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Dorothy Thompson, the daughter of Peter Thompson, a Methodist preacher, was born in Lancaster, New York, on 9th July, 1893. According to her biographer, Marion K. Sanders, when Dorothy was eight her mother died from blood poisoning after a bungled abortion performed by Dorothy's maternal grandmother."
Dorothy rebelled after her mother's death and her father's remarriage and she was sent to Chicago to live with her aunt. While studying politics and economics at Syracuse University she became a suffragist and was involved in the campaign to obtain the vote for women. After the First World War Thompson went to Europe to become a freelance writer.
In 1920 she persuaded the International News Service to let her cover a Zionist conference in Vienna. This work resulted in her being employed as a European correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Later she acquired a similar post with the New York Post and in 1925 she was appointed as head of its Berlin bureau in Germany.
During this period she became friends with Raymond Gram Swing and John Gunther while working in Germany. Ken Cuthbertson, the author of Inside: The Biography of John Gunther (1992), has pointed out: "Thompson, who was taken with John Gunther, befriended him both as a young man and a pupil. Theirs was an intimate, albeit platonic (as far as is known), relationship which endured through good times and bad."
When she moved to Moscow in 1926 she became friends with fellow journalists, Hubert Knickerbocker, Walter Duranty, Louis Fischer, Vincent Sheean and William Henry Chamberlin. According to Sally J. Taylor, the author of Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990): "Her presence in Moscow was the occasion for a good deal of socializing, which included meeting other reporters in the Soviet capital." Thompson met Sinclair Lewis at one of Duranty's parties. Taylor points out: "Lewis and his wife were the guests of honor at a dinner given at Duranty's apartment. Always known for his outrageous behaviour. Lewis discoursed wisely on this occasion, did a brilliant reading of his own work, and then, dead drunk, fell asleep on Duranty's couch. Finally, not knowing what else to do, everybody just went home. Duranty always held it against Lewis, believing that Lewis had behaved deplorably."
Thompson met Lewis again in Berlin in June, 1927, when she went to tea with Gustav Stresemann. The following month she invited Lewis to her thirty-fourth birthday party. Susan Hertog, the author of Dangerous Ambition (2011) has pointed out: "Lewis, newly arrived from Paris, was in the midst of a drunken sprawl through Europe in search of distraction and oblivion. His wife, Grace Hegger, was in love with another man, and his newly published novel, Elmer Gantry, an expose of orgiastic moral corroption among the clergy, had been targeted by the church... It wasn't Lewis's literary reputation that intrigued Dorothy, although that might have sufficed; it was his ineffable sadness, and what she would call the Christ-like weight of his visceral suffering."
On 14th May 1928 Thompson married Sinclair Lewis. After interviewing Adolf Hitler in 1931 she wrote about the dangers of him winning power in Germany. A strong opponent of Hitler and his government, in 1934 Thompson became the first American correspondent to be expelled from Nazi Germany. A fellow journalist, Raymond Gram Swing, compared her writing with Freda Kirchwey: "I wish to say that she (Kirchwey) was one of the best and most likable journalists with whom I ever worked. I am tempted to call her the best woman journalist I ever encountered, but hesitate to rank her ahead of Dorothy Thompson, who was a better writer."
On her return to the United States Thompson joined the New York Tribune and in 1936 began writing a newspaper column, On the Record . The following year she began broadcasting for the NBC. Thompson also wrote for the Ladies' Home Journal and developed such a large following that Time Magazine called her the second most popular woman in America, after Eleanor Roosevelt. Books by Thompson included New Russia, (1928), I Saw Hitler! (1932), Anarchy or Organization (1938) and Let the Record Speak (1939).
Jennet Conant, the author of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington (2008) argues that Ernest Cuneo, who worked for British Security Coordination, was "empowered to feed select British intelligence items about Nazi sympathizers and subversives" to friendly journalists such as Thompson, Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson, Walter Lippmann, Raymond Gram Swing, Edward Murrow, Vincent Sheean, Eric Sevareid, Edmond Taylor, Rex Stout, Edgar Ansel Mowrer and Whitelaw Reid, who "were stealth operatives in their campaign against Britain's enemies in America".
