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Hollywood's Spies: Jewish Infiltration of Nazi and Pro-Nazi Groups in Los Angeles, 1933-1941

  • Author(s): Rosenzweig, Laura
  • Advisor(s): Yang, Alice
  • et al.
Abstract

Hollywood's Spies: Jewish Infiltration of Nazi and Pro-Nazi Groups

in Los Angeles, 1933-1941

by Laura Rosenzweig

In the 1930s, Los Angeles was a hotbed of Nazi-influenced political activity. Between 1933-1941, hundreds of far right-wing political groups led by the local chapter of the German-American Bund, emerged in the city. Intent on launching a Nazi-style political movement, these groups fomented a hostile political climate that threatened the city's Jews. In response to the threat, the Jewish executives of the motion picture industry joined with other Jewish leaders in the city to form the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee (LAJCC.) Publicly, the LAJCC combatted prejudice and religious intolerance by joining in civic group coalitions. Privately, however, the LAJCC paid private investigators to infiltrate these Nazi-influenced groups to monitor their political activities. The information collected by Hollywood's spies was passed onto local, federal and military officials during the decade, informing both the McCormack-Dickstein Committee investigation of Nazi propaganda activity in 1934, and the Dies Committee investigation on un-American activity between 1938-1940. The role that American Jews played in these congressional investigations, let alone the Jews of Hollywood, was not understood by the public at the time, nor by historians since.

Drawing on archival collections in Los Angeles, New York, Cincinnati and Washington, this dissertation recovers the story of the LAJCC and Hollywood's spies to revise the consensus on American Jewish political agency and influence in the 1930s. It demonstrates that American Jews were not quite as paralyzed by antisemitism in the 1930s as the consensus contends. The political relationships the LAJCC established and the defense strategies it adopted to combat domestic Nazism reveal a new dimension of American Jewish political influence in the United States in the 1930s. This dissertation also marks the emergence of Los Angeles as a new site of American Jewish political power. As a result of the financial and political backing of the Jews of Hollywood, the LAJCC distinguished itself from other American Jewish defense organizations of the era, rising to political influence in Washington at a time when Jewish leaders in New York and Chicago faltered in the fight against domestic Nazism in the United States.

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