The Plot Against America: A Novel

The Plot Against America: A Novel

3.6 86
by Philip Roth
     
 

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When the renowned aviation hero and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeated Franklin Roosevelt by a landslide in the 1940 presidential election, fear invaded every Jewish household in America. Not only had Lindbergh, in a nationwide radio address, publicly blamed the Jews for selfishly pushing America toward a pointless war with Nazi Germany, but upon…  See more details below

Overview

When the renowned aviation hero and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeated Franklin Roosevelt by a landslide in the 1940 presidential election, fear invaded every Jewish household in America. Not only had Lindbergh, in a nationwide radio address, publicly blamed the Jews for selfishly pushing America toward a pointless war with Nazi Germany, but upon taking office as the thirty-third president of the United States, he negotiated a cordial “understanding” with Adolf Hitler, whose conquest of Europe and virulent anti-Semitic policies he appeared to accept without difficulty. What then followed in America is the historical setting for this startling new book by Pulitzer Prize–winner Philip Roth, who recounts what it was like for his Newark family — and for a million such families all over the country — during the menacing years of the Lindbergh presidency, when American citizens who happened to be Jews had every reason to expect the worst.

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Editorial Reviews

Ever the innovator, Philip Roth enters a new genre at the age of 71. This alternate history novel marks a major, but logical departure for the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. In The Plot Against America, isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeats incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. The victory of the Lone Eagle generates successive waves of anti-Semitism, culminating in nationwide pogroms. From Newark, New Jersey, Roth's recurring character Philip and his Jewish family struggle to chisel out a safe place in this maelstrom of hatred.
Michael Wells Glueck
A mature novel by a preeminent writer

This perceptive novel by a highly educated man of letters and preeminent American writer is based on what in eighteenth-century England was known as a "conceit" - i.e., a concept, a hypothesis, fully developed and logically pursued - to wit, that the famed and idolized aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, who was also known as a Republican, a pacifist, an appeaser, and an Aryan supremacist, won the U.S. presidency after Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term in office and became a puppet and eventually (it was rumored) a captive of Nazi Germany. The elaboration of this conceit not only caricatures Lindbergh as a reticent stoic who "every few months summoned the gregariousness to address his ten favorite platitudes to the nation" (does this sound familiar?) but extends to such anomalies as a Jewish woman from the slums of New Jersey dancing with Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, at a White House reception; or a learned rabbi running the Office of American Absorption, which - abetted by companies like Metropolitan Life Insurance Company that in the 1930's and 1940's were hardly known as equal opportunity employers - resettled suburban American Jews in rural hamlets where there was neither demand for their skills nor tolerance for their religious beliefs; or the murder of radio newsman Walter Winchell for his diatribes against the Lindbergh administration. In sum, this novel persuasively and memorably depicts what might have occurred had the Henry Fords, Father Coughlins, and other Nazi sympathizers of the era prevailed.

Paul Berman
Philip Roth has written a terrific political novel, though in a style his readers might never have predicted... a fable of an alternative universe, in which America has gone fascist and ordinary life has been flattened under a steamroller of national politics and mass hatreds. Hitler's allies rule the White House. Anti-Semitic mobs roam the streets. The lower-middle-class Jews of Weequahic, in Newark, N.J., cower in a second-floor apartment, trying to figure out how to use a gun to defend themselves. (''You pulla the trig,'' a kindly neighbor explains.) The novel is sinister, vivid, dreamlike, preposterous and, at the same time, creepily plausible.
The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
Philip Roth's huge, inflammatory, painfully moving new novel draws upon a persistent theme in American life: "It can't happen here." … The Plot Against America brings the sum of Roth's books to more than two dozen. It may well be his best, and it may well arouse more controversy than all the rest combined.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
During his long career, Roth has shown himself a master at creating fictional doppelgangers. In this stunning novel, he creates a mesmerizing alternate world as well, in which Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election, and Philip, his parents and his brother weather the storm in Newark, N.J. Incorporating Lindbergh's actual radio address in which he accused the British and the Jews of trying to force America into a foreign war, Roth builds an eerily logical narrative that shows how isolationists in and out of government, emboldened by Lindbergh's blatant anti-Semitism (he invites von Rippentrop to the White House, etc.), enact new laws and create an atmosphere of religious hatred that culminates in nationwide pogroms. Historical figures such as Walter Winchell, Fiorello La Guardia and Henry Ford inhabit this chillingly plausible fiction, which is as suspenseful as the best thrillers and illustrates how easily people can be persuaded by self-interest to abandon morality. The novel is, in addition, a moving family drama, in which Philip's fiercely ethical father, Herman, finds himself unable to protect his loved ones, and a family schism develops between those who understand the eventual outcome of Lindbergh's policies and those who are co-opted into abetting their own potential destruction. Many episodes are touching and hilarious: young Philip experiences the usual fears and misapprehensions of a pre-adolescent; locks himself into a neighbor's bathroom; gets into dangerous mischief with a friend; watches his cousin masturbating with no comprehension of the act. In the balance of personal, domestic and national events, the novel is one of Roth's most deft creations, and if the lollapalooza of an ending is bizarre with its revisionist theory about the motives behind Lindbergh's anti-Semitism, it's the subtext about what can happen when government limits religious liberties in the name of the national interest that gives the novel moral authority. Roth's writing has never been so direct and accessible while retaining its stylistic precision and acute insights into human foibles and follies. (Oct. 5) Forecast: With its intriguing premise and thriller-tense plot, it's likely that this novel will broaden Roth's readership while instigating provocative debate. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-When Charles Lindbergh, Republican candidate in the 1940 presidential race, defeats popular FDR in a landslide, pollsters scramble for explanations-among them that, to a country weary of crisis and fearful of becoming involved in another European war, the aviator represents "normalcy raised to heroic proportions." For the Roth family, however, the situation is anything but normal, and heroism has a different meaning. As the anti-Semitic new president cozies up to the Third Reich, right-wing activists throughout the nation seize the moment. Most citizens, enamored of isolationism and lost in hero worship, see no evil-but in the Roths' once secure and stable Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey, the world is descending into a nightmare of confusion, fear, and unpredictability. The young narrator, Phil, views the developing crisis through the lens of his family life and his own boyish concerns. His father, clinging tenaciously to his trust in America, loses his confidence painfully and incrementally. His mother tries to shield the children from her own growing fear. An aunt, brother, and cousin respond in different ways, and the family is divided. But though the situation is grim, this is not a despairing tale; suspenseful, poignant, and often humorous, it engages readers in many ways. It prompts them to consider the nature of history, present times, and possible futures, and can lead to good discussions among thoughtful readers and teachers. Bibliographic sources, notes on historical figures, and documentation are included.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
cassette 0-618-50929-1A politically charged alternate history in which Aryan supremacist hero Charles Lindbergh unseats FDR in 1940-with catastrophic consequences for America's Jews. Roth's latest (and one of his most audacious) is narrated by a fictional character named Philip Roth, who describes the impact of Lindbergh's presidency (linked ominously to "Lindy's" cordial relationship with fellow statesman Adolf Hitler) on Newark insurance salesman Herman Roth, his stoical wife Bess, and their sons Philip and Sanford ("Sandy"). Novelist Roth skillfully constructs a thickly detailed panorama of urban Jewish life, featuring such vividly developed characters as Philip's truculent cousin Alvin (wounded in a "Jewish" European war, and permanently damaged), his suggestible maternal aunt Evelyn (who adores Lindbergh), and Evelyn's influential fiance, silver-tongued conservative apologist Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf. The latter two pay dearly for their naively placed allegiances. But so do the passionately skeptical Roths: first, when Sandy's summer on a Kentucky farm imbues him with "American" (in fact anti-Semitic) values; and later, following the 1942 Homestead Act, purportedly conceived to relocate eastern seaboard Jews throughout Middle America, actually an ominous harbinger of how Lindbergh plans to solve "the Jewish problem." The tight focus on the Roths itself shifts when Lindbergh-hating columnist Walter Winchell announces his presidential candidacy, violence escalates alarmingly, martial law is imposed, war with Canada (whence many Jewish families flee) is anticipated, and a savagely ironic turn of events returns FDR to the national spotlight-but doesn't assuage Herman Roth'sall-too-justifiable fears. The story gathers breakneck velocity and intensity, ending perhaps too abruptly (and, perhaps, pointing the way to a sequel). But hilarious and terrifying by turns, it's a sumptuous interweaving of narrative, characterization, speculation, and argument that joins The Ghost Writer (1979) and Operation Shylock (1993) at the summit of Roth's achievement. An almost unbelievably rich book, and another likely major prizewinner. Agent: Andrew Wylie/Wylie Agency

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547345314
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
10/05/2004
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
65,271
File size:
695 KB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
June 1940–October 1940
Vote for Lindbergh or Vote for War

Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of
course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I
would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn't
been president or if I hadn't been the offspring of Jews.
When the first shock came in June of 1940—the nomination for
the presidency of Charles A. Lindbergh, America's international
aviation hero, by the Republican Convention at Philadelphia—my
father was thirty-nine, an insurance agent with a grade school education,
earning a little under fifty dollars a week, enough for the
basic bills to be paid on time but for little more. My mother—
who'd wanted to go to teachers' college but couldn't because of the
expense, who'd lived at home working as an office secretary after
finishing high school, who'd kept us from feeling poor during the
worst of the Depression by budgeting the earnings my father
turned over to her each Friday as efficiently as she ran the household
—was thirty-six. My brother, Sandy, a seventh-grader with a
prodigy's talent for drawing, was twelve, and I, a third-grader a
term ahead of himself—and an embryonic stamp collector inspired
like millions of kids by the country's foremost philatelist,
President Roosevelt—was seven.

We lived in the second-floor flat of a small two-and-a-half-family house on a
tree-lined street of frame wooden houses with redbrick
stoops, each stoop topped with a gable roof and fronted by a
tiny yard boxed in with a low-cut hedge. The Weequahic neighborhood
had been built on farmlots at the undeveloped southwest
edge of Newark just after World War One, some half dozen of the
streets named, imperially, for victorious naval commanders in the
Spanish-American War and the local movie house called, after
FDR's fifth cousin—and the country's twenty-sixth president—
the Roosevelt. Our street, Summit Avenue, sat at the crest of the
neighborhood hill, an elevation as high as any in a port city that
rarely rises a hundred feet above the level of the tidal salt marsh to
the city's north and east and the deep bay due east of the airport
that bends around the oil tanks of the Bayonne peninsula and
merges there with New York Bay to flow past the Statue of Liberty
and into the Atlantic. Looking west from our bedroom's rear window
we could sometimes see inland as far as the dark treeline of
the Watchungs, a low-lying mountain range fringed by great estates
and affluent, sparsely populated suburbs, the extreme edge
of the known world—and about eight miles from our house. A
block to the south was the working-class town of Hillside, whose
population was predominantly Gentile. The boundary with Hillside
marked the beginning of Union County, another New Jersey
entirely.

