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The Plot Against America

by Philip Roth

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Philip Roth

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Philip Roth

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Book Summary

In a novel of alternative history, aviation hero Charles A. Lindbergh defeats Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election, negotiating an accord with Adolf Hitler and accepting his conquest of Europe and anti-Semitic policies.

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Excerpt: The Plot Against America

Chapter 1
June 1940–October 1940
Vote for Lindbergh or Vote for War

Fear presides over these memories, a
perpetual fear. Of
course no childhood is without its
terrors, yet I wonder if I
would have been a less frightened boy if
Lindbergh hadn't
been president or if I hadn't been the
offspring of Jews.
When the first shock came in June of
1940—the nomination for
the presidency of Charles A. Lindbergh,
America's international
aviation hero, by the Republican
Convention at Philadelphia—my
father was thirty-nine, an insurance
agent with a grade school education,
earning a little under fifty dollars a
week, enough for the
basic bills to be paid on time but for
little more. My mother—
who'd wanted to go to teachers' college
but couldn't because of the
expense, who'd lived at home working as
an office secretary after
finishing high school, who'd kept us
from feeling poor during the
worst of the Depression by budgeting the
earnings my father
turned over to her each Friday as
efficiently as she ran the household
—was thirty-six. My brother, Sandy, a
seventh-grader with a
prodigy's talent for drawing, was
twelve, and I, a third-grader a
term ahead of himself—and an embryonic
stamp collector inspired
like millions of kids by the country's
foremost philatelist,
President Roosevelt—was seven.

We lived in the second-floor flat of a
small two-and-a-half-family house on a
tree-lined street of frame wooden houses
with redbrick
stoops, each stoop topped with a gable
roof and fronted by a
tiny yard boxed in with a low-cut hedge.
The Weequahic neighborhood
had been built on farm lots at the
undeveloped southwest
edge of Newark just after World War One,
some half dozen of the
streets named, imperially, for
victorious naval commanders in the
Spanish-American War and the local movie
house called, after
FDR's fifth cousin—and the country's
twenty-sixth president—
the Roosevelt. Our street, Summit
Avenue, sat at the crest of the
neighborhood hill, an elevation as high
as any in a port city that
rarely rises a hundred feet above the
level of the tidal salt marsh to
the city's north and east and the deep
bay due east of the airport
that bends around the oil tanks of the
Bayonne peninsula and
merges there with New York Bay to flow
past the Statue of Liberty
and into the Atlantic. Looking west from
our bedroom's rear window
we could sometimes see inland as far as
the dark treeline of
the Watchungs, a low-lying mountain
range fringed by great estates
and affluent, sparsely populated
suburbs, the extreme edge
of the known world—and about eight miles
from our house. A
block to the south was the working-class
town of Hillside, whose
population was predominantly Gentile.
The boundary with Hillside
marked the beginning of Union County,
another New Jersey

We were a happy family in 1940.My
parents were outgoing, hospitable
people, their friends culled from among
my father's associates
at the office and from the women who
along with my mother
had helped to organize the
Parent-Teacher Association at newly
built Chancellor Avenue School, where my
brother and I were
pupils. All were Jews. The neighborhood
men either were in business
for themselves—the owners of the local
candy store, grocery
store, jewelry store, dress shop,
furniture shop, service station, and
delicatessen, or the proprietors of tiny
industrial job shops over by
the Newark-Irvington line, or
self-employed plumbers, electricians,
housepainters, and boilermen—or were
foot-soldier salesmen
like my father, out every day in the
city streets and in people's
houses, peddling their wares on
commission. The Jewish doctors
and lawyers and the successful merchants
who owned big stores
downtown lived in one-family houses on
streets branching off
the eastern slope of the Chancellor
Avenue hill, closer to grassy,
wooded Weequahic Park, a landscaped
three hundred acres whose
boating lake, golf course, and
harness-racing track separated the
Weequahic section from the industrial
plants and shipping terminals
lining Route 27 and the Pennsylvania
Railroad viaduct east of
that and the burgeoning airport east of
that and the very edge of
America east of that—the depots and
docks of Newark Bay, where
they unloaded cargo from around the
world. At the western end of
the neighborhood, the parkless end where
we lived, there resided
an occasional schoolteacher or
pharmacist but otherwise few professionals
were among our immediate neighbors and
none of the prosperous entrepreneurial
or manufacturing families.
The men worked fifty, sixty, even
seventy or more hours a week;
the women worked all the time, with
little assistance from laborsaving
devices, washing laundry, ironing
shirts, mending socks,
turning collars, sewing on buttons,
mothproofing woolens, polishing
furniture, sweeping and washing floors,
washing windows,
cleaning sinks, tubs, toilets, and
stoves, vacuuming rugs, nursing
the sick, shopping for food, cooking
meals, feeding relatives, tidying
closets and drawers, overseeing paint
jobs and household repairs,
arranging for religious observances,
paying bills and keeping
the family's books while simultaneously
attending to their
children's health, clothing,
cleanliness, schooling, nutrition, conduct,
birthdays, discipline, and morale. A few
women labored
alongside their husbands in the
family-owned stores on the nearby
shopping streets, assisted after school
and on Saturdays by their
older children, who delivered orders and
tended stock and did the
cleaning up.

It was work that identified and
distinguished our neighbors for
me far more than religion. Nobody in the
neighborhood had a
beard or dressed in the antiquated Old
World style or wore a skullcap
either outdoors or in the houses I
routinely floated through
with my boyhood friends. The adults were
no longer observant in
the outward, recognizable ways, if they
were seriously observant at
all, and aside from older shopkeepers
like the tailor and the kosher
butcher—and the ailing or decrepit
grandparents living of necessity
with their adult offspring—hardly anyone
in the vicinity spoke
with an accent. By 1940 Jewish parents
and their children at the
southwestern corner of New Jersey's
largest city talked to one another
in an American English that sounded more
like the language
spoken in Altoona or Binghamton than
like the dialects famously
spoken across the Hudson by our Jewish
counterparts in the five
boroughs.Hebrew lettering was stenciled
on the butcher shop window
and engraved on the lintels of the small
neighborhood synagogues,
but nowhere else (other than at the
cemetery) did one's
eye chance to land on the alphabet of
the prayer book rather than
on the familiar letters of the native
tongue employed all the time
by practically everyone for every
conceivable purpose, high or low.
At the newsstand out front of the corner
candy store, ten times
more customers bought the Racing Form
than the Yiddish daily,
the Forvertz.

Israel didn't yet exist, six million
European Jews hadn't yet ceased
to exist, and the local relevance of
distant Palestine (under British
mandate since the 1918 dissolution by
the victorious Allies of the
last far-flung provinces of the defunct
Ottoman Empire) was a
mystery to me. When a stranger who did
wear a beard and who
never once was seen hatless appeared
every few months after dark
to ask in broken English for a
contribution toward the establishment
of a Jewish national homeland in
Palestine, I, who wasn't an
ignorant child, didn't quite know what
he was doing on our landing.
My parents would give me or Sandy a
couple of coins to drop
into his collection box, largess, I
always thought, dispensed out of
kindness so as not to hurt the feelings
of a poor old man who,
from one year to the next, seemed unable
to get it through his head
that we'd already had a homeland for
three generations. I pledged
allegiance to the flag of our homeland
every morning at school. I
sang of its marvels with my classmates
at assembly programs. I ea-
gerly observed its national holidays,
and without giving a second
thought to my affinity for the Fourth of
July fireworks or the
Thanksgiving turkey or the Decoration
Day double-header. Our
homeland was America.

Then the Republicans nominated Lindbergh
and everything

For nearly a decade Lindbergh was as
great a hero in our neighborhood
as he was everywhere else. The
completion of his thirtythree-
and-a-half-hour nonstop solo flight from
Long Island to
Paris in the tiny monoplane the Spirit
of St. Louis even happened
to coincide with the day in the spring
of 1927 that my mother discovered
herself to be pregnant with my older
brother. As a consequence,
the young aviator whose daring had
thrilled America and
the world and whose achievement bespoke
a future of unimaginable
aeronautical progress came to occupy a
special niche in the
gallery of family anecdotes that
generate a child's first cohesive
mythology. The mystery of pregnancy and
the heroism of Lindbergh
combined to give a distinction bordering
on the divine to
my very own mother, for whom nothing
less than a global annunciation
had accompanied the incarnation of her
first child. Sandy
would later record this moment with a
drawing illustrating the
juxtaposition of those two splendid
events. In the drawing—completed
at the age of nine and smacking
inadvertently of Soviet
poster art—Sandy envisioned her miles
from our house, amid a
joyous crowd on the corner of Broad and
Market. A slender young
woman of twenty-three with dark hair and
a smile that is all robust
delight, she is surprisingly on her own
and wearing her floral-patterned
kitchen apron at the intersection of the
city's two busiest
thoroughfares, one hand spread wide
across the front of the apron,
where the span of her hips is still
deceptively girlish, while with the
other she alone in the crowd is pointing
skyward to the Spirit of St.
Louis, passing visibly above downtown
Newark at precisely the
moment she comes to realize that, in a
feat no less triumphant for
a mortal than Lindbergh's, she has
conceived Sanford Roth.
Sandy was four and I, Philip, wasn't yet
born when in March
1932, Charles and Anne Morrow
Lindbergh's own first child, a boy
whose arrival twenty months earlier had
been an occasion for national
rejoicing, was kidnapped from his
family's secluded new
house in rural Hopewell, New Jersey.
Some ten weeks later the decomposing
body of the baby was discovered by
chance in woods a
few miles away. The baby had been either
murdered or killed accidentally
after being snatched from his crib and,
in the dark, still in
bedclothes, carried out a window of the
second-story nursery and
down a makeshift ladder to the ground
while the nurse and mother
were occupied in their ordinary evening
activities in another part
of the house. By the time the kidnapping
and murder trial in Flemington,
New Jersey, concluded in February 1935
with the conviction
of Bruno Hauptmann—a German ex-con of
thirty-five living in
the Bronx with his German wife—the
boldness of the world's first
transatlantic solo pilot had been
permeated with a pathos that
transformed him into a martyred titan
comparable to Lincoln.
Following the trial, the Lindberghs left
America, hoping through
a temporary expatriation to protect a
new Lindbergh infant from
harm and to recover some measure of the
privacy they coveted.
The family moved to a small village in
England, and from there,
as a private citizen, Lindbergh began
taking the trips to Nazi Germany
that would transform him into a villain
for most American
Jews. In the course of five visits,
during which he was able to
familiarize himself at first hand with
the magnitude of the German
war machine, he was ostentatiously
entertained by Air Marshal
Göring, he was ceremoniously decorated
in the name of the
Führer, and he expressed quite openly
his high regard for Hitler,
calling Germany the world's "most
interesting nation" and its
leader "a great man." And all this
interest and admiration after
Hitler's 1935 racial laws had denied
Germany's Jews their civil, social,
and property rights, nullified their
citizenship, and forbidden
intermarriage with Aryans.

