Gertrude Stein: Genius Wanted – Unwanted by White House
The scandal has finally reached the highest levels (so far?) with the White House striking Gertrude Stein from the list of “generations of Jewish Americans (who) have brought to bear some of our country’s greatest achievements and forever enriched our national life.” On May 1st, the beginning of Jewish Heritage Month, the list originally named Aaron Copland, Albert Einstein, Gertrude Stein and Justice Louis Brandeis. Then the controversy raged again, this time pushed by Orthodox Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Manhatten Borough President Scott Stringer’s incessant defaming of Stein as a “Nazi collaborator.” The American hysteria over Stein’s survival during the WWII has never abated. I have written a lot about it, to the point where some concerned liberal friends in Europe started wondering if enough hadn’t been said already about the topic. Now we know otherwise. On May 2nd, all the Jewish names were eliminated by the White House celebratory comments. Gertrