NEVER AGAIN sounds the theme of an American dystopia, a United States that turns on its Jewish citizens, arrests them, takes away their rights, and creates red, white and blue detention camps. This is a popular theme in current American culture.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE, the Hulu television series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, has been approved for a third season. It describes an America governed by religious zealots.
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, released by Amazon Prime, is also moving into its third season. It is based on a 1962 novel by science fiction author Phillip K. Dick and takes place in a present day world in which Germany and Japan won the Second World War.
THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA joins this trend with a television series just purchased by HBO based on Philip Roth’s 2004 novel. Roth imagines an America in which aviator Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 election. Lindbergh, a Nazi sympathizer, keeps the United States neutral in the war.
IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE was written by Sinclair Lewis in the height of the Great Depression. It depicts a United States dominated by a nationalist tyrant. This classic but mostly forgotten novel was recently reissued and is now an Amazon Best Seller.
NEVER AGAIN fits into this fascination with how things might be had one or another trigger event launched the United States toward a totalitarian government.
Here are links to some recent news coverage of NEVER AGAIN.
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly recently posted a podcast interviewing me about NEVER AGAIN. You can listen to the podcast here
My home town newspaper, the Ipswich Chronicle, ran a front page story on NEVER AGAIN in its December 6 issue.
The news site whowhatwhy just ran a lengthy article about NEVER AGAIN and the possibility of something similar to the Holocaust happening in the United States. Here is a link to the article.
Here’s a listing for NEVER AGAIN that was run in The New York Review of Books in the December 2018 issue.
This is a one-hour interview I did with a talk show on a radio station near Milwaukee. on November 27.
On Nov. 1, I was interviewed by Ed Ferenc of WERE in Cleveland on his America’s Workforce Radio network show about NEVER AGAIN. Click here to listen to that interview.
On Oct. 26, I was interviewed by Paul Healy on WARA radio in Attleboro, Massachusetts on his talk show, Pontificating with Paul. Click here to listen. My interview starts at 1.29.00.
Citizen Truth, a national political news organization, published an opinion article I wrote about representing a neo-Nazi organization in today’s political climate. Click here to read the article.
I appeared on The Exchange with Matt Gurney on Global News 640 in Toronto on November 14. We discussed NEVER AGAIN and trigger points that could lead to increasing anti-Semitism in the United States. The show is available here.
Newspapers around the country have run op-ed pieces I’ve written about the theme of NEVER AGAIN, that anti-semitism is rising in the United States and threatening civil liberties. One of my favorite venues was El Nuevo Dia, the newspaper with the largest circulation in Puerto Rico.
Early on in NEVER AGAIN two ships carrying Israeli refugees steam into Boston Harbor. They are turned away by the United States, which has closed its doors to all asylum-seeking refugees. This episode was inspired by a similar incident in 1939, at the start of the Second World War.
After Kristallnacht, November 9 and 10, 1938, when hundreds of synagogues, Jewish homes, schools and businesses were vandalized and torched and more than 100 Jews were murdered, the handwriting was on the wall. German Jews desperately sought a way to escape. The problem was finding a safe place that would take them in. In May 1939, 937 men, women and children scrambled onto the SS St. Louis, a German passenger ship that had a regular route between Germany and the United States. They’d bribed a Cuban consular official to issue transit visas to Cuba and they hoped to get from Cuba into the United States.
When the ship arrived in Havana, Cuban officials cancelled the visas and demanded a large ransom before allowing the passengers off the ship. Only 22 Jewish passengers were allowed to remain in Cuba.
The ship left Havana and sailed to Miami. Despite frantic pleas to President Franklin Roosevelt to allow the refugees to enter the United States, they were barred from the country. When authorities learned the ship’s captain planned to drive the St. Louis onto the beach so the passengers could escape, Coast Guard ships were assigned to patrol around the SS St. Louis. A suicide committee was established on board to keep passengers from taking their own lives.