By the time I began school in 1938,
Lindbergh's was a name that
provoked the same sort of indignation in
our house as did the
weekly Sunday radio broadcasts of Father
Coughlin, the Detroit-area
priest who edited a right-wing weekly
called Social Justice and
whose anti-Semitic virulence aroused the
passions of a sizable audience
during the country's hard times. It was
in November 1938—
the darkest, most ominous year for the
Jews of Europe in eighteen
centuries—that the worst pogrom in
modern history, Kristallnacht,
was instigated by the Nazis all across
Germany: synagogues
incinerated, the residences and
businesses of Jews destroyed, and,
throughout a night presaging the
monstrous future, Jews by the
thousands forcibly taken from their
homes and transported to
concentration camps.When it was
suggested to Lindbergh that in
response to this unprecedented savagery,
perpetrated by a state on
its own native-born, he might consider
returning the gold cross
decorated with four swastikas bestowed
on him in behalf of the
Führer by Air Marshal Göring, he
declined on the grounds that for
him to publicly surrender the Service
Cross of the German Eagle
would constitute "an unnecessary insult"
to the Nazi leadership.
Lindbergh was the first famous living
American whom I learned
to hate—just as President Roosevelt was
the first famous living
American whom I was taught to love—and
so his nomination by
the Republicans to run against Roosevelt
in 1940 assaulted, as
nothing ever had before, that huge
endowment of personal security
that I had taken for granted as an
American child of American
parents in an American school in an
American city in an America
at peace with the world.
The only comparable threat had come some
thirteen months earlier
when, on the basis of consistently high
sales through the worst
of the Depression as an agent with the
Newark office of Metropolitan
Life,my father had been offered a
promotion to assistant manager
in charge of agents at the company's
office six miles west of
our house in Union, a town whose only
distinction I knew of was
a drive-in theater where movies were
shown even when it rained,
and where the company expected my father
and his family to live
if he took the job. As an assistant
manager, my father could soon
be making seventy-five dollars a week
and over the coming years
as much as a hundred a week, a fortune
in 1939 to people with our
expectations. And since there were
one-family houses selling in
Union for a Depression low of a few
thousand dollars, he would be
able to realize an ambition he had
nurtured growing up penniless
in a Newark tenement flat: to become an
American homeowner.
"Pride of ownership" was a favorite
phrase of my father's, embodying
an idea real as bread to a man of his
background, one having
to do not with social competitiveness or
conspicuous consumption
but with his standing as a manly provider.
The single drawback was that because
Union, like Hillside, was
a Gentile working-class town, my father
would most likely be the
only Jew in an office of some
thirty-five people, my mother the
only Jewish woman on our street, and
Sandy and I the only Jewish
kids in our school.
On the Saturday after my father was
offered the promotion—a
promotion that, above all, would answer
a Depression family's
yearning for a tiny margin of financial
security—the four of us
headed off after lunch to look around
Union. But once we were
there and driving up and down the
residential streets peering out
at the two-story houses—not quite
identical but each, nonetheless,
with a screened front porch and a mown
lawn and a piece of
shrubbery and a cinder drive leading to
a one-car garage, very
modest houses but still roomier than our
two-bedroom flat and
looking a lot like the little white
houses in the movies about smalltown
salt-of-the-earth America—once we were
there our innocent
buoyancy about the family ascent into
the home-owning class was
supplanted, predictably enough, by our
anxieties about the scope
of Christian charity.My ordinarily
energetic mother responded to
my father's "What do you think, Bess?"
with enthusiasm that even
a child understood to be feigned. And
young as I was, I was able to
surmise why: because she was thinking,
"Ours will be the house
'where the Jews live.' It'll be
Elizabeth all over again."
Elizabeth, New Jersey, when my mother
was being raised there
in a flat over her father's grocery
store, was an industrial port a
quarter the size of Newark, dominated by
the Irish working class
and their politicians and the tightly
knit parish life that revolved
around the town's many churches, and
though I never heard her
complain of having been pointedly
ill-treated in Elizabeth as a girl,
it was not until she married and moved
to Newark's new Jewish
neighborhood that she discovered the
confidence that led her to
become first a PTA "grade mother," then
a PTA vice president in
charge of establishing a Kindergarten
Mothers' Club, and finally
the PTA president, who, after attending
a conference in Trenton on
infantile paralysis, proposed an annual
March of Dimes dance on
January 30—President Roosevelt's
birthday—that was accepted by
most Newark schools. In the spring of
1939 she was in her second
successful year as a leader with
progressive ideas—already supporting
a young social studies teacher keen on
bringing "visual education"
into Chancellor's classrooms—and now she
couldn't help
but envision herself bereft of all that
had been achieved by her becoming
a wife and a mother on Summit Avenue.
Should we have
the good fortune to buy and move into a
house on any of the
Union streets we were seeing at their
springtime best, not only
would her status slip back to what it
had been when she was growing
up the daughter of a Jewish immigrant
grocer in Irish Catholic
Elizabeth, but,worse than that, Sandy
and I would be obliged to relive
her own circumscribed youth as a
neighborhood outsider.
Despite my mother's mood, my father did
everything he could
to keep up our spirits, remarking on how
clean and well-kept
everything looked, reminding Sandy and
me that living in one of
these houses the two of us would no
longer have to share a small
bedroom and a single closet, and
explaining the benefits to be derived
from paying off a mortgage rather than
paying rent, a lesson
in elementary economics that abruptly
ended when it was necessary
for him to stop the car at a red light
beside a parklike drinking
establishment dominating one corner of
the intersection.
There were green picnic tables set out
beneath the shade trees full
with foliage, and on this sunny weekend
afternoon there were waiters
in braided white coats moving swiftly
about, balancing trays
laden with bottles and pitchers and
plates, and men of every age
gathered at each of the tables, smoking
cigarettes and pipes and cigars
and drinking deeply from tall beakers
and earthenware mugs.
There was music, too—an accordion being
played by a stout little
man in short pants and high socks who
wore a hat ornamented
with a long feather.
"Sons of bitches!" my father said.
"Fascist bastards!" and then
the light changed and we drove on in
silence to look at the office
building where he was about to get his
chance to earn more than
fifty dollars a week.
It was my brother who, when we went to
bed that night, explained
why my father had lost control and
cursed aloud in front
of his children: the homey acre of
open-air merriment smack in
the middle of town was called a beer
garden, the beer garden had
something to do with the German-American
Bund, the German-
American Bund had something to do with
Hitler, and Hitler, as I
hadn't to be told, had everything to do
with persecuting Jews.
The intoxicant of anti-Semitism. That's
what I came to imagine
them all so cheerfully drinking in their
beer garden that day—like
all the Nazis everywhere, downing pint
after pint of anti-Semitism
as though imbibing the universal remedy.
My father had to take off a morning of
work to go over to the
home office in New York—to the tall
building whose uppermost
tower was crowned with the beacon his
company proudly designated
"The Light That Never Fails"—and inform
the superintendent
of agencies that he couldn't accept the
promotion he longed
"It's my fault," announced my mother as
soon as he began to recount
at the dinner table what had transpired
there on the eighteenth
floor of 1 Madison Avenue.
"It's nobody's fault," my father said.
"I explained before I left
what I was going to tell him, and I went
over and I told him, and
that's it. We're not moving to Union,
boys. We're staying right
"What did he do?"my mother asked.
"He heard me out."
"And then?" she asked.
"He stood up and he shook my hand."
"He didn't say anything?"
"He said, 'Good luck, Roth.'"
"He was angry with you."
"Hatcher is a gentleman of the old
school. Big six-foot goy.
Looks like a movie star. Sixty years old
and fit as a fiddle. These are
the people who run things, Bess—they
don't waste their time getting
angry at someone like me."
"So now what?" she asked, implying that
whatever happened as
a result of his meeting with Hatcher was
not going to be good and
could be dire. And I thought I
understood why. Apply yourself and
you can do it—that was the axiom in
which we had been schooled
by both parents. At the dinner table, my
father would reiterate to
his young sons time and again, "If
anybody asks 'Can you do this
job? Can you handle it?' you tell 'em
'Absolutely.' By the time they
find out that you can't, you'll already
have learned, and the job'll
be yours. And who knows, it just might
turn out to be the opportunity
of a lifetime." Yet over in New York he
had done nothing
like that.
"What did the Boss say?" she asked him.
The Boss was how the
four of us referred to the manager of my
father's Newark office,
Sam Peterfreund. In those days of
unadvertised quotas to keep
Jewish admissions to a minimum in
colleges and professional
schools and of unchallenged
discrimination that denied Jews significant
promotions in the big corporations and
of rigid restrictions
against Jewish membership in thousands
of social organizations
and communal institutions, Peterfreund
was one of the first
of the small handful of Jews ever to
achieve a managerial position
with Metropolitan Life. "He's the one
who put you up for it," my
mother said. "How must he feel?"
"Know what he said to me when I got
back? Know what he told
me about the Union office? It's full of
drunks. Famous for drunks.
Beforehand he didn't want to influence
my decision. He didn't
want to stand in my way if this was what
I wanted. Famous for
agents who work two hours in the morning
and spend the rest of
their time in the tavern or worse. And I
was supposed to go in
there, the new Jew, the big new sheeny
boss the goyim are all dying
to work for, and I was supposed to go in
there and pick 'em up off
the barroom floor. I was supposed to go
in there and remind them
of their obligation to their wives and
their children. Oh, how they
would have loved me, boys, for doing
them the favor. You can
imagine what they would have called me
behind my back. No, I'm
better off where I am.We're all better off."
"But can the company fire you for
turning them down?"
"Honey, I did what I did. That's the end
of it."
But she didn't believe what he'd told
her the Boss had said; she
believed that he was making up what the
Boss had said to get her
to stop blaming herself for refusing to
move her children to a Gentile
town that was a haven for the
German-American Bund and by
doing so denying him the opportunity of
his lifetime.
The Lindberghs returned to resume their
family life in America in
April 1939. Only months later, in
September, having already annexed
Austria and overrun Czechoslovakia,
Hitler invaded and
conquered Poland, and France and Great
Britain responded by declaring
war on Germany. Lindbergh had by then
been activated as
a colonel in the Army Air Corps, and he
now began traveling
around the country for the U.S.
government, lobbying for the
development of American aviation and for
expanding and modernizing
the air wing of the armed forces.When
Hitler quickly occupied
Denmark, Norway, Holland, and Belgium,
and all but defeated
France, and the second great European
war of the century
was well under way, the Air Corps
colonel made himself the idol of
the isolationists—and the enemy of
FDR—by adding to his mission
the goal of preventing America from
being drawn into the war
or offering any aid to the British or
the French. There was already
strong animosity between him and
Roosevelt, but now that he was
declaring openly at large public
meetings and on network radio
and in popular magazines that the
president was misleading the
country with promises of peace while
secretly agitating and planning
for our entry into the armed struggle,
some in the Republican
Party began to talk up Lindbergh as the
man with the magic to beat
"the warmonger in the White House" out
of a third term.
The more pressure Roosevelt put on
Congress to repeal the arms
embargo and loosen the strictures on the
country's neutrality so as
to prevent the British from being
defeated, the more forthright
Lindbergh became, until finally he made
the famous radio speech
before a hall full of cheering
supporters in Des Moines that named
among the "most important groups who
have been pressing this
country toward war" a group constituting
less than three percent
of the population and referred to
alternately as "the Jewish people"
and "the Jewish race."
"No person of honesty and vision,"
Lindbergh said, "can look on
their pro-war policy here today without
seeing the dangers involved
in such a policy both for us and for
them." And then, with
remarkable candor, he added:
A few far-sighted Jewish people realize
this and stand opposed
to intervention. But the majority still
do not . . .We
cannot blame them for looking out for
what they believe to
be their own interests, but we must also
look out for ours.
We cannot allow the natural passions and
prejudices of
other peoples to lead our country to
The next day the very accusations that
had elicited roars of
approval from Lindbergh's Iowa audience
were vigorously denounced
by liberal journalists, by Roosevelt's
press secretary, by
Jewish agencies and organizations, even
from within the Republican
Party by New York's District Attorney
Dewey and the Wall
Street utilities lawyer Wendell Willkie,
both potential presidential
nominees. So severe was the criticism
from Democratic cabinet
members like Interior Secretary Harold
Ickes that Lindbergh resigned
his reserve commission as an Army
colonel rather than
serve under FDR as his commander in
chief. But the America First
Committee, the broadest-based
organization leading the battle
against intervention, continued to
support him, and he remained
the most popular proselytizer of its
argument for neutrality. For
many America Firsters there was no
debating (even with the facts)
Lindbergh's contention that the
Jews'"greatest danger to this country
lies in their large ownership and
influence in our motion pictures,
our press, our radio, and our
government."When Lindbergh
wrote proudly of "our inheritance of
European blood," when he
warned against "dilution by foreign
races" and "the infiltration of
inferior blood" (all phrases that turn
up in diary entries from those
years), he was recording personal
convictions shared by a sizable
portion of America First's rank-and-file
membership as well as by
a rabid constituency even more extensive
than a Jew like my father,
with his bitter hatred of
anti-Semitism—or like my mother, with
her deeply ingrained mistrust of
Christians—could ever imagine
to be flourishing all across America.

