Babe Ruth and the Holocaust

December 19, 2012 8:50 pm 3 comments

Left to right, baseball legends George Sisler, Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb Date on Oct. 4, 1924. Photo: Library of Congress.

Babe Ruth is remembered for his home runs on the field and his hot dog binges and other peccadilloes off the field. But as the American public is about to discover, there was another Babe Ruth—one who went to bat for women and minorities, including the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1942, Allied leaders received a steady stream of reports about the Germans massacring tens of thousands of Jewish civilians. Information reaching the Roosevelt administration in August revealed that the killings were not random atrocities, but part of a Nazi plan to systematically annihilate all of Europe’s Jews. In late November, the State Department publicly verified this news and, on Dec. 17, the U.S. and British governments and their allies issued a declaration acknowledging and condemning the mass murder.

But aside from that Allied statement, the Roosevelt administration had no intention of doing anything in response to the killings. There was no serious consideration of opening America’s doors—or the doors of British-ruled Palestine—to Jewish refugees. There was no discussion of taking any steps to rescue the Jews. As quickly as the mass murder had been revealed, it began to fade from the public eye.

Dorothy Thompson was determined to keep that from happening. And Babe Ruth would help her.

Thompson (1893-1961) was the first American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany. She was once described by Time magazine as one of the two most influential women in the United States, second only to Eleanor Roosevelt. In the autumn of 1942, Thompson contacted the World Jewish Congress with a novel idea: mobilizing German-Americans to speak out against the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

As a journalist, Thompson understood the man-bites-dog news value of German-Americans protesting against Germany—especially in view of the well-publicized pro-Nazi sentiment in some segments of the German-American community. Just a few years earlier, more than 20,000 supporters of the German American Bund had filled Madison Square Garden for a pro-Hitler rally.

Seventy years ago on Dec. 22, the “Christmas Declaration by men and women of German ancestry” appeared as a full-page ad in the New York Times and nine other major daily newspapers. One of 50 signatories (seventh name from bottom) was Babe Ruth. Credit: Courtesy Rafael Medoff.

The World Jewish Congress agreed to foot the bill for publishing Thompson’s anti-Nazi statement as a newspaper advertisement. She drafted the text and set about recruiting signatories. Seventy years ago on Dec. 22, the “Christmas Declaration by men and women of German ancestry” appeared as a full-page ad in the New York Times and nine other major daily newspapers.

“[W]e Americans of German descent raise our voices in denunciation of the Hitler policy of cold-blooded extermination of the Jews of Europe and against the barbarities committed by the Nazis against all other innocent peoples under their sway,” the declaration began. “These horrors … are, in particular, a challenge to those who, like ourselves are descendants of the Germany that once stood in the foremost ranks of civilization.” The ad went on to “utterly repudiate every thought and deed of Hitler and his Nazis,” and urged the people of Germany “to overthrow a regime which is the infamy of German history.”

The names of 50 prominent German-Americans appeared on the advertisement. There were several notable academics, such as Princeton University dean Christian Gauss and University of Maine president Arthur Mauck. Leading Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, news correspondent William Shirer, and orchestra conductor Walter Damrosch appeared on the ad. So did Freda Kirchwey, editor of the political newsweekly The Nation, and Oswald Heck, speaker of the New York State Assembly.

But the signatory who was by far the best known to the American public was George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

Widely regarded as the greatest baseball player in the history of the game, Ruth, known as the Sultan of Swat, at that time held the records for the most home runs in a season (60) and the most home runs in a career (714) as well as numerous other batting records. Having excelled as a pitcher before switching to the outfield and gaining fame as a hitter, the amazingly versatile Ruth even held the pitching record for the most shutouts in a season by a left-hander. Not surprisingly, Ruth was one of the first players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

By participating in this German-American protest against the Holocaust, Ruth used his powerful name to help attract public attention to the Jews’ plight. Timing is everything, both on the baseball field and beyond, and the timing of Ruth’s protest was crucial: precisely at the moment when U.S. officials were hoping to brush the Jewish refugee problem aside, Babe Ruth helped keep it front and center.

In an era when professional athletes rarely lent their names to political causes, and when most Americans—including the Roosevelt administration—took little interest in the mass murder of Europe’s Jews, Babe Ruth raised his voice in protest. Ruth’s action is all the more memorable when one contrasts it with the kind of behavior that all too often lands athletes on the front pages these days.

Filmmaker Byron Hunter and Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, have collaborated on a soon-to-be-released documentary, “Universal Babe.” Those who are accustomed to thinking of Ruth’s off-the-field activities in terms of binges and carousing will be pleasantly surprised to learn from the film of the slugger’s noble efforts on behalf of women’s baseball, the Negro Baseball Leagues, and the Jews of Hitler Europe.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington D.C.

3 Comments

  • Yes the babe was a great baseball player . What happened after the ad? Where was the outcry of American Jewry? What no Apac. , No UJA ? Where was Americas Jewish Population then? Didn’t Rabbi Stephan Wise ask his friend FDR for some kind of response ? What was the answer ,do not rock the boat, not a Military target.while everyone is so high and mighty about “Never Again” why didn’t they say never ,during the 2nd World War. Why where there no marches in the street or Gatherings to protest . I guess the Bund were better at organizing than the American Jewish populace. Too bad , I guess times were different then,European Jewish blood wasn’t that important then . Nice to see us so involved now except maybe American Jew’s were around 80 years too late.

  • Fredric M. London

    He really was the greatest.

  • He is the greatest baseball player of all time…and a mensch.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.