Thomas E. Mahl, the author of Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44 (1998) has argued: "During this period... Dorothy Thompson exhibited an amazing to reflect the British propaganda line of the day. This is one of the few useful conclusions to be gained from reading the hundreds of pages in her FBI file. Thompson's diary, kept for only a dozen entries in early 1942, also illustrates her close ties to the intelligence community."
Thompson lost her job with the New York Tribune after endorsing Franklin D. Roosevelt for a third term in 1944. She published The Courage to be Happy in 1957.
Dorothy Thompson died in Lisbon, Portugal, on 30th January, 1961.
A week ago today an anaemic-looking boy with brooding black eyes walked quietly into the German embassy in the rue de Lille in Paris, asked to see the ambassador, was shown into the office of the third secretary, Herr von Rath, and shot him. Herr von Rath died on Wednesday.
I want to talk about that boy I feel as though I knew him, for in the past five years I have met so many whose story is the same - the same except for this unique desperate act. Herschel Grynzspan was one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees whom the terror east of the Rhine has turned loose in the world. His permit to stay in Paris had expired. He could not leave France, for no country would take him in. He could not work because no country would give him a work permit. So he moved about, hoping he would not be picked up and deported, only to be deported again, and yet again.
Sometimes he found a bed with another refugee. Sometimes he huddled away from the wind under the bridges of the Seine.
He got letters from his father, who was in Hanover, in Germany. His father was all right. He still had a little tailoring shop and managed honorably to earn enough for food and shelter. Maybe he would have sent his son money, but he was not allowed to send any out of Germany.
Herschel read the newspapers, and all that he could read filled him with dark anxiety and wild despair. He read how men, women and children, driven out of the Sudentenland by a conquering army - conquering with the consent of Great Britain and France - had been forced to cross the border into Czechoslovakia on their hands and knees - and then had been ordered out of that dismembered country, that, shorn of her richest lands and factories, did not know how to feed the mouths that were left.
He read that Jewish children had been stood on platforms in front of classes of German children and had had their features pointed to and described by the teacher as marks of a criminal race. He read that men and women of his race, amongst them scholars and a general decorated for his bravery had been forced to wash the streets, while the mob laughed. There were men of his race, whom he had been taught to venerate - scientists and educators and scholars who once had been honored by their country. He read that they had been driven from their posts. He heard that the Nazi government had started all this because they said the Jews had made them lose the World War. But Herschel had not even been born when the World War ended. He was seventeen years old.
Herschel had a pistol. I don't know why he had it. Maybe he had bought it somewhere thinking to use it on himself, if the worst came to the worst. Thousands of men and women of his race had killed themselves in the last years, rather than live like hunted animals. Still, he lived on.
Then, a few days ago, he got a letter from his father. His father told him that he had been summoned from his bed, and herded with thousands of others into a train of box cars, and shipped over the border, into Poland. He had not been allowed to take any of his meager savings with him. Just fifty cents. "I am penniless," he wrote to his son.
This was the end. Herschel fingered his pistol and thought: "Why doesn't someone do something! Why must we be chased around the earth like animals!" Herschel was wrong. Animals are not chased around the world like this. In every country there are societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. But there are none for the prevention of cruelty to people. Herschel thought of the people responsible for this terror. Right in Paris were some, who were the official representatives of these responsible people. Maybe he thought that assassination is an honorable profession in these days. He knew, no doubt, that the youths who murdered the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss are heroes in Nazi Germany, as are the murderers of Rathenau. Maybe he remembered that only four years ago the Nazi Leader himself had caused scores of men to be assassinated without a trial, and had justified it simply by saying that he was the law. And so Herschel walked into the German embassy and shot Herr von Rath. Herschel made no attempt to escape. Escape was out of the question anyhow.
Dorothy Thompson Expelled from Germany
She was the first American journalist ousted for criticism of the Nazi regime.
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Dorothy Thompson, expelled, expulsion, Germany, Hitler, Nazi, prison, deity, religion, blasphemy, Goebbels
The Nazis were determined to prevent criticisms of their regime and reports of Nazi brutality from reaching the outside world. Foreign correspondents were closely monitored by German authorities and faced the continual threat of expulsion or even imprisonment and violence. Dorothy Thompson was the first American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany .
While working in Munich in 1932, one year before the Nazi seizure of power, Thompson had met and interviewed Adolf Hitler . This interview was the basis for a book, I Saw Hitler , in which Thompson warned about the dangers of Hitler gaining power in Germany. In response to her critical writings, and after Hitler was appointed chancellor, the German government expelled Thompson from the country in August 1934 .
