Hitler in Los Angeles

The subtitle of this book by Steven J. Ross published in 2017 by Bloomsbury is “How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America.”  That is the substance of the book—there was a large pro-Nazi German community in Los Angeles in the 1930s and some of them actively cooperated with Hitler’s government, plotting attacks on defense industries and infrastructure (very important on the West Coast) and on the Jewish community, especially Hollywood notables.

The heroes of the book are two volunteer Jewish “spymasters,” attorney Leon Lewis  and Joe Roos, a German-born journalist, who mobilized chiefly non-Jewish informants within the varied pro-Nazi groups from the Bund to the Silver Shirts to the secret cells set up for the day when “Nazis will take over the government.”  As a result of their work, these groups were eventually dismantled, their leaders jailed or forced to flee to Germany and Los Angeles escaped the successful sabotage actions conducted by Nazis on the east coast. 

Leon Lewis – the Jewish hero of the story

To this reader the most interesting—and surprising—revelations of the book are peripheral to its central story.  The Jewish spy team was so important because the authorities, including the police and the FBI and government investigative agencies (like the newborn House Un-American Activities Committee) were more concerned with Communist subversion than Nazi activities. Never dreaming that America would soon be an ally of “Uncle Joe” (Stalin), many in the local police especially were outright Nazi sympathizers, seeing in Hitler a mutual foe against Communism.   Even those who were not outrightly pro-Nazi simply did not take the threat from Hitler seriously, ignoring or dismissing the voluminous and detailed information developed, and passed on them, by the Lewis-Roos spy ring. It was only when Hitler declared war on the U.S. in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor that all the various government agencies made pilgrimages to Roos, who had meticulously organized the information gathered over the previous decade.

Captain John Schmidt one of non-Jewish heroes of the story who went undercover

Also surprising, Ross describes how anti-Jewish feeling, far from receding, rose after the war began, as former isolationists blamed the Jews for getting the United States into war.  The outbreak of the war, writes Ross, “sparked the formation of new ‘nationalist’ (the term used by former isolationists) organizations—Informed Voters of America, Americanism Defense League and Americans for Peace—many of those members called for death to Jews.”

Astonishing too are Ross’s revelations of how successful the Nazis were in preventing any criticism of their behavior from making its way into Hollywood movies until the end of 1941 and the onset of war with the Third Reich.  Goebbels placed tremendous importance on keeping unfavorable portrayals of Nazism out of movies, which he saw as the most powerful shaper of public opinion.  Germany’s consul in Hollywood Georg Gyssling (ironically, it would turn out after the war, a foe of Hitler) was in charge of this operation, and managed to prevent anti-Nazi films from being produced and forcing cuts in films that portrayed any aspects of German life he didn’t like.  Gyssling had a number of means at his disposal: threats to German screenwriters and actors warning of reprisals against family members still in Germany if they participated in such films; refusal to show the offending films in Germany, a major source of Hollywood revenue.  Gyssling was greatly aided by the Production Code Administration of July 1934, a self-censoring body in Hollywood.  Established to uphold morals in movies, Section 10 of the Code declared “The history, institutions, prominent people and citizenry of all nations shall be represented fairly.”  Studios were now prohibited from making any films depicting “in an unfavorable light’ another country or its people.   Ross reports that Gyssling was delighted “for the new Code meant there could be no explicit cinematic attacks on Hitler or Nazis Germany.  So although the movie moguls, most of them Jewish, were under direct attack (one of the plots uncovered by the spymasters was to kill them in a synchronized attack) and the moguls contributed financially to the work of Lewis and Roos, they were without a voice on Nazism until the war.

Some things have not changed at much in today’s Hollywood, even though the production code is long gone.  Consider this: “As studios grow more dependent on ticket sales from the Chinese box office, filmmakers have become more willing to sanitize the content of their movies in order to appeal to the stringent sensibilities of Chinese censors. The People’s Republic of China, far from embracing the cultural mores of Hollywood, is actually changing the political complexion of American movies.”

Also of note is the transformation of the Anti-Defamation League, of which Leon Lewis was for years Executive Secretary.  At that time, it was a defender of Jews, but under the new leadership of Jonathan Greenblatt, it has become, in the words of Daniel Greenfield “a threat to Jews!” 

Greenfield describes the national conference of ADL in November of last year which began with a full-throated defense by Greenblatt of George Soros (prior to Greenblatt’s ascension, ADL had criticized “the radical billionaire’s defense of anti-Semitism”).  Instead of inviting activists fighting anti-Semitism to speak, ADL invited leftists from anti-Israel groups with a history of libeling Jews.  The ADL panel on Israel complained there were “some in the Jewish community who label almost all expressions that are deemed ‘anti-Israel’ as anti-Semitism. “  The ADL, says Greenfield has become “just another generic lefty group that pretends to care about Jewish causes only long enough to fleece some of its donors.”

Los Angeles Nazis


Hitler in Los Angeles – Steven Ross (2017)