Shouting for Justice
The Journey of a Jewish Journalist Across the Century of Hitler and Israel
by Herb Brin. Copyright © September 2002. All rights reserved.
This section begins with Chapter Five. Read the previous chapters here.
Chapter Five: War Clouds
Hitler was on the move in Europe.
On the American scene, the "thousand year reich" began playing itself out in its own lesser way, in Chicago.
In German neighborhoods, the German-American Bund was in full bloom. The Bund was the power gang in the big cities of America. Chicago was its central core.
I chanced to meet a German-American violinist from St. Louis who acknowledged that where the violin was concerned the Jews were masters of the instrument.
"Nobody but you Jews really know the violin," he said, adding that Germans didn't resent violinists like Jascha Heifetz or Mischa Elman.
He offered to take me to the Haus Vaterland and other German social clubs. Just to prove that Germans were against only certain kinds of Jews.
At the clubs I visited, leaflets were given out urging Germans to attend swastikas marches in the various city parks.
The marches in Skokie's Harm's Park beside a Jewish neighborhood were to be especially ugly. The Anti-Defamation League asked me to monitor them.
Which I did. A frightening exercise.
The last I saw of the St. Louis violinist, he noted my sandy, blond hair and blue eyes.
"You could make it as a German," he said. Laughing.
"Which German? Kant, or Hegel or Beethoven?" I shot back.
Couldn't help but wonder what had happened to an entire nation that had prided itself as being the most educated of all.
Indeed, I remained, as months went by, as a source of information for the Anti-Defamation League until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when I tried to volunteer for military service.
Turned down by the Marines, Navy and Air Force because of eyesight problems. A few months later, the Army took me: I-A.
Which gave me several more months as a City Press journalist. Among City Press reporters, I had the dubious honor of turning down three offers of jobs at the Tribune. One at the Sun-Times. My parents were proud.
It was in this rather turbulent period that I came upon the story of Herbert Hans Haupt.
He was one of the 13 German spies who were landed by submarine on the New England coast, instructed on how best to blow up American war plants.
Haupt was given the task of sabotaging the huge Buick plant on the West Side of Chicago.
He was caught in time. A terrorist!
They were all caught in time.
Sabotage in wartime is a hanging crime. Too bad it wasn't Hitler himself.
But I did go down to the Haupt family apartment on the near North Side. Met his parents and his very pregnant girlfriend.
It all made no sense to the father. Nor to the mother. An eerie, eerie time.
I was asked by the Anti-Defamation League to keep going to the German-American Bund meetings to pick up nazi marching leaflets. I attended one German swastika session in Harms Park. Weird as hell -- but as long as they were unable to spot me, it was a "piece of cake."
Didn't make my father happy, "but you gotta do what you gotta do!"
In time I got to know many of the German bundists. Guess my height of six feet, an inch and a half protected me -- along with my blue eyes and blond hair.
A German girl, Kathleen, wanted very much to convert our relationship to somewhat more. She plied me with lots of Rhine wine and seltzer, the standard German-American Bund drink. When that happened, I was thoroughly scared.
ADL would let me off the hook when I'd have collected a full batch of marching leaflets.
Kathleen couldn't understand. "We kin make it," she said.
I know she spoke a better German than that.
I wanted to tell Kathleen: "We kin not..."
She may want to know what happened to our relationship.
Perhaps she'll buy a copy of this book.
Chapter Six: During the Storm of War
I always felt that my vision was perfect. Perhaps not to the standards of a guy pointing a rifle, hoping to make expert with the weapon, but certainly "good enough" to read the literature of a people.
But despite my utterly blue Aryan eyes, I found myself in what is referred to as "limited service" in the U.S. Army.
It happened shortly after Basic Training.
I was assigned to join a combat communications unit gathering at Fort Ord, from which I was supposed to leave for the South Pacific and combat. But two weeks before I was to leave the training camp at Mineral Wells, Texas, there was an accident.
I should have known better, it was a crazy order, but in the Army you just don't question authority. My lieutenant -- named Morris, I think -- insisted that, since I was the tallest in the platoon, I would go first on the ropes. It was a tricky exercise, climbing down knotted ropes from a rock precipice, about a 25 foot drop. After I went, everyone else was to follow, one after another. It had snowed overnight, and the ropes were frozen. I didn't notice that, until I jumped from the precipice to grab the rope. It was icy, and I slid all the way down to hard granite below. My full field pack and a rifle (unloaded of course) accompanied me. I wound up in the hospital. The lieutenant had made an error. He didn't test the rope, but then I didn't either, so I can't really blame him. It was a silly accident that shouldn't have happened. At least my fall saved the guys in back of me. I cracked the bones in my toes, so I was no longer combat infantry material.
That's why I didn't go overseas during World War II. I had especially wanted to go to Europe, and felt badly about not getting into that fight. I didn't particularly have the hots about going to Japan, although our platoon had made a vow never to be captured by the Japanese, and never to take prisoners. That's how dirty the war was in the South Pacific.
Personally, I felt a dirtier war was going on in Europe, and I wanted to help there all I could. A man is inclined, but others were inclined differently. I had no control over it.
They used me as an "information specialist." Namely, a reporter. Perhaps one day I'd be eligible to attain the rank of private first class -- or perhaps be lucky and win it for the gipper as a corporal.
Col. Hal Stewart invited me to join the public information staff at Camp Wolters Infantry Replacement Training Center at Mineral Wells, Texas. I was kept on in service.
While there, I kicked around a bunch of sweetheart stories. Newspapers all over the country began picking them up, and soon enough I was assigned a photographer, a Jeep and Frances, a lovely lady driver. My photog was a corporal. I was considerably lower in rank than a private first class. But what the hey (or is it hay?) -- Frances was a handsome young lady, as Chicky, the photog, recognized at once.
Soon enough I found myself being assigned to interviewing generals such as Stilwell and Leslie Grove, head of the nuclear development laboratory in New Mexico.
Guess I was acquiring some standing behind the scenes with a number of key editors. Army brass would ask me to interview them so they might "tell it all" to the folks back home. Not everybody gets to be an Ernie Pyle in the military.
One day my own general, Bruce Magruder, sent his driver to my shanty "press office" with a strict order: "Be at Love Field tomorrow. At 8 a.m."
The Army's chief of staff, Jacob Devers, had asked to be interviewed by me on an important matter.
Magruder's driver was nothing less than a full colonel.
An order was an order.
It happened that Jake Devers (four sparkling stars!) had asked for me the day the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. Guess I was proud that he'd ask in connection with the historic affair.
Gen. Madruder and Gen. Devers were seated in the back seat of the elegant (for wartime) command car at Love Field.
Driver of the car was the above mentioned full Army colonel. Beside him, one Herb Brin, in the front passenger's seat. Stripeless indeed.
Jacob Devers opened the conversation: "I asked for you because you have a way with words."
Guess that's why I made technical sergeant on my graduation to civilianhood.
"Let me guess," I said to the Army's top general. "You want me to write your comments on the atom bomb that was dropped on Japan."
Devers smiled. Gen. Magruder's face was angry as hell. A member of his staff doesn't talk that way to generals.
He'd take care of me later.
"You got it right, Brin," Devers said. "This is a most important story and we've got to warn our soldiers and their families that despite the bomb, nothing's changed. Our boys will have to invade Japan and be prepared to sustain very high casualties. That's the nature of the war which Japan unleashed on America..."
I managed to mumble: "Of course you are not suggesting that the dawn of the nuclear age will have no effect on Tokyo? That the scientists who developed the bomb didn't know exactly what they are doing?"
This time it was Jake Dever's turn to scowl at me.
We rode in silence for the 65 miles or so from Love Field in Dallas, Texas, to Camp Wolters.
"I'll write the story," I assured the generals. Knowing that my private first class stripes were now gone forever.
As the colonel drove me back to the press office I said to him: "Suppose I write two versions for Gen. Devers to select?"
It would be easy enough to write a piece based on the general's point of view. I would tack on the suggestion that dropping of the bomb had indeed changed the course of history.
"Devers could then select the story to send out," I suggested.
I had the two versions at the headquarters office within the hour. I suggested to the colonel that he call me about which version I should send out to the national media.
Half an hour later the colonel phoned to say that Devers had selected my treatment of the atom bomb story for distribution to the national press. "And you are a sonovabitch!" said the colonel. "But you saved the career of a great general."
The next day a second atom bomb was dropped. On Nagasaki -- followed by Japan's unconditional surrender.
It wasn't long for Gen. Leslie Grove to become aware of the turn of events that changed the course of military history. He asked for copies of my report.