Back in the United States, in 1936, Thompson began writing "On the Record" for the New York Herald Tribune . It became a wildly popular syndicated newspaper column, running three times each week. By 1939, &ldquoOn the Record&rdquo reached millions of Americans in more than 170 papers. She remained one of America's most influential anti-Nazi voices throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
Dates to Check
Typically, daily newspapers reported news the morning after it occurred. However, some papers were printed in multiple editions, including evening news. If you are using an evening paper, begin your search on the same day as the event being researched.
August 25-28, 1934 News articles about Dorothy Thompson&rsquos expulsion from Germany.
August 26 - September 1934 Editorials, op-eds, letters to editor and cartoons reacting to Dorothy Thompson&rsquos expulsion from Germany.
Lipstadt, Deborah E. Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945 . New York: Free Press, 1986.
Nagorski, Andrew. Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Dorothy Thompson: The Real Woman of the Year
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Nobody had to tell Americans in 1942 who the “Woman of the Year” really was. The main character in that movie, played by Katherine Hepburn, was a star reporter known for her determination, independence, and an immense knowledge of world affairs. Who else could it be but Dorothy Thompson?
Well before the war started, Ms. Thompson had built an international reputation out of hard work and a readiness to go to any story. One evening in 1926, for example, as she entered the Vienna opera house, she overheard someone talking about a coup d’état in Poland. Telephoning an associate, she learned there was truth to the rumor. She instantly left the theater, grabbed a suitcase of clothes, borrowed $500 cash from her friend Sigmund Freud, and boarded the last train to Warsaw. When the train was stopped 50 miles outside the city, Ms. Thompson and another correspondent flagged down an automobile, which took them within five miles of the city. From there, she continued on in darkness, dragging herself and her suitcase across muddy fields to avoid militia patrols. Arriving in the city, she was refused entry to her hotel and so headed to the American Embassy, stepping across dead bodies in the streets. After writing her story, she was told that all telegraph offices had been closed by the government. She immediately hired another car and drove far out into the country. She eventually found a telegraph station that hadn’t heard the order to shut down, from which she filed her story.
Columnist Dorothy Thompson advocates repeal of Neutrality Act to allow U.S. freedom of policy. Washington, D.C., April 26 1939.
This sort of determination earned her a posting to Berlin in 1927, from where she watched Adolf Hitler’s rise from beer-hall demagogue to chancellor of Germany. In 1933, she wrote an article for the Post that analyzed how Hitler won a free election to become head of state. Much of his success, she stated, was his blatant appeal to “fear, hatred, envy and above all, ignorance.”
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This much was obvious after the war, but it was still rare in the 1930s when many people were undecided about Hitler. Some saw him as a viable leader for his country, a man who could restore stability to Germany and oppose communism. Ms. Thompson wasn’t buying any of this wishful thinking. In her reporting of the Nazis’ assumption of power, she proved to be one of the very few who saw what was coming.
The German people have not had Mr. Hitler thrust upon them. He recommended himself to them and they bought him. More than 50 per cent of all Germans politically minded enough to exercise the right of suffrage—and nearly 89 percent of them went to the polls—deliberately gave away all their civil rights, all their chances of popular control, all their opportunities for representation. The German people went over to autocracy in March, 1933, in a body, burning all their bridges behind them.
That the vote came as a shock to most English and Americans is due to a couple of illusions fondly and incurably cherished by people whose tradition is largely Anglo-Saxon. One is the illusion that all peoples love liberty, and that political liberty and some form of representative government are indivisible. The other is that peoples are less aggressive than their rulers. For, essentially, in 1933,the German people voted to fight to fight the war all over again if need be.
In a few days Hitler and his private army changed the whole form of political life in Germany.
Storm troops of Hitler were in possession of the streets. And in the days following the election, the streets of every municipality presented in a curious aspect. Germany had suddenly got into uniform. A strange deadness seemed to come over commercial life, but in the streets a mass moved constantly—a marching mass, with banners, with bands and with uniforms.
No whisper leaked out in the Berlin press of what was happening under the Third Reich. Hitler, still speaking night after night, talked of brotherly love and German unity to cheering masses. But his adjutant, Goering, master of Prussia’s police, made no secret of the government’s intention to exterminate everyone who showed hostility to the regime. “ I waste no sympathy over the eighty or hundred thousand traitors under arrest,” he said in a speech—and the public learned for the first time the possible extent of the government’s roundup.
