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Rescuing THE TALENTED. American efforts to bring artists and intellectuals to American from Europe . US in the Great War.

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rescuing the talented


American efforts to bring artists and intellectuals to American from Europe

us in the great war
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
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
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
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 immigrants.


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 intellectuals.

weimar germany
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
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. Anti-Semitic rhetoric in speeches and print were common and even carried over into money – the “noltgeld” (temporary paper script issued in 1921) had anti-Jewish images.

andre breton art from senselessness
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
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 quasi-dictatorship of Admiral Horthy, Hungary’s government repressed film-makers, 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 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
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 up-tempo Firebird Suite and Rite of Spring. Leaving Russia for France after the Bolshevik revolution, he rewrote compositions for player-pianos (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
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” obstacle.

An America of influence could thus help many – giving advantages to the upper class.

state department personnel
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
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.

Once Hitler took power, Jewish artists and intellectuals looked for asylum in Britain, France, the US or Palestine.

Nazi Party parade in late 1920s.

hypocrisy in the arts
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
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 imprisoned.

By 1935, thousands had left, but only a few countries accepted Jewish refugees.

varian fry
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
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 Jerusalem).


Far more critical of German culture than his brother Thomas, Heinrich Mann’s satirical novel Der Untertan was used to script “The Blue Angel.”

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.

marcel duchamp
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
Jacques Lipchitz

A Russian-born Jew, sculptor Lipchitz fled France and brought his innovations to the US (above, “Mother and Child,” 1930.

marc chagall
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
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 computers.

the bomb
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 Oppenheimer.

a bomb vs h bomb
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
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
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
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
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 politics.


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
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
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.