The 1940 Republican Convention. My
brother and I went to sleep
that night—Thursday, June 27—while the
radio was on in the living
room, and our father, our mother, and
our older cousin Alvin
sat listening together to the live
coverage from Philadelphia. After
six ballots, the Republicans still
hadn't selected a candidate. Lindbergh's
name was yet to be uttered by a single
delegate, and because
of an engineering conclave at a
midwestern factory where he'd
been advising on the design of a new
fighter plane, he wasn't present
or expected to be.When Sandy and I went
to bed the convention
remained divided among Dewey, Willkie,
and two powerful
Republican senators, Vandenberg of
Michigan and Taft of Ohio,
and it didn't look as though a backroom
deal was about to be brokered
anytime soon by party bigwigs like
former president Hoover,
who'd been ousted from office by FDR's
overwhelming 1932 victory,
or by Governor Alf Landon, whom FDR had
defeated even
more ignominiously four years later in
the biggest landslide in

Because it was the first muggy evening
of the summer, the win-
dows were open in every room and Sandy
and I couldn't help but
continue to follow from bed the
proceedings being aired over our
own living room radio and the radio
playing in the flat downstairs
and—since an alleyway only barely wide
enough for a single car
separated one house from the next—the
radios of our neighbors to
either side and across the way. As this
was long before window air
conditioners bested the noises of a
neighborhood's tropical nights,
the broadcast blanketed the block from
Keer to Chancellor—a
block on which not a single Republican
lived in any of the thirtyodd
two-and-a-half-family houses or in the
small new apartment
building at the Chancellor Avenue
corner. On streets like ours the
Jews voted straight Democratic for as
long as FDR was at the top
of the ticket.

But we were two kids and fell asleep
despite everything and
probably wouldn't have awakened till
morning had not Lindbergh
—with the Republicans deadlocked on the
twentieth ballot—made
his unanticipated entrance onto the
convention floor at 3:18 a.m.
The lean, tall, handsome hero, a lithe,
athletic-looking man not yet
forty years old, arrived in his flying
attire, having landed his own
plane at the Philadelphia airport only
minutes earlier, and at the
sight of him, a surge of redemptive
excitement brought the wilted
conventioneers up onto their feet to cry
"Lindy! Lindy! Lindy!"
for thirty glorious minutes, and without
interruption from the
chair. Behind the successful execution
of this spontaneous pseudoreligious
drama lay the machinations of Senator
Gerald P. Nye of
North Dakota, a right-wing isolationist
who quickly placed in nomination
the name of Charles A. Lindbergh of
Little Falls, Minnesota,
whereupon two of the most reactionary
members of Congress
—Congressman Thorkelson of Montana and
Mundt of South Dakota—seconded the
nomination, and at precisely
four a.m. on Friday, June 28, the
Republican Party, by acclamation,
chose as its candidate the bigot who had
denounced Jews
over the airwaves to a national audience
as "other peoples" employing
their enormous "influence . . . to lead
our country to
destruction," rather than truthfully
acknowledging us to be a small
minority of citizens vastly outnumbered
by our Christian countrymen,
by and large obstructed by religious
prejudice from attaining
public power, and surely no less loyal
to the principles of
American democracy than an admirer of
Adolf Hitler.
"No!" was the word that awakened us,
"No!" being shouted in a
man's loud voice from every house on the
block. It can't be. No.
Not for president of the United States.
Within seconds, my brother and I were
once more at the radio
with the rest of the family, and nobody
bothered telling us to go
back to bed. Hot as it was, my decorous
mother had pulled a robe
over her thin nightdress—she too had
been asleep and roused by
the noise—and she sat now on the sofa
beside my father, her fingers
over her mouth as though she were trying
to keep from being sick.
Meanwhile my cousin Alvin, able no
longer to remain in his seat,
set about pacing a room
eighteen-by-twelve with a force in his gait
befitting an avenger out searching the
city to dispose of his nemesis.
The anger that night was the real
roaring forge, the furnace that
takes you and twists you like steel.And
it didn't subside—not while
Lindbergh stood silently at the
Philadelphia rostrum and heard
himself being cheered once again as the
nation's savior, nor when
he gave the speech accepting his party's
nomination and with it the
mandate to keep America out of the
European war.We all waited
in terror to hear him repeat to the
convention his malicious vilifi-
cation of the Jews, but that he didn't
made no difference to the
mood that carried every last family on
the block out into the street
at nearly five in the morning. Entire
families known to me previously
only fully dressed in daytime clothing
were wearing pajamas
and nightdresses under their bathrobes
and milling around in their
slippers at dawn as if driven from their
homes by an earthquake.
But what shocked a child most was the
anger, the anger of men
whom I knew as lighthearted kibbitzers
or silent, dutiful breadwinners
who all day long unclogged drainpipes or
serviced furnaces
or sold apples by the pound and then in
the evening looked
at the paper and listened to the radio
and fell asleep in the living
room chair, plain people who happened to
be Jews now storming
about the street and cursing with no
concern for propriety,
abruptly thrust back into the miserable
struggle from which they
had believed their families extricated
by the providential migration
of the generation before.
I would have imagined Lindbergh's not
mentioning the Jews in
his acceptance speech to be a promising
omen, an indication that
he had been chastened by the outcry that
had caused him to relinquish
his Army commission or that he had
changed his mind since
the Des Moines speech or that he had
already forgotten about us
or that secretly he knew full well that
we were committed irrevocably
to America—that though Ireland still
mattered to the Irish and
Poland to the Poles and Italy to the
Italians, we retained no allegiance,
sentimental or otherwise, to those Old
World countries
that we had never been welcome in and
that we had no intention
of ever returning to. If I could have
thought through the meaning
of the moment in so many words, this is
probably what I would
have been thinking. But the men out on
the street thought differently.
Lindbergh's not mentioning the Jews was
to them a trick
and no more, the initiation of a
campaign of deceit intended both
to shut us up and to catch us off guard.
"Hitler in America!" the
neighbors cried. "Fascism in America!
Storm troopers in America!"
After their having gone without sleep
all night long, there
was nothing that these bewildered elders
of ours didn't think and
nothing that they didn't say aloud,
within our hearing, before they
started to drift back to their houses
(where all the radios still blared
away), the men to shave and dress and
grab a cup of coffee before
heading for work and the women to get
their children clothed and
fed and ready for the day.

