During World War II, American Nazis planned to overthrow the U.S. government and eradicate Jews.
The director of the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life and an award-winning film historian, Ross (History/Univ. of Southern California; Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, 2011, etc.) tells a shocking story of Nazi efforts to infiltrate America. He focuses on Leon L. Lewis, a Los Angeles attorney who created a spy ring to infiltrate and undermine Nazi groups and faced widespread anti-Semitism throughout the country and in government. Nazis set their sights on the film industry, which they saw as dominated by Jews. Their plans included killing prominent entertainers, including Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Charlie Chaplin, and movie heads Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner. They proposed public executions of Jews and a plan to drop cyanide into an acid solution that would be blown into Jewish homes and synagogues to exterminate Jews—“like rats, that is the way to get rid of them,” announced a Nazi leader. When Lewis solicited government support and funding for his operation, he was met with a mixed response: anti-Semites abounded there, too, and the FBI and newly created House Un-American Activities Committee were concerned more with routing out communists than in dealing with the Nazi threat. Movie executives contributed to Lewis’ efforts but at the same time wanted to ensure that Germany would remain a strong outlet for their films. “However much they may have hated the German consul and the Hitler regime,” Ross writes, “the movie moguls had to cooperate with both if they wished to remain in the German market.” To halt production of one movie he deemed “detrimental to German prestige,” the consul summoned German actors and threatened them with harm to family members living in Germany if they appeared in it. Ross puts his experience in film history to good use, and he creates lively portraits of the men and women whom Lewis recruited as spies and who succeeded in putting some dangerous Nazis behind bars.
A vivid history of homegrown resistance.