We were a happy family in 1940.My parents were outgoing, hospitable
people, their friends culled from among my father's associates
at the office and from the women who along with my mother
had helped to organize the Parent-Teacher Association at newly
built Chancellor Avenue School, where my brother and I were
pupils. All were Jews. The neighborhood men either were in business
for themselves—the owners of the local candy store, grocery
store, jewelry store, dress shop, furniture shop, service station, and
delicatessen, or the proprietors of tiny industrial job shops over by
the Newark-Irvington line, or self-employed plumbers, electricians,
housepainters, and boilermen—or were foot-soldier salesmen
like my father, out every day in the city streets and in people's
houses, peddling their wares on commission. The Jewish doctors
and lawyers and the successful merchants who owned big stores
downtown lived in one-family houses on streets branching off
the eastern slope of the Chancellor Avenue hill, closer to grassy,
wooded Weequahic Park, a landscaped three hundred acres whose
boating lake, golf course, and harness-racing track separated the
Weequahic section from the industrial plants and shipping terminals
lining Route 27 and the Pennsylvania Railroad viaduct east of
that and the burgeoning airport east of that and the very edge of
America east of that—the depots and docks of Newark Bay, where
they unloaded cargo from around the world. At the western end of
the neighborhood, the parkless end where we lived, there resided
an occasional schoolteacher or pharmacist but otherwise few professionals
were among our immediate neighbors and certainly
none of the prosperous entrepreneurial or manufacturing families.
The men worked fifty, sixty, even seventy or more hours a week;
the women worked all the time, with little assistance from laborsaving
devices, washing laundry, ironing shirts, mending socks,
turning collars, sewing on buttons, mothproofing woolens, polishing
furniture, sweeping and washing floors, washing windows,
cleaning sinks, tubs, toilets, and stoves, vacuuming rugs, nursing
the sick, shopping for food, cooking meals, feeding relatives, tidying
closets and drawers, overseeing paint jobs and household repairs,
arranging for religious observances, paying bills and keeping
the family's books while simultaneously attending to their
children's health, clothing, cleanliness, schooling, nutrition, conduct,
birthdays, discipline, and morale. A few women labored
alongside their husbands in the family-owned stores on the nearby
shopping streets, assisted after school and on Saturdays by their
older children, who delivered orders and tended stock and did the
cleaning up.

It was work that identified and distinguished our neighbors for
me far more than religion. Nobody in the neighborhood had a
beard or dressed in the antiquated Old World style or wore a skullcap
either outdoors or in the houses I routinely floated through
with my boyhood friends. The adults were no longer observant in
the outward, recognizable ways, if they were seriously observant at
all, and aside from older shopkeepers like the tailor and the kosher
butcher—and the ailing or decrepit grandparents living of necessity
with their adult offspring—hardly anyone in the vicinity spoke
with an accent. By 1940 Jewish parents and their children at the
southwestern corner of New Jersey's largest city talked to one another
in an American English that sounded more like the language
spoken in Altoona or Binghamton than like the dialects famously
spoken across the Hudson by our Jewish counterparts in the five
boroughs.Hebrew lettering was stenciled on the butcher shop window
and engraved on the lintels of the small neighborhood synagogues,
but nowhere else (other than at the cemetery) did one's
eye chance to land on the alphabet of the prayer book rather than
on the familiar letters of the native tongue employed all the time
by practically everyone for every conceivable purpose, high or low.
At the newsstand out front of the corner candy store, ten times
more customers bought the Racing Form than the Yiddish daily,
the Forvertz.

Israel didn't yet exist, six million European Jews hadn't yet ceased
to exist, and the local relevance of distant Palestine (under British
mandate since the 1918 dissolution by the victorious Allies of the
last far-flung provinces of the defunct Ottoman Empire) was a
mystery to me. When a stranger who did wear a beard and who
never once was seen hatless appeared every few months after dark
to ask in broken English for a contribution toward the establishment
of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, I, who wasn't an
ignorant child, didn't quite know what he was doing on our landing.
My parents would give me or Sandy a couple of coins to drop
into his collection box, largess, I always thought, dispensed out of
kindness so as not to hurt the feelings of a poor old man who,
from one year to the next, seemed unable to get it through his head
that we'd already had a homeland for three generations. I pledged
allegiance to the flag of our homeland every morning at school. I
sang of its marvels with my classmates at assembly programs. I ea-
gerly observed its national holidays, and without giving a second
thought to my affinity for the Fourth of July fireworks or the
Thanksgiving turkey or the Decoration Day double-header. Our
homeland was America.

Then the Republicans nominated Lindbergh and everything
changed.

For nearly a decade Lindbergh was as great a hero in our neighborhood
as he was everywhere else. The completion of his thirtythree-
and-a-half-hour nonstop solo flight from Long Island to
Paris in the tiny monoplane the Spirit of St. Louis even happened
to coincide with the day in the spring of 1927 that my mother discovered
herself to be pregnant with my older brother. As a consequence,
the young aviator whose daring had thrilled America and
the world and whose achievement bespoke a future of unimaginable
aeronautical progress came to occupy a special niche in the
gallery of family anecdotes that generate a child's first cohesive
mythology. The mystery of pregnancy and the heroism of Lindbergh
combined to give a distinction bordering on the divine to
my very own mother, for whom nothing less than a global annunciation
had accompanied the incarnation of her first child. Sandy
would later record this moment with a drawing illustrating the
juxtaposition of those two splendid events. In the drawing—completed
at the age of nine and smacking inadvertently of Soviet
poster art—Sandy envisioned her miles from our house, amid a
joyous crowd on the corner of Broad and Market. A slender young
woman of twenty-three with dark hair and a smile that is all robust
delight, she is surprisingly on her own and wearing her floral-patterned
kitchen apron at the intersection of the city's two busiest
thoroughfares, one hand spread wide across the front of the apron,
where the span of her hips is still deceptively girlish, while with the
other she alone in the crowd is pointing skyward to the Spirit of St.
Louis, passing visibly above downtown Newark at precisely the
moment she comes to realize that, in a feat no less triumphant for
a mortal than Lindbergh's, she has conceived Sanford Roth.
Sandy was four and I, Philip, wasn't yet born when in March
1932, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh's own first child, a boy
whose arrival twenty months earlier had been an occasion for national
rejoicing, was kidnapped from his family's secluded new
house in rural Hopewell, New Jersey. Some ten weeks later the decomposing
body of the baby was discovered by chance in woods a
few miles away. The baby had been either murdered or killed accidentally
after being snatched from his crib and, in the dark, still in
bedclothes, carried out a window of the second-story nursery and
down a makeshift ladder to the ground while the nurse and mother
were occupied in their ordinary evening activities in another part
of the house. By the time the kidnapping and murder trial in Flemington,
New Jersey, concluded in February 1935 with the conviction
of Bruno Hauptmann—a German ex-con of thirty-five living in
the Bronx with his German wife—the boldness of the world's first
transatlantic solo pilot had been permeated with a pathos that
transformed him into a martyred titan comparable to Lincoln.
Following the trial, the Lindberghs left America, hoping through
a temporary expatriation to protect a new Lindbergh infant from
harm and to recover some measure of the privacy they coveted.
The family moved to a small village in England, and from there,
as a private citizen, Lindbergh began taking the trips to Nazi Germany
that would transform him into a villain for most American
Jews. In the course of five visits, during which he was able to
familiarize himself at first hand with the magnitude of the German
war machine, he was ostentatiously entertained by Air Marshal
Göring, he was ceremoniously decorated in the name of the
Führer, and he expressed quite openly his high regard for Hitler,
calling Germany the world's 'most interesting nation' and its
leader 'a great man.' And all this interest and admiration after
Hitler's 1935 racial laws had denied Germany's Jews their civil, social,
and property rights, nullified their citizenship, and forbidden
intermarriage with Aryans.

