|Genre:||Literature & Fiction|
|Author:||Philip Roth (2004)|
Lindbergh was also strongly anti-Semitic, and shared at least some of the racial views of the nazi regime. Here are his remarks at an America First Rally in Des Moines, Iowa, in September of 1941.
"It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race.
"No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.
"Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation. A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not.
"Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government."
The focus of the novel is on a Jewish-American family, The Roths, who live in a working class section of Newark, New Jersey in 1940. Philip is a seven year old grade-school kids who has an older brother, Sandy, and a strong, doting mother. Herman Roth, the father, is an insurance salesman making the princely sum of fifty dollars a week.
When "Lindy" takes over at the White House--after a whirlwind campaign where he literally barnstorms around in a airplane from Coast to Coast--the family is torn apart by the new policies that are pushed through Congress by the new administration. One of those policies comes from the newly formed (OAA) Organization of American Absorption--the "Just Folks" program, which ships Jewish kids out of urban environments like Newark to farms in rural states like Kentucky. Sandy goes to Kentucky and lives with a gentile family. Soon his attitudes and those of his father clash.
Later a "Homestead 42" law evicts Jews from their homes to be resettled all over America. "The Good Neighbor Program" puts non-Jewish families into these old neighborhoods. It is clear President Lindbergh's policies are a shadow of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws. The casual anti-Semitism that characterizes American bigotry turns more and more virulent. In the real
America of this time, Jewish people were restricted from many hotels and severe quotas kept them from entering private universities. In Roth's book, these restrictions get more severe, a scenario that plays on Thomas Caryle's "great man" view of history where a single leader at the right moment can remake a nation for better, or much worse.
Jewish Americans are gripped in fear. Many leave for Canada, but Herman Roth refuses to leaves his country. Philip's older cousin goes off to the Canadian Army to fight the Nazis, and comes home having lost a leg. One of Philip's aunts marries the prominent Jewish American Rabbi Bengelsdorf, who is a collaborator with the new White House regime. He is in attendance with his wife early in 1942 when Foreign Minister Joachim Von Rippentrop is invited for a State Dinner.
Finally, prominent Jewish-American leaders lash out against the tide that is turning against them. Led by the famous New York newspaper columnist and radio broadcaster Walter Winchell, a campaign against Lindbergh's policy gains traction on the East Coast and heads into the more isolationist parts of Middle America. More and more violence and anti-Jewish pogroms erupt. Nazi leaders in America and Klu Klux Klansmen in the ranks of storm-troopers bent on preserving their gains. The Roth family is literally under siege.
This book also relies on Roth's gifts for telling a detailed series of character studies and telling situations. He balances intimate family relations with larger events quite expertly. I found this book highly enjoyable.