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					Dr. Seuss and the Holocaust in France

By Rafael Medoff/JNS.org

Seventy years ago this week, 15-year-old Annie Kriegel was sitting in her Paris high
school classroom, taking an exam, when her mother suddenly burst into the room and
warned her not to come home—the Nazis were preparing to round up and deport any
Jews they could get their hands on.

More than 3,000 miles away, the cartoonist known as Dr. Seuss was setting pen to paper
to alert America about what was happening to the Jews in France.

Annie found a place to stay that night. The next morning, as she later recalled, she was
making her way towards the city’s Jewish quarter when, “at the crossing of the rue de
Turenne and the rue de Bretagne, I heard screams rising to the heavens.” They were “not
cries and squawks such as you hear in noisy and excited crowds, but screams like you
used to hear in hospital delivery rooms. All the human pain that both life and death
provide. A garage there was serving as a local assembly point, and they were separating
the men and women.”

Stunned, the teenager sat down on a nearby park bench. “It was on that bench that I left
my childhood.” (Kriegel’s experience is recounted in Susan Zucotti’s 1993 book, The
Holocaust, the French and the Jews.)

Over the course of the next two days, more than 13,000 Jews were rounded up in Paris by
the Germans, with the active collaboration of the Vichy French government headed by
Nazi supporter Pierre Laval. The majority of those arrested were couples with children.
They were held for five excruciating days in the Velodrome d’Hiver stadium, in the
summer heat without food or water. Eyewitnesses described it as “a scene from hell.”
Then they were deported by train to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

The brutal details of the roundup process were amply reported in the American press. The
New York Times described the “scenes of terror and despair” in the streets of Paris,
including suicides, Jewish patients dragged violently from hospital beds, and children
violently separated from their parents. Unfortunately, the article was relegated to page 16.

Theodor Geisel, who drew editorial cartoons for PM under the pen name “Dr. Seuss,”
was outraged by the news from France and decided to use his cartooning skills to help
publicize the plight of the Jews.

The future creator of such beloved classics as The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and
Ham employed stark and disturbing imagery in his July 20 cartoon. He drew a forest
filled with corpses hanging from the trees, with a sign reading “Jew” pinned to each
body. Adolf Hitler, with extra rope draped on his arm, and Vichy leader Pierre Laval
were shown singing happily.
The first words of the Hitler-Laval song, “Only God can make a tree,” were taken from
“Trees,” a famous Alfred Joyce Kilmer poem about the unique and eternal beauty of
trees. The killers’ second line, however, “To furnish sport for you and me,” was a lyric
concocted by Hitler and Laval to celebrate their “sport” of mass murder.

In one important respect, Seuss’s cartoon was prescient: unlike many of his
contemporaries, he correctly perceived that France’s Jews were doomed to be killed. At
the time of the roundups, the Germans claimed the Jews were being sent for “work in the
East,” and the deportees’ true destination was generally unknown abroad.

One senior U.S. diplomat in France, S. Pinkney Tuck, urged the Roosevelt administration
to take in 4,000 Jewish children who had been separated from their parents, on the
grounds that they should be regarded as orphans since the Nazis would not let their
parents survive. But State Department officials complained that Tuck was exceeding his
authority, and Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles assured American Jewish
Congress leader Rabbi Stephen S. Wise that the deportees were just being relocated for
“war work.”

Dr. Seuss drew many anti-Nazi cartoons during his years at PM, but for reasons that are
unclear, he never returned to the subject of Hitler’s Jewish victims.

The dangers of fascism seem to have haunted Seuss for many years to follow, however.
Reworking a scene of a tower of turtles from one of his 1942 cartoons, he used the
framework of what was ostensibly a child's fable to inveigh against totalitarianism in his
1958 best-seller, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. Yertle is the king of a turtle pond
who exploits his fellow-turtles in order to increase his power and personal glory. Furious
when he realizes the moon is higher than he is, Yertle commands his subjects to form
themselves into a tower so that he can stand on them and reach the sky.

Seuss said later that Yertle was meant to symbolize Hitler, and the story was a warning
against fascism.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust
Studies and coauthor, with comics historian Craig Yoe, of the forthcoming book
“Cartoonists Against the Holocaust.”

				
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