As Adolf Hitler accelerated his persecution of Jews in the late 1930s, many professions in the United States worked feverishly to save the lives of their German Jewish counterparts by securing them visas to continue their work safe in America. On the other hand, journalism schools, newspaper associations, and newspapers apparently shunned the refugees.
This shameful and forgotten history is being told for the first time six decades later by former Wall Street Journal reporter Laurel Leff, a professor at Northeastern University's School of Journalism.
While researching the papers of Charles Friedrich, a famed Harvard University government professor, Leff discovered letters detailing his efforts to place German Jewish journalists in American journalism schools. More than 5,000 academics in journalism and other professions lost their jobs because they were Jews, but due to a quirk in the immigration laws at the time, foreign academics with a promise of work in American universities were exempt from strict immigration limits. Schools and associations of law, medicine, and science used the rules to save many Jewish lawyers, doctors and scientists from death in Germany.
But Friedrich's letters showed that for all his prominence, he could not persuade a single j-school to agree to accept any Jews at all. The precursor to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) even refused to give him 10 minutes to speak on the subject at its 1939 convention.
Journalism mostly shunned the refugee Jews with silence -- but some were openly anti-Semitic. Some are quoted in Leff's new paper, "Rebuffing Refugee Journalists: The Profession's Failure to Help Jews Persecuted By Nazi Germany." Lawrence Murphy, then the director of the University of Illinois School of Journalism, wrote, "The minute that Jews show up in numbers they become a threat to the others as they reveal that they would occupy all the jobs there are, and that they are quite likely to work together in filling the jobs."
Murphy -- one of the founders of Sigma Delta Chi, the fraternity that would become the Society of Professional Journalists -- assured Friedrich, "I have many Jewish friends," but added, "It is simply the case that we must hurt them to help them. We must keep them from being too prominent and assertive, and from threatening to take over all the white-collar jobs. …