Roosevelt raised everyone's spirits by
his robust response on learning
that his opponent was to be Lindbergh
rather than a senator of
the stature of Taft or a prosecutor as
aggressive as Dewey or a bigtime
lawyer as smooth and handsome as
Willkie.When awakened
at four a.m. to be told the news, he was
said to have predicted from
his White House bed, "By the time this
is over, the young man will
be sorry not only that he entered
politics but that he ever learned
to fly."Whereupon he fell immediately
back into a sound sleep—
or so went the story that brought us
such solace the next day. Out
on the street, when all anyone could
think about was the menace
posed to our safety by this
transparently unjust affront, people had
oddly forgotten about FDR and the
bulwark he was against oppression.
The sheer surprise of the Lindbergh
nomination had activated
an atavistic sense of being undefended
that had more to
do with Kishinev and the pogroms of 1903
than with New Jersey
thirty-seven years later, and as a
consequence, they had forgotten
about Roosevelt's appointment to the
Supreme Court of Felix
Frankfurter and his selection as
Treasury secretary of Henry Morgenthau,
and about the close presidential
adviser, financier Bernard
Baruch, and about Mrs. Roosevelt and
Ickes and Agriculture
Secretary Wallace, all three of whom,
like the president,were known
to be friends of the Jews. There was
Roosevelt, there was the U.S.
Constitution, there was the Bill of
Rights, and there were the papers,
America's free press. Even the
Republican Newark Evening
News published an editorial reminding
readers of the Des Moines
speech and openly challenging the wisdom
of Lindbergh's nomination,
and PM, the new left-wing New York
tabloid that cost a
nickel and that my father had begun
bringing home with him after
work along with the Newark News—and
whose slogan read, "PM
is against people who push other people
around"—leveled its assault
on the Republicans in a lengthy
editorial as well as in news
stories and columns on virtually every
one of its thirty-two pages,
including anti-Lindbergh columns in the
sports section by Tom
Meany and Joe Cummiskey. On the front
page the paper featured
a large photo of Lindbergh's Nazi medal
and, in its Daily Picture
Magazine, where it claimed to run
photographs that other papers
suppressed—controversial photos of lynch
mobs and chain gangs,
of strikebreakers wielding clubs, of
inhuman conditions in America's
penitentiaries—there was page after page
showing the Republican
candidate touring Nazi Germany in 1938,
culminating in the
full-page picture of him, the notorious
medal around his neck,
shaking the hand of Hermann Göring, the
Nazi leader second only
to Hitler.
On Sunday night we waited through the
lineup of comedy programs
for Walter Winchell to come on at nine.
And when he did
and proceeded to say what we had hoped
he would say just as
as we wanted him to say it, applause
erupted from
across the alleyway, as though the
famous newsman weren't walled
off in a radio studio on the far side of
the great divide that was the
Hudson but were here among us and
fighting mad, his tie pulled
down, his collar unbuttoned, his gray
fedora angled back on his
head, lambasting Lindbergh from a
microphone atop the oilcloth
covering on the kitchen table of our
next-door neighbor.
It was the last night of June 1940.
After a warm day, it had grown
cool enough to sit comfortably indoors
without perspiring, but
when Winchell signed off at
nine-fifteen, our parents were moved
to go outside for the four of us to take
in the lovely evening together.
We were just going to walk to the corner
and back—after
which my brother and I would go to
sleep—but it was nearly midnight
before we got to bed and by then sleep
was out of the question
for kids so overcome by their parents'
excitement. Because
Winchell's fearless bellicosity had
propelled all of our neighbors
outdoors as well, what had begun for us
as a cheerful little evening
stroll ended as an impromptu block party
for everyone. The men
dragged beach chairs from the garages
and unfolded them at the
foot of the alleyways, the women carried
pitchers of lemonade
from the houses, the youngest of the
children ran wildly from
stoop to stoop, and the older ones sat
laughing and talking off by
themselves, and all because war had been
declared on Lindbergh
by America's best-known Jew after Albert
It was Winchell, after all, whose column
had famously ushered
in the three dots separating—and somehow
magically validating—
each hot news item ever so tenuously
grounded in fact, and it was
Winchell who'd more or less originated
the idea of firing into the face of the
credulous masses buckshot pellets of
insinuating gossip
—ruining reputations, compromising
celebrities, bestowing
fame, making and breaking showbiz
careers. It was his column
alone that was syndicated in hundreds of
papers all across the
country and his Sunday-night quarter of
an hour that was the
country's most popular news program, the
rapid-fire Winchell delivery
and the pugnacious Winchell cynicism
lending every scoop
the sensational air of an exposé.We
admired him as a fearless outsider
and a cunning insider, a pal of J. Edgar
Hoover, director of the
FBI, as well as a neighbor of the
mobster Frank Costello and a con-
fidant of Roosevelt's inner circle, even
a sometimes guest invited to
the White House to amuse the president
over a drink—the in-theknow
street fighter and hardboiled man about
town whom his enemies
feared and who was on our side.
Manhattan-born Walter
Winschel (a.k.a.Weinschel) had
transformed himself from a New
York vaudeville dancer into a callow
Broadway columnist earning
big money by embodying the passions of
the cheesiest of the new
subliterate dailies, though ever since
the rise of Hitler, and long before
anyone else in the press had the
foresight or the wrath to take
them on, fascists and anti-Semites had
become his number one
enemy. He'd already labeled as "ratzis"
the German-American
Bund and hounded its leader, Fritz Kuhn,
over the air and in print
as a secret foreign agent, and now—after
FDR's joke, the Newark
News editorial, and the thoroughgoing
denunciation by PM—Walter
Winchell had only to disclose
Lindbergh's "pro-Nazi philosophy"
to his thirty million Sunday-evening
listeners and to call
Lindbergh's presidential candidacy the
greatest threat ever to American
democracy for all the Jewish families on
block-long little
Summit Avenue to resemble once again
Americans enjoying the vitality
and high spirits of a secure, free,
protected citizenry instead
of casting themselves about outdoors in
their nightclothes like inmates
escaped from a lunatic asylum.
My brother was known throughout the
neighborhood for being
able to draw "anything"—a bike, a tree,
a dog, a chair, a cartoon

character like Li'l Abner—though his
interest of late was in real
faces. Kids were always gathering around
to watch him wherever he
would park himself after school with his
large spiral pad and his
mechanical pencil and begin to sketch
the people nearby. Inevitably
the onlookers would start to shout,
"Draw him, draw her,
draw me," and Sandy would take up the
exhortation, if only to stop
them from screaming in his ear. All the
while his hand was working
away, he'd look up, down, up, down—and
behold, there lived
so-and-so on a sheet of paper.What's the
trick, they all asked him,
how'd you do it, as if tracing—as if
outright magic—might have
played some part in the feat. Sandy's
answer to all this pestering
was a shrug or a smile: the trick to
doing it was his being the quiet,
serious, unostentatious boy that he was.
Compelling attention
wherever he went by turning out the
likenesses people requested
had seemingly no effect on the
impersonal element at the core of
his strength, the inborn modesty that
was his toughness and that
he later sidestepped at his peril.
At home, he was no longer copying
illustrations from Collier's or
photos from Look but studying from an
art manual on the figure.
He'd won the book in an Arbor Day poster
contest for schoolkids
that had coincided with a citywide
tree-planting program administered
by the Department of Parks and Public
Property. There'd
even been a ceremony where he'd shaken
the hand of a Mr. Bannwart,
who was superintendent of the Bureau of
Shade Trees. The
design of his winning poster was based
on a red two-cent stamp in
my collection commemorating the sixtieth
anniversary of Arbor
Day. The stamp seemed to me especially
beautiful because visible
within each of its narrow, vertical
white borders was a slender tree
whose branches arched at the top to meet
and form an arbor—and
until the stamp became mine and I was
able to examine through
my magnifying glass its distinguishing
marks, the meaning of
"arbor" had been swallowed up in the
familiar name of the holiday.
(The small magnifying glass—along with
an album for twenty-five
hundred stamps, a stamp tweezers, a
perforation gauge, gummed
stamp hinges, and a black rubber dish
called a watermark detec-
tor—had been a gift from my parents for
my seventh birthday. For
an additional ten cents they'd also
bought me a small book of
ninety-odd pages called The Stamp
Collector's Handbook, where,
under "How to Start a Stamp Collection,"
I'd read with fascination
this sentence: "Old business files or
private correspondence often
contain stamps of discontinued issues
which are of great value, so
if you have any friends living in old
houses who have accumulated
material of this sort in their attics,
try to obtain their old stamped
envelopes and wrappers." We didn't have
an attic, none of our
friends living in flats and apartments
had attics, but there'd been
attics just beneath the roofs of the
one-family houses in Union—
from my seat in the back of the car I
could see little attic windows
at either end of each of the houses as
we'd driven around the town
on that terrible Saturday the year
before, and so all I could think of
when we got home in the afternoon were
the old stamped envelopes
and the embossed stamps on the prepaid
newspaper wrappers
secreted up in those attics and how I
would now have no
chance "to obtain" them because I was a

The appeal of the Arbor Day
commemorative stamp was greatly
enhanced by its representing a human
activity as opposed to a famous
person's portrait or a picture of an
important place—an activity,
what's more, being performed by
children: in the center of
the stamp, a boy and a girl looking to
be about ten or eleven are
planting a young tree, the boy digging
with a spade while the girl,
supporting the trunk of the tree with
one hand, holds it steadily in
place over the hole. In Sandy's poster
the boy and the girl are repositioned
and stand on opposite sides of the tree,
the boy is pictured
as right-handed rather than left-handed,
he wears long pants instead
of knickers, and one of his feet is atop
the blade pressing it
into the ground. There is also a third
child in Sandy's poster, a boy
about my age, who is now the one wearing
the knickers. He stands
back and to the side of the sapling and
holds ready a watering
can—as I held one when I modeled for
Sandy, clad in my best
school knickers and high socks. Adding
this child was my mother's
idea, to help distinguish Sandy's
artwork from that on the Arbor
Day stamp—and protect him from the
charge of "copying"—but
also to provide the poster with a social
content that implied a
theme by no means common in 1940, not in
poster art or anywhere
else either, and that for reasons of
"taste" might even have proved
unacceptable to the judges.

