On January 23rd the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco hosted Ben Urwand, author of The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, in conversation with Greil Marcus. During the event (which you can watch in full via the video below), Urwand presented on his research, discussed the book with Marcus, and took questions from the audience.
Marcus—whom we’ve also published several times—began the evening by addressing the controversy surrounding the book, which documents major Hollywood studios accepting direction from German authorities for a longer period and to a much greater extent than previously known.
We’ll pick things up with Marcus addressing the persistent calls for HUP to withdraw the book:
This book has been attacked because it is sensationalistic; because it’s one-sided; because it’s exaggerated. Well this is quite remarkable. Nobody asks that a book be withdrawn because it’s sensationalistic or exaggerated. The argument has also been made that, “Well, everybody knew this was going on. You could find it in Variety. There’s nothing new here.” You know, traffic accident, nothing to see, move along, move along. “But if there is anything new here it’s not important.” It’s like the argument that people made for generations about the Rosenbergs: “They didn’t give anything to the Soviet Union. And if they did it wasn’t anything important. It didn’t have any effect.”
Marcus went on to situate the response to Urwand’s book within a history of Jewish authors discussing Jewish matters and being met by outcry:
The campaign—and it has been among various people an organized campaign—against The Collaboration has been of such virulence and so hysterical, and with accusations that verge on the criminal, that it recalls other instances where Jewish authors have delved into forbidden material, and have come back with stories that a lot of people want to hear, and a lot of people don’t. When Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem, and she argued that members of the Jewish councils in Eastern Europe worked with the Nazis to facilitate transport of Jews from the ghettoes to concentration camps, in hopes that the people they were supposedly representing would get better treatment, and that they would get better treatment. This was a small part of Hannah Arendt’s book, but it was an explosive argument. She was attacked by not only people in the press, but attacked my colleagues, attacked by lifelong friends. She was shunned. Her classes at the New School in New York were taken away from her. When Philip Roth published Portnoy’s Complaint, Gershom Scholem, the great Israeli historian, compared it to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Which I think no one has done of The Collaboration yet.