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Journalism Schools Rejected Holocaust Refugees

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Journalism Schools Rejected Holocaust Refugees

Education

Journalism Schools Rejected Holocaust Refugees

Journalism Schools Rejected Holocaust Refugees

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More than 60 years after the Holocaust, there is new, unflattering research about American journalism schools. Laurel Leff, an associate professor of Journalism at Northeastern University, talks with Robert Siegel about the failure of schools to accept German Jewish immigrants during the Holocaust.

J: The Profession's Failure To Help Jews Persecuted By Nazi Germany.

Professor Leff, welcome to the program.

LAUREL LEFF: Nice to be here.

: You write about things that happened as late as 1939. In that year what might American journalism have done, apart from obviously covering the Holocaust better than it did, to assist refugee journalists?

LEFF: Well, what they were being asked to do by Professor Carl Friedrich, who is a very distinguished professor at Harvard, was to admit some refugee journalists to their journalism programs to retrain them in American journalism. And none of the journalism schools that were contacted were willing to do that.

: And the offer of a position by an American university to Jewish journalists in Frankfurt or Berlin as late as 1939 would have meant safety for that journalist?

LEFF: Yes, because one of the exceptions to the immigration quotas was if a university specifically asked for a scholar and said we would like to offer them a position in our department and then you could come to the United States outside of the immigration quotas.

But similarly I looked and I found not one example of a journalism school or department that was willing to hire a refugee journalist or journalism professor.

: Professor Friedrich, you write in your paper, wrote to 17 journalism schools initially, and he received, later he wrote to 39 schools and received no reply at all from 13 of them. And some hostile replies from four schools.

LEFF: Right, the University of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Penn State and Texas.

: And what kind of answers was he getting from people?

LEFF: Well, I think the most disturbing thing about it is some of the people who wrote back to him explained their reasons for not being willing to allow these journalists into these schools were blatantly anti-Semitic. For example, the director of the University of Illinois School of Journalism, in explaining to Friedrich why he wasn't willing to participate, said--or wrote: "The minute the 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." He goes on to say, "We must keep them from being too prominent and assertive and from threatening to take over all the other white- collar jobs. It is simply a case that we must hurt them to help them."

: But you acknowledge in your article that anti-Semitism even of a genteel variety was not the only explanation of what was going on here?

LEFF: No, and I don't think it was. I think that there were differences between American journalism schools and European newspaper institutes. But I think what makes this to me particularly interesting is many of those things would've been true of other disciplines, of the legal profession, of the medical profession. And yet in almost every other case, they were at least willing to take some Jewish refugees onto their faculty, or in the case of the law schools, to admit some refugees to their law schools. The difference was that journalism wasn't willing to do anything.

: We're talking first about journalism faculties. What about newspapers?

LEFF: Well, Friedrich also then tried to appeal to the American Newspaper Publisher Association convention in 1939. He wanted just 10 minutes to ask them to try and hire some of these people and they refused to let him even have 10 minutes.

: Well, there's a letter circulating, this is how I learned about this, from a group of journalists, former journalists, who want the Newspaper Association of America to let you come and address them at their conference.

LEFF: Right, this was the successor to the American Newspaper Publisher Association.

: What do you want to tell them?

LEFF: What I'd like to tell them is that newspapers, and journalism generally, rightfully hold other institutions accountable, not only for what they're doing now, but for what they've done in the past. And I think that we as a profession need to do the same thing and to acknowledge and take responsibility for the anti-Semitism that was endemic in the 1930s and into the 1940s.

: Laurel Leff, thank you very much for talking with us.

LEFF: Thanks for having me.

: That's Associate Professor Laurel Leff of Northeastern University.

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