Many journalists continued reporting from Germany throughout the 1930s, but only because they carefully avoided reporting anything that would offend Hitler. Ms. Thompson wasn’t interested in tact or compromise. So, in 1934, the Gestapo marched her out of the country, making her the first reporter deported from Germany.
It was hardly the end of her career. Back in the U.S., she continued reporting and began broadcasting her analysis of the news. By 1942, Time magazine reported that she was one of the most admired woman in the country, second only to Eleanor Roosevelt.
Ms. Thompson would have turned 118 years old this Saturday, and while you and I might think that an advanced age, she didn’t. She told a Post writer in 1940:
She feels cramped by the limitations of an ordinary lifetime and often speculates on how nice it would be to live two or three hundred years. To someone who once asked her what epitaph she would like, she replied, “Died of extreme old age.”
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“What a Woman!” The Story of Dorothy Thompson and Sinclair Lewis
"What a Woman!" That's how reporter George Seldes responded when asked about Dorothy Thompson.
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The intelligence and intensity of Dorothy Thompson, which made her so successful as a reporter, could be nearly overwhelming in person. She attracted a great many admirers for her work—and for her personality. Post writer Jack Alexander tried to capture some of the force of her character in a 1940 article.
Great as her gifts, objectivity toward herself has never been one of them. She is one of the most extroverted of humans, aggressively gregarious and tireless in debate. For combined intellectual, physical, and emotional energy, she has no known equal, male or female.
Miss Thompson is statuesque and handsome. She is a master of the dramatic entrance and immediately makes herself the center of attention whenever she enters a roomful of people. It works unfailingly, whether the occasion is a birthday party for someone else, a cocktail soiree, or a christening. Women who go to the same social affairs begin by being annoyed and wind up sitting things out in a cold fury. The men surround miss Thompson and hang on her words.
It was inevitable that such a woman would find a determined admirer. In her case, the admirer was the Nobel-winning author, Sinclair Lewis. He first saw her in Berlin while he was on a book tour of Europe. With one look, he cancelled his tour and begged a friend to introduce him to Ms. Thompson at dinner that night.
Thus began one of the strangest of courtships. During the supper, Lewis’ eyes hardly left his hostess, and after the table had been cleared he maneuvered her into a corner and asked point-blank whether she would marry him.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I want to build a lovely house in Vermont and you are the only person I ever met that I wanted to share it with,” Lewis replied.
“That isn’t a good enough reason, but thank you very much—especially for asking me on this particular day,” Miss Thompson said. [It was both Ms. Thompson’s birthday and the day her divorce became official.]
Lewis said that his own divorce was not final as yet, but added, “I’m going to propose to you every time I see you, and from now on, in public and in private.”Dorothy Thompson, newspaper columnist recently returned from Europe, calls on President Roosevelt at the White House.
Two days later his publisher arrived in Berlin and gave a public dinner in Lewis’ honor. Lewis insisted that Miss Thompson attend too. When called upon for a speech, the novelist arose and, ignoring everything else, faced her.
“Dorothy,” he said, “will you marry me?” That was all there was to the speech.
Rioting broke out in Vienna a few days later and Miss Thompson left for Tempelhof airdrome to charter an airplane. Lewis, getting wind of her departure, taxicabbed after her. He hated airplanes and had never ridden in one, but he jumped in alongside her. “Marry me, Dorothy, will you?” he asked. Frances Gunther, the wife of John Gunther, who had come to see Miss Thompson off, was pressed into service as a chaperone, and the ship took off with Lewis grimly holding on to the armrests.
A low-hanging fog made visibility almost zero and for a couple of hours the plane yawed and groaned over roofs and treetops, then turned back to Tempelhof to wait for better weather. Lewis’ normally ruddy face showed signs of paleness, but he was aboard when the plane departed again. At the Vienna airport Miss Thompson bolted away in a cab and Lewis pursued her in another.
During the week that disorders lasted, Lewis proposed several times a day. Miss Thompson told him that she would consider his request if he wrote his own impressions of the riots for the Public Ledger syndicate. He did, at space rates.
