The Jew Who Defeated Hitler

Phew! The Manuscript’s Done.

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I’ve finally printed out and burned to disc everything the publisher needs for The Jew Who Defeated Hitler. It was absolutely nerve-racking to push the button on it. There is so much detail about arms program and the wartime economy, I kept looking for mistakes. And I couldn’t fact check it fully because the original documents are in a library in the US. Had to go with my notes. Hopefully, everything is in order. The 18 photos and three charts including the wonderful official portrait, which the US Treasury was kind enough to let me use. We’re on track to have the book out with Prometheus Books in the fall of 2014.

Delighted to Work with Prometheus

Last Friday, Oct. 11, was the 75th anniversary of a meeting between Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and his two closest aides, Herman Oliphant and Harry Dexter White. Gathering in Morgenthau’s office at the Treasury, they discussed countervailing duties against Germany and Japan, and an effort to persuade President Roosevelt to rearm for the coming conflict. The thing that’s notable about the meeting for me is it is the opening scene of The Jew Who Defeated Hitler.

It’s a mild coincidence that 75 years after this meeting, I concluded an agreement with Prometheus Books of Albany, N.Y., to publish The Jew Who Defeated Hitler in the fall of 2014. (To be precise, we concluded the agreement Thursday, but who’s counting?) I’m thrilled to be working with Steve Mitchell and his team at Prometheus. They have a tremendous catalogue and I’m honored to think my book will be added to it in a year.

The book is virtually finished and I hope to have it to Steve in a few weeks.

I’d like to send special thanks to my tremendous agent, Roger Williams of New England Publishing Associates, for selling the book. Roger’s predecessors, Elizabeth Knappman-Frost and the late Ed Knappman, were also instrumental in getting this project going.

So on this Thanksgiving, I’m especially thankful for the great work these friends have done, and that this book will be out in a year. Please keep following this blog as there will be a lot more news.

The Screening of Good Fortune

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On Monday, I’ll be in New York for the private screening of “Good Fortune — The Story of Morgenthau”, a full-length documentary on the Morgenthau Family.

Good Fortune tells the tale of Henry Morgenthau, Henry Morgenthau Jr. and Robert Morgenthau, and their service to the United States. I was honored to be interviewed for this production and hope my clips are used in the final version. I guess I’ll know tomorrow night.

The documentary is due to be broadcast on the Public Broadcast System later this year, and I will post the times and dates when I know more.

On Tuesday, I’ll be sitting down and talking to Robert Morgenthau, the former Attorney for Manhattan, about his father’s role in the Second World War. It will be a real privilege to meet Mr. Morgenthau, whose cases include the prosecution of Wall Street insiders, crime bosses, Bernard Goetz and the Central Park Rapist.

I’ve almost finished writing The Jew Who Defeated Hitler, and feel confident it will be published in the autumn of 2014. As a buildup to publication, I will be blogging regularly on this site. Please follow me on @peterdmoreira on Twitter or Peter Moreira on Google+. I’ve found far too much material to include in the book and plan to post some lively blogs here.

Remembering John Morton Blum

It was with sadness that I read of the passing of John Morton Blum, the 90-year-old Yale history professor who blazed the trail in studying Henry Morgenthau Jr.

Blum, who came across in all his writings and interviews as a consumate gentleman, taught at Yale for 34 years, but I would argue the hallmark of his career was his three-volume summation of Morgenthau’s tenure as Treasury Secretary, From the Morgenthau Diaries. I feel about Blum the way I feel about the late Princeton Hemingway scholar Carlos Baker: they both blazed rather difficult trails that later scholars gladly followed.

John Morton Blum

Morgenthau and the Treasury family, as the Secretary often called them,  yearned for someone to write the record of their period together in the Treasury Building. They (rightly) felt they didn’t get the credit they deserved for the New Deal, the rearmament of America, the presecution of the Second World War and the War Refugee Board.

Morgenthau himself often attempted to oversee an official record of his tenure, bringing in a Treasury official during the war and later Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to help with the project. It was only when he teamed up with Blum in the mid-1950s that the project began to bear fruit.

Blum combed through and helped to organize the Morgenthau Diaries and transformed them into a three-volume history, often interviewing Morgenthau himself to gain perspective. This decade-long work is absolutely essential to anyone delving into the Morgenthau story.

I believe Blum’s greatest strength was his comprehension of how incredibly complicated were the tasks facing the Treasury and his refusal to over-simplify them. Having been through some of the original documents, I understand how new layers of complexity jump out at you the deeper you delve into them.  Blum never stopped digging into the myriad strata of issues in his studies of the 1930s and 1940s. And because of that, he has left generations of historians a superb roadmap with which to navigate these crucial years.

Solving the Cynthia Olson Mystery

On the evening of November 3, 1947, retired journalist Riley Harris Allen took the lectern before a crowded meeting of the Hawaii Social Sciences Association and discussed a matter his audience knew little about: the sinking of the American cargo ship Cynthia Olson on the morning of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Voyage to Oblivion

He asked three unresolved questions about the ship’s sinking by a Japanese submarine: at what time did it take place? If it took place before the first bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, should the military have realized sooner the Japanese were attacking? And what happened to the Cynthia Olson’s crew?

The Cynthia Olson story is one of those Second World War stories that always linger in the background, rarely moving to the fore and never fading away. Now Stephen
Harding, editor of Military History magazine in Washington, has shed new light on the tale in his splendid book, Voyage to Oblivion: A Sunken Ship, A Vanished Crew and the Final Mystery of Pearl Harbor.

The Cynthia Olson was traveling from the West Coast to Hawaii to deliver lumber needed for military fortifications under the arms program, whose financing was arranged by Henry Morgenthau Jr. Writing with a journalist’s clarity and sense of narrative, Harding tells of the Japanese sub I-26, commanded by Minoru Yokota, stalking the ill-fated ship in the middle of the Pacific until the time had come when she could attack. Yokota fired a warning shot to halt the ship, allowed the crew to escape to life boats, then sank the ship. The crew was never heard from again.

Though Harding brings out the character and history of the Cynthia Olson crew, his portrait of Yokota is one of the highlights of the book, especially after the end of the war. Indeed, his study of events after the war is intriguing. His examination of the historiography of the Cynthia Olson story is as fascinating as the story of the sinking itself.

In short, Harding wrestles with Allen’s questions and likely comes as close as anyone ever will to answering them.

John Morton Blum and Me

An interesting thing happened while I was away in New York and New England last week. My son and I drove to New York and back, taking in concerts by U2 and Blue Rodeo and stopping with family along the way.

John Morton Blum

Before I left, I chucked in the car a bunch of notes I had to review for The Jew Who Defeated Hitler, and Volume II of John Morton Blum’s From the Morgenthau Diaries. Blum is easily the most important source I have. There are over 1 million pages of documents in the actual Morgenthau Diaries in Hyde Park, including transcripts of all his meetings and all his correspondence, and I will never get through all of them. Instead, I use Blum’s work as my roadmap.

Blum (who appeared as himself in Woody Allen’s Zelig) was a professor of history at Yale and spent more than a decade working with Henry Morgenthau Jr. on crafting his diary into the story of his 11 years as Treasury Secretary. The result was a three-volume work that details all the complex negotiations through the New Deal and the Second World War.

It turned out I was in holiday mode and I hardly looked at the book as my attention was on being a tourist. In New Haven, Conn., we stayed with my cousin Alison and her husband Scott at their beautiful 113-year-old home, and one night Scott took me on a tour of Yale. Midway through the tour, Scott mentioned something about the Bush family and I remembered that Blum had been one of Dubya’s professors at Yale.

“John Morton Blum taught here, didn’t he?’’ I asked.

Scott wheeled around, absolutely stunned, and asked how I knew about Blum. I told him and he shook his head and smiled.

“Blum owned our house for about 40 years,’’ he said.

So as I return to my writing, I do so having absorbed the spirit of John Morton Blum from the walls of his old house. I feel more qualified now to move forward with this wonderful project.

Lochner’s Report

Roosevelt and Morgenthau saw one factor swing to their favor in the summer of 1940: isolationism eroded rapidly as a political force. The main reason was the news reports on the German devastation of Norway, Denmark, the Benelux countries and France, which told of the efficiency and brutality of the German advance.

Goebbels and Lochner

One of the best war correspondents was Louis P. Lochner of the Associated Press, whose work I came across while researching The Jew Who Defeated Hitler.  The AP Berlin bureau chief had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for his reports on the invasion of
Poland, and he was also well regarded by the Nazis, who considered him trustworthy.
In late June 1940, Hitler invited three U.S. journalists to witness German forces in action in Belgium, and one was Lochner.

Lochner, a native of Illinois who had been in Germany since 1920, and two others moved to the front lines on May 20, 1940. Lochner’s report, which appeared with his byline on the front page of the New York Times the next day, said he had always understood “the air force is Germany’s super-ace in this war.’’ But it was only after witnessing it from the German side of the battle lines that he fully understood the importance of air power in the German war machine.

The German assault was methodical, he wrote, and began with aerial surveillance that returned with photographs to determine allied troop movements, troop strength, weapons and armament. Once the Germans developed the film and debriefed the pilots, they immediately responded by bombing key points, including towns if necessary, to disrupt the troops and destroy infrastructure.

Amid the resulting confusion, motorized ground forces would attack swiftly and violently to add to the confusion.

Once the aerial assault and mechanized forces had created as much panic as possible and seriously weakened key points in the defense, the regular army would move in.  The Germans had proved that “war has been revolutionized by the air force,’’ wrote
Lochner.

Any reader could see how effective these tactics were and how helpless the Allies were in trying to battle them. The reports of Lochner and other heroic correspondents created a sea-change in public opinion that summer.

Lochner was no toady to the Axis. When Germany declared war on the U.S. in December 1941, he was rounded up with other Americans and held for five months in a German prison. He was released in a prisoner exchange, and returned to the U.S., where he launched an eight-month speaking tour disparaging the brutality of the Nazis.