Official American justifications for denying asylum to these Jewish refugees from Nazism are eerily similar to reasons given in recent years for denying asylum to Syrian refugees, to Mexicans, to Central American refugees. A State Department telegram ignored the deadly threats they faced in Germany and stated that the passengers must “await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.”
President Roosevelt repeated rumors that Nazi spies had been hidden among the refugees on the ship. At a press conference FDR warned that “among the refugees there are some spies, as has been found in other countries,” explaining that “especially Jewish refugees” could be coerced to report to German agents under the threat of harm to their families. A Saturday Evening Post article warned the public that “disguised as refugees, Nazi agents have penetrated all over the world, as spies, fifth columnists, propagandists, or secret commercial agents.”
The SS St. Louis was sent back to Europe in June 1939. Jewish agencies negotiated with European governments to accept the passengers, rather than having them returned to Germany. Eventually, Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands admitted St. Louis passengers. Except for those accepted by Britain, their safety was short lived. Within weeks, Germany invaded France, Belgium and the Netherlands and continued rounding up Jews. A post-war survey showed that 254 of the 620 passengers in France, Belgium and the Netherlands were killed in the Holocaust, mostly at the killing centers of Auschwitz and Sobibór.
A year after the SS St. Louis passengers were denied entry into the United States, thousands of English schoolchildren were taken in by American families to protect them from a threatened German invasion of Britain. In contrast to the paranoia about Jewish refugees, a Gallup Poll in 1940 indicated that 5 million American families were willing to welcome children from Britain into their homes.
Just as history has not been kind concerning the internment of Japanese-Americans in detention camps, the rejection of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany left a black mark on America’s otherwise heroic role in the Second World War. In 2012, the United States Department of State publicly apologized in a ceremony attended by 14 survivors of the SS St. Louis.
A chilling Twitter site includes photos of St. Louis passengers with the caption “My name is [passenger name]. The US turned me away 79 years ago today. I was murdered in Auschwitz.”
In 1976, a Hollywood movie was made about the SS St. Louis, Voyage of the Damned. The cast included Faye Dunaway, Max von Sydow, Malcolm McDowell, Orson Welles, James Mason, Lee Grant, and Katherine Ross, who won a Golden Globe for her role. The entire movie can be viewed on YouTube here. I watched it. The movie is dated. And slow. But it captures the trauma of the event, and the times.
And finally, In NEVER AGAIN, Boston-area Jews are inspired by the fate of the St. Louis passengers in the actions they take in the novel, setting the stage for the remainder of the book.
The characters in NEVER AGAIN get around in exciting ways, flying high performance gliders and crossing the ocean in a sailboat. I tried to be realistic in my depictions of both flying and sailing. I’m an FAA licensed glider pilot. I’ve sailed, and owned a variety of sailboats, my entire life. Here’s some background on the aircraft and the sailboat in the book.
The Hinckley Bermuda 40 yawl in the book is considered an ultimate classic sail boat, at least for one made of fiberglass and not wood. The first of these 40-foot boats was built in 1959. They are still built today, the longest production run of any sailboat in the country. Henry R. Hinckley & Co. is located on Mt. Desert Island in Southwest Harbor, Maine, adjacent to Acadia National Park. Bermuda 40s won their share of long distance ocean races, including the Newport-Bermuda Race, in which the first, still uncompleted Bermuda 40 finished in the top third of her class. The trans-Atlantic crossing in NEVER AGAIN was no challenge for a Bermuda 40. Many of them have circumnavigated.
They are classy, expensive boats. I once saw two Bermuda 40s side by side on moorings in Seal Harbor, on Mt. Desert Island. They were owned by brothers David and Nelson Rockefeller. Here’s a video of sailing a Bermuda 40.
The glider in NEVER AGAIN is a plane I used to fly at the Plymouth Soaring Society, a Grob G103C Twin III. The plane in the book is spiffed up a bit – it is a few years in the future – with “the latest high-tech tubes and turbulators designed to squeeze every ounce of available lift out of the air.” I made those up. But somebody should invent them. The plane holds two people, sitting one in front of the other.