By the time I began school in 1938, Lindbergh's was a name that
provoked the same sort of indignation in our house as did the
weekly Sunday radio broadcasts of Father Coughlin, the Detroit-area
priest who edited a right-wing weekly called Social Justice and
whose anti-Semitic virulence aroused the passions of a sizable audience
during the country's hard times. It was in November 1938—
the darkest, most ominous year for the Jews of Europe in eighteen
centuries—that the worst pogrom in modern history, Kristallnacht,
was instigated by the Nazis all across Germany: synagogues
incinerated, the residences and businesses of Jews destroyed, and,
throughout a night presaging the monstrous future, Jews by the
thousands forcibly taken from their homes and transported to
concentration camps.When it was suggested to Lindbergh that in
response to this unprecedented savagery, perpetrated by a state on
its own native-born, he might consider returning the gold cross
decorated with four swastikas bestowed on him in behalf of the
Führer by Air Marshal Göring, he declined on the grounds that for
him to publicly surrender the Service Cross of the German Eagle
would constitute 'an unnecessary insult' to the Nazi leadership.
Lindbergh was the first famous living American whom I learned
to hate—just as President Roosevelt was the first famous living
American whom I was taught to love—and so his nomination by
the Republicans to run against Roosevelt in 1940 assaulted, as
nothing ever had before, that huge endowment of personal security
that I had taken for granted as an American child of American
parents in an American school in an American city in an America
at peace with the world.
The only comparable threat had come some thirteen months earlier
when, on the basis of consistently high sales through the worst
of the Depression as an agent with the Newark office of Metropolitan
Life,my father had been offered a promotion to assistant manager
in charge of agents at the company's office six miles west of
our house in Union, a town whose only distinction I knew of was
a drive-in theater where movies were shown even when it rained,
and where the company expected my father and his family to live
if he took the job. As an assistant manager, my father could soon
be making seventy-five dollars a week and over the coming years
as much as a hundred a week, a fortune in 1939 to people with our
expectations. And since there were one-family houses selling in
Union for a Depression low of a few thousand dollars, he would be
able to realize an ambition he had nurtured growing up penniless
in a Newark tenement flat: to become an American homeowner.
'Pride of ownership' was a favorite phrase of my father's, embodying
an idea real as bread to a man of his background, one having
to do not with social competitiveness or conspicuous consumption
but with his standing as a manly provider.
The single drawback was that because Union, like Hillside, was
a Gentile working-class town, my father would most likely be the
only Jew in an office of some thirty-five people, my mother the
only Jewish woman on our street, and Sandy and I the only Jewish
kids in our school.
On the Saturday after my father was offered the promotion—a
promotion that, above all, would answer a Depression family's
yearning for a tiny margin of financial security—the four of us
headed off after lunch to look around Union. But once we were
there and driving up and down the residential streets peering out
at the two-story houses—not quite identical but each, nonetheless,
with a screened front porch and a mown lawn and a piece of
shrubbery and a cinder drive leading to a one-car garage, very
modest houses but still roomier than our two-bedroom flat and
looking a lot like the little white houses in the movies about smalltown
salt-of-the-earth America—once we were there our innocent
buoyancy about the family ascent into the home-owning class was
supplanted, predictably enough, by our anxieties about the scope
of Christian charity.My ordinarily energetic mother responded to
my father's 'What do you think, Bess?' with enthusiasm that even
a child understood to be feigned. And young as I was, I was able to
surmise why: because she was thinking, 'Ours will be the house
'where the Jews live.' It'll be Elizabeth all over again.'
Elizabeth, New Jersey, when my mother was being raised there
in a flat over her father's grocery store, was an industrial port a
quarter the size of Newark, dominated by the Irish working class
and their politicians and the tightly knit parish life that revolved
around the town's many churches, and though I never heard her
complain of having been pointedly ill-treated in Elizabeth as a girl,
it was not until she married and moved to Newark's new Jewish
neighborhood that she discovered the confidence that led her to
become first a PTA 'grade mother,' then a PTA vice president in
charge of establishing a Kindergarten Mothers' Club, and finally
the PTA president, who, after attending a conference in Trenton on
infantile paralysis, proposed an annual March of Dimes dance on
January 30—President Roosevelt's birthday—that was accepted by
most Newark schools. In the spring of 1939 she was in her second
successful year as a leader with progressive ideas—already supporting
a young social studies teacher keen on bringing 'visual education'
into Chancellor's classrooms—and now she couldn't help
but envision herself bereft of all that had been achieved by her becoming
a wife and a mother on Summit Avenue. Should we have
the good fortune to buy and move into a house on any of the
Union streets we were seeing at their springtime best, not only
would her status slip back to what it had been when she was growing
up the daughter of a Jewish immigrant grocer in Irish Catholic
Elizabeth, but,worse than that, Sandy and I would be obliged to relive
her own circumscribed youth as a neighborhood outsider.
Despite my mother's mood, my father did everything he could
to keep up our spirits, remarking on how clean and well-kept
everything looked, reminding Sandy and me that living in one of
these houses the two of us would no longer have to share a small
bedroom and a single closet, and explaining the benefits to be derived
from paying off a mortgage rather than paying rent, a lesson
in elementary economics that abruptly ended when it was necessary
for him to stop the car at a red light beside a parklike drinking
establishment dominating one corner of the intersection.
There were green picnic tables set out beneath the shade trees full
with foliage, and on this sunny weekend afternoon there were waiters
in braided white coats moving swiftly about, balancing trays
laden with bottles and pitchers and plates, and men of every age
gathered at each of the tables, smoking cigarettes and pipes and cigars
and drinking deeply from tall beakers and earthenware mugs.
There was music, too—an accordion being played by a stout little
man in short pants and high socks who wore a hat ornamented
with a long feather.
'Sons of bitches!' my father said. 'Fascist bastards!' and then
the light changed and we drove on in silence to look at the office
building where he was about to get his chance to earn more than
fifty dollars a week.
It was my brother who, when we went to bed that night, explained
why my father had lost control and cursed aloud in front
of his children: the homey acre of open-air merriment smack in
the middle of town was called a beer garden, the beer garden had
something to do with the German-American Bund, the German-
American Bund had something to do with Hitler, and Hitler, as I
hadn't to be told, had everything to do with persecuting Jews.
The intoxicant of anti-Semitism. That's what I came to imagine
them all so cheerfully drinking in their beer garden that day—like
all the Nazis everywhere, downing pint after pint of anti-Semitism
as though imbibing the universal remedy.
My father had to take off a morning of work to go over to the
home office in New York—to the tall building whose uppermost
tower was crowned with the beacon his company proudly designated
'The Light That Never Fails'—and inform the superintendent
of agencies that he couldn't accept the promotion he longed
for.
'It's my fault,' announced my mother as soon as he began to recount
at the dinner table what had transpired there on the eighteenth
floor of 1 Madison Avenue.
'It's nobody's fault,' my father said. 'I explained before I left
what I was going to tell him, and I went over and I told him, and
that's it. We're not moving to Union, boys. We're staying right
here.'
'What did he do?'my mother asked.
'He heard me out.'
'And then?' she asked.
'He stood up and he shook my hand.'
'He didn't say anything?'
'He said, 'Good luck, Roth.''
'He was angry with you.'
'Hatcher is a gentleman of the old school. Big six-foot goy.
Looks like a movie star. Sixty years old and fit as a fiddle. These are
the people who run things, Bess—they don't waste their time getting
angry at someone like me.'
'So now what?' she asked, implying that whatever happened as
a result of his meeting with Hatcher was not going to be good and
could be dire. And I thought I understood why. Apply yourself and
you can do it—that was the axiom in which we had been schooled
by both parents. At the dinner table, my father would reiterate to
his young sons time and again, 'If anybody asks 'Can you do this
job? Can you handle it?' you tell 'em 'Absolutely.' By the time they
find out that you can't, you'll already have learned, and the job'll
be yours. And who knows, it just might turn out to be the opportunity
of a lifetime.' Yet over in New York he had done nothing
like that.
'What did the Boss say?' she asked him. The Boss was how the
four of us referred to the manager of my father's Newark office,
Sam Peterfreund. In those days of unadvertised quotas to keep
Jewish admissions to a minimum in colleges and professional
schools and of unchallenged discrimination that denied Jews significant
promotions in the big corporations and of rigid restrictions
against Jewish membership in thousands of social organizations
and communal institutions, Peterfreund was one of the first
of the small handful of Jews ever to achieve a managerial position
with Metropolitan Life. 'He's the one who put you up for it,' my
mother said. 'How must he feel?'
'Know what he said to me when I got back? Know what he told
me about the Union office? It's full of drunks. Famous for drunks.
Beforehand he didn't want to influence my decision. He didn't
want to stand in my way if this was what I wanted. Famous for
agents who work two hours in the morning and spend the rest of
their time in the tavern or worse. And I was supposed to go in
there, the new Jew, the big new sheeny boss the goyim are all dying
to work for, and I was supposed to go in there and pick 'em up off
the barroom floor. I was supposed to go in there and remind them
of their obligation to their wives and their children. Oh, how they
would have loved me, boys, for doing them the favor. You can
imagine what they would have called me behind my back. No, I'm
better off where I am.We're all better off.'
'But can the company fire you for turning them down?'
'Honey, I did what I did. That's the end of it.'
But she didn't believe what he'd told her the Boss had said; she
believed that he was making up what the Boss had said to get her
to stop blaming herself for refusing to move her children to a Gentile
town that was a haven for the German-American Bund and by
doing so denying him the opportunity of his lifetime.
The Lindberghs returned to resume their family life in America in
April 1939. Only months later, in September, having already annexed
Austria and overrun Czechoslovakia, Hitler invaded and
conquered Poland, and France and Great Britain responded by declaring
war on Germany. Lindbergh had by then been activated as
a colonel in the Army Air Corps, and he now began traveling
around the country for the U.S. government, lobbying for the
development of American aviation and for expanding and modernizing
the air wing of the armed forces.When Hitler quickly occupied
Denmark, Norway, Holland, and Belgium, and all but defeated
France, and the second great European war of the century
was well under way, the Air Corps colonel made himself the idol of
the isolationists—and the enemy of FDR—by adding to his mission
the goal of preventing America from being drawn into the war
or offering any aid to the British or the French. There was already
strong animosity between him and Roosevelt, but now that he was
declaring openly at large public meetings and on network radio
and in popular magazines that the president was misleading the
country with promises of peace while secretly agitating and planning
for our entry into the armed struggle, some in the Republican
Party began to talk up Lindbergh as the man with the magic to beat
'the warmonger in the White House' out of a third term.
The more pressure Roosevelt put on Congress to repeal the arms
embargo and loosen the strictures on the country's neutrality so as
to prevent the British from being defeated, the more forthright
Lindbergh became, until finally he made the famous radio speech
before a hall full of cheering supporters in Des Moines that named
among the 'most important groups who have been pressing this
country toward war' a group constituting less than three percent
of the population and referred to alternately as 'the Jewish people'
and 'the Jewish race.'
'No person of honesty and vision,' Lindbergh said, 'can look on
their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved
in such a policy both for us and for them.' And then, with
remarkable candor, he added:
A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed
to intervention. But the majority still do not . . .We
cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to
be their own interests, but we must also look out for ours.
We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of
other peoples to lead our country to destruction.
The next day the very accusations that had elicited roars of
approval from Lindbergh's Iowa audience were vigorously denounced
by liberal journalists, by Roosevelt's press secretary, by
Jewish agencies and organizations, even from within the Republican
Party by New York's District Attorney Dewey and the Wall
Street utilities lawyer Wendell Willkie, both potential presidential
nominees. So severe was the criticism from Democratic cabinet
members like Interior Secretary Harold Ickes that Lindbergh resigned
his reserve commission as an Army colonel rather than
serve under FDR as his commander in chief. But the America First
Committee, the broadest-based organization leading the battle
against intervention, continued to support him, and he remained
the most popular proselytizer of its argument for neutrality. For
many America Firsters there was no debating (even with the facts)
Lindbergh's contention that the Jews''greatest danger to this country
lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures,
our press, our radio, and our government.'When Lindbergh
wrote proudly of 'our inheritance of European blood,' when he
warned against 'dilution by foreign races' and 'the infiltration of
inferior blood' (all phrases that turn up in diary entries from those
years), he was recording personal convictions shared by a sizable
portion of America First's rank-and-file membership as well as by
a rabid constituency even more extensive than a Jew like my father,
with his bitter hatred of anti-Semitism—or like my mother, with
her deeply ingrained mistrust of Christians—could ever imagine
to be flourishing all across America.

The 1940 Republican Convention. My brother and I went to sleep
that night—Thursday, June 27—while the radio was on in the living
room, and our father, our mother, and our older cousin Alvin
sat listening together to the live coverage from Philadelphia. After
six ballots, the Republicans still hadn't selected a candidate. Lindbergh's
name was yet to be uttered by a single delegate, and because
of an engineering conclave at a midwestern factory where he'd
been advising on the design of a new fighter plane, he wasn't present
or expected to be.When Sandy and I went to bed the convention
remained divided among Dewey, Willkie, and two powerful
Republican senators, Vandenberg of Michigan and Taft of Ohio,
and it didn't look as though a backroom deal was about to be brokered
anytime soon by party bigwigs like former president Hoover,
who'd been ousted from office by FDR's overwhelming 1932 victory,
or by Governor Alf Landon, whom FDR had defeated even
more ignominiously four years later in the biggest landslide in
history.

Because it was the first muggy evening of the summer, the win-
dows were open in every room and Sandy and I couldn't help but
continue to follow from bed the proceedings being aired over our
own living room radio and the radio playing in the flat downstairs
and—since an alleyway only barely wide enough for a single car
separated one house from the next—the radios of our neighbors to
either side and across the way. As this was long before window air
conditioners bested the noises of a neighborhood's tropical nights,
the broadcast blanketed the block from Keer to Chancellor—a
block on which not a single Republican lived in any of the thirtyodd
two-and-a-half-family houses or in the small new apartment
building at the Chancellor Avenue corner. On streets like ours the
Jews voted straight Democratic for as long as FDR was at the top
of the ticket.