I met with Leo Szilard, the Hungarian-born scientist, who said the terror unleashed by Germans on the Jews of Europe was the key factor in depriving Hitler of prime atomic research. Szilard said that while a refugee in London, waiting for traffic to clear, at a red light, the thought came to him on how to create the first atomic chain reaction. It worked.
It was Szilard who wrote the now-famous letter to Franklin Roosevelt, signed by Albert Einstein, that impelled America to launch its first national atomic research. A multibillion dollar effort that won the war.
My stories as a sub-Pfc proved astounding to me.
And when I put them to the test, they all checked out.
In time I met with Edward Teller, "father of the hydrogen bomb" -- who defended Szilard against charges that he was motivated by communist attitudes.
"He was an amazing, honorable scientist," said Teller during a meeting we had at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
When war ground down to a halt, it was clear that an attachment had grown between Chicky, my photographer, and Frances, our Jeep driver.
Motherhood had overtaken Frances and in time a son emerged. Frances was assigned to special duties and Chicky was sent on to Seattle for separation from the services.
I went back to my past -- and future -- at City Press.
Chapter Seven: Back to Gangland!
Upon my separation from military service, City News assigned me to cover the Cook County Building and the divorce courts, and to do an occasional piece on Chicago's City Hall.
Yes, everything Ben Hecht wrote about in The Front Page proved to be absolutely, but absolutely correct. Never encountered such a bird's nest of political idiots such as I found in city and county administration life.
Everybody, but everybody reporting on downtown events, I discovered, was in on the take. It was a two-bit take consisting of ten or fifteen bucks per "monicker" -- bucks that went from lawyers to reporters covering the courts, county offices or City Hall.
There was a guy named Dynamite So-and-so who made a career out of monickers, sending half his payoffs back to to the editors on duty at the Hearst afternoon daily. A sleazy, but sleazy operation.
The money was turned over by a cadre of lawyers to the beat reporters when an attorney's monicker was used verbatim in some cockamamie story.
Example: Mrs. Josephine Blow complained through her attorney, Able Cox, that her husband molested her in a most heinous way -- etcetera, etcetera. When the monicker was printed, Dynamite, or Sam or Tom Mix, would be paid off for the courtesy.
Look, insisted Dynamite, reporters gotta eat. But then, the jails are full of guys with that digestive explanation.
Sleaze was in its finest hour in the courtrooms of Chicago. And the city desks were not far behind. A few bucks, or a few bottles of booze -- and like wow!
Dynamite was a real character in those midcentury Chicago days. Since Dynamite was illiterate but worked for a syndicate of magazines, he would ask me to write some of his stories - and would pay a few "tenners" for the service.
I suggested to dynamite that the readers of some of the magazines might like a story about Snapper Charlie.
"Hey," said Dynamite. "You're right!"
Snapper was the guy who stood watch outside of City Hall, waiting for a proper "con" touch to come along. While leaning with his back to the stones of City Hall, his fingers would snap like on fire when he'd come upon a new potential victim.
He'd suggest card or shell games to the targets -- and more than enough of these marks would embrace his suggestions of fun in the big city. Especially if the victims came from Iowa or Nebraska. Snapper Charlie, for some reason, had it against traveling gents from those two states. Seeing as how he himself came form Ainsworth, Neb. Funny, but not especially funny.
Charlie said he especially liked the shell games, at which he was adept.
So I wrote a story about Snapper Charlie -- and warned folks (especially from Ainsworth) that they would be targeted by Snapper's superb shell games.
Now as things came to pass, economics for Charlie was on the down side and things were getting rough. Snapper Charlie found a lawyer for himself and filed suit against Dynamite.
The lawyer, of course, wasn't in on the monicker racket and didn't know the ins and outs of high-class lawyering.
So as things happened for Charlie, he found himself being arrested some 10 or 15 times a day on one spurious investigation after another.
Three days of questioning -- that was long before a plaintiff was read his rights -- and Snapper Charlie called out to Dynamite: "Please take them bums off. I haven't slept in days. Please, Dynamite..."
Pouting, Dynamite relented.
"But that SOB had to be learned a thing a two!" mumbled Dynamite.
In a few days, Charlie's business improved. He sent a bottle to the press room.
Even I took a snort.
§ § § § § § § § § §
One of my City Press assignments was to cover the various county departments.
That's where I met a short but rather husky man working in the county treasurer's office. A bright man who went by the name of Richard Daley.
Yes, Dick Daley and I hit it off well. Seemed like the brightest of the lot of minor officials who made it to a Downtown office by way of Chicago's bizarre political system.