In the fall, Miss Thompson slipped out of Berlin and flew to Moscow to cover the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevist revolution. The love-and-air-sick novelist flew after her. Lewis, whose interest in the Russian experiment was nil, was nevertheless rated a great man in the Soviet Union, where his novels were widely read in translation. News of his flight had preceded him and a delegation of notables met him at the air field with a brass band.
The band played a welcoming hymn. The chairman of the committee delivered an address of greeting. Then, perhaps in the hope of evoking a plug for the anniversary, he asked the author why he had come to Moscow.
“To see Dorothy,” was the reply.
The chairman, puzzled, asked him again.
“Dorothy,” Lewis explained, “just Dorothy.”
During the celebration, the Russians never did get to understand Lewis, and he wasn’t interested in understanding them. But the trip was a success for him. He got in dozens of proposals in Red Square when the tanks passing in review weren’t making too much noise.
Dorothy Thompson at a dinner party.
In March, 1928, Miss Thompson gave up her job in Berlin, preparatory to her marriage to Lewis in the Savoy Chapel, in London. For a honeymoon, they toured the English countryside in an automobile trailer which Lewis had bought in a moment of whimsey. Trailers were an American oddity at the time, and everywhere the honeymooners went they aroused the curiosity of the simple natives.
Afterward, they lived a helter-skelter life. Lewis bought a farm in Vermont and a house in Bronxville, and when they weren’t living in one of these places they were traveling about Europe. Dorothy bore a son, Michael, who, in the fullness of time, learned to defeat her in argument, which is more than anyone else has succeeded in doing, and to put castor oil in her company cocktail shaker.
The movie inspired by Dorothy Thompson’s career, “Woman of the Year,” concerned a pair of writers juggling their careers and their marriage. The movie was successful partly because of the chemistry between Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and partly because the writer didn’t try to write a script as unbelievable as the true-life courtship of Thompson and Lewis.
1 These events are discussed in Sheean , Vincent Dorothy and Red (Boston, 1963 ) Sanders , Marion K. Dorothy Thompson: A Legend in Her Time (Boston, 1973) Kurth , Peter American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson (Boston, 1990) Kluger , Richard The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune (New York, 1986), 328–29 and Drawbell , James Wedgwood Dorothy Thompson's English Journey: The Record of an Anglo-American Partnership (London, 1942), 182–83. Thompson's comment on her situation at the Tribune may be found in her letters to Helen Rogers Reid, 10 Nov. 1940 and 23 Jan. 1941, file 13048, D254, Reid Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Contemporary accounts of Thompson's difficulties with the Herald Tribune and her move to the New York Post, include “Minds Made Up,” Time, 21 Oct. 1940, 19 “Moving Day for Columnists,” Time, 17 Mar. 1941, 38 “Herald Tribune Gags Dorothy Thompson When She Says Axis Wants FDR to Lose,” unidentified clipping (possibly from the Nation), 14 Oct. 1940, file 13416, D278, Reid Family Papers “Dorothy Thompson Is Censored,” New York Post, 14 Oct. 1940.
2 The New York Post would not respond to questions concerning archival materials in its possession, so I have very limited information on Thompson's years there. Thompson said that a full quarter of her income from the column came from the New York outlet. See Thompson , to Weisgal , Meyer 5 Mar. 1947 , folder 34, box 2, series II, Thompson , Dorothy Papers, Special Collections, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, New York.
3 An inter-departmental memo to Reid , Helen Rogers 15 Jan. 1941 , analyzed readers’ letters concerning Thompson from 6 Nov. 1940 to 10 Jan. 1941. Of 562 letters received, 526 (93.6%) “were adverse” only 36 (6.4%) complimentary. Although readers registered a variety of complaints, the chief issue was, of course, Thompson's defection from the Republican ranks. Memo is in file 13049, D255, Reid Family Papers. See also a memo of 2 Apr. 1941 concerning the reaction to Thompson's departure. Of 110 letters received, 90 were “glad Miss Thompson has gone.” File 13052, D255, Reid Family Papers. The Dorothy Thompson Papers contain a few letters from supporters disappointed and upset at her dismissal by the New York Post, but lack of access to the Post's files prevents me from getting a more general sense of the readers’ views about her case and especially from discovering the views of readers who disliked her column. See, for example, Thackrey , Ted O. to H. Griffiths , McAllister 18 Mar. 1947, folder 9, box 21, Hirning , L. Clovis M.D., to Thackrey , 11 Apr. 1947, folder 12, box 5, and Shapiro , Nathan D. to the Bell Syndicate, Inc., 14 Mar. 1947, folder 9, box 21, series I, Thompson Papers.