A Grob 103 was the first two-person glider to fly 1,000 kilometers, 622 miles. The 60-mile flight in NEVER AGAIN would be, as described in the book, “a piece of cake.” The Grob 103 is rated to carry 242 pounds in each of the two seats. Most gliders have to be towed into the air by a power plane. Here’s a video of a student pilot in a Grob 103, learning to do a loop. Notice how this instructor has the same emergency rope break mantra as in NEVER AGAIN: “under 200 feet altitude land straight ahead, over 200 feet sharp turn and land downwind.” Here’s another video shot with a camera mounted on the wing.
Let me know if you think I got anything wrong in the flying or sailing scenes in the book.
In NEVER AGAIN, I attempted to create a near future in which events similar to the Holocaust – although without the mass murders and deaths – happen in the United States: American Jews are arrested and held in detention camps, eventually, they are deported. My task was to make the unthinkable thinkable. I relied on history.
Nearly every country in which Jews have lived, which means just about every country in the world, has, at one time or another, arrested, segregated, murdered or deported its Jewish population. Underlying my thought process was an assumption that something that has happened so universally in other times and places could also happen here. And now. Lets look at history.
Jews were prominent in English business, culture and politics in the Middle Ages. That changed in 1290 with the Edict of Expulsion, a royal decree issued by King Edward I, expelling all Jews from England. The expulsion edict remained in force for 400 years.
Jews were expelled from France in 1306, when half the property in Paris was owned by Jews. In 1492, all Jews were expelled from Spain. Jews were persecuted throughout the Reformation. Martin Luther wrote in 1543, “We do not know to this day which devil has brought them (Jews) here…like a plague, pestilence, pure misfortune in our country.” Jews were banned from Italy and Bavaria in 1593. There is a mind-numbing litany of expulsions, murders, pogroms and antisemitic acts online at http://www.eretzyisroel.org/~jkatz/expulsions.html.
The United States has not been immune. The radio priest Father Charles Coughlin was the Rush Limbaugh of the 1930s. His 30 million listeners were double Limbaugh’s audience. Listen to him urge his millions of supporters to drive Jewish money changers from the temple of American commerce. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPBooPu28QY. If you think Father Coughlin is just history, read the recent comments on this video. Father Coughlin, like most American antisemites, was a private person. During the Civil War, however, General (later President) Ulysses Grant showed his antisemitic beliefs by officially issuing General Order 11 in 1862, stating:
The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from [Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi] within twenty-four hours.
Germany, of course, is the most frightening, and relevant historic lesson. Just ten years before the establishment of the Nazi death camps, German Jews, before Hitler, were as patriotic as American Jews are today. They were prominent in the military during the First World War.
German Jews were as involved in politics during the pre-Hitler years as American Jews are today. Hugo Preuss was Interior Minister and wrote the first draft of the liberal Weimar Constitution. Walther Rathenau, the chairman of General Electric and head of the German Democratic Party, served as foreign minister in 1922, when he negotiated the important Treaty of Rapallo with Russia. Rathenau’s allegiance to Germany could be echoed by many American Jews today: “I am a German of Jewish origin. My people are the German people, my home is Germany, my faith is German faith, which stands above all denominations,” he said eleven years before Adolph Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany .
German Jews were as dominant in theater and films as American Jews are now. And German Jews were increasingly identifying as Germans first, Jews second. In 1927, 54% of all marriages of Jews were with non-Jews. This is almost exactly the same percentage of Jews marrying non-Jews as in the United States today.
My point in this is that German Jews in 1930 had as little dread of what the near future held for them as American Jews hold today. If history could change that rapidly, that drastically before, how can you say it can’t happen again, here? I’m certainly not saying that it will happen, just that it could. My goal in writing NEVER AGAIN was to come up with believable circumstances in which it does happen.