The third child planting the tree was a
Negro, and what encouraged
my mother to suggest including him—aside
from the desire
to instill in her children the civic
virtue of tolerance—was another
stamp of mine, a brand-new ten-cent
issue in the "educators
group," five stamps that I'd purchased
at the post office for a total
of twenty-one cents and paid for over
the month of March out of
my weekly allowance of a nickel. Above
the central portrait, each
stamp featured a picture of a lamp that
the U.S. Post Office Department
identified as the "Lamp of Knowledge"
but that I thought
of as Aladdin's lamp because of the boy
in the Arabian Nights
with the magic lamp and the ring and the
two genies who give
him whatever he asks for. What I would
have asked for from a
genie were the most coveted of all
American stamps: first, the celebrated
1918 twenty-four-cent airmail, a stamp
said to be worth
$3,400, where the plane pictured at the
center, the Army's Flying
Jenny, is inverted; and after that, the
three famous stamps in the
Pan-American Exposition issue of 1901
that had also been mistakenly
printed with inverted centers and were
worth over a thousand
dollars apiece.

On the green one-cent stamp in the
educators group, just above
the picture of the Lamp of Knowledge,
was Horace Mann; on the
red two-cent,Mark Hopkins; on the purple
three-cent, Charles W.
Eliot; on the blue four-cent, Frances
E.Willard; on the brown tencent
was Booker T. Washington, the first
Negro to appear on an
American stamp. I remember that after
placing the Booker T.
Washington in my album and showing my
mother how it completed
the set of five, I had asked her, "Do
you think there'll ever be
a Jew on a stamp?" and she replied,
"Probably—someday, yes. I
hope so, anyway." In fact, another
twenty-six years had to pass, and
it took Einstein to do it.

Sandy saved his weekly allowance of
twenty-five cents—and
what change he earned shoveling snow and
raking leaves and washing
the family car—until he had enough to
bicycle to the stationery
store on Clinton Avenue that carried art
supplies and, over a
period of months, to buy a charcoal
pencil, then sandpaper blocks
to sharpen the pencil, then charcoal
paper, then the little tubular
metal contraption he blew into to apply
the fine fixative mist
that prevented the charcoal from
smudging. He had big bulldog
clips, a masonite board, yellow
Ticonderoga pencils, erasers, sketchpads,
drawing paper—equipment that he stored
in a grocery carton
at the bottom of our bedroom closet and
that my mother,
when she was cleaning, wasn't permitted
to disturb. His energetic
meticulousness (passed on from our
mother) and his breathtaking
perseverance (passed on from our father)
served only to magnify
my awe of an older brother who everyone
agreed was intended for
great things, while most boys his age
didn't look as though they
were intended even to eat at a table
with another human being. I
was then the good child, obedient both
at home and at school—
the willfulness largely inactive and the
attack set to go off at a later
date—as yet altogether too young to know
the potential of a rage
of one's own. And nowhere was I less
intransigent than with him.
For his twelfth birthday, Sandy had
gotten a large, flat black
portfolio made of hard cardboard that
folded along a sewn seam
and was secured at the top edge with two
attached lengths of ribbon
that he tied in a bow in order to fasten
the leaves. The portfolio
measured about two feet by a foot and a
half, too big to fit
into the drawers of our bedroom dresser
or to be stacked upright
against the wall in the crowded bedroom
closet he and I shared.He
was allowed to store it—along with his
spiral sketchpads—laid out
flat beneath his bed, and in it he saved
the drawings he considered
his best, beginning with his
compositional masterwork of 1936, the
ambitious picture of our mother pointing
overhead at the Parisbound
Spirit of St. Louis. Sandy had several
large portraits of the
heroic aviator, in both pencil and
charcoal, stowed away in his
portfolio. They were part of a series he
was assembling of promi-
nent Americans that concentrated
primarily on those living eminences
most revered by our parents, such as
President and Mrs.
Roosevelt, New York mayor Fiorello La
Guardia, United Mine
Workers president John L. Lewis, and the
novelist Pearl Buck,
who'd won the Nobel Prize in 1938 and
whose picture he copied
from the jacket of one of her
bestsellers. A number of drawings in
the portfolio were of family members,
and of those at least half
were of our sole surviving grandparent,
our paternal grandmother,
who, on the Sundays when my uncle Monty
brought her around to
visit, would sometimes serve Sandy as a
model. Under the sway of
the word "venerable," he drew every
wrinkle he could find in her
face and every gnarl in her arthritic
fingers while—as dutifully as
she'd scrubbed floors on her knees all
her life and cooked for a
family of nine on a coal stove—tiny,
sturdy Grandma sat in the
kitchen and "posed."

We were alone together in the house only
a few days after the
Winchell broadcast when Sandy removed
the portfolio from under
his bed and carried it into the dining
room. There he opened it out
on the table (reserved for entertaining
the Boss and celebrating
special family occasions) and carefully
lifted the Lindbergh portraits
from the tracing paper protecting each
drawing and lined
them up on the tabletop. In the first,
Lindbergh was wearing his
leather flying cap with the loose straps
dangling over each ear; in
the second, the cap was partially hidden
beneath large heavy goggles
pushed up from his eyes and onto his
forehead; in the third, he
was bareheaded, nothing to mark him as
an aviator other than the
uncompromising gaze out to the distant
horizon. To gauge the
value of this man, as Sandy had rendered
him, wasn't difficult. A
virile hero. A courageous adventurer. A
natural person of gigantic
strength and rectitude combined with a
powerful blandness. Anything
but a frightening villain or a menace to

"He's going to be president," Sandy told
me. "Alvin says Lindbergh's
going to win."

He so confused and frightened me that I
pretended he was making
a joke and laughed.

"Alvin's going to go to Canada and join
the Canadian army," he
said. "He's going to fight for the
British against Hitler."

"But nobody can beat Roosevelt," I said.

"Lindbergh's going to. America's going
to go fascist."

Then we just stood there together under
the intimidating spell
of the three portraits. Never before had
being seven felt like such a
serious deficiency.

"Don't tell anybody I've got these," he

"But Mom and Dad saw them already," I
said. "They've seen
them all. Everybody has."

"I told them I tore them up."

There was nobody more truthful than my
brother. He wasn't
quiet because he was secretive and
deceitful but because he never
bothered to behave badly and so had
nothing to hide. But now
something external had transformed the
meaning of these drawings,
making them into what they were not, and
so he'd told our
parents that he'd destroyed them, making
himself into what he
was not.

"Suppose they find them," I said.

"How will they do that?" he asked.

"I don't know."

"Right," he said. "You don't. Just keep
your little trap shut and
nobody'll find anything."

I did as he told me for many reasons,
one being that the thirdoldest
U.S. postage stamp I owned—which I
couldn't possibly tear
up and throw away—was a ten-cent airmail
issued in 1927 to commemorate
Lindbergh's transatlantic flight. It was
a blue stamp,
about twice as long as it was high,
whose central design, a picture
of the Spirit of St. Louis flying
eastward over the ocean, had provided
Sandy with the model for the plane in
the drawing celebrating
his conception. Adjacent to the white
border at the left of the
stamp is the coastline of North America,
with the words "New
York" jutting out into the Atlantic, and
adjacent to the border at
the right the coastlines of Ireland,
Great Britain, and France, with
the word "Paris" at the end of a dotted
arc that charts the flight
path between the two cities. At the top
of the stamp, directly beneath
the white letters that boldly spell out
united states postage
are the words lindbergh–air mail in
slightly smaller type
but large enough certainly to be read by
a seven-year-old with perfect
vision. The stamp was already valued at
twenty cents by Scott's
Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, and
what I immediately realized
was that its worth would only continue
increasing (and so
rapidly as to become my single most
valuable possession) if Alvin
was right and the worst happened.

On the sidewalk during the long vacation
months we played a new
game called "I Declare War," using a
cheap rubber ball and a piece
of chalk. With the chalk you drew a
circle some five or six feet in
diameter, partitioned it into as many
pielike segments as there were
players, and chalked into each the name
of one of various foreign
countries that had been in the news
throughout the year. Next,
each player picked "his" country and
stood straddling the edge of
the circle, one foot inside and one out,
so that when the time came
he could flee in a hurry. Meanwhile a
designated player, holding
the ball aloft in his hand, announced
slowly, in an ominous cadence,
"I—declare—war—on—" There was a
suspenseful pause,
and then the kid declaring war would
slam the ball down, in the
same instant shouting "Germany!" or
"Japan!" or "Holland!" or
"Italy!" or "Belgium!" or "England!" or
"China!"—sometimes even
shouting "America!"—and everybody would
take off except the
one on whom the surprise attack had been
launched. His job was
to catch the ball on the bounce as
quickly as he could and call
"Stop!" Everybody now allied against him
would have to freeze in
place, and the victim country would
begin the counterattack, trying
to eliminate one aggressor country at a
time by walloping each
as hard as he could with the ball,
beginning by throwing at those
closest to him and advancing his
position with each murderous

We played this game incessantly. Until
it rained and temporarily
the names of the countries were washed
away, people had to either
step on them or step over them when they
made their way down
the street. In our neighborhood there
was no other graffiti to speak
of in those days, just this, the
remnants of the hieroglyphics of our
simple street games.Harmless enough, and
yet it drove some of the
mothers crazy who had to hear us at it
for hours on end through
their open windows. "Can't you kids do
something else? Can't you
find another game to play?"But we
couldn't—declaring war was all
we thought about too.

