While the holocaust was going on in Europe, a Jewish screenwriter in the U.S. named Ben Hecht was persuaded to join the cause of having a separate Jewish army to fight alongside the allies. The British, who were governing Palestine, saw the army as a possible threat that would turn against them when the war was won. Hecht tried to persuade Hollywood producers to give money to the cause, but the general reaction was “If Jews wanted to fight, they could fight as Americans or Englishmen.”
Finally Hecht tried David Selznick, who had produced “Gone With The Wind”, which had been a very successful movie. Selznick argued against the idea, saying:
“I don’t want anything to do with your cause, for the simple reason that it’s a Jewish political cause…I’m an American and not a Jew.”
Hecht asked: “If I can prove you are a Jew, David, will you sign the telegram [for a rally for a Jewish army] as cosponsor with me?”
“How are you going to prove it?” he asked.
“I’ll call up any three people you name,” said Hecht, “and ask them the following question–What would you call David O. Selznick, an American or a Jew? If any of the three answers that he’d call you an American, you win. Otherwise, you sign the telegram.”
David agreed to the test and picked out three names.
Hecht called them with David eavesdropping on the extension.
Martin Quigley, publisher of the Motion Picture Exhibitors’ Herald answered the question promptly. “I’d say David Selznick was a Jew,” he said.
Nunnaly Johnson hemmed a few moments but finally offered the same reply. Leland Hayward answered, “For God’s sake, what’s the matter with David? He’s a Jew and he knows it.”
David Selznick added his name to the telegram, and his name carried such weight that other acceptances poured in.
The rally took place on a spring night in 1941. One of the speakers was John Henry Patterson, a Colonel in the British army who had commanded the Jewish Legion of World War I. He got a standing ovation to begin with, but when he cited various instances of British anti-Semitism in Palestine, and added that the British had no intention of honoring their pledge to make Palestine a Jewish homeland, he greatly disturbed the members of his audience, Jewish or not. After all, they thought, wasn’t Britain at that moment undergoing its finest hour holding off the power of Nazi Germany? Suddenly there were boos. Samuel Goldwyn rose and told Patterson to “sit down!”
Despite the stunned response, there were more speakers and money was promised, though in the end, only nine thousand dollars actually came through.
Truth was, that Britain was keeping Jews out of Palestine, and lives could have been saved if they had not. For instance, in 1939, the British made it known that after the admission of 75,000 Jews during the next five years, the gates of Palestine would be closed to Jews for good. The British used their army, navy and air force against Jewish refugees, and the first person killed by a British bullet in World War II was Hans Schneider, a Jewish refugee on a refugee ship!
Churchill did support the creation of a Jewish army, but it didn’t come into being until the end of the war partly due to British bureaucratic resistance, and partly for other reasons ( the story is told in the N.Y. Post here: https://nypost.com/2018/03/01/the-forgotten-effort-to-raise-a-jewish-army-to-fight-hitler/ )
The Rest of Us: by Stephen Birmingham published 1984
The Four Front War by William Perl (1978)