But we were two kids and fell asleep despite everything and
probably wouldn't have awakened till morning had not Lindbergh
—with the Republicans deadlocked on the twentieth ballot—made
his unanticipated entrance onto the convention floor at 3:18 a.m.
The lean, tall, handsome hero, a lithe, athletic-looking man not yet
forty years old, arrived in his flying attire, having landed his own
plane at the Philadelphia airport only minutes earlier, and at the
sight of him, a surge of redemptive excitement brought the wilted
conventioneers up onto their feet to cry 'Lindy! Lindy! Lindy!'
for thirty glorious minutes, and without interruption from the
chair. Behind the successful execution of this spontaneous pseudoreligious
drama lay the machinations of Senator Gerald P. Nye of
North Dakota, a right-wing isolationist who quickly placed in nomination
the name of Charles A. Lindbergh of Little Falls, Minnesota,
whereupon two of the most reactionary members of Congress
—Congressman Thorkelson of Montana and Congressman
Mundt of South Dakota—seconded the nomination, and at precisely
four a.m. on Friday, June 28, the Republican Party, by acclamation,
chose as its candidate the bigot who had denounced Jews
over the airwaves to a national audience as 'other peoples' employing
their enormous 'influence . . . to lead our country to
destruction,' rather than truthfully acknowledging us to be a small
minority of citizens vastly outnumbered by our Christian countrymen,
by and large obstructed by religious prejudice from attaining
public power, and surely no less loyal to the principles of
American democracy than an admirer of Adolf Hitler.
'No!' was the word that awakened us, 'No!' being shouted in a
man's loud voice from every house on the block. It can't be. No.
Not for president of the United States.
Within seconds, my brother and I were once more at the radio
with the rest of the family, and nobody bothered telling us to go
back to bed. Hot as it was, my decorous mother had pulled a robe
over her thin nightdress—she too had been asleep and roused by
the noise—and she sat now on the sofa beside my father, her fingers
over her mouth as though she were trying to keep from being sick.
Meanwhile my cousin Alvin, able no longer to remain in his seat,
set about pacing a room eighteen-by-twelve with a force in his gait
befitting an avenger out searching the city to dispose of his nemesis.
The anger that night was the real roaring forge, the furnace that
takes you and twists you like steel.And it didn't subside—not while
Lindbergh stood silently at the Philadelphia rostrum and heard
himself being cheered once again as the nation's savior, nor when
he gave the speech accepting his party's nomination and with it the
mandate to keep America out of the European war.We all waited
in terror to hear him repeat to the convention his malicious vilifi-
cation of the Jews, but that he didn't made no difference to the
mood that carried every last family on the block out into the street
at nearly five in the morning. Entire families known to me previously
only fully dressed in daytime clothing were wearing pajamas
and nightdresses under their bathrobes and milling around in their
slippers at dawn as if driven from their homes by an earthquake.
But what shocked a child most was the anger, the anger of men
whom I knew as lighthearted kibbitzers or silent, dutiful breadwinners
who all day long unclogged drainpipes or serviced furnaces
or sold apples by the pound and then in the evening looked
at the paper and listened to the radio and fell asleep in the living
room chair, plain people who happened to be Jews now storming
about the street and cursing with no concern for propriety,
abruptly thrust back into the miserable struggle from which they
had believed their families extricated by the providential migration
of the generation before.
I would have imagined Lindbergh's not mentioning the Jews in
his acceptance speech to be a promising omen, an indication that
he had been chastened by the outcry that had caused him to relinquish
his Army commission or that he had changed his mind since
the Des Moines speech or that he had already forgotten about us
or that secretly he knew full well that we were committed irrevocably
to America—that though Ireland still mattered to the Irish and
Poland to the Poles and Italy to the Italians, we retained no allegiance,
sentimental or otherwise, to those Old World countries
that we had never been welcome in and that we had no intention
of ever returning to. If I could have thought through the meaning
of the moment in so many words, this is probably what I would
have been thinking. But the men out on the street thought differently.
Lindbergh's not mentioning the Jews was to them a trick
and no more, the initiation of a campaign of deceit intended both
to shut us up and to catch us off guard. 'Hitler in America!' the
neighbors cried. 'Fascism in America! Storm troopers in America!'
After their having gone without sleep all night long, there
was nothing that these bewildered elders of ours didn't think and
nothing that they didn't say aloud, within our hearing, before they
started to drift back to their houses (where all the radios still blared
away), the men to shave and dress and grab a cup of coffee before
heading for work and the women to get their children clothed and
fed and ready for the day.

Roosevelt raised everyone's spirits by his robust response on learning
that his opponent was to be Lindbergh rather than a senator of
the stature of Taft or a prosecutor as aggressive as Dewey or a bigtime
lawyer as smooth and handsome as Willkie.When awakened
at four a.m. to be told the news, he was said to have predicted from
his White House bed, 'By the time this is over, the young man will
be sorry not only that he entered politics but that he ever learned
to fly.'Whereupon he fell immediately back into a sound sleep—
or so went the story that brought us such solace the next day. Out
on the street, when all anyone could think about was the menace
posed to our safety by this transparently unjust affront, people had
oddly forgotten about FDR and the bulwark he was against oppression.
The sheer surprise of the Lindbergh nomination had activated
an atavistic sense of being undefended that had more to
do with Kishinev and the pogroms of 1903 than with New Jersey
thirty-seven years later, and as a consequence, they had forgotten
about Roosevelt's appointment to the Supreme Court of Felix
Frankfurter and his selection as Treasury secretary of Henry Morgenthau,
and about the close presidential adviser, financier Bernard
Baruch, and about Mrs. Roosevelt and Ickes and Agriculture
Secretary Wallace, all three of whom, like the president,were known
to be friends of the Jews. There was Roosevelt, there was the U.S.
Constitution, there was the Bill of Rights, and there were the papers,
America's free press. Even the Republican Newark Evening
News published an editorial reminding readers of the Des Moines
speech and openly challenging the wisdom of Lindbergh's nomination,
and PM, the new left-wing New York tabloid that cost a
nickel and that my father had begun bringing home with him after
work along with the Newark News—and whose slogan read, 'PM
is against people who push other people around'—leveled its assault
on the Republicans in a lengthy editorial as well as in news
stories and columns on virtually every one of its thirty-two pages,
including anti-Lindbergh columns in the sports section by Tom
Meany and Joe Cummiskey. On the front page the paper featured
a large photo of Lindbergh's Nazi medal and, in its Daily Picture
Magazine, where it claimed to run photographs that other papers
suppressed—controversial photos of lynch mobs and chain gangs,
of strikebreakers wielding clubs, of inhuman conditions in America's
penitentiaries—there was page after page showing the Republican
candidate touring Nazi Germany in 1938, culminating in the
full-page picture of him, the notorious medal around his neck,
shaking the hand of Hermann Göring, the Nazi leader second only
to Hitler.
On Sunday night we waited through the lineup of comedy programs
for Walter Winchell to come on at nine. And when he did
and proceeded to say what we had hoped he would say just as
contemptuously
as we wanted him to say it, applause erupted from
across the alleyway, as though the famous newsman weren't walled
off in a radio studio on the far side of the great divide that was the
Hudson but were here among us and fighting mad, his tie pulled
down, his collar unbuttoned, his gray fedora angled back on his
head, lambasting Lindbergh from a microphone atop the oilcloth
covering on the kitchen table of our next-door neighbor.
It was the last night of June 1940. After a warm day, it had grown
cool enough to sit comfortably indoors without perspiring, but
when Winchell signed off at nine-fifteen, our parents were moved
to go outside for the four of us to take in the lovely evening together.
We were just going to walk to the corner and back—after
which my brother and I would go to sleep—but it was nearly midnight
before we got to bed and by then sleep was out of the question
for kids so overcome by their parents' excitement. Because
Winchell's fearless bellicosity had propelled all of our neighbors
outdoors as well, what had begun for us as a cheerful little evening
stroll ended as an impromptu block party for everyone. The men
dragged beach chairs from the garages and unfolded them at the
foot of the alleyways, the women carried pitchers of lemonade
from the houses, the youngest of the children ran wildly from
stoop to stoop, and the older ones sat laughing and talking off by
themselves, and all because war had been declared on Lindbergh
by America's best-known Jew after Albert Einstein.
It was Winchell, after all, whose column had famously ushered
in the three dots separating—and somehow magically validating—
each hot news item ever so tenuously grounded in fact, and it was
Winchell who'd more or less originated the idea of firing into the face of the
credulous masses buckshot pellets of insinuating gossip
—ruining reputations, compromising celebrities, bestowing
fame, making and breaking showbiz careers. It was his column
alone that was syndicated in hundreds of papers all across the
country and his Sunday-night quarter of an hour that was the
country's most popular news program, the rapid-fire Winchell delivery
and the pugnacious Winchell cynicism lending every scoop
the sensational air of an exposé.We admired him as a fearless outsider
and a cunning insider, a pal of J. Edgar Hoover, director of the
FBI, as well as a neighbor of the mobster Frank Costello and a con-
fidant of Roosevelt's inner circle, even a sometimes guest invited to
the White House to amuse the president over a drink—the in-theknow
street fighter and hardboiled man about town whom his enemies
feared and who was on our side. Manhattan-born Walter
Winschel (a.k.a.Weinschel) had transformed himself from a New
York vaudeville dancer into a callow Broadway columnist earning
big money by embodying the passions of the cheesiest of the new
subliterate dailies, though ever since the rise of Hitler, and long before
anyone else in the press had the foresight or the wrath to take
them on, fascists and anti-Semites had become his number one
enemy. He'd already labeled as 'ratzis' the German-American
Bund and hounded its leader, Fritz Kuhn, over the air and in print
as a secret foreign agent, and now—after FDR's joke, the Newark
News editorial, and the thoroughgoing denunciation by PM—Walter
Winchell had only to disclose Lindbergh's 'pro-Nazi philosophy'
to his thirty million Sunday-evening listeners and to call
Lindbergh's presidential candidacy the greatest threat ever to American
democracy for all the Jewish families on block-long little
Summit Avenue to resemble once again Americans enjoying the vitality
and high spirits of a secure, free, protected citizenry instead
of casting themselves about outdoors in their nightclothes like inmates
escaped from a lunatic asylum.
My brother was known throughout the neighborhood for being
able to draw 'anything'—a bike, a tree, a dog, a chair, a cartoon

character like Li'l Abner—though his interest of late was in real
faces. Kids were always gathering around to watch him wherever he
would park himself after school with his large spiral pad and his
mechanical pencil and begin to sketch the people nearby. Inevitably
the onlookers would start to shout, 'Draw him, draw her,
draw me,' and Sandy would take up the exhortation, if only to stop
them from screaming in his ear. All the while his hand was working
away, he'd look up, down, up, down—and behold, there lived
so-and-so on a sheet of paper.What's the trick, they all asked him,
how'd you do it, as if tracing—as if outright magic—might have
played some part in the feat. Sandy's answer to all this pestering
was a shrug or a smile: the trick to doing it was his being the quiet,
serious, unostentatious boy that he was. Compelling attention
wherever he went by turning out the likenesses people requested
had seemingly no effect on the impersonal element at the core of
his strength, the inborn modesty that was his toughness and that
he later sidestepped at his peril.
At home, he was no longer copying illustrations from Collier's or
photos from Look but studying from an art manual on the figure.
He'd won the book in an Arbor Day poster contest for schoolkids
that had coincided with a citywide tree-planting program administered
by the Department of Parks and Public Property. There'd
even been a ceremony where he'd shaken the hand of a Mr. Bannwart,
who was superintendent of the Bureau of Shade Trees. The
design of his winning poster was based on a red two-cent stamp in
my collection commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of Arbor
Day. The stamp seemed to me especially beautiful because visible
within each of its narrow, vertical white borders was a slender tree
whose branches arched at the top to meet and form an arbor—and
until the stamp became mine and I was able to examine through
my magnifying glass its distinguishing marks, the meaning of
'arbor' had been swallowed up in the familiar name of the holiday.
(The small magnifying glass—along with an album for twenty-five
hundred stamps, a stamp tweezers, a perforation gauge, gummed
stamp hinges, and a black rubber dish called a watermark detec-
tor—had been a gift from my parents for my seventh birthday. For
an additional ten cents they'd also bought me a small book of
ninety-odd pages called The Stamp Collector's Handbook, where,
under 'How to Start a Stamp Collection,' I'd read with fascination
this sentence: 'Old business files or private correspondence often
contain stamps of discontinued issues which are of great value, so
if you have any friends living in old houses who have accumulated
material of this sort in their attics, try to obtain their old stamped
envelopes and wrappers.' We didn't have an attic, none of our
friends living in flats and apartments had attics, but there'd been
attics just beneath the roofs of the one-family houses in Union—
from my seat in the back of the car I could see little attic windows
at either end of each of the houses as we'd driven around the town
on that terrible Saturday the year before, and so all I could think of
when we got home in the afternoon were the old stamped envelopes
and the embossed stamps on the prepaid newspaper wrappers
secreted up in those attics and how I would now have no
chance 'to obtain' them because I was a Jew.)

The appeal of the Arbor Day commemorative stamp was greatly
enhanced by its representing a human activity as opposed to a famous
person's portrait or a picture of an important place—an activity,
what's more, being performed by children: in the center of
the stamp, a boy and a girl looking to be about ten or eleven are
planting a young tree, the boy digging with a spade while the girl,
supporting the trunk of the tree with one hand, holds it steadily in
place over the hole. In Sandy's poster the boy and the girl are repositioned
and stand on opposite sides of the tree, the boy is pictured
as right-handed rather than left-handed, he wears long pants instead
of knickers, and one of his feet is atop the blade pressing it
into the ground. There is also a third child in Sandy's poster, a boy
about my age, who is now the one wearing the knickers. He stands
back and to the side of the sapling and holds ready a watering
can—as I held one when I modeled for Sandy, clad in my best
school knickers and high socks. Adding this child was my mother's
idea, to help distinguish Sandy's artwork from that on the Arbor
Day stamp—and protect him from the charge of 'copying'—but
also to provide the poster with a social content that implied a
theme by no means common in 1940, not in poster art or anywhere
else either, and that for reasons of 'taste' might even have proved
unacceptable to the judges.