On July 18, 1940, the Democratic
Convention meeting in Chicago
overwhelmingly nominated FDR for a third
term on the first ballot.
We listened on the radio to his
acceptance speech, delivered
with the confidently intoned upper-class
enunciation that, for
close to eight years now, had inspired
millions of ordinary families
like ours to remain hopeful in the midst
of hardship. There
was something about the inherent decorum
of the delivery that,
alien though it was, not only calmed our
anxiety but bestowed on
our family a historical significance,
authoritatively merging our
lives with his as well as with that of
the entire nation when he
addressed us in our living room as his
"fellow citizens."That Americans
could choose Lindbergh—that Americans
could choose anybody
—rather than the two-term president
whose voice alone conveyed
mastery over the tumult of human affairs
. . . well, that was
unthinkable, and certainly so for a
little American like me who'd
never known a presidential voice other
than his.
Some six weeks later, on the Saturday
before Labor Day, Lindbergh
surprised the country by failing to
appear at the Detroit
Labor Day parade, where he had been
scheduled to launch his
campaign with a motorcade through the
working-class heartland
of isolationist America (and the
anti-Semitic stronghold of Father
Coughlin and Henry Ford), and by
arriving unannounced instead
at the Long Island airfield from which
his spectacular transatlantic
flight had begun thirteen years before.
The Spirit of St. Louis had
been secretly trucked in under a tarp
and stored overnight in a remote
hangar, though by the time Lindbergh
taxied the plane onto
the field the next morning, every wire
service in America and every
radio station and newspaper in New York
had a reporter on hand
to witness the takeoff, westward this
time across America to California
rather than eastward across the Atlantic
to Europe. Of
course, by 1940, commercial air service
had been hauling transcontinental
freight, passengers, and mail for more
than a decade, and
doing so largely as a result of the
incentive of Lindbergh's solo feat
and his industrious efforts as a
million-dollar-a-year consultant to
the newly organized airlines. But it
wasn't the wealthy advocate of
commercial aviation who was launching
his campaign that day,
nor was it the Lindbergh who had been
decorated in Berlin by the
Nazis, nor the Lindbergh who, in a
nationwide radio broadcast,
had blamed overly influential Jews for
attempting to drive the
country into war, nor was it even the
stoical father of the infant
kidnapped and killed by Bruno Hauptmann
in 1932. It was rather
the unknown airmail pilot who'd dared to
do what had never been
done by any aviator before him, the
adored Lone Eagle, boyish and
unspoiled still, despite the years of
phenomenal fame. On the holiday
weekend that closed out the summer of
1940, Lindbergh came
nowhere near besting the record time for
a coast-to-coast nonstop
flight that he'd himself set a decade
back with an aircraft more advanced
than the old Spirit of St. Louis.
Nonetheless, when he arrived
at Los Angeles Airport, a crowd
consisting largely of aircraft
workers—tens of thousands of them,
employed by the big new
manufacturers in and around L.A.—was as
overcome with enthusiasm
as any ever to greet him anywhere.

The Democrats called the flight a
publicity gimmick stage-managed
by Lindbergh's staff, when in fact the
decision to fly to California
had been made only hours earlier by
Lindbergh alone and
not by the professionals who had been
assigned by the Republican
Party to steer the political novice
through his first political campaign
and who, like everyone else, had been
expecting him to turn
up in Detroit.

His speech was unadorned and to the
point, delivered in a highpitched,
flat, midwestern, decidedly
un-Rooseveltian American
voice. His flight outfit of high boots
and jodhpurs and a lightweight
jumper worn over a shirt and tie was a
replica of the one in
which he'd crossed the Atlantic, and he
spoke without removing
his leather headgear or flight goggles,
which were pushed up onto
his forehead exactly as Sandy had them
positioned in the charcoal
drawing hidden beneath his bed.

"My intention in running for the
presidency," he told the raucous
crowd, once they had stopped chanting
his name, "is to preserve
American democracy by preventing America
from taking
part in another world war. Your choice
is simple. It's not between
Charles A. Lindbergh and Franklin Delano
Roosevelt. It's between
Lindbergh and war."

That was the whole of it—forty-one
words, if you included the
A for Augustus.

After a shower and a snack and an hour's
nap there at the L.A.
airport, the candidate climbed back into
the Spirit of St. Louis and
flew to San Francisco. By nightfall he
was in Sacramento. And
wherever he landed in California that
day, it was as though the
country hadn't known the stock market
crash and the miseries of
the Depression (or the triumphs of FDR,
for that matter), as
though even the war he was there to
prevent us from entering
hadn't so much as crossed anyone's mind.
Lindy flew down out of
the sky in his famous plane, and it was
1927 all over again. It was
Lindy all over again, straight-talking
Lindy, who had never to look
or to sound superior, who simply was
superior—fearless Lindy, at
once youthful and gravely mature, the
rugged individualist, the
legendary American man's man who gets
the impossible done by
relying solely on himself.

Over the next month and a half he
proceeded to spend one full
day in each of the forty-eight states,
until in late October he made
his way back to the Long Island runway
from which he'd taken off
on Labor Day weekend. Throughout the
daylight hours he would
hop from one city, town, or village to
the next, landing on highways
if there was no nearby airstrip and
setting down and taking
off from a stretch of pasture when he
flew to talk with farmers and
their families in the remotest of
America's rural counties. His air-
field remarks were broadcast over local
and regional radio stations,
and several times a week, from the state
capital where he was
spending the night, he broadcast a
message to the nation. It was always
succinct and went like this: To prevent
a war in Europe is now
too late. But it is not too late to
prevent America from taking part
in that war. FDR is misleading the
nation. America will be carried
to war by a president who falsely
promises peace. The choice is
simple. Vote for Lindbergh or vote for war.
As a young pilot in aviation's early,
novelty days, Lindbergh,
along with an older, more experienced
sidekick, had entertained
crowds throughout the Midwest by
skydiving in a parachute or
walking out parachuteless onto the
plane's wing, and the Democrats
were now quick to belittle his
barnstorming in the Spirit of St.
Louis by likening it to these stunts. At
press conferences, Roosevelt
no longer bothered to make a derisive
quip when questioned by
newsmen about the unorthodox Lindbergh
campaign, but simply
moved on to discuss Churchill's fear of
an imminent German invasion
of Britain or to announce that he would
be asking Congress
to fund the first American peacetime
draft or to remind Hitler that
the United States would not tolerate any
interference with the
transatlantic aid our merchant vessels
were supplying to the British
war effort. It was clear from the start
that the president's campaign
was to consist of remaining in the White
House, where, in contrast
to what Secretary Ickes labeled
Lindbergh's "carnival antics," he
planned to address the hazards of the
international situation with
all the authority at his command,
working round the clock if necessary.
Twice during the state-by-state tour,
Lindbergh was lost in bad
weather and each time several hours
passed before radio contact
with him was reestablished and he was
able to let the country know
that all was well. But then in October,
on the very day Americans
were stunned to learn that in the latest
of the destructive night
raids on London the Germans had bombed
St. Paul's Cathedral, a
news flash at dinnertime reported that
the Spirit of St. Louis had
been seen to explode in the air over the
Alleghenies and plummet
to the earth in flames. This time it was
six long hours before a second
flash corrected the first with the news
that it was engine trouble
and not a midair explosion that had
forced Lindbergh to make
an emergency landing on treacherous
terrain in the mountains of
western Pennsylvania. Before the
emendation was aired, however,
our phone rang continuously—friends and
relatives calling to
speculate with our parents on the
initial account of the fiery and
probably fatal accident. In front of
Sandy and me our parents said
nothing to indicate relief at the
prospect of Lindbergh's death,
though neither did they say that they
hoped it wasn't so nor were
they among the jubilant when, around
eleven that night, word
came through that, far from having gone
down in flames, the Lone
Eagle had emerged safely from the
undamaged plane and was waiting
only for a replacement part so as to
take off and resume his

