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Americans afraid of germany jews from taking jobs { February 6 2006 }

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No Jews Need Apply
Former Wall Street Journal reporter Laurel Leff, now a professor at Northeastern University's School of Journalism, has uncovered the shameful and forgotten history of how journalism schools, newspaper associations, and newspapers largely shunned German Jews seeking refuge from Nazi persecution.

By Mark Fitzgerald

CHICAGO (February 06, 2006) -- 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."

The then-dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism begged off with a somewhat convoluted rationale. The school denied having a quota on Jewish students, but Leff noted that it had restricted the number of students it admitted from New York City public schools, presumably because so many were Jews. Given the "limited opportunities open to American Jews" at the school, Dean Carl Ackerman wrote Friedrich, he believed there would be "even greater obstacles" for German Jews.

Friedrich wrote 17 of the most prominent j-schools, including Columbia, Missouri, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Leff said he received no response at all from 13 of them, and was answered with "hostility" by four. "A few agreed in principle, but none actually went along with the program," she said during a telephone interview.

Leff noted that newspapers at the time were, if anything, even more hostile to the idea of taking in refugee journalists: "You might say, well, maybe [newspapers] thought these German journalists would never be able to handle the language or the culture," but points out that bar associations and law schools accepted many Jewish lawyers from countries with a different language and legal structure.

"The difficult part of this story is: Why?" Leff said. "What is it about journalism that they were so unwilling to take in Jewish refugees?" She added that more research is needed to answer that question.

This history, however, is news to the successor schools and associations. A spokeswoman for NAA, for instance, said she was unable to find any reference to Friedrich's request in the association's 1939 archives.

Leff has asked difficult questions about American newspapers and Nazi persecution of the Jews before, especially in her 2005 book "Buried By The Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper" (Cambridge University Press), which studied how The New York Times downplayed reports of atrocities against Jews. "Journalists are good, and rightly so, at holding other institutions to account not only for their current actions, but for their past," she said. "As a profession, we should look at our own history as well, and I'm not as sure we're as good at that."

Mark Fitzgerald ( is E&P's editor-at-large.

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