I mentioned this to a young man covering the county offices for the Chicago Sun, Earl Bush.
Proved to be a fateful day for both.
Daley hired Bush as head of his public relations staff in a subsequent run for public office.
Dick left an incredible imprint as mayor of Chicago. Earl was always with him -- except for a brief time that he was convicted of operating some kind of scam involving the "welcome" signs at Chicago's great airports.
§ § § § § § § § § §
During one of my visits to Chicago's City Hall, I came to encounter a bunch of payoff documents involving Chicago's huge Consumer Coal Company. The documents pointed to details how Mayor Ed Kelly had been enriched by the largess of the company.
Kelly was head of the infamous Kelly-Nash Machine. As such, he figured that what he did for the company via coal purchases for the city schools was spectacularly O.K.
Which of course it wasn't, as I reported to him as an inquiring journalist.
Got him coal-handed.
"What do you suggest I do?" said the mayor.
"Resign at once," I said, somewhat casually.
"Tell you what I'll do," said Big Ed Kelly the builder. (Which was his political trademark.) "Get the press together right now in City Hall and I will resign to you personally."
Within half an hour the City Hall press choir came together in Ed Kelly's office.
The mayor called me to his side as he read from a formal document quitting as mayor of Chicago.
The press had a ball with that one. The Hearst American devoted three quarters of its front page to a photo of Kelly handing me his resignation statement.
I don't know how many readers liked that one as the fires in the 55-gallon drums on Kedzie Avenue shot up to the skies.
This was a special event. My beautiful mother had no trouble making out the image of her son on Page One.
But then, it was a case of yesterday's news. Which nobody really reads.
Chapter Eight: California, For Good
It was the sleaze of journalism in Chicago that done me in. I refused to take a proverbial plugged nickel as a reporter in the Windy City. In the autumn of 1941, I left the City News Bureau to start the Community News Service, in which I covered downtown events for some 120 small weekly newspapers. The editors were grateful for this new extended coverage.
One day while working at the City Press, I suggested to my friends, Earl Bush and Max Sonderby of the Sun Times, that it might be a good idea to start up, on the side, a little community news service, to supply local newspapers with some of the material we covered for the City Press that was rejected by the dailies. That idea caught on as the Community News Service of Chicago. I provided news to 130 small newspapers around Cook County, and Earl Bush covered the radio stations.
I was doing most of the work, getting paid only $25 a week from the City Press. Max Sonderby was getting $65 from the Sun Times, and Earl Bush was paid by the mayor's office. I was poorest guy of the three. I wasn't satisfied with this type of local reporting. I got tired of combing court records for information about births and divorces, the amount of money left in legacies, and so forth, so I told the others that I was going to leave. That level of news reporting was not for me.
I went back to Chicago for the 100th anniversary of the City News Bureau. Max Sonderby had remained with the Community News Service, and had recently sold it to a syndicate there for $1 million, cold cash. The news service had been my idea, but I left it to go west. Of course, Max put most of his lifetime work into the service.
I felt I needed more of a challenge than local community items. With Heritage I published national and international news of the highest order.
§ § § § § § § § § §
I didn't like the weather in Chicago anyway, so Selma and I decided to move back to Los Angeles. Soon after arriving, I was hired as a feature writer by the Glendale News Press, a member publication of the very large Copley newspapers chain, owners of the San Diego Union Tribune.
First day on the job, a photographer took me out to see the Glendale landmarks. Took me to Brand Boulevard and pointed to overhead wires across Brand. "Once there was a sign here which read: 'Nigger, don't let the sun fall on your back in Glendale.'"
Like wow! What had I gotten into?
Turned out, I learned soon after, that Glendale was home to numerous members of the German-American Bund. The swastika gents.
No Blacks lived in Glendale. An occasional Jew made his home there. A white Jew, of course. I made my home in Tujunga, some 10 or 15 miles northward toward the mountains (which magnetized me!) and so I applied to the News Press for a job.
Charlie Hushaw, the paper's editor, had heard of City News Bureau in Chicago, was very much impressed. Hired me on the spot. Assigned me to cover city hall, where Glendale councilmen were in a constant fistic battle.
"Treat it light," he cautioned me.
Which I did. For a couple of months, Glendale and I got along famously.
One day a character named Burkheimer invited me into his office at the paper. He was a thoroughly intoxicated, red-faced, nose-pocked guy who described himself as publisher of the News Press. Would I join a group of News Press reporters and photographers to help cover an important story?
