Tuesday, May 17, 2005

THE NY TIMES HIDDEN HOLOCAUST

HIDDEN HOLOCAUST
By ERIC FETTMANN

NewYork Post

ON this 60th anniver sary of the allied triumph over Na zism, do we need another book examining The New York Times' failure to report news of the Holocaust?

After all, the refusal to seriously report the mass murder of Europe's Jews as it was unfolding was a failing of the entire American press. (The New York Post was one of the few Exceptions.) And the Times itself has publicly acknowledged that it grossly underplayed coverage of the Holocaust.

But, as Laurel Leff documents in this important book, which makes extensive use of the Times' corporate archives, there are many memos that document how and why the paper failed so abjectly.

And that failure had tragic repercussions: "The Times was unique . . . in the comprehensiveness of its [foreign] coverage and the extent of its influence among American opinion makers." Indeed, she writes, "no American newspaper was better positioned to highlight the Holocaust than the Times, and no American newspaper so influenced public discourse by its failure to do so."

Part of the problem was journalistic: The paper's Berlin bureau chief, Guido Enderis, was a Nazi sympathizer; its Paris correspondent viewed things through the prism of the pro-Nazi Vichy regime. Throughout the war, Europe was covered by second-string reporters, many of them disdained by the paper's editors.

Ultimately, however, this is the story of one man: Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, whose relationship to his own Jewishness clouded the way his paper covered the extermination of European Jewry.

Sulzberger's assimilationist beliefs and fierce anti-Zionism have long been known,
but even those versed in Times history will be astonished by the depths of his feelings, as uncovered by Leff in previously unpublished memos.

Jews, decreed Sulzberger, should "not be treated as a group in the pages of the Times or in public policy." He refused to accept that Jews were being persecuted solely because they were Jews — and even when the evidence became overwhelming, he refused to accept that Jews should be the subject of separate rescue efforts.

"A minority, it seems to me, cannot save itself through its minority status but can only be successful it if can, with integrity, merge its cause with a larger movement," wrote Sulzberger, explaining why the Times had "deliberately referred to those persons of Jewish faith who battled so gallantly in [the] Warsaw [Ghetto] as unfortunate citizens of Poland."

The paper's editors knew of his feelings — because he made them clear in written orders. Stories about refugees and persecution could not single out Jews as victims; Times editorials "never emphasized the Jewish side of the question." And such stories — at a time when the number of Jewish victims already had reached the millions — inevitably appeared inside the paper, not on the front page.

Yet, writes Leff, Sulzberger "had no trouble giving prominent display to articles about atrocities" against other people. News about the Jews, she writes, "was perceived as a footnote to a larger narrative that fit comfortably on an inside page."

Even after V-E Day and the liberation of the death camps, Times stories refused to focus on the Jewish victims:
  • "The thrust of the reporting was to document what the Germans had done, not to show to whom it had been done. . . . The Times, both deliberately and through happenstance, continued to bury the story of the Jewish genocide."
Perhaps the best summation of the tragedy of the Times' coverage of the Holocaust was offered in 1944 by Oswald Garrison Villard, a former publisher of The Post and The Nation -
  • "If ever there was a case where the Times should have risen superior to fear of consequences, it is this. For never were human beings more entitled to be defended and championed by a great organ of public opinion; certainly, never have men and women anywhere been tortutured and slaughtered in such numbers for less reason."
BURIED BY THE TIMES: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper
By Laurel Leff
Cambridge University Press, 426 pages, $29