The third child planting the tree was a Negro, and what encouraged
my mother to suggest including him—aside from the desire
to instill in her children the civic virtue of tolerance—was another
stamp of mine, a brand-new ten-cent issue in the 'educators
group,' five stamps that I'd purchased at the post office for a total
of twenty-one cents and paid for over the month of March out of
my weekly allowance of a nickel. Above the central portrait, each
stamp featured a picture of a lamp that the U.S. Post Office Department
identified as the 'Lamp of Knowledge' but that I thought
of as Aladdin's lamp because of the boy in the Arabian Nights
with the magic lamp and the ring and the two genies who give
him whatever he asks for. What I would have asked for from a
genie were the most coveted of all American stamps: first, the celebrated
1918 twenty-four-cent airmail, a stamp said to be worth
$3,400, where the plane pictured at the center, the Army's Flying
Jenny, is inverted; and after that, the three famous stamps in the
Pan-American Exposition issue of 1901 that had also been mistakenly
printed with inverted centers and were worth over a thousand
dollars apiece.

On the green one-cent stamp in the educators group, just above
the picture of the Lamp of Knowledge, was Horace Mann; on the
red two-cent,Mark Hopkins; on the purple three-cent, Charles W.
Eliot; on the blue four-cent, Frances E.Willard; on the brown tencent
was Booker T. Washington, the first Negro to appear on an
American stamp. I remember that after placing the Booker T.
Washington in my album and showing my mother how it completed
the set of five, I had asked her, 'Do you think there'll ever be
a Jew on a stamp?' and she replied, 'Probably—someday, yes. I
hope so, anyway.' In fact, another twenty-six years had to pass, and
it took Einstein to do it.

Sandy saved his weekly allowance of twenty-five cents—and
what change he earned shoveling snow and raking leaves and washing
the family car—until he had enough to bicycle to the stationery
store on Clinton Avenue that carried art supplies and, over a
period of months, to buy a charcoal pencil, then sandpaper blocks
to sharpen the pencil, then charcoal paper, then the little tubular
metal contraption he blew into to apply the fine fixative mist
that prevented the charcoal from smudging. He had big bulldog
clips, a masonite board, yellow Ticonderoga pencils, erasers, sketchpads,
drawing paper—equipment that he stored in a grocery carton
at the bottom of our bedroom closet and that my mother,
when she was cleaning, wasn't permitted to disturb. His energetic
meticulousness (passed on from our mother) and his breathtaking
perseverance (passed on from our father) served only to magnify
my awe of an older brother who everyone agreed was intended for
great things, while most boys his age didn't look as though they
were intended even to eat at a table with another human being. I
was then the good child, obedient both at home and at school—
the willfulness largely inactive and the attack set to go off at a later
date—as yet altogether too young to know the potential of a rage
of one's own. And nowhere was I less intransigent than with him.
For his twelfth birthday, Sandy had gotten a large, flat black
portfolio made of hard cardboard that folded along a sewn seam
and was secured at the top edge with two attached lengths of ribbon
that he tied in a bow in order to fasten the leaves. The portfolio
measured about two feet by a foot and a half, too big to fit
into the drawers of our bedroom dresser or to be stacked upright
against the wall in the crowded bedroom closet he and I shared.He
was allowed to store it—along with his spiral sketchpads—laid out
flat beneath his bed, and in it he saved the drawings he considered
his best, beginning with his compositional masterwork of 1936, the
ambitious picture of our mother pointing overhead at the Parisbound
Spirit of St. Louis. Sandy had several large portraits of the
heroic aviator, in both pencil and charcoal, stowed away in his
portfolio. They were part of a series he was assembling of promi-
nent Americans that concentrated primarily on those living eminences
most revered by our parents, such as President and Mrs.
Roosevelt, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, United Mine
Workers president John L. Lewis, and the novelist Pearl Buck,
who'd won the Nobel Prize in 1938 and whose picture he copied
from the jacket of one of her bestsellers. A number of drawings in
the portfolio were of family members, and of those at least half
were of our sole surviving grandparent, our paternal grandmother,
who, on the Sundays when my uncle Monty brought her around to
visit, would sometimes serve Sandy as a model. Under the sway of
the word 'venerable,' he drew every wrinkle he could find in her
face and every gnarl in her arthritic fingers while—as dutifully as
she'd scrubbed floors on her knees all her life and cooked for a
family of nine on a coal stove—tiny, sturdy Grandma sat in the
kitchen and 'posed.'

We were alone together in the house only a few days after the
Winchell broadcast when Sandy removed the portfolio from under
his bed and carried it into the dining room. There he opened it out
on the table (reserved for entertaining the Boss and celebrating
special family occasions) and carefully lifted the Lindbergh portraits
from the tracing paper protecting each drawing and lined
them up on the tabletop. In the first, Lindbergh was wearing his
leather flying cap with the loose straps dangling over each ear; in
the second, the cap was partially hidden beneath large heavy goggles
pushed up from his eyes and onto his forehead; in the third, he
was bareheaded, nothing to mark him as an aviator other than the
uncompromising gaze out to the distant horizon. To gauge the
value of this man, as Sandy had rendered him, wasn't difficult. A
virile hero. A courageous adventurer. A natural person of gigantic
strength and rectitude combined with a powerful blandness. Anything
but a frightening villain or a menace to mankind.

'He's going to be president,' Sandy told me. 'Alvin says Lindbergh's
going to win.'

He so confused and frightened me that I pretended he was making
a joke and laughed.

'Alvin's going to go to Canada and join the Canadian army,' he
said. 'He's going to fight for the British against Hitler.'

'But nobody can beat Roosevelt,' I said.

'Lindbergh's going to. America's going to go fascist.'

Then we just stood there together under the intimidating spell
of the three portraits. Never before had being seven felt like such a
serious deficiency.

'Don't tell anybody I've got these,' he said.

'But Mom and Dad saw them already,' I said. 'They've seen
them all. Everybody has.'

'I told them I tore them up.'

There was nobody more truthful than my brother. He wasn't
quiet because he was secretive and deceitful but because he never
bothered to behave badly and so had nothing to hide. But now
something external had transformed the meaning of these drawings,
making them into what they were not, and so he'd told our
parents that he'd destroyed them, making himself into what he
was not.

'Suppose they find them,' I said.

'How will they do that?' he asked.

'I don't know.'

'Right,' he said. 'You don't. Just keep your little trap shut and
nobody'll find anything.'

I did as he told me for many reasons, one being that the thirdoldest
U.S. postage stamp I owned—which I couldn't possibly tear
up and throw away—was a ten-cent airmail issued in 1927 to commemorate
Lindbergh's transatlantic flight. It was a blue stamp,
about twice as long as it was high, whose central design, a picture
of the Spirit of St. Louis flying eastward over the ocean, had provided
Sandy with the model for the plane in the drawing celebrating
his conception. Adjacent to the white border at the left of the
stamp is the coastline of North America, with the words 'New
York' jutting out into the Atlantic, and adjacent to the border at
the right the coastlines of Ireland, Great Britain, and France, with
the word 'Paris' at the end of a dotted arc that charts the flight
path between the two cities. At the top of the stamp, directly beneath
the white letters that boldly spell out united states postage
are the words lindbergh–air mail in slightly smaller type
but large enough certainly to be read by a seven-year-old with perfect
vision. The stamp was already valued at twenty cents by Scott's
Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, and what I immediately realized
was that its worth would only continue increasing (and so
rapidly as to become my single most valuable possession) if Alvin
was right and the worst happened.

On the sidewalk during the long vacation months we played a new
game called 'I Declare War,' using a cheap rubber ball and a piece
of chalk. With the chalk you drew a circle some five or six feet in
diameter, partitioned it into as many pielike segments as there were
players, and chalked into each the name of one of various foreign
countries that had been in the news throughout the year. Next,
each player picked 'his' country and stood straddling the edge of
the circle, one foot inside and one out, so that when the time came
he could flee in a hurry. Meanwhile a designated player, holding
the ball aloft in his hand, announced slowly, in an ominous cadence,
'I—declare—war—on—' There was a suspenseful pause,
and then the kid declaring war would slam the ball down, in the
same instant shouting 'Germany!' or 'Japan!' or 'Holland!' or
'Italy!' or 'Belgium!' or 'England!' or 'China!'—sometimes even
shouting 'America!'—and everybody would take off except the
one on whom the surprise attack had been launched. His job was
to catch the ball on the bounce as quickly as he could and call
'Stop!' Everybody now allied against him would have to freeze in
place, and the victim country would begin the counterattack, trying
to eliminate one aggressor country at a time by walloping each
as hard as he could with the ball, beginning by throwing at those
closest to him and advancing his position with each murderous
thwack.

We played this game incessantly. Until it rained and temporarily
the names of the countries were washed away, people had to either
step on them or step over them when they made their way down
the street. In our neighborhood there was no other graffiti to speak
of in those days, just this, the remnants of the hieroglyphics of our
simple street games.Harmless enough, and yet it drove some of the
mothers crazy who had to hear us at it for hours on end through
their open windows. 'Can't you kids do something else? Can't you
find another game to play?'But we couldn't—declaring war was all
we thought about too.

On July 18, 1940, the Democratic Convention meeting in Chicago
overwhelmingly nominated FDR for a third term on the first ballot.
We listened on the radio to his acceptance speech, delivered
with the confidently intoned upper-class enunciation that, for
close to eight years now, had inspired millions of ordinary families
like ours to remain hopeful in the midst of hardship. There
was something about the inherent decorum of the delivery that,
alien though it was, not only calmed our anxiety but bestowed on
our family a historical significance, authoritatively merging our
lives with his as well as with that of the entire nation when he
addressed us in our living room as his 'fellow citizens.'That Americans
could choose Lindbergh—that Americans could choose anybody
—rather than the two-term president whose voice alone conveyed
mastery over the tumult of human affairs . . . well, that was
unthinkable, and certainly so for a little American like me who'd
never known a presidential voice other than his.
Some six weeks later, on the Saturday before Labor Day, Lindbergh
surprised the country by failing to appear at the Detroit
Labor Day parade, where he had been scheduled to launch his
campaign with a motorcade through the working-class heartland
of isolationist America (and the anti-Semitic stronghold of Father
Coughlin and Henry Ford), and by arriving unannounced instead
at the Long Island airfield from which his spectacular transatlantic
flight had begun thirteen years before. The Spirit of St. Louis had
been secretly trucked in under a tarp and stored overnight in a remote
hangar, though by the time Lindbergh taxied the plane onto
the field the next morning, every wire service in America and every
radio station and newspaper in New York had a reporter on hand
to witness the takeoff, westward this time across America to California
rather than eastward acro ss the Atlantic to Europe. Of
course, by 1940, commercial air service had been hauling transcontinental
freight, passengers, and mail for more than a decade, and
doing so largely as a result of the incentive of Lindbergh's solo feat
and his industrious efforts as a million-dollar-a-year consultant to
the newly organized airlines. But it wasn't the wealthy advocate of
commercial aviation who was launching his campaign that day,
nor was it the Lindbergh who had been decorated in Berlin by the
Nazis, nor the Lindbergh who, in a nationwide radio broadcast,
had blamed overly influential Jews for attempting to drive the
country into war, nor was it even the stoical father of the infant
kidnapped and killed by Bruno Hauptmann in 1932. It was rather
the unknown airmail pilot who'd dared to do what had never been
done by any aviator before him, the adored Lone Eagle, boyish and
unspoiled still, despite the years of phenomenal fame. On the holiday
weekend that closed out the summer of 1940, Lindbergh came
nowhere near besting the record time for a coast-to-coast nonstop
flight that he'd himself set a decade back with an aircraft more advanced
than the old Spirit of St. Louis. Nonetheless, when he arrived
at Los Angeles Airport, a crowd consisting largely of aircraft
workers—tens of thousands of them, employed by the big new
manufacturers in and around L.A.—was as overcome with enthusiasm
as any ever to greet him anywhere.

