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April 19, 2022 11:57 am
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Fresno State University Report Exposes Virulent Antisemitism of Library’s Namesake

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Henry Madden Library at Fresno State University in California. Photo: HenryMaddenLibrary/Wikimedia Commons.

A preliminary report released on Monday by Fresno State University (FSU) has uncovered the shockingly antisemitic and pro-Nazi views of former university librarian Dr. Henry Miller Madden, after whom the school’s main academic library is named.

The revelations were discovered by the “Task Force to Review the Naming of the University Library” in papers Madden donated to the university after his death in 1982. A reevaluation of Madden’s legacy began after Fresno State University professor Dr. Bradley W. Hart discussed his antisemitism in a book published in 2018.

Dr. Hart shared his research on Madden with students last November, prompting FSU President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval to form the task force and charge it with considering whether the library should be renamed.

“When Dr. Madden died in 1982, his papers were sealed for 25 years,” the report said. “So there was effectively no way for the Fresno State community, the Board of Trustees, or the community members and political figures who wrote letters in support of the decision to know the depth and extent of his antisemitism, Nazi sympathies, and otherwise racist views prior to his death. The decision to name the library was thus unfortunately made without a full understanding of the man who would be honored.”

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Born in 1912 in Oakland, California, Madden’s early views were influenced by a friendship with a German exchange student, who wrote letters describing Jews as those “who damage and prejudice the German economy.” By 1933, after Hitler’s ascent to power, Madden, then a graduate student at Columbia University, was seeking “leaflets concerning the conditions in Germany” from New York’s Nazi Party representative, Oscar Shilling.

Madden, according to the report, first betrayed “overt evidence” of his antisemitism in a letter written to his mother in September 1934.

“I spent a good 20 minutes walking, looking all the time for an honest gentile face, and I don’t think I saw one. And such Jews! Noisy, dirty, smelly, ugly — Jews such as you have never seen before, absolutely different from S.F. [San Francisco] Jews. They seem to have a stranglehold on everything,” he wrote.

Later, the report continued, Madden, writing a friend in California, indulged in genocidal fantasies of Nazi stormtroopers killing Jews.

“The Jews: I am developing a violent and almost uncontrollable phobia against them,” he wrote in February 1935. “They are the oppressors: they should be driven barefoot to some remote spot in Texas, ther [sic] to find shelter under the bushes, closed in by electrically charged barbed wire, with imported SA men stationed every ten yards apart, three men to each machine gun emplacement.”

He continued, “Target practice will be permitted twice weekly, with explosive bullets to be used on Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Purim, etc. And yet isn’t it strange that all my friends, all my good friends, have been Jews?…Whom do I hate more than Jews? They have oppressed my mother, stolen her saving from her, chained her with interest servitude, made a Via Dolorosa of her life. They must go!”

The report’s assessment of Madden’s papers found that he held pro-Nazi views throughout and after World War II, that such views were never rescinded, and that his racialist ideology influenced his lessons and other administrative work. For example, Madden confessed to ignoring job applications from people of Asian and Indian origin. Additionally, it said that Madden gave the university his papers “with full knowledge that they contained antisemitic and racist statements.”

Final recommendations on how the public university should go forward were not given in the report, but are “forthcoming,” the task force said.

“To discover that our university library was named for such a person filled me with anguish and pain for my community and what my people suffered during Madden’s lifetime,” said Jill Fields, an FSU Professor of History and Founding Coordinator of Jewish Studies, in community comments included in the report. “I look forward to that day when we can all enjoy the library without anguish, reservation, or misgivings.”

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