Anne Morrow Lindbergh warned her husband Charles—legendary aviator and American icon—not to deliver the speech he was preparing for a rally in Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941. If he presented the address for the isolationist America First Committee he would be branded as an anti-Semite. Lindbergh did not heed his wife’s warning and spoke at the Des Moines rally to an overflow crowd.
In his speech, Lindbergh blamed three forces for driving America into a global conflict that no patriotic American wanted. First, he chastised Winston Churchill for turning to America to assist England in fighting the Germans in what was a desperate time for the British. Second, he singled out the Roosevelt administration for beating the drums of war. But, most of all, there was one entity in America agitating for war: the Jews. “Instead of agitating for war,” Lindbergh told a cheering crowd in the American heartland, “the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences….The greatest danger to this country lies in [the Jews’] large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh was right in warning her husband not to deliver this speech. There was a backlash in the American press in response to the speech and even the isolationist America First Committee had to apologize for the aviator’s remarks, claiming that the organization and Lindbergh were not anti-Semitic. This was the beginning of the end of Charles Lindbergh’s political endeavors. For all his heroic feats, his record as an American icon was stained.
Two weeks after Lindbergh’s attack on American Jewry’s abuse of power, SS Einsatzkommando 4A murdered more than 33,000 Kiev Jews at Babi Yar. SS units gathered the Jews of the Ukrainian city and marched them to a ravine where they were forced to strip, hand over all their valuables, and approach the edge of the ravine. The Germans—with the assistance of Ukrainian collaborators—machined gunned Jews to death into the ravine with automatic weapons. This brutal mass slaughter preceded the establishment of the death camps in Poland. The Nazi mobile killing units succeeded in murdering more than a million Jews in Russia in a short span of time.
On the other side of the planet, far from Kiev, Charles Lindbergh warned against the excesses of Jewish power that was reminiscent of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery of the Czarist secret police that warned of a Jewish plot to take over the world. But if the Jews possessed the power of Lindbergh’s fantasy and paranoia, there would have been no Babi Yar, no Warsaw Ghetto, no Treblinka, and no Auschwitz. It is true that individual Jews reached heights of power in the non-Jewish world throughout our history. But the height of the Jewish absence of power—the inability of the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael to save those trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe and the fear that many American Jews possessed in an environment permeated with anti-Semitism and xenophobia—was the reality. There was no Jewish army to save the Jews of Europe. World War II was, indeed, an all-out war against Jews and Judaism.
As we face a new isolationism in America—this time not from the Right but from the Left—we have to fall back on our own resources as a people and confront the Lindberghs of our own day. Israel remains a powerful state but it still vulnerable as the Jew among nations. And as successful as American Jews are in the Gentile world, the demonization of Israel on our campuses—and the brainwashing of American youth in universities--are also a reminder of hard times ahead. Lindbergh’s legacy lives on.