An Actor’s Response

A rapid acceleration of Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic violence began the evening of November 9 and continued into November 10.  Kristallnacht, or “the night of the broken glass”, witnessed more than 8,000 Jewish shops destroyed with countless synagogues demolished or burned. Individual Jews were attacked, many severely beaten, and more than ninety killed while others committed suicide. In the aftermath, some 26,000 prominent Jews were sent off to concentration camps only to be told they would be released if they emigrated.  The wave of terror was intended to force the remaining half million Jews from Germany into exile.

On November 14, Herbert Hoover took to the airwaves of NBC, delivering remarks condemning the German government but not the German people.  Selections from the speech convey the general tenor of Hoover’s thoughts:

            “Americans should and are expressing their indignation at the terrible outbreak of Jewish persecution in Germany and the assaults upon the Christian churches.  It represents an outbreak of intolerance which has no parallel in modern history except possible the destruction of religious worship in Russia by the Bolsheviks.  And the shock comes to us in America because of the high appreciation of German standards of civilization which the American people have held….

            This rise of intolerance today, the suffering being inflicted on an innocent and helpless people, grieve every decent American.  It raises our every sense of indignation and resentment.  It makes us fearful for the whole progress of civilization.  It is our hope that those springs of tolerance and morals, of human compassion which lie deep in the German people may rise to control.  But in the meantime our condemnation of these leaders should be without reserve.  They are bringing to Germany a moral isolation from the entire world.”

            The public reaction to Hoover’s remarks were immediate and gratifying.  Large numbers of letters and telegrams poured into his office over the next few days and weeks.  Among them was a telegram from Hollywood, California.  It read:

            “Your participation in the memorable broadcast of the fourteenth protesting against German atrocities made articulate what every true American feels and thinks.  I join those who commend your courage in demonstrating practical Americanism which is basically humanitarianism.  Radio in a democracy is the most powerful instrument to mobilize decent forces.  Your broadcast will not be in vain.  I praise your powerful cooperation not as a Jew but as an American who has always upheld our creed of justice tolerance and fair play to all and hope this broadcast is but a beginning in the campaign to prove that moral forces are not impotent and that we are alert to the threat to civilization.

            Edward G. Robinson”


Photo of Edward G. Robinson
Photo of Edward G. Robinson

Typically cast as a gangster or the “tough guy” in motion pictures throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Robinson also starred in several films that decried the outrages of Hitler’s Germany.  In Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) Robinson was part of a cast in the first blatantly anti-Nazi film that Hollywood produced before the United States entered World War II.  Robinson co-starred with Orson Welles in the 1946 film The Stranger which was the first film to present documentary footage of the Holocaust.

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