The Democrats called the flight a publicity gimmick stage-managed
by Lindbergh's staff, when in fact the decision to fly to California
had been made only hours earlier by Lindbergh alone and
not by the professionals who had been assigned by the Republican
Party to steer the political novice through his first political campaign
and who, like everyone else, had been expecting him to turn
up in Detroit.

His speech was unadorned and to the point, delivered in a highpitched,
flat, midwestern, decidedly un-Rooseveltian American
voice. His flight outfit of high boots and jodhpurs and a lightweight
jumper worn over a shirt and tie was a replica of the one in
which he'd crossed the Atlantic, and he spoke without removing
his leather headgear or flight goggles, which were pushed up onto
his forehead exactly as Sandy had them positioned in the charcoal
drawing hidden beneath his bed.

'My intention in running for the presidency,' he told the raucous
crowd, once they had stopped chanting his name, 'is to preserve
American democracy by preventing America from taking
part in another world war. Your choice is simple. It's not between
Charles A. Lindbergh and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It's between
Lindbergh and war.'

That was the whole of it—forty-one words, if you included the
A for Augustus.

After a shower and a snack and an hour's nap there at the L.A.
airport, the candidate climbed back into the Spirit of St. Louis and
flew to San Francisco. By nightfall he was in Sacramento. And
wherever he landed in California that day, it was as though the
country hadn't known the stock market crash and the miseries of
the Depression (or the triumphs of FDR, for that matter), as
though even the war he was there to prevent us from entering
hadn't so much as crossed anyone's mind. Lindy flew down out of
the sky in his famous plane, and it was 1927 all over again. It was
Lindy all over again, straight-talking Lindy, who had never to look
or to sound superior, who simply was superior—fearless Lindy, at
once youthful and gravely mature, the rugged individualist, the
legendary American man's man who gets the impossible done by
relying solely on himself.

Over the next month and a half he proceeded to spend one full
day in each of the forty-eight states, until in late October he made
his way back to the Long Island runway from which he'd taken off
on Labor Day weekend. Throughout the daylight hours he would
hop from one city, town, or village to the next, landing on highways
if there was no nearby airstrip and setting down and taking
off from a stretch of pasture when he flew to talk with farmers and
their families in the remotest of America's rural counties. His air-
field remarks were broadcast over local and regional radio stations,
and several times a week, from the state capital where he was
spending the night, he broadcast a message to the nation. It was always
succinct and went like this: To prevent a war in Europe is now
too late. But it is not too late to prevent America from taking part
in that war. FDR is misleading the nation. America will be carried
to war by a president who falsely promises peace. The choice is
simple. Vote for Lindbergh or vote for war.
As a young pilot in aviation's early, novelty days, Lindbergh,
along with an older, more experienced sidekick, had entertained
crowds throughout the Midwest by skydiving in a parachute or
walking out parachuteless onto the plane's wing, and the Democrats
were now quick to belittle his barnstorming in the Spirit of St.
Louis by likening it to these stunts. At press conferences, Roosevelt
no longer bothered to make a derisive quip when questioned by
newsmen about the unorthodox Lindbergh campaign, but simply
moved on to discuss Churchill's fear of an imminent German invasion
of Britain or to announce that he would be asking Congress
to fund the first American peacetime draft or to remind Hitler that
the United States would not tolerate any interference with the
transatlantic aid our merchant vessels were supplying to the British
war effort. It was clear from the start that the president's campaign
was to consist of remaining in the White House, where, in contrast
to what Secretary Ickes labeled Lindbergh's 'carnival antics,' he
planned to address the hazards of the international situation with
all the authority at his command, working round the clock if necessary.
Twice during the state-by-state tour, Lindbergh was lost in bad
weather and each time several hours passed before radio contact
with him was reestablished and he was able to let the country know
that all was well. But then in October, on the very day Americans
were stunned to learn that in the latest of the destructive night
raids on London the Germans had bombed St. Paul's Cathedral, a
news flash at dinnertime reported that the Spirit of St. Louis had
been seen to explode in the air over the Alleghenies and plummet
to the earth in flames. This time it was six long hours before a second
flash corrected the first with the news that it was engine trouble
and not a midair explosion that had forced Lindbergh to make
an emergency landing on treacherous terrain in the mountains of
western Pennsylvania. Before the emendation was aired, however,
our phone rang continuously—friends and relatives calling to
speculate with our parents on the initial account of the fiery and
probably fatal accident. In front of Sandy and me our parents said
nothing to indicate relief at the prospect of Lindbergh's death,
though neither did they say that they hoped it wasn't so nor were
they among the jubilant when, around eleven that night, word
came through that, far from having gone down in flames, the Lone
Eagle had emerged safely from the undamaged plane and was waiting
only for a replacement part so as to take off and resume his
campaign.

On the October morning that Lindbergh landed at Newark Airport,
among the entourage waiting to welcome him to New Jersey
was Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf of B'nai Moshe, the first of the city's
Conservative temples, organized by Polish Jews. B'nai Moshe was a
few blocks from the heart of the old pushcart ghetto, still the city's
poorest district though home no longer to B'nai Moshe's congregants
but to a community of impoverished Negroes, recent migrants
from the South. For years B'nai Moshe had been losing out
in the competition for the well-to-do; by 1940, these families had
either left Conservatism and affiliated themselves to the Reform
congregations of B'nai Jeshurun and Oheb Shalom—each planted
impressively amid the old mansions on High Street—or joined the
other long-established Conservative temple, B'nai Abraham, located
several miles west of where it had been originally housed in
a former Baptist church and adjacent now to the homes of the Jewish
doctors and lawyers living in Clinton Hill. The new B'nai Abraham
was the most splendid of the city's temples, a circular building
austerely designed in what was called 'the Greek style' and vast
enough to hold a thousand worshipers on the High Holidays.
Joachim Prinz, an émigré expelled from Berlin by Hitler's Gestapo,
had replaced the retiring Julius Silberfeld as the temple's rabbi the
year before and was already emerging as a forceful man with a
broad social outlook who offered his prosperous congregants a
perspective on Jewish history marked strongly by his own recent
experience at the bloody scene of the Nazi crime.
Rabbi Bengelsdorf's sermons were broadcast weekly over station
WNJR to the hoi polloi he called his 'radio congregation,' and
he was the author of several books of inspirational poetry routinely
given as gifts to bar mitzvah boys and newlyweds. He'd been
born in South Carolina in 1879, the son of an immigrant dry goods
merchant, and whenever he addressed a Jewish audience, whether
from the pulpit or over the air, his courtly southern accent, along
with his sonorous cadences—and the cadences of his own multisyllabic
name—left an impression of dignified profundity. On the
subject, for instance, of his friendship with Rabbi Silberfeld of
B'nai Abraham and Rabbi Foster of B'nai Jeshurun, he once told
his radio audience, 'It was fated: just as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle
belonged together in the ancient world, so we belong together
in the religious world.'And the homily on selflessness that he proffered
to explain to radio listeners why a rabbi of his standing was
content to stay on at the head of a waning congregation, he introduced
by saying, 'Perhaps you will be interested in my answer to
questions that have been asked of me by literally thousands of people.
Why do you renounce the commercial benefits of a peripatetic
ministry? Why do you choose to remain in Newark, at Temple
B'nai Moshe, as your only pulpit, when you have six opportunities
every day to leave it for other congregations?' He had studied at
the great institutions of learning in Europe as well as at American
universities and was reputed to speak ten languages; to be versed in
classical philosophy, theology, art history, and ancient and modern
history; to never compromise on questions of principle; to never
refer to notes at the lectern or on a lecture platform; to never be
without a set of index cards pertaining to the topics most engaging
him at the moment, to which he added new reflections and impressions
every day. He was also an excellent equestrian, known to
bring his horse to a halt so as to jot down a thought, employing his
saddle as a makeshift desk. Early each morning, he exercised by
riding out along the bridle paths of Weequahic Park, accompanied
—until her death from cancer in 1936—by his wife, the heiress
to Newark's wealthiest jewelry manufacturer. Her family mansion
on Elizabeth Avenue, where the couple had been living just across
from the park since their marriage in 1907, housed a treasury of
Judaica said to be among the most valuable private collections in
the world.

By 1940 Lionel Bengelsdorf claimed the longest record of service
at his own temple of any rabbi in America. The newspapers referred
to him as the religious leader of New Jersey Jewry and, in
reporting on his numerous public appearances, invariably mentioned
his 'gift for oratory' along with the ten languages. In 1915,
at the 250th anniversary celebration of the founding of Newark,
he had sat at the side of Mayor Raymond and delivered the invocation
just as he delivered invocations annually at the parades for
Memorial Day and the Fourth of July: rabbi exalts declaration
of independence was a headline that appeared annually
in the Star-Ledger every July fifth. In his sermons and talks calling
'the development of American ideals' the first priority of Jews
and 'the Americanization of Americans' the best means to preserve
our democracy against 'Bolshevism, radicalism, and anarchism,'
he frequently quoted from Theodore Roosevelt's final message
to the nation, in which the late president said, 'There can be
no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American,
but something else also, isn't an American at all.We have room for
but one flag, the American flag.' Rabbi Bengelsdorf had spoken
on the Americanization of Americans in every Newark church and
public school, before most every fraternal, civic, historical, and cultural
group in the state, and news articles in the Newark papers
about his speeches were datelined with the names of scores of cities
around the country to which he'd been called to address confer-
ences and conventions on that theme as well as on issues ranging
from crime and the prison reform movement—'The prison reform
movement is saturated with the highest ethical principles and
religious ideals'—to the causes of the World War—'The war is the
result of the worldly ambitions of the European peoples and their
effort to reach the goals of military greatness, power, and wealth'
—to the importance of day nurseries—'The nurseries are life gardens
of human flowers in which each child is helped to grow in an
atmosphere of joy and gladness'—to the evils of the industrial
age—'We believe that the worth of the workingman is not to be
computed by the material value of his production'—to the suffrage
movement, whose proposal to extend to women the franchise
to vote he strongly opposed, arguing that 'if men are not capable
of handling the business of the state, why not help them become
so. No evil has ever been cured by doubling it.' My uncle Monty,
who hated all rabbis but had an especially venomous loathing of
Bengelsdorf dating back to his childhood as a charity student in
the B'nai Moshe religious school, liked to say of him, 'The pompous
son of a bitch knows everything—it's too bad he doesn't
know anything else.'

Rabbi Bengelsdorf's appearance at the airport—where, according
to the caption beneath the photograph on the front page of the
Newark News, he stood first in line to shake Lindbergh's hand
when he emerged from the cockpit of the Spirit of St. Louis—was a
source of consternation to great numbers of the city's Jews, my
parents among them, as was the quotation attributed to him in the
paper's account of Lindbergh's brief visit. 'I am here,' Rabbi Bengelsdorf
told the News, 'to crush all doubt of the unadulterated
loyalty of the American Jews to the United States of America. I
offer my support to the candidacy of Colonel Lindbergh because
the political objectives of my people are identical with his. America
is our beloved homeland. America is our only homeland. Our
religion is independent of any piece of land other than this great
country, to which, now as always, we commit our total devotion
and allegiance as the proudest of citizens. I want Charles Lindbergh
to be my president not in spite of my being a Jew but because
I am a Jew—an American Jew.'