On the October morning that Lindbergh
landed at Newark Airport,
among the entourage waiting to welcome
him to New Jersey
was Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf of B'nai
Moshe, the first of the city's
Conservative temples, organized by
Polish Jews. B'nai Moshe was a
few blocks from the heart of the old
pushcart ghetto, still the city's
poorest district though home no longer
to B'nai Moshe's congregants
but to a community of impoverished
Negroes, recent migrants
from the South. For years B'nai Moshe
had been losing out
in the competition for the well-to-do;
by 1940, these families had
either left Conservatism and affiliated
themselves to the Reform
congregations of B'nai Jeshurun and Oheb
Shalom—each planted
impressively amid the old mansions on
High Street—or joined the
other long-established Conservative
temple, B'nai Abraham, located
several miles west of where it had been
originally housed in
a former Baptist church and adjacent now
to the homes of the Jewish
doctors and lawyers living in Clinton
Hill. The new B'nai Abraham
was the most splendid of the city's
temples, a circular building
austerely designed in what was called
"the Greek style" and vast
enough to hold a thousand worshipers on
the High Holidays.
Joachim Prinz, an émigré expelled from
Berlin by Hitler's Gestapo,
had replaced the retiring Julius
Silberfeld as the temple's rabbi the
year before and was already emerging as
a forceful man with a
broad social outlook who offered his
prosperous congregants a
perspective on Jewish history marked
strongly by his own recent
experience at the bloody scene of the
Nazi crime.
Rabbi Bengelsdorf's sermons were
broadcast weekly over station
WNJR to the hoi polloi he called his
"radio congregation," and
he was the author of several books of
inspirational poetry routinely
given as gifts to bar mitzvah boys and
newlyweds. He'd been
born in South Carolina in 1879, the son
of an immigrant dry goods
merchant, and whenever he addressed a
Jewish audience, whether
from the pulpit or over the air, his
courtly southern accent, along
with his sonorous cadences—and the
cadences of his own multisyllabic
name—left an impression of dignified
profundity. On the
subject, for instance, of his friendship
with Rabbi Silberfeld of
B'nai Abraham and Rabbi Foster of B'nai
Jeshurun, he once told
his radio audience, "It was fated: just
as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle
belonged together in the ancient world,
so we belong together
in the religious world."And the homily
on selflessness that he proffered
to explain to radio listeners why a
rabbi of his standing was
content to stay on at the head of a
waning congregation, he introduced
by saying, "Perhaps you will be
interested in my answer to
questions that have been asked of me by
literally thousands of people.
Why do you renounce the commercial
benefits of a peripatetic
ministry? Why do you choose to remain in
Newark, at Temple
B'nai Moshe, as your only pulpit, when
you have six opportunities
every day to leave it for other
congregations?" He had studied at
the great institutions of learning in
Europe as well as at American
universities and was reputed to speak
ten languages; to be versed in
classical philosophy, theology, art
history, and ancient and modern
history; to never compromise on
questions of principle; to never
refer to notes at the lectern or on a
lecture platform; to never be
without a set of index cards pertaining
to the topics most engaging
him at the moment, to which he added new
reflections and impressions
every day. He was also an excellent
equestrian, known to
bring his horse to a halt so as to jot
down a thought, employing his
saddle as a makeshift desk. Early each
morning, he exercised by
riding out along the bridle paths of
Weequahic Park, accompanied
—until her death from cancer in 1936—by
his wife, the heiress
to Newark's wealthiest jewelry
manufacturer. Her family mansion
on Elizabeth Avenue, where the couple
had been living just across
from the park since their marriage in
1907, housed a treasury of
Judaica said to be among the most
valuable private collections in
the world.

By 1940 Lionel Bengelsdorf claimed the
longest record of service
at his own temple of any rabbi in
America. The newspapers referred
to him as the religious leader of New
Jersey Jewry and, in
reporting on his numerous public
appearances, invariably mentioned
his "gift for oratory" along with the
ten languages. In 1915,
at the 250th anniversary celebration of
the founding of Newark,
he had sat at the side of Mayor Raymond
and delivered the invocation
just as he delivered invocations
annually at the parades for
Memorial Day and the Fourth of July:
rabbi exalts declaration
of independence was a headline that
appeared annually
in the Star-Ledger every July fifth. In
his sermons and talks calling
"the development of American ideals" the
first priority of Jews
and "the Americanization of Americans"
the best means to preserve
our democracy against "Bolshevism,
radicalism, and anarchism,"
he frequently quoted from Theodore
Roosevelt's final message
to the nation, in which the late
president said, "There can be
no divided allegiance here. Any man who
says he is an American,
but something else also, isn't an
American at all.We have room for
but one flag, the American flag." Rabbi
Bengelsdorf had spoken
on the Americanization of Americans in
every Newark church and
public school, before most every
fraternal, civic, historical, and cultural
group in the state, and news articles in
the Newark papers
about his speeches were datelined with
the names of scores of cities
around the country to which he'd been
called to address confer-
ences and conventions on that theme as
well as on issues ranging
from crime and the prison reform
movement—"The prison reform
movement is saturated with the highest
ethical principles and
religious ideals"—to the causes of the
World War—"The war is the
result of the worldly ambitions of the
European peoples and their
effort to reach the goals of military
greatness, power, and wealth"
—to the importance of day nurseries—"The
nurseries are life gardens
of human flowers in which each child is
helped to grow in an
atmosphere of joy and gladness"—to the
evils of the industrial
age—"We believe that the worth of the
workingman is not to be
computed by the material value of his
production"—to the suffrage
movement, whose proposal to extend to
women the franchise
to vote he strongly opposed, arguing
that "if men are not capable
of handling the business of the state,
why not help them become
so. No evil has ever been cured by
doubling it." My uncle Monty,
who hated all rabbis but had an
especially venomous loathing of
Bengelsdorf dating back to his childhood
as a charity student in
the B'nai Moshe religious school, liked
to say of him, "The pompous
son of a bitch knows everything—it's too
bad he doesn't
know anything else."

Rabbi Bengelsdorf's appearance at the
airport—where, according
to the caption beneath the photograph on
the front page of the
Newark News, he stood first in line to
shake Lindbergh's hand
when he emerged from the cockpit of the
Spirit of St. Louis—was a
source of consternation to great numbers
of the city's Jews, my
parents among them, as was the quotation
attributed to him in the
paper's account of Lindbergh's brief
visit. "I am here," Rabbi Bengelsdorf
told the News, "to crush all doubt of
the unadulterated
loyalty of the American Jews to the
United States of America. I
offer my support to the candidacy of
Colonel Lindbergh because
the political objectives of my people
are identical with his. America
is our beloved homeland. America is our
only homeland. Our
religion is independent of any piece of
land other than this great
country, to which, now as always, we
commit our total devotion
and allegiance as the proudest of
citizens. I want Charles Lindbergh
to be my president not in spite of my
being a Jew but because
I am a Jew—an American Jew."

Three days later, Bengelsdorf
participated in the huge rally held
at Madison Square Garden to mark the end
of Lindbergh's flying
tour. By then the election was but two
weeks away, and though
there appeared to be growing Lindbergh
support among voters
throughout the traditionally Democratic
South, and close contests
were predicted in the most conservative
midwestern states, national
polls showed the president comfortably
ahead in the popular
vote and well ahead in electoral votes.
Republican Party leaders
were reported to be in despair over
their candidate's stubborn refusal
to allow anyone other than himself to
determine the strategy
of his campaign, and so, to draw him out
of the repetitious austerity
of his interminable barnstorming and
envelop him in an atmosphere
more like that of the boisterous
Philadelphia nominating
convention, the Madison Square Garden
rally was organized
and broadcast nationwide on the evening
of the second Monday in

The fifteen speakers introducing
Lindbergh that night were described
as "prominent Americans from all walks
of life." Among
them was a farm leader to talk about the
harm a war would do to
American farming, which was in crisis
still from the First World
War and the Depression; a labor leader
to talk about the disaster a
war would represent for American
workers, whose lives would be
regimented by government agencies; a
manufacturer to talk about
the catastrophic long-term consequences
for American industry of
wartime overexpansion and onerous
taxation; a Protestant clergyman
to talk about the brutalizing effect of
modern warfare on the
young men who would be doing the
fighting; and a Catholic priest
to talk about the inevitable
deterioration of the spiritual life of a
peace-loving nation like our own and the
destruction of decency
and kindness because of the hatred bred
by war. Lastly there was a
rabbi, New Jersey's Lionel Bengelsdorf,
who received an especially
hearty welcome from the full house of
Lindbergh supporters when
his turn came to take the lectern and
who was there to expatiate on
how Lindbergh's association with the
Nazis was anything but complicitous.

"Yep," Alvin said, "they bought him. The
fix is in. They slipped a
gold ring through his big Jew nose, and
now they can lead him

"You don't know that,"my father said,
but not because he wasn't
himself steamed up by Bengelsdorf 's
behavior. "Listen to the man,"
he told Alvin, "give the man a hearing.
It's only fair"—words uttered
largely for Sandy's benefit and mine, to
keep the startling
turn of events from seeming as terrible
to the two of us as it did to
the adults. The night before, I had
fallen onto the floor in my sleep,
something that hadn't happened since I'd
first graduated from a
crib to a bed and to prevent me from
rolling out of it my parents
had to set a pair of kitchen chairs at
the side of the mattress.When
it was assumed automatically that my
falling like that after all these
years could only have had to do with
Lindbergh's showing up at
Newark Airport, I insisted that I didn't
remember a bad dream
about Lindbergh, that I just remembered
waking up on the floor
between my brother's bed and mine, even
though I happened to
know that I virtually never got to sleep
any longer without envisioning
the Lindbergh drawings stashed away in
my brother's portfolio.
I kept wanting to ask Sandy if he
couldn't hide them in our
cellar storage bin instead of under the
bed beside mine, but because
I'd sworn not to speak about the
drawings to anyone—and
because I couldn't bring myself to part
with my own Lindbergh
stamp—I didn't dare to raise them as an
issue, though they were
indeed haunting me and rendering
unapproachable the brother
whose reassurance I'd never needed more.
It was a cold evening. The heat was on
and the windows were
closed, but even without being able to
hear them you knew that radios
were playing up and down the block and
that families who
wouldn't otherwise consider listening to
a Lindbergh rally were
tuned in because of the scheduled
appearance there of Rabbi Bengelsdorf.
Among his own congregants, a few
important people had
already begun to call for his
resignation, if not for his immediate
removal by the temple's board of
trustees, while the majority continuing
to support him tried to believe that
their rabbi was merely
exercising his democratic right of free
speech and that, horrified
though they were by his public
endorsement of Lindbergh, to attempt
to silence a conscience as renowned as
his did not fall within
their rights.