"An FBI raid on a Communist meeting in nearby La Crescenta," he said secretly.
"The first such raid ever in FBI history," Burkheimer said. "Hushaw says you can be trusted. We'll have Felix, our top photographer, assigned to you. We meet here at the paper and we join a caravan of cars to where the Communists are meeting."
I decided to drive my own car, a used Frazer that I managed to buy on arrival in California.
On a side street near the News Press, Burkheimer managed to assemble some half-dozen cars, each with a white towel tied on its rear bumper. "That's so the FBI will know who we are," the short, sloppy publisher said. Hushaw said, "This is his show."
The caravan drove on to a nearly American Legion hall, where we awaited the FBI agents who would conduct the raid at the Communist gathering.
"Where he hell are the FBI guys?" I asked Felix, the photographer who rode with me.
"I see Glendale police officers everywhere," Felix responded.
Slowly, a caravan of some dozen cars moved out, heading north to La Crescenta -- toward a "Communist" meeting.
Felix started shooting exterior pictures and I followed the publisher into the building. In the living room were some fifteen or twenty men and women who were thoroughly frightened by the intrusion.
I began looking for indications that this was a Communist club, wondering where the FBI agents were and when they would go into action.
There were a number of signs indicating that the meeting was under auspices of the La Crescenta Democratic Club.
Suddenly, Burkheimer pushed to the center of the living room, pulled a scroll of paper from his suit coat pocket and began an oration that charged those assembled with being Communists.
"Go home and thank God you live in America. We have no room in America for Communists. You are being watched and in Glendale we don't tolerate Communists..."
As Burkheimer began rolling up his "proclamation," I pushed to his side and demanded: "Where is the FBI? And who gave you authority to break into a home housing a Democratic Club meeting?"
"Just look at these people," Burkheimer said. "They're all Communists!"
I did look around. I saw nothing but a group of frightened men and women.
It turned out to be the home of a Democratic liberal, Hugh Hardeman.
"Where is the FBI?" I demanded loudly of the publisher.
"We're representing them..."
"The hell we are!"
I looked the bastard in the eyes and said that he was a no good sonovabitch and that I quit working for him. On the spot.
I turned to the men and women of the Democratic Club and offered an apology for my presence, got out to my car and drove to the Montrose Sheriff's Station, several miles away.
I told the sergeant on duty what had happened and demanded to speak to the station captain.
"He lives somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley. Nowhere near here," the duty officer said.
"Get him on the phone, but right now," I insisted. "He's got a tiger by the tail."
Handed me the telephone.
I told the sheriff's captain that Burkheimer, whom he knew very well, had lied to me about "an FBI raid," that I had quit the paper and that Glendale police officers were willing members of the raiding party.
"Turn me over to the officer on duty at the station," the captain said. "I want a thorough report."
I used another station telephone to call the Los Angeles Times and was promptly connected with Taylor Trumbo, the night city editor.
Told him the story. Told him of my City Press background in news and that I had quit the News Press on the spot.
"Turn the story over to one of my rewrite men," Trumbo said.
Connected me with Paul Brecht.
I gave Brecht a thorough, blow-by-blow account of the raid in La Crescenta, the assurance to me that it was an FBI raid on a Communist cell meeting, how Burkheimer pulled out his rolled proclamation and that the meeting was nothing more than a gathering of elderly members of a Democratic political club.
Then I told Brecht that I quit the bastard on the spot.
Brecht started laughing.
"Congratulations!" he exclaimed. "I'm turning you back to Taylor Trumbo..."
"That's one hell of a story, Trumbo said. "I want you to call and talk with our city editor tomorrow morning. Keep in touch with me if other angles on the story come up. This will be front page all over America. I always heard fine things about Chicago's City Press. You demonstrated it tonight...."
Paul Brecht rode to glory with that story which received major front-page treatment. With his by-line.
But I felt that I had scored with another City Press "verbatim."
The story held up even in the halls of Congress, where the Burkheimer raid was denounced by leaders of both political parties.
§ § § § § § § § § §
I received a phone call at my home from a man named Herb Klein, an editor of the Copley newspaper in Alhambra in the San Gabriel Valley.
"We fired Burkheimer," Klein said. "That's a lousy thing he did to you. I always knew him as a drunken stiff."
This was the same Herb Klein who later served as press secretary to Richard Nixon at the White House.
Klein and I became good friends.