Three days later, Bengelsdorf participated in the huge rally held
at Madison Square Garden to mark the end of Lindbergh's flying
tour. By then the election was but two weeks away, and though
there appeared to be growing Lindbergh support among voters
throughout the traditionally Democratic South, and close contests
were predicted in the most conservative midwestern states, national
polls showed the president comfortably ahead in the popular
vote and well ahead in electoral votes. Republican Party leaders
were reported to be in despair over their candidate's stubborn refusal
to allow anyone other than himself to determine the strategy
of his campaign, and so, to draw him out of the repetitious austerity
of his interminable barnstorming and envelop him in an atmosphere
more like that of the boisterous Philadelphia nominating
convention, the Madison Square Garden rally was organized
and broadcast nationwide on the evening of the second Monday in
October.

The fifteen speakers introducing Lindbergh that night were described
as 'prominent Americans from all walks of life.' Among
them was a farm leader to talk about the harm a war would do to
American farming, which was in crisis still from the First World
War and the Depression; a labor leader to talk about the disaster a
war would represent for American workers, whose lives would be
regimented by government agencies; a manufacturer to talk about
the catastrophic long-term consequences for American industry of
wartime overexpansion and onerous taxation; a Protestant clergyman
to talk about the brutalizing effect of modern warfare on the
young men who would be doing the fighting; and a Catholic priest
to talk about the inevitable deterioration of the spiritual life of a
peace-loving nation like our own and the destruction of decency
and kindness because of the hatred bred by war. Lastly there was a
rabbi, New Jersey's Lionel Bengelsdorf, who received an especially
hearty welcome from the full house of Lindbergh supporters when
his turn came to take the lectern and who was there to expatiate on
how Lindbergh's association with the Nazis was anything but complicitous.

'Yep,' Alvin said, 'they bought him. The fix is in. They slipped a
gold ring through his big Jew nose, and now they can lead him
anywhere.'

'You don't know that,'my father said, but not because he wasn't
himself steamed up by Bengelsdorf 's behavior. 'Listen to the man,'
he told Alvin, 'give the man a hearing. It's only fair'—words uttered
largely for Sandy's benefit and mine, to keep the startling
turn of events from seeming as terrible to the two of us as it did to
the adults. The night before, I had fallen onto the floor in my sleep,
something that hadn't happened since I'd first graduated from a
crib to a bed and to prevent me from rolling out of it my parents
had to set a pair of kitchen chairs at the side of the mattress.When
it was assumed automatically that my falling like that after all these
years could only have had to do with Lindbergh's showing up at
Newark Airport, I insisted that I didn't remember a bad dream
about Lindbergh, that I just remembered waking up on the floor
between my brother's bed and mine, even though I happened to
know that I virtually never got to sleep any longer without envisioning
the Lindbergh drawings stashed away in my brother's portfolio.
I kept wanting to ask Sandy if he couldn't hide them in our
cellar storage bin instead of under the bed beside mine, but because
I'd sworn not to speak about the drawings to anyone—and
because I couldn't bring myself to part with my own Lindbergh
stamp—I didn't dare to raise them as an issue, though they were
indeed haunting me and rendering unapproachable the brother
whose reassurance I'd never needed more.
It was a cold evening. The heat was on and the windows were
closed, but even without being able to hear them you knew that radios
were playing up and down the block and that families who
wouldn't otherwise consider listening to a Lindbergh rally were
tuned in because of the scheduled appearance there of Rabbi Bengelsdorf.
Among his own congregants, a few important people had
already begun to call for his resignation, if not for his immediate
removal by the temple's board of trustees, while the majority continuing
to support him tried to believe that their rabbi was merely
exercising his democratic right of free speech and that, horrified
though they were by his public endorsement of Lindbergh, to attempt
to silence a conscience as renowned as his did not fall within
their rights.

That night Rabbi Bengelsdorf disclosed to America what he
claimed to be the true motive behind Lindbergh's personal flying
missions to Germany in the 1930s. 'Contrary to the propaganda
disseminated by his critics,' the rabbi informed us, 'he did not
once visit Germany as a sympathizer or a supporter of Hitler's but
rather he traveled each and every time as a secret adviser to the U.S.
government. Far from his betraying America, as the misguided and
the ill-intentioned continue to charge, Colonel Lindbergh has almost
single-handedly served to strengthen America's military preparedness
by imparting his knowledge to our own military and by
doing everything within his power to advance the cause of American
aviation and to expand America's air defenses.'
'Jesus!' cried my father. 'Everybody knows—'
'Shhh,' whispered Alvin, 'shhh—let the great orator speak.'
'Yes, in 1936, long before the beginning of the European hostilities,
the Nazis awarded Colonel Lindbergh a medal, and, yes,' continued
Bengelsdorf, 'yes, the colonel accepted their medal. But all
the while, my friends, all the while secretly exploiting their admiration
in order better to protect and preserve our democracy and
to preserve our neutrality through strength.'
'I cannot believe—'my father began.
'Try,'muttered Alvin evilly.
'This is not America's war,' Bengelsdorf announced, and the
crowd at Madison Square Garden responded with a full minute of
applause. 'This,' the rabbi told them, 'is Europe's war.' Again sustained
applause. 'It is one of a thousand-year-long sequence of European
wars dating back to the time of Charlemagne. It is their second
devastating war in less than half a century. And can anyone
forget the tragic cost to America of their last great war? Forty thousand
Americans killed in action. A hundred and ninety-two thousand
Americans wounded. Seventy-six thousand Americans dead
of disease. Three hundred and fifty thousand Americans on disability
today because of their participation in that war. And just
how astronomical will the price be this time? The number of our
dead—tell me, President Roosevelt, will it be merely doubled or
tripled or will it perhaps be quadrupled? Tell me, Mr. President,
what sort of America will the massive slaughter of innocent American
boys leave in its wake? Of course, the Nazi harassment and
persecution of its German Jewish population is a cause of enormous
anguish to me as it is to every Jew. During the years I was
studying theology with the faculties of the great German universities
in Heidelberg and in Bonn, I made many distinguished friends
there, great men of learning who, today, simply because they are
Germans of Jewish extraction, have been dismissed from long-held
scholarly positions and are being ruthlessly persecuted by the Nazi
hoodlums who have taken command of their homeland. I oppose
their treatment with every ounce of my strength, and so too does
Colonel Lindbergh oppose their treatment. But how will this cruel
fate that has befallen them in their own land be alleviated by our
great country going to war with their tormentors? If anything, the
predicament of all of Germany's Jews would only worsen immeasurably
—worsen, I fear, tragically. Yes, I am a Jew, and as a Jew I
feel their suffering with a familial sharpness. But I am an American
citizen, my friends'—again the applause—'I am an American
born and raised, and so I ask you, how would my pain be lessened
if America were now to enter the war and, along with the sons of
our Protestant families and the sons of our Catholic families, the
sons of our Jewish families were to fight and die by the tens of
thousands on a blood-soaked European battleground? How would
my pain be diminished by my having to console my very own congregants
—'
It was my mother, usually the least ardent member of our family,
the one ordinarily quieting the rest of us when we turned
demonstrative, who all at once found the sound of Bengelsdorf 's
southern accent so intolerable that she had to leave the room. But
until he finished his speech and was loudly cheered off the stage by
the Garden audience, no one else moved or said another word. I
wouldn't dare to, and my brother was preoccupied—as he often
was in such a setting—with sketching what we all looked like, now
while listening to the radio. Alvin's was the silence of murderous
loathing, and my father—divested for perhaps the first time in his
life of that relentless passion he brought to the struggle against setback
and disappointment—was too stirred up to speak.
Pandemonium. Unspeakable delight. Lindbergh had at last
stepped onto the Garden stage, and like someone half demented,
my father leaped from the sofa and snapped off the radio just
as my mother came back into the living room and asked, 'Who
would like something? Alvin,' she said, with tears in her eyes, 'a
cup of tea?'
Her job was to hold our world together as calmly and as sensibly
as she could; that was what gave her life fullness and that was
all she was trying to do, and yet never had any of us seen her rendered
so ridiculous by this commonplace maternal ambition.
'What the hell is going on!'my father began to shout. 'What the
hell did he do that for? That stupid speech! Does he think that one
single Jew is now going to go out and vote for this anti-Semite because
of that stupid, lying speech? Has he completely lost his mind?
What does this man think he is doing?'
'Koshering Lindbergh,' Alvin said. 'Koshering Lindbergh for
the goyim.'
'Koshering what?' my father said, exasperated with Alvin's
seemingly speaking sarcastic nonsense at a moment of so much
confusion. 'Doing what?'
'They didn't get him up there to talk to Jews. They didn't buy
him off for that. Don't you understand?' Alvin asked, fiery now
with what he took to be the underlying truth. 'He's up there talking
to the goyim—he's giving the goyim all over the country his
personal rabbi's permission to vote for Lindy on Election Day.
Don't you see, Uncle Herman, what they got the great Bengelsdorf
to do? He just guaranteed Roosevelt's defeat!'
At about two a.m. that night, while soundly asleep, I again rolled
out of my bed, but this time I remembered afterward what I'd been
dreaming before I hit the floor. It was a nightmare all right, and it
was about my stamp collection. Something had happened to it.
The design on two sets of my stamps had changed in a dreadful
way without my knowing when or how. In the dream, I'd gotten
the album out of my dresser drawer to take with me to my friend
Earl's and I was walking with it toward his house as I'd done
dozens of times before. Earl Axman was ten and in the fifth grade.
He lived with his mother in the new four-story yellow-brick apartment
house built three years earlier on the large empty lot near
the corner of Chancellor and Summit, diagonally across from the
grade school. Before that he'd lived in New York. His father was
a musician with the Glen Gray Casa Loma Orchestra—Sy Axman,
who played tenor saxophone beside Glen Gray's alto. Mr. Axman
was divorced from Earl's mother, a theatrically good-looking
blonde who'd briefly been a singer with the band before Earl was
born and, according to my parents, was originally from Newark
and a brunette, a Jewish girl named Louise Swig who'd gone to
South Side and became famous locally in musical revues at the
YMHA. Among all the boys I knew, Earl was the only child with
divorced parents, and the only one whose mother wore heavy
makeup and off-the-shoulder blouses and billowing ruffled skirts
with a big petticoat underneath. She'd also made a record of the
song 'Gotta Be This or That' when she was with Glen Gray, and
Earl played it for me often. I never came upon another mother like
her. Earl didn't call her Ma or Mom—he called her, scandalously,
Louise. She had a closet in her bedroom full of those petticoats,
and when Earl and I were alone together at his house, he'd show
them to me. He even let me touch one once, whispering, while I
waited to decide whether to do it, 'Wherever you want.' Then he
opened a drawer and showed me her brassieres and offered to let
me touch one of those, but that I declined. I was still young enough
to admire a brassiere from afar. His parents each gave him a full
dollar a week to spend on stamps, and when the Casa Loma Orchestra
wasn't playing in New York and was out touring, Mr.
Axman sent Earl envelopes with airmail stamps postmarked from
cities everywhere. There was even one from 'Honolulu, Oahu,'
where Earl, who wasn't above cloaking his absent father in splendor
—as though to the son of an insurance agent having a saxophonist
with a famous swing band for a father (and a peroxideblond
singer for a mother) weren't amazing enough—claimed that
Mr. Axman had been taken to a 'private home' to see the canceled
two-cent Hawaiian 'Missionary' stamp of 1851, issued forty-seven
full years before Hawaii was annexed to the United States as a territory,
an unimaginable treasure valued at $100,000 whose central
design was just the numeral 2.