4 O'Connor , Richard Heywood Broun: A Biography (New York, 1975 ), 128–40 Kahn , E. J. Jr. , The World of Swope (New York, 1965), 267–72.
Dorothy Thompson (30 October 1923–29 January 2011)
Bryan D. Palmer holds the Canada Research Chair in Canadian Studies at Trent University. He is the editor of Labour/Le Travail, and the author, among other books, of E. P. Thompson: Objections and Oppositions (Verso, 1994), which has been translated into Portuguese and Spanish.
Bryan D. Palmer, Dorothy Thompson (30 October 1923–29 January 2011), History Workshop Journal, Volume 74, Issue 1, Autumn 2012, Pages 301–306, https://doi.org/10.1093/hwj/dbs039
She had patrician sensibilities, but an unerring commitment to a democratic ethos. In the close, intimate corners of private conversation she could be testy, unbendingly opinionated, and combative, but her published work, unlike that of her husband, rarely took on a polemical cast. Unwavering in her insistence on equal treatment of women, she had little time for the politics of identity that animates much of the activity and thought of a section of contemporary feminism. Confirmed in her secularism, she was nonetheless proud of her dissenting French Huguenot ancestry. A Marxist and a member of the Communist Party in her youth, in old age she had decided questions about what socialism meant and how its advocacy was articulated in a period of history when the tides of revolution had receded in defeat.
A troubled family life
After only a few years, however, Thompson's marriage was in trouble. Lewis had lost some of his popularity as a novelist, and he had become an alcoholic. He resented the time Thompson spent with her close women friends, and accused her of caring more about her career than her family.
The couple hoped that two events of 1930—the birth of their son Michael and Lewis's winning the Nobel Prize for literature—would solve their problems, but this was not to be. Instead, both parents neglected their sons, Lewis by withdrawing into himself and Thompson by spending long periods away from home on reporting assignments. In 1931 she and her husband separated.
Experiencing History Holocaust Sources in Context
Few journalists irritated Nazi authorities more than American columnist Dorothy Thompson. In the 1930s and 1940s, she used her voice to denounce Nazi policies, call attention to the plight of the regime&rsquos many victims, and urge action by the US government to aid refugees from the Third Reich. Thompson was a famous journalist whose outspoken personality attracted attention both at home and abroad.
In the mid-1920s, Thompson earned a reputation as a writer with a &ldquonose for news.&rdquo In fall 1931, she interviewed Adolf Hitler for Cosmopolitan magazine. 1 By that time, Hitler had built up a huge national following in Germany and the Nazis had become the largest political party within the German parliament. Thompson&rsquos article depicted Hitler as insecure and incapable of leading Germany, which angered Nazi officials. However, Thompson underestimated Hitler&rsquos support: on January 30, 1933, the figure she described as a &ldquolittle man&rdquo was appointed German chancellor.
The Nazi Party&rsquos rise to power had important consequences both for the German press and the international media working in Germany. Within months, the new regime shut down hundreds of newspapers, destroyed or confiscated their printing presses, and began intimidating foreign journalists into leaving the country. 2 In May 1933, a US diplomat in Berlin reported several instances of Nazi officials pressuring American journalists or trying to have them removed for irritating the German government or the Nazi Party. 3
Only one day after her arrival in Berlin in 1934, the German Secret Police (Gestapo) gave Dorothy Thompson an order to leave the country within 24 hours. 4 Despite warnings that targeting Thompson would cause a &ldquonation-wide sensation&rdquo and &ldquoadvertise everything she had said [about Germany] all over the democratic world,&rdquo the Gestapo insisted on expelling her for her critical interview with Hitler and her articles for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). 5
Thompson&rsquos expulsion became an international controversy. She left Berlin for Paris, where she was greeted by reporters eager for the story. Likely recorded for a newsreel, the featured clip was filmed in Paris just days after her expulsion from Nazi Germany. In the film, Thompson seems less concerned about her own expulsion than the threats faced by other foreign correspondents. She also warns that &ldquothe nature of journalism&rdquo itself was being threatened by Nazi censorship.
