“Unless That War Be Won, All Else Is Lost”:
American Jews and the Home Front
IN THE 1945 Academy Award-winning film “The House I Live In,” Frank Sinatra happens upon a group of children chasing a Jewish boy. When the popular singer asks them why they are bullying the boy, one of the offenders answers, “We don't like him”; another explains, “We don't like his religion.” Sinatra, calm and poised, admonishes the gang: “Religion made no difference except maybe to a Nazi or somebody as stupid.” He tells them of his immigrant roots and reminds them that America was built on tolerance and diversity. In battle, Sinatra continues, one's religion never matters, and he cites the cooperative efforts of a particular Presbyterian pilot and his Jewish bombardier to illustrate the point. The preservation of democracy, the famous crooner implies, demands that Americans understand one another.
“The House I Live In” captured the Jewish community's hope for social inclusion after Pearl Harbor. With a common enemy, Jewish leaders believed all Americans could join together in a unified campaign to defeat the Nazis. The United States’ declaration of war weakened domestic antiSemites who had used American neutrality as the focus of their bigoted campaigns. Look magazine wrote that Hitler had discredited anti-Semitism; meanwhile the U.S. Senate halted its investigations into Jewish moviemakers. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise reported an increase in Jewish employment and a decrease in on-the-job discrimination: “The acute manpower shortage helped to break down many existing barriers… . Unlike mountains, these racist barriers could be moved.” News of Nazi persecutions inspired Americans to take an appreciative new look at their enlightened political system. By 1941, many Americans had come to embrace cultural pluralism as the best model for American democracy. After eight years of intensive interfaith dialogue work, American Jewish leaders believed that the struggles of the prewar period would ease with the new national focus. 1
Jewish interfaith dialogue efforts enjoyed unprecedented growth. Between 1939 and 1942, the AJC awarded over $400,000 in grants to the National Council of Christians and Jews and a host of other intergroup relations organizations. “Internecine conflict,” one AJC official reported,