Monday, August 19, 2019

Review of Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America by Steven J Ross

Prior the Second World War the Nazis targeted Los Angeles and Hollywood due to its strong military-industrial complex (especially Navy and aircraft production) and the propaganda power of the movies produced. As well as the German consul vetting movie production across studios with the threat of banning all films from the lucrative German market, they also set up spy networks, encouraged those of German descent to oppose America entering any future European war, and helped organize and fund pro-Nazi and fascist organizations. Despite the threat posed by a foreign power operating in their territory and fomenting racial hatred, and German re-armament and the treatment of Jews in Germany, US policing and military intelligence paid little attention. Many members of the police had fascist leanings and were anti-Semitic, the FBI were chronically under-staffed, military intelligence outwards facing, and all three were more concerned with communism. Instead it was left to the Jewish community and their allies to monitor and tackle the growth of openly pro-Nazi/pro-German and fascist groups.

Steven Ross details the work of Leon Lewis and Joseph Roos, a lawyer and a journalist, who set up their own spy organization and network in Los Angeles, funded by the heads of the Jewish owned movie studios. Lewis and Roos recruited a number of spies – thirteen of which feature in the book – who agreed to join various fascist organizations, work their way up through the ranks, pass on everything they heard and work to spread discord and internal fights between rival factors. It was dangerous work, with the threat of death for any spy discovered, and at least three died in suspicious circumstances. Lewis and Roos passed on what they learned to the police and intelligence services, seeking to prosecute those preaching hate crimes and planning to commit domestic intelligence. Ross provides a fascinating and detailed account of the work of this spy network in penetrating organizations promoting fascism, some of which were also aiding German ambitions, and the extent of anti-Semitism and isolationist views in pre-war America. He does a good job of marshalling all the material and providing a coherent narrative given the number of actors and organizations. While providing plenty of detail, he doesn’t let it swamp the story and keeps the account moving along. I only had two minor gripes. First, the title is a little misleading – Hitler is used as a surrogate for Nazism (he doesn't feature per se) and the focus is both Nazi and fascist groups in Los Angeles, the latter of which might not be pro-Nazi or pro-Germany, but certainly is American first, isolationist, and anti-Semitic and racist. Second, Hollywood and its moguls fall out of the story as it progresses and is certainly never revisited as to its reaction to the various cases and on-going anti-Semitism throughout the war, or how it dealt with fascism post-war. Overall, an absorbing and engaging account that underscores how deep-seated white, Christian, nationalist fascism is in the United States (and how they are aided/funded by other countries – swap Russia for Germany for the present).

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