Earl owned the best stamp collection around. He taught me
everything practical and everything esoteric that I learned as a
small kid about stamps—about their history, about collecting mint
versus used, about technical matters like paper, printing, color,
gum, overprints, grills, and special printing, about the great forgeries
and design errors—and, prodigious pedant that he was,
had begun my education by telling me about the French collector
Monsieur Herpin, who coined the word 'philately,' explaining its
derivation from two Greek words, the second of which, ateleia,
meaning freedom from tax, never quite made sense to me. And
whenever we'd finished up in his kitchen with our stamps and he
was momentarily done with his domineering, he'd giggle and say,
'Now let's do something awful,' which was how I got to see his
mother's underwear.

In the dream, I was walking to Earl's with my stamp album
clutched to my chest when someone shouted my name and began
chasing me. I ducked into an alleyway and scurried back into one
of the garages to hide and to check the album for stamps that
might have come loose from their hinges when, while fleeing my
pursuer, I'd stumbled and dropped the album at the very spot on
the sidewalk where we regularly played 'I Declare War.' When I
opened to my 1932 Washington Bicentennials—twelve stamps
ranging in denomination from the half-cent dark brown to the
ten-cent yellow—I was stunned.Washington wasn't on the stamps
anymore. Unchanged at the top of each stamp—lettered in what
I'd learned to recognize as white-faced roman and spaced out on
either one or two lines—was the legend 'United States Postage.'
The colors of the stamps were unchanged as well—the two-cent
red, the five-cent blue, the eight-cent olive green, and so on—all
the stamps were the same regulation size, and the frames for the
portraits remained individually designed as they were in the original
set, but instead of a different portrait ofWashington on each of
the twelve stamps, the portraits were now the same and no longer
of Washington but of Hitler. And on the ribbon beneath each portrait,
there was no longer the name 'Washington' either.Whether
the ribbon was curved downward as on the one-half-cent stamp
and the six, or curved upward as on the four, the five, the seven,
and the ten, or straight with raised ends as on the one, the one and
a half, the two, the three, the eight, and the nine, the name lettered
across the ribbon was 'Hitler.'

It was when I looked next at the album's facing page to see what,
if anything, had happened to my 1934 National Parks set of ten that
I fell out of the bed and woke up on the floor, this time screaming.
Yosemite in California, Grand Canyon in Arizona, Mesa Verde in
Colorado, Crater Lake in Oregon, Acadia in Maine,Mount Rainier
in Washington, Yellowstone in Wyoming, Zion in Utah, Glacier in
Montana, the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee—and across
the face of each, across the cliffs, the woods, the rivers, the peaks,
the geyser, the gorges, the granite coastline, across the deep blue
water and the high waterfalls, across everything in America that
was the bluest and the greenest and the whitest and to be preserved
forever in these pristine reservations, was printed a black swastika.

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Meet the Author

In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, previously awarded to John Dos Passos, William Faulkner and Saul Bellow, among others. He has twice won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ prize for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004" and the W.H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year, making Roth the first writer in the forty-six-year history of the prize to win it twice.

In 2005 Roth became the third living American writer to have his works published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize. In 2012 he won Spain’s highest honor, the Prince of Asturias Award, and in 2013 he received France’s highest honor, Commander of the Legion of Honor.

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Brief Biography

Hometown:
Connecticut
Date of Birth:
March 19, 1933
Place of Birth:
Newark, New Jersey
Education:
B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955

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The Plot Against America 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 86 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A must read for all fans of 'alternative history!' Mr. Roth places himself within the 'what if?' story line to great effect. Excellent notes provide a great historical backdrop for any reader. Thrilling, frightening, and captivating!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel was disturbing, frightening, and all to realistic. When I read what unfolded in American life under Lindburgh's presidency, it was like being slammed in the head by a two by four. How could this happen here? The book is a blueprint for disassembling our democracy. A great read!
MacPoster More than 1 year ago
Roth's conception of Lindbergh's rise to power in a frightened pre-World War II America is inventive, compelling and provocative, and brilliant in its exploration of the power of political positioning to stir up native passions. It is also potently evocative of an America we know all too well -- one scared by political machinations into action against its better long-term interests, where fear rules the day. Bushism, anyone? Most powerfully of all, in the details through which Roth tells his story, is how convincing his tale is, and how insightfully he traces the nuances of political relationships and mass messaging to show us how the powers that be manipulate crowds. From the Jewish Newark, NJ community that is the locus of his vivid and disturbing American isolationism to the echelons of power out of which the plans to defend this country against engagement in foreign affairs -- nevermind the Fascists, nevermind the Communists -- Roth has woven a tale whose experiences resonate far after the book is closed. Thanks to Roth's skill, it's also somehow fun in its own perverse way to see so completely, in the safety of knowing it didn't happen, how an alternative America might have emerged.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" is a fantastic book. The parallel world that he creates in the difficult World War II era is exhilerating and eerily realistic. Warping major historical events to fit his terrifying yet possible timeline. Apart from the horrific war that is twisting the country out of shape, the characters in Philip's house are dynamic and colorful. His paranoid, stereotypically Jewish mother reigns in her lower middle class house, warning and worrying. Philip's father is equally stereotypical, the simple American man working hard to get ahead, optimistic in the face of new diversity, jaded after being the victim of ancient prejudice. Roth's personal account of our could be-history is equally heartbreaking and terrifying. The idea of the bursting of prejudices in America causing all-out war within the country is frightening, and disturbs the image we have of America as an imperturbable fortress. Roth's book is a quiet collection of events that may have happened- in an America that was in the eleventh hour of order.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not like any Roth I have read before -- I dreaded reading more but at the same time could not stop myself. Takes the 'it could never happen here' attitudes head on and in all too vivid and realistic ways makes it clear that it simply could and often almost does. Should be required reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first Philip Roth novel I've read and I must say I wasn't that impressed. His other novels like 'Portnoy's Complaint' are on my list but with this first one, I'm not running to it very quickly. The entire concept is a great one an alternate America for only a short period of time, dominated by one of the most hateful groups of all-time. But Roth didn't make the story, I don't know how to put it into words, jump out enough. As one person said before, the book lagged and although the plot was there, it sluggishly proceeded. When there was action, I was deeply intrigued but then it stopped and nothing happened for awhile. Maybe I have to give it another read, maybe I missed something but for now, I am somewhat disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was recommended this novel by my English teacher, and having finally got around to reading it, find it extremely perceptive and insightful writing. The entire premise, the mythical election of Charles Lindbergh as president may seem like a farfetched and unbelievable fantasy, but I found myself reading along as if the events were historically accurate and truly happened. The book subtley portrays both social and familial strains that Lindbergh's new anti-Semitic administration cause. The story very well conveys the sentiments of a culture still wrestling with the fallout and depravation of a previous world war, its reticence to welcome further international aggression, and its willingness to harbor isolationist feelings if it means bloodshed, slaughter, and betrayal will be avoided. Also, Philip Roth depicts the American Jewish family with incredible poignancy, and we see a father struggling with the elusive principles that once structured his life, but now are powerless against bureaucratic conniving and pointed anti-Jewish retribution...a mother whose logical, systematic, and omnipresent approach to childrearing is now challenged by the breakdown of her own family and the undoing of former achievements which gave an otherwise subservient household wife purpose...and two boys whose erudition, on one hand, enforces principles promoting the homogenization of Americans and the diluting of Jewish bonds, and on the other, paternal dictates directly opposite society's lessons which render their father both impassioned and powerless. All of these factors internal and external contribute to the debilitation of their family and many others alike. However, the end hints at an American populous which, despite seemingly irreversible fascist influences, will not yield to anything other than freedom.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Professional reviews praise this book as an incredible read. Unfortunately I do not agree, it was simply to boring for me, nothing really ever happened, throughout the whole book we expect to get a feeling of how America would be under a Nazi regime, how hard core anti-Semitism would feel in America, it was too slow and too full of unnecessary detail. But worst of all the writer did not leave very much room for suspense, sense most of the chapters began with describing what had happened and then how it happened, we always knew what was coming¿.or in better words, what was not coming because for me nothing ever happened. Sorry to disagree with other readers but it was painfully slow and boring to me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book with great expectations. The synopsis was great, the reviews were great so I was hopeful that I would be glued to this book until it was done. What I found upon opening the pages, was a very poorly written or poorly edited book. Chapter one was filled with long run on sentences. I tried to get past this but was unable to. I scanned the other chapters and found the same. I tried 3 different times to read this book and just couldn't do it. It is good to see that others were able to overlook the long and rambling run-ons.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
The Plot Against Amer­ica by Philip Roth is a fic­tional book set in Amer­ica 1940s. This is the first Philip Roth book I have read, and I am look­ing for­ward to read much more. Philip Roth, a Jew­ish child in Newark NJ, observes the world around him as Charles Lind­bergh, known anti-Semite, avi­a­tion super­star and sup­porter of a cer­tain Aus­trian mad­man, is elected Pres­i­dent of the United States. Lind­bergh is pop­u­lar in the Amer­i­can south and Mid­west, as well as endorsed by pop­u­lar con­ser­v­a­tive Rabbi Ben­gels­dorf and wins eas­ily over Roo­sevelt who is run­ning for an unprece­dented third term. The Roth fam­ily starts to feel like out­siders, anti-Semities no longer feel they need to hide, Lind­bergh signs a treaty with Hitler to stay out of the war and relo­cates whole Jew­ish fam­i­lies to the Mid­west. Mean­while, famed reporter and radio per­son­al­ity, Wal­ter Winchell, runs against Lind­bergh for the high­est office in the country. The Plot Against Amer­ica by Philip Roth is an alter­na­tive his­tory novel which asks an ques­tion: what if Amer­ica had elected a fas­cist gov­ern­ment before World War II? The novel is told from the point of view of a young Philip Roth from Newark, NJ and his Jew­ish fam­ily who refuse to believe that such a thing could hap­pen in Amer­ica and see their lives fall apart. The ques­tions raised by this novel are excel­lent, and I would highly rec­om­mend it to any book club in need of an inter­est­ing book to discuss. What makes this book great is that the per­spec­tive is told from that of a lit­tle kid. Mr. Roth exam­ines a world gone mad through the eyes of a young boy and… he nails it! I don’t know if part of the book is a mem­oir or not, it cer­tainly seems like it, but the author does look back at 1940s Newark with nos­tal­gia and love. This book came to me at a most oppor­tune time, I just fin­ished read­ing the excel­lent Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund by Arnie Bern­stein which exam­ines the Amer­i­can Nazi move­ment at the time that Roth’s novel tak­ing place. Those two books which com­ple­ment one another tremen­dously (the same char­ac­ters make appear­ances in both) have really opened my eyes to the real­iza­tion of how many peo­ple were on the wrong side of history. While I enjoyed the major­ity of the book, which I thought was bril­liant, the last 50 pages lost me. Some­how it seems that Mr. Roth was rush­ing to fin­ish this excel­lent book, when I would have gladly read another 800 pages in the same vain.
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seldombites More than 1 year ago
Written like an autobiography, this novel portrays an interesting alternative history. Like any normal autobiography, there are periods where life is dull and the story becomes a little slow, but overall the book is quite readable. One thing I particularly liked about this, is the fact that the author included a section at the end relaying the actual history. It saved me lots of googling time!
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This book and the plot had so much potential, but it fell flat big time. The notes in the back made the book some what bearable.
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