That night Rabbi Bengelsdorf disclosed
to America what he
claimed to be the true motive behind
Lindbergh's personal flying
missions to Germany in the 1930s.
"Contrary to the propaganda
disseminated by his critics," the rabbi
informed us, "he did not
once visit Germany as a sympathizer or a
supporter of Hitler's but
rather he traveled each and every time
as a secret adviser to the U.S.
government. Far from his betraying
America, as the misguided and
the ill-intentioned continue to charge,
Colonel Lindbergh has almost
single-handedly served to strengthen
America's military preparedness
by imparting his knowledge to our own
military and by
doing everything within his power to
advance the cause of American
aviation and to expand America's air
"Jesus!" cried my father. "Everybody knows—"
"Shhh," whispered Alvin, "shhh—let the
great orator speak."
"Yes, in 1936, long before the beginning
of the European hostilities,
the Nazis awarded Colonel Lindbergh a
medal, and, yes," continued
Bengelsdorf, "yes, the colonel accepted
their medal. But all
the while, my friends, all the while
secretly exploiting their admiration
in order better to protect and preserve
our democracy and
to preserve our neutrality through
"I cannot believe—"my father began.
"Try,"muttered Alvin evilly.
"This is not America's war," Bengelsdorf
announced, and the
crowd at Madison Square Garden responded
with a full minute of
applause. "This," the rabbi told them,
"is Europe's war." Again sustained
applause. "It is one of a
thousand-year-long sequence of European
wars dating back to the time of
Charlemagne. It is their second
devastating war in less than half a
century. And can anyone
forget the tragic cost to America of
their last great war? Forty thousand
Americans killed in action. A hundred
and ninety-two thousand
Americans wounded. Seventy-six thousand
Americans dead
of disease. Three hundred and fifty
thousand Americans on disability
today because of their participation in
that war. And just
how astronomical will the price be this
time? The number of our
dead—tell me, President Roosevelt, will
it be merely doubled or
tripled or will it perhaps be
quadrupled? Tell me, Mr. President,
what sort of America will the massive
slaughter of innocent American
boys leave in its wake? Of course, the
Nazi harassment and
persecution of its German Jewish
population is a cause of enormous
anguish to me as it is to every Jew.
During the years I was
studying theology with the faculties of
the great German universities
in Heidelberg and in Bonn, I made many
distinguished friends
there, great men of learning who, today,
simply because they are
Germans of Jewish extraction, have been
dismissed from long-held
scholarly positions and are being
ruthlessly persecuted by the Nazi
hoodlums who have taken command of their
homeland. I oppose
their treatment with every ounce of my
strength, and so too does
Colonel Lindbergh oppose their
treatment. But how will this cruel
fate that has befallen them in their own
land be alleviated by our
great country going to war with their
tormentors? If anything, the
predicament of all of Germany's Jews
would only worsen immeasurably
—worsen, I fear, tragically. Yes, I am a
Jew, and as a Jew I
feel their suffering with a familial
sharpness. But I am an American
citizen, my friends"—again the
applause—"I am an American
born and raised, and so I ask you, how
would my pain be lessened
if America were now to enter the war
and, along with the sons of
our Protestant families and the sons of
our Catholic families, the
sons of our Jewish families were to
fight and die by the tens of
thousands on a blood-soaked European
battleground? How would
my pain be diminished by my having to
console my very own congregants
It was my mother, usually the least
ardent member of our family,
the one ordinarily quieting the rest of
us when we turned
demonstrative, who all at once found the
sound of Bengelsdorf 's
southern accent so intolerable that she
had to leave the room. But
until he finished his speech and was
loudly cheered off the stage by
the Garden audience, no one else moved
or said another word. I
wouldn't dare to, and my brother was
preoccupied—as he often
was in such a setting—with sketching
what we all looked like, now
while listening to the radio. Alvin's
was the silence of murderous
loathing, and my father—divested for
perhaps the first time in his
life of that relentless passion he
brought to the struggle against setback
and disappointment—was too stirred up to
Pandemonium. Unspeakable delight.
Lindbergh had at last
stepped onto the Garden stage, and like
someone half demented,
my father leaped from the sofa and
snapped off the radio just
as my mother came back into the living
room and asked, "Who
would like something? Alvin," she said,
with tears in her eyes, "a
cup of tea?"
Her job was to hold our world together
as calmly and as sensibly
as she could; that was what gave her
life fullness and that was
all she was trying to do, and yet never
had any of us seen her rendered
so ridiculous by this commonplace
maternal ambition.
"What the hell is going on!"my father
began to shout. "What the
hell did he do that for? That stupid
speech! Does he think that one
single Jew is now going to go out and
vote for this anti-Semite because
of that stupid, lying speech? Has he
completely lost his mind?
What does this man think he is doing?"
"Koshering Lindbergh," Alvin said.
"Koshering Lindbergh for
the goyim."
"Koshering what?" my father said,
exasperated with Alvin's
seemingly speaking sarcastic nonsense at
a moment of so much
confusion. "Doing what?"
"They didn't get him up there to talk to
Jews. They didn't buy
him off for that. Don't you understand?"
Alvin asked, fiery now
with what he took to be the underlying
truth. "He's up there talking
to the goyim—he's giving the goyim all
over the country his
personal rabbi's permission to vote for
Lindy on Election Day.
Don't you see, Uncle Herman, what they
got the great Bengelsdorf
to do? He just guaranteed Roosevelt's
At about two a.m. that night, while
soundly asleep, I again rolled
out of my bed, but this time I
remembered afterward what I'd been
dreaming before I hit the floor. It was
a nightmare all right, and it
was about my stamp collection. Something
had happened to it.
The design on two sets of my stamps had
changed in a dreadful
way without my knowing when or how. In
the dream, I'd gotten
the album out of my dresser drawer to
take with me to my friend
Earl's and I was walking with it toward
his house as I'd done
dozens of times before. Earl Axman was
ten and in the fifth grade.
He lived with his mother in the new
four-story yellow-brick apartment
house built three years earlier on the
large empty lot near
the corner of Chancellor and Summit,
diagonally across from the
grade school. Before that he'd lived in
New York. His father was
a musician with the Glen Gray Casa Loma
Orchestra—Sy Axman,
who played tenor saxophone beside Glen
Gray's alto. Mr. Axman
was divorced from Earl's mother, a
theatrically good-looking
blonde who'd briefly been a singer with
the band before Earl was
born and, according to my parents, was
originally from Newark
and a brunette, a Jewish girl named
Louise Swig who'd gone to
South Side and became famous locally in
musical revues at the
YMHA. Among all the boys I knew, Earl
was the only child with
divorced parents, and the only one whose
mother wore heavy
makeup and off-the-shoulder blouses and
billowing ruffled skirts
with a big petticoat underneath. She'd
also made a record of the
song "Gotta Be This or That" when she
was with Glen Gray, and
Earl played it for me often. I never
came upon another mother like
her. Earl didn't call her Ma or Mom—he
called her, scandalously,
Louise. She had a closet in her bedroom
full of those petticoats,
and when Earl and I were alone together
at his house, he'd show
them to me. He even let me touch one
once, whispering, while I
waited to decide whether to do it,
"Wherever you want." Then he
opened a drawer and showed me her
brassieres and offered to let
me touch one of those, but that I
declined. I was still young enough
to admire a brassiere from afar. His
parents each gave him a full
dollar a week to spend on stamps, and
when the Casa Loma Orchestra
wasn't playing in New York and was out
touring, Mr.
Axman sent Earl envelopes with airmail
stamps postmarked from
cities everywhere. There was even one
from "Honolulu, Oahu,"
where Earl, who wasn't above cloaking
his absent father in splendor
—as though to the son of an insurance
agent having a saxophonist
with a famous swing band for a father
(and a peroxideblond
singer for a mother) weren't amazing
enough—claimed that
Mr. Axman had been taken to a "private
home" to see the canceled
two-cent Hawaiian "Missionary" stamp of
1851, issued forty-seven
full years before Hawaii was annexed to
the United States as a territory,
an unimaginable treasure valued at
$100,000 whose central
design was just the numeral 2.

Earl owned the best stamp collection
around. He taught me
everything practical and everything
esoteric that I learned as a
small kid about stamps—about their
history, about collecting mint
versus used, about technical matters
like paper, printing, color,
gum, overprints, grills, and special
printing, about the great forgeries
and design errors—and, prodigious pedant
that he was,
had begun my education by telling me
about the French collector
Monsieur Herpin, who coined the word
"philately," explaining its
derivation from two Greek words, the
second of which, ateleia,
meaning freedom from tax, never quite
made sense to me. And
whenever we'd finished up in his kitchen
with our stamps and he
was momentarily done with his
domineering, he'd giggle and say,
"Now let's do something awful," which
was how I got to see his
mother's underwear.

In the dream, I was walking to Earl's
with my stamp album
clutched to my chest when someone
shouted my name and began
chasing me. I ducked into an alleyway
and scurried back into one
of the garages to hide and to check the
album for stamps that
might have come loose from their hinges
when, while fleeing my
pursuer, I'd stumbled and dropped the
album at the very spot on
the sidewalk where we regularly played
"I Declare War." When I
opened to my 1932 Washington
Bicentennials—twelve stamps
ranging in denomination from the
half-cent dark brown to the
ten-cent yellow—I was stunned.Washington
wasn't on the stamps
anymore. Unchanged at the top of each
stamp—lettered in what
I'd learned to recognize as white-faced
roman and spaced out on
either one or two lines—was the legend
"United States Postage."
The colors of the stamps were unchanged
as well—the two-cent
red, the five-cent blue, the eight-cent
olive green, and so on—all
the stamps were the same regulation
size, and the frames for the
portraits remained individually designed
as they were in the original
set, but instead of a different portrait
ofWashington on each of
the twelve stamps, the portraits were
now the same and no longer
of Washington but of Hitler. And on the
ribbon beneath each portrait,
there was no longer the name
"Washington" either.Whether
the ribbon was curved downward as on the
one-half-cent stamp
and the six, or curved upward as on the
four, the five, the seven,
and the ten, or straight with raised
ends as on the one, the one and
a half, the two, the three, the eight,
and the nine, the name lettered
across the ribbon was "Hitler."

It was when I looked next at the album's
facing page to see what,
if anything, had happened to my 1934
National Parks set of ten that
I fell out of the bed and woke up on the
floor, this time screaming.
Yosemite in California, Grand Canyon in
Arizona, Mesa Verde in
Colorado, Crater Lake in Oregon, Acadia
in Maine,Mount Rainier
in Washington, Yellowstone in Wyoming,
Zion in Utah, Glacier in
Montana, the Great Smoky Mountains in
Tennessee—and across
the face of each, across the cliffs, the
woods, the rivers, the peaks,
the geyser, the gorges, the granite
coastline, across the deep blue
water and the high waterfalls, across
everything in America that
was the bluest and the greenest and the
whitest and to be preserved
forever in these pristine reservations,
was printed a black swastika.