She later expanded the interview into a short book, I Saw Hitler (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1932).
In August 1933, the German Foreign Office pressured the US State Department to recall Chicago Daily News correspondent Edgar Ansell Mowrer. If he refused to leave, the German Foreign Office threatened to take other actions, including his immediate expulsion. The State Department refused, but the Chicago Daily News recalled Mowrer because they feared for the safety of the reporter and his family.
Berlin Consul General George Messermith wrote to US Secretary of State Cordell Hull, "It is the intention of the present Government and of the Party not to allow anything to appear in the press or to reach the public, which is not in accord with its ideas or wishes. It was obviously the desire of the authorities to prevent what is from their point of view, undesirable news reaching the outside world." See "The Consul General at Berlin (Messersmith) to the Secretary of State, May 12, 1933, Document 274," in Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1933, vol. 2, The British Commonwealth, Europe, Near East, and Africa (Washington, DC: Department of State) e-book, 808.
For more on Thompson's expulsion, see William E. Dodd, Jr. and Martha Dodd, eds., Ambassador Dodd&rsquos Diary 1933&ndash1938, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1941), 155&ndash156, and Andrew Nagorski, Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012), 163&ndash168.
For more on the role of Berlin's American Counsel, Raymond Geist, see Richard Breitman, The Berlin Mission: The American Who Resisted Nazi Germany from Within, (New York: Public Affairs, 2019), 85.
America and the Holocaust
Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power with an ideology of national and racial superiority. As the Nazis deepened their control over Germany in the 1930s, they implemented policies and passed laws that stigmatized and persecuted many groups of people that they considered to be outsiders and enemies of Germany, including Jews, political opponents, homosexuals, and Roma and Sinti people. Violence against Jews and their property was on the rise. During Kristallnacht in 1938, synagogues, businesses, and homes were burned and thousands of Jews were interned for varying periods of time in concentration camps.
Until 1941, official German policy encouraged Jews to leave the country by making life in Germany increasingly difficult for them. Jews were forbidden from working in certain professions and renting or owning homes in many places they could not hold on to their financial assets and could not move freely. These policies, together with a campaign of hateful antisemitic propaganda and an increasingly violent climate, made life in Germany impossible for many Jews. Those who had no choice but to flee for their survival and the survival of their families became refugees, seeking safe havens in other parts of Europe and beyond. At first, Jews were allowed to settle in neighboring countries such as Belgium, France, and Czechoslovakia, but as German occupation spread across the continent, these countries were no longer safe and refugees became increasingly desperate to escape. Philosopher Hannah Arendt described Jewish refugees’ predicament in this way:
This refugee crisis created a dilemma for many nations, including the United States. How would they respond to the refugees’ plight? Would they welcome refugees or refuse them admission?
In July 1938, delegates from 32 nations met in Evian, France, to discuss how to respond to the refugee crisis. Each representative expressed regret about the current troubles of refugees, but most said that they were unable to increase their country’s immigration quotas, citing the worldwide economic depression. The representatives spoke in general terms, not about people but about “numbers” and “quotas.”
In the end, only one country, the Dominican Republic, officially agreed to accept refugees from Europe. (Dictator Rafael Trujillo, influenced by the international eugenics movement, believed that Jews would improve the “racial qualities” of the Dominican population.) Throughout the 1930s, other countries, including Bolivia and Switzerland, as well as the Shanghai International Settlement and the British protectorate of Palestine, admitted Jewish refugees. Still, the number of refugees far exceed the opportunities, both legal and illegal, to emigrate. After the Evian conference, Hitler is said to have concluded, “Nobody wants these criminals.”
Like most other countries, the United States did not welcome Jewish refugees from Europe. In 1939, 83% of Americans were opposed to the admission of refugees. 2 In the midst of the Great Depression, many feared the burden that immigrants could place on the nation’s economy refugees, who in most cases were prevented from bringing any money or assets with them, were an even greater cause for concern. Indeed, as early as 1930, President Herbert Hoover reinterpreted immigration legislation barring those “likely to become a public charge” to include even those immigrants who were capable of working, reasoning that high unemployment would make it impossible for immigrants to find jobs.
Political cartoon entitled “Will the Evian conference guide him to freedom?” in The New York Times, July 3, 1938
While economic concerns certainly played a role in Americans’ attitudes toward immigration, so too did feelings of fear, mistrust, and even hatred of those who were different. Immigration policies were shaped by fears of communist infiltrators and Nazi spies. Antisemitism also played an important role in public opinion. It was propagated by leaders like Father Charles Coughlin, known as “the radio priest,” who was the first to offer Catholic religious services over the radio and reached millions of people with each broadcast. In addition to his religious message, Coughlin preached antisemitism, accusing the Jews of manipulating financial institutions and conspiring to control the world. Industrialist Henry Ford was another prominent voice spreading antisemitism.
Martha and Waitstill Sharp challenged this strong tide of opinion when they agreed to travel to Europe to help victims of the Nazi regime. They were among a small number of Americans who worked to aid refugees despite popular sentiment and official government policies. Many of those involved had friends and relatives abroad. They inundated members of Congress and government officials with letters and telegrams. A smaller number still, including the Sharps, actually traveled to Europe in an attempt to aid the refugees. Most rescue and relief work was done under the auspices of aid groups such as the Unitarian Service Committee (created through the Sharps’ work), the American Friends Service Committee (run by the Quakers), the Committee for the Care of European Children, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Some American government officials also recognized the danger and looked for ways to bring more refugees into the country. At a time when having the right “papers” determined a refugee’s chance of survival, immigration policy was crucial. In 1939, Senator Robert Wagner, a Democrat from New York, and Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers, a Republican from Massachusetts, sponsored a bill that proposed to allow German Jewish children to enter the United States outside of official immigration quotas. The bill caused a loud and bitter public debate, but it never even reached a vote in Congress.
In 1940, members of the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees argued with the State Department to simplify immigration procedures for refugees. This effort was also defeated. Refugees had an ally in First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who supported liberalizing immigration laws, wrote about the refugee crisis in her weekly newspaper column, and worked behind the scenes to effect change. Mrs. Roosevelt’s interventions successfully helped some individual refugees, particularly artists and intellectuals, but she was not able to shift national policies. Those in power in the State Department insisted on enforcing the nation’s immigration laws as strictly as possible. Breckinridge Long, the State Department officer responsible for issuing visas, was deeply antisemitic. He was determined to limit immigration and used the State Department’s power to create a number of barriers that made it almost impossible for refugees to seek asylum in the United States. For example, the application form for US visas was eight feet long and printed in small type. Long believed that he was “the first line of defense” against those who would “make America vulnerable to enemies for the sake of humanitarianism.” Long and his colleagues at the State Department went so far as to turn away a group of Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis in May 1939 when the German ocean liner sought to dock in Florida after the refugees were denied entry to Cuba. Following their deportation back to Europe, many of these people perished in the Holocaust.
Historian David Wyman has described American immigration policies during World War II as “paper walls that meant the difference between life and death.” Despite the many obstacles to immigration, some 200,000 Jews did manage to reach the United States between 1933 and 1945 still, this number is a small fraction of those who attempted to come.
Dorothy Thompson, 87, innovative historian who focused on the Chartist movement
The historian Dorothy Thompson, who has died aged 87, was best known for her writing on the social and cultural aspects of the 19th-century Chartist movement. Her interest in the struggle of workers and women for rights had been awakened during her school days in suburban Bromley, Kent, when she was active in a communist youth group, and was deepened by her long engagement in radical politics. As a result she brought a complex understanding of the process of organising to her historical work.
Ever alert, Dorothy probed beneath the outer surface of evidence. The results were innovatory. The documents she edited in The Early Chartists (1971) brought to life the intense and dangerous interior world of working-class meetings, conventions and newspapers, while The Chartists (1984) revealed greatly neglected areas such as middle-class involvement, women's role and schemes for land settlements. Her collection Outsiders: Class, Gender and Nation (1993) demonstrated a mix of exacting scholarship and conceptual clarity which led to her being admired by specialists and grateful A-level history students alike.
She was born Dorothy Towers in Greenwich, south-east London. From 1942 she studied history at Girton College, Cambridge, where she was active in the Communist party and attended meetings of the Communist party historians' group. In 1945 she began a lifelong love affair with a fellow historian, Edward Palmer (EP) Thompson. After helping to build the railroad in Tito's Yugoslavia, they married and settled in Halifax, West Yorkshire, where they taught in extramural adult education. Dorothy's first organisational endeavour was a campaign to keep wartime nurseries open in the late 1940s.