the fact of the disturbance.” He said “Butler was not necessarily one of those who appreciated students’ expressions of views. Butler was an autocratic guy.”

“More circling of the wagons,” Medoff says. “Instead of just coming clean and admitting that Columbia was wrong to expel Burke, Professor Rosenthal offers what sounds like an attempt to rationalize the expulsion. I understand that this is embarrassing for Columbia, but after seventy years, one would have expected a more mature response.”

“One of the reasons for writing the book is to develop more public awareness in these institutions, to get universities to address their pasts,” Norwood told Inside Higher Ed.

“I think that universities should look at their pasts and examine them carefully and take steps when they can to acknowledge past injustices, and not give such priority to protecting their own reputations.”

The Wyman Institute has initiated several successful efforts to persuade prominent institutions to acknowledge mistakes they made during the Hitler era.

Earlier this year, another Wyman-affiliated scholar, Professor Laurel Leff of Northeastern University, completed a study which found that America’s top journalism schools and newspaper publishers refused to assist German Jewish refugee journalists who were trying to come to America to escape Hitler in the 1930’s.

The Wyman Institute organized a petition signed by more than 80 prominent journalist, editors, and journalism school faculty members urging the Newspaper Association of America to express remorse for those actions.

The NAA issued a public apology, published Leff’s findings in its journal, and invited her to address its board of directors.

In 2003, a leading British publisher, IPC Media, became embroiled in controversy when it tried to restrict public access to a pro-Hitler article that had appeared in one of its magazines, Homes & Gardens, in 1938.

After the Wyman Institute organized a petition by 75 Holocaust scholars from around the world, IPC Media publicly apologized, made the article accessible to the public, and even assigned its researchers to investigate whether its magazines had published any other articles sympathetic to Hitler. They found one: a 1936 article in Country Life magazine glorifying Hitler’s summer home.

In 2004, Norwood was the keynote speaker at a Wyman Institute conference at Boston University, where he unveiled research concerning Harvard’s relations with the Nazis. He revealed that Harvard president James Conant gave a friendly reception to Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstangl, Hitler’s foreign press chief, when Hanfstangl visited the campus to attend his 25th class reunion in 1934. The Harvard student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, urged that Hanfstangl be awarded an honorary degree.

The current managing editor of the Harvard Crimson, Elisabeth Theodore, spoke at the Wyman Institute’s conference and acknowledged that the Crimson’s articles about Hanfstangl were “regrettable and abhorrent.”

Harvard also hosted visits by Nazi ambassador Hans Luther in 1934 and the Nazi consul-general in Boston, Baron Kurt Von Tippelskirch, in 1935; sent a delegate to the 1936 Heidelberg event, and built relations with another Nazi-controlled university, Gottingen.

The current Harvard administration declined the Wyman Institute’s invitation to send a representative to the conference to respond to Norwood’s findings.

(With reporting by Jason Maoz, Yaakov Kenner and Elliot Resnick)
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Re: The Harvard Nazi [:Ernst “Putzi” Franz Sedgwick Hanfstae

Postby admin » Sun Apr 15, 2018 1:04 am

1974: A Giant of Punditry Who Never Admitted Being a Jew Dies: To the extent that he commented on Jewish matters at all, Walter Lippmann suggested that Jews bore a lot of responsibility for anti-Semitism.
by David B. Green
Dec 14, 2016 3:24 PM



Walter Lippmann, 1914.

On December 14, 1974, the journalist and political thinker Walter Lippmann died at the age of 85. As the author of a syndicated column that ran for more than three decades, Lippmann was one of the most influential political commentators of the 20th century, and he used his considerable intelligence to contemplate serious questions regarding, for example, the way to strike a balance between democracy and the public good, with insight that continues to be relevant today.

From the Jewish perspective, however, Lippmann doesnt come off so well. Even within the familiar context of assimilationist New York German Jewish society, whose leading members often feared being perceived as too Jewish, Lippmann was an extreme case.

Not only did he never acknowledge publicly his Jewish heritage – one friend who played Scrabble with him regularly said she knew better than to even use the word Jew in the game – but he never spoke out about the fate of European Jewry, neither in the period of the 1930s when the U.S. could still have saved lives by accepting refugees, nor even after the war, when he never commented on the Nazi crimes discovered with the liberation of the concentration camps.

Walter Lippmann was born on September 23, 1889 in New York City. He was the only child of Jacob Lippmann and the former Daisy Baum, both of them the children of Jewish immigrants from Germany. Jacob worked in his family's garment manufacturing business until Daisy's inheritance of her father's substantial estate allowed him to semi-retire, while continuing to support the family in comfort, including a trip to Europe each summer.

He attended Sachs School for Boys, followed by the Sachs Collegiate Institute, private schools for well-off Jewish children, and in 1904 he underwent confirmation at Reform Temple Emanu-El, which preferred that coming-of-age ritual to the bar mitzvah.

After high school graduation in 1907, Walter entered Harvard University, where he studied philosophy and languages, and completed his coursework for a degree in three years.
During his sophomore year, he was sought out by philosopher William James, after the latter read an article Walter had written in a student journal, and the two began meeting weekly for conversation. In his fourth year, he worked as an assistant to the historian George Santayana.

Young socialist

Lippmann was part of a group that organized a socialist discussion workshop at Harvard, but by the time he left Cambridge, Massachusetts and moved to New York, where he became an assistant to the muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, he had moved from being a revolutionary to a social reformer. In fact, over his life, Lippmann was all over much of the political map, though never on the far right.

In 1913, Lippman was one of the founding editors of The New Republic magazine, though he left that in 1920 to become an editorial writer for the New York World, and the following year began his column Today and Tomorrow for the New York Herald Tribune.

During World War I, he had a position in Army Intelligence, and then helped President Woodrow Wilson in the drafting of the Fourteen Points, as part of the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference.

Lippmann wrote more than 20 books, many of them concerned with the problems inherent in democracy, and the role of the press in creating an informed public. Nearly a century ago, he warned about the dangers of the press falling down on the job, and about the human tendency to be influenced by shallow thinking and slogans.

To the extent that he commented on Jewish matters at all, Lippmann suggested that Jews bore a lot of responsibility for anti-Semitism, with their tribalism and ostentation. His biographer Ronald Steel found a 1921 review he wrote of a book about Zionism. He did not condemn Zionism, just said it didn't interest him, being one of those assimilated creatures to whom the Jewish past has no very peculiar intimate appeal have no sense of belonging to the Chosen People, and tremble at the suggestion that God has put all his best eggs in one tribal basket. He withdrew it after submitting it to the Menorah Journal, and it was never published.
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