Hitler on January 30, 1939
“The Nazis did not discard the past, they built on it. They did not begin a development. They completed it."- Raul Hilberg, Holocaust historian
Our survivor Shep Zitler was drafted into the Polish army in early 1939 as the German threat to Poland and Hitler’s rhetoric against the Jews intensified.
On January 21, 1939, Hitler told the Czech foreign minister Chvalkovsky that the Jews were responsible for Germany’s defeat in 1918 and that the “day of reckoning has come.” Nine days later, on January 30, 1939, he addressed the Reichstag in the Kroll Opera House in Berlin (the Reichstag was in ruins). The speech finds an infamous place in history because Hitler issued an explicit threat to exterminate the Jewish people of Europe in the event of war.
How did The Times-Picayune cover the speech? The issue on January 31, 1939 gave the speech significant coverage but failed to mention Hitler’s threat to the Jewish people.
The article on Hitler’s speech was placed at the top of page 1. Next to it was an article about the effect of the speech on the stock market: “Stocks move up on mild tone of Hitler’s speech.”
The reporter tells us that Hitler referred to the Jewish question twice in the speech: the German dictator “proclaimed Europe could not come to rest until the Jewish question was solved,” and “Hitler’s address was filled with anti-Semitism. He denied the existence of religious persecution in Germany.” In fact, Hitler referred to the Jews many times throughout the speech.
Pittman, a Democratic senator from Nevada, was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His impression of the speech was positive: if Hitler’s actions were “as tolerant as his Reichstag speech today there will be no fear of any immediate war.”
The text of Hitler’s speech was on page 7. With the Evian conference in mind, Hitler emphasized the hypocrisy of the Western democracies on the Jewish question: “
On the contrary, in connection with the Jewish question, I have this to say: it is shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard-hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them, which is surely, in view of its attitude, an obvious duty.”
He then addressed the Jewish question in Germany and issued his infamous threat:
“Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will be not the Bolshevization of the earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but, on the contrary, the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe!”
The speech was broadcast on German radio and reached an audience around the world. But his words were nothing new. He had said the same thing repeatedly since the beginning of his movement and would repeat the statement (with slight variations) on several occasions during the war, including on January 30, 1941, January 30, 1942, September 30, 1942, and November 8, 1942.
In New Orleans, on the day after Hitler’s speech, Rabbi Nathaniel Share of Congregation Gates of Prayer addressed the Exchange Club at Maylie’s Restaurant. On article about his talk appeared on page 8. He explained that anti-Semitism was “a convenient tool for the forces of reaction,” and that “When anyone attacks the Jew as a Jew and not as an individual, he is merely shooting his arrows through him at the real target, the rights and liberties of individuals. The Jews is the barometer of civilization because he is the hostage of fortune…” He dismissed the widely held belief that Jews were linked to communism.
On February 19, 1939, The Times-Picayune published an article describing a second expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany that included Jewish women and children whose husbands and fathers (1,600) were expelled in October 1938 (leading to Kristallnacht) They were ordered out of Germany that very night. Many of the women were “destitute.” The number of refugees was uncertain “because Polish consulates have been cancelling the citizenship of Polish Jews throughout Germany.”
The American Nazi Party (the Bund) held a rally at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939. The reporter Dorothy Thompson, a dogged advocate of Jewish refugees, shouted “Bunk” at the speaker and a near-riot ensured.
On February 21, 1939, an article recounted the abuse heaped on President Roosevelt by Nazi newspapers. He was labelled “a war monger” who was “seeing ghosts.”