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American efforts to bring artists and
intellectuals to American from Europe
US in the Great War
Although American troops had played a major part in defeating Germany
and Austria in the Great War (World War I), European allies France and
Britain resisted President Woodrow Wilson’s ideas for a postwar peace.
Wilson (center, above) wanted an international League of Nations to
promote peace, free trade with all nations, and disarmament to the point
of ending most 1919 “weapons of mass destruction” (airplanes,
submarines, etc.). Europeans refused to support these ideas.
Versailles Treaty
When the war ended at Versailles Palace in 1919 (above), the
only concession Wilson won was the League of Nations.
American voters were disappointed, and Congress refused to
ratify the treaty.
Russian Revolution
Americans were also disturbed by the Russian Revolution
(1917-23) in which the communist government of Vladimir Lenin
(above) offered the appeal of socialism to all whose without
property. American voters began to fear all “foreign elements”
including immigrants.
Immigration Laws
Prior to the Great War, immigration into the US was
relatively easy and heavy (up to 2-3 million per year
average from 1900 to 1915). Voters after 1919
demanded reductions in the number of new
Congress created a new, permanent “quota system” after
1920, which limited the number permitted per year and
favored western Europeans who were middle-class, over
other ethnicities and lower income groups.
This would have a marked effect on the post-1920
changes in American culture – fewer immigrants from
Europe were laboring class, many were artists and
Weimar Germany
Post-war Germany was in chaos, with heavy inflation (it took 1 billion marks
to buy bread in 1923), a government that was unable to do much, and an
emerging culture that rejected many pre-war values. The “Weimar culture”
gained popularity. It had impact on theater, art, music, film, and literature.
Anti-Semitism in Germany
Germany’s Jews (about
one-half percent of the
population) had more
freedom in the Weimar
era, but , many Germans
believed after the war
that Jews had somehow
“betrayed” the nation and
caused the defeat. AntiSemitic rhetoric in
speeches and print were
common and even carried
over into money – the
“noltgeld” (temporary
paper script issued in
1921) had anti-Jewish
Andre Breton – Art from senselessness
European artists, drawing in theater, art and revolutionary street demonstrations,
expanded modern art. Reflecting the massive destruction of the Great War, men
like Andre Breton emphasized “the art of unreason.” The word “dad” appears to
have been made up. Breton (above left) called dada “anti-war” while Georg
Grosz, one of the artists, said his work (“Automatons, above right) exposed a
“world of mass emptiness.”
German Dada-ism, 1920
The dada movement was among the most extreme reactions to the
Great War – with the losses so great and the results so meager, an
art of “meaninglessness” emerged in France and Germany.
Spanish artist Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory,” suggested
that if even time was flexible (as Einstein’s theory suggested) then
all values (faith, patriotism, success) may not reflect anything that
was “real.”
Above, Alexandr Korda’s “Golden Man,” 1918,
a story of loveless “romance.”
Left, Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, “Metropolis,”
envisioned a future of class warfare, and dull,
slavish, urban life.
Newly independent from the Austrian
empire, Hungary was also going
through turmoil – artists (like Korda)
were influenced by German and
Austrian ideas in the arts.
But, unlike Austria and Germany,
Hungary’s government was committed
to old traditions. Under the quasidictatorship of Admiral Horthy,
Hungary’s government repressed filmmakers, writers, and others who did
not conform to strict guidelines.
As a result several Hungarians
became a group of “intellectual
refugees,” leaving for other countries.
Hungarian Artists
Hungarian director Mano Kertesz made
several films (including “My Brother,
1918, above), but immigrated to Vienna
in 1919 when Horthy made all Hungarian
films subject to state censorship.
A rebel by nature, Arthur Koestler
sympathized with the Hungarian
Bolsheviks when they briefly
controlled Budapest in 1919. When
Admiral Horthy crushed the
Bolsheviks, Koestler moved to
Vienna and wrote for leftist journal.
He eventually joined the
Communist party, but renounced
the movement after witnessing the
Red purges in Spain in 1937-38.
He would move on to France and
then the U.S.
Master producers
Money drew Ernst Lubitsch (left) and Fritz Lang (right) to Hollywood in the
1920s. Lubitsch favored sardonic comedies (“The Marriage Circle,” 1924),
while Lang did brilliant work in dark drama (“Metropolis” in 1927, “M” in 1931)
Igor Stravinsky (a Russian of Polish
ancestry) changed ballet with his uptempo Firebird Suite and Rite of
Spring. Leaving Russia for France
after the Bolshevik revolution, he
rewrote compositions for playerpianos (using note combinations that
human hands could not perform).
In 1939 he went to the US, partly to
escape the growing war. He
conducted symphonies, wrote some
short, popular pieces – and was
fined for performing an “improved”
Star-spangled Banner in Boston.
U.S. Restrictions on Immigration
Since 1924, the U.S. had carefully restricted
immigration through a quota system. Even if
a person could find a place on the quota list
he or she could be rejected if the American
consul feared he/she would be a “public
charge” – someone who would not earn
enough and become a welfare recipient.
Americans who would file an affidavit,
promising to support an immigrant, could help
a person overcome this “public charge”
An America of influence could thus help many
– giving advantages to the upper class.
State Department Personnel
Without “friends in high places to get to
America, an applicant had difficulty.
Employees of the State Department, often
educated at ivy league schools, were
members of a fairly elite set. Hugh Teller,
assistant immigration consul at Stuttgart,
admitted that he investigated applicants for
visas for any “communist associations.”
He saw many artists as “subversives.”
(Teller personnel file obtained via Freedom
of Information Act, with assistance from
Senator Paul Wellstone).
National Socialism and Germany’s Jews
The most virulent anti-Semites in
Germany were the members of the
National Socialist (Nazi) Party, whose
leader, Adolf Hitler, had written in his
autobiography that Germany could
have won the World War by killing
thousands of “Jewish traitors” in
Germany with poison gas.
Nazi Party parade in late 1920s.
Once Hitler took power, Jewish artists
and intellectuals looked for asylum in
Britain, France, the US or Palestine.
Hypocrisy in the arts
In 1937, the Reich Ministry for
the Arts sponsored an exhibition
of “degenerate art” – work by
Jews, socialists and “sexual
deviants” that were to be
destroyed. The showing was
brief (too many wanted to see
them) and most were not
destroyed but sold overseas to
raise money for Nazi leaders.
In the war years (1939-45) Nazi
leaders would steal artworks
from Poland, France, Russia –
all of Europe).
Emigration Increases
Nazi persecutions increased,
including the burning of “Jewish
and degenerate books.
Jewish owners were forced to give
up businesses, professionals like
doctors who could no longer
practice, and protestors were
By 1935, thousands had left, but
only a few countries accepted
Jewish refugees.
Varian Fry
A correspondent for Living Age ,
Varian Fry persuaded a group in
New York to create the
“Emergency Rescue Committee,”
in 1940. Armed with a suitcase of
cash and emergency entry visas
(permits to live in the US as
refugees), Fry went to France to
find and help artists, writers, and
political opponents of the Nazis
leave France. Ultimately, he
aided some 2000 immigrants.
His story was used in part for the
film “Casablanca.”
Breton and Arendt
Among those Fry aided with his entry visas were -Dadist/activist Andre Breton and Hanna Arendt, who would
contribute numerous books to political sociology (most
famously in Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in
Lion Feuchtwanger, smuggled to
Marseilles in women’s clothing
escaped in further disguise to
Lisbon and then America, where
he wrote The Devil in France.
Far more critical of German culture
than his brother Thomas, Heinrich
Mann’s satirical novel Der Untertan
was used to script “The Blue Angel.”
Marcel Duchamp
French Artist Duchamp contributed to
numerous innovations in art, including
Dadism (he adorned a cheap print of
the Mona Lisa with a goatee and a label
suggesting she was a whore),
Surrealism (Nude Descendingna
Staircase), and Readymade art (the
bicycle wheel and stool).
Multi-talented, he experiments with new
music and played chess for France in
international tournaments.
Jacques Lipchitz
A Russian-born Jew, sculptor
Lipchitz fled France and
brought his innovations to the
US (above, “Mother and Child,”
Marc Chagall
Chagall influenced art worldwide.
“The Fiddler,” (right) inspired the
transition of Sholem Aleichem’s
story Tevye into the play “Fiddler
on the Roof.”
The Sciences
Jews in the sciences (including
Einstein, above, John von
Neumann, upper right; E.P. Wigner
and Leo Szilard, lower right, middle
positions) would flee to America and
contribute to atomic research and
The Bomb
Atomic bomb project director
Robert Oppenheimer (left, with
pipe) could not have created the
weapon with the aid of Enrico
Fermi (left) and Edward Teller
(below), both refugee physicists.
Teller would direct the H-Bomb
project -- opposed by Fermi and
A-Bomb vs. H-Bomb
Original H-Bomb was 100 times more powerful than the Hiroshima
bomb. Newer weapons can be over 1000 times more powerful.
Europe’s Displaced Persons (DPs)
Former prisoners, slave laborers, and refugees of World War
II wandered Europe in mid-1945; from 11 to 20 million
men, women and children created a refugee crisis.
War Refugee Board
In 1944, the US government
created the War Refugee
Board (with Cordell Hull,
Henry Morgenthau, and Henry
Stimson as directors). The
Board administered efforts to
bring “endangered” war
refugees to the US.
An additional 400,000 refugees would enter the US, 1945 -49
Having foreseen the problem, the Allies created UNRRA in 1943 to
“plan, co-ordinate, administer or arrange for the administration of
measures for the relief of victims of war.”
UNRRA camps
Camps for refugees were
created, mostly from
military camps in Germany.
The camps were guarded
by Allied military
personnel, but the camp
inhabitants created their
own administrative
government including
police forces, and handled
most of their own affairs.
Most funding came from
the US.
Immigration possibilities
In practical terms, few
countries could accept
thousands of refugees after
World War II. How many a
nation might take depended
on economics as well as
Between 1939 and 1945, some six million European Jews were
murdered by the Nazis. Sympathy existed, but less than half of
American opinion favored immigration for many refugees.
U.S. Restrictions
Since 1924, the U.S. had carefully restricted
immigration through a quota system. In the 1930s,
incoming immigrants had been far fewer than the
quota numbers allowed.
The new law’s anti-communist elements aided many
German ethnics to come to America. In some cases (like
that of Johan Demjanjuk) war criminals gained entry
Opponents of Immigration
In 1952, Congress passed the
McCarran-Walter Immigration
and Nationality Act, which 1)
maintained quotas per nation
2) limited most classes of
immigrants to 270,000 per
year and 3) forbade
immigration of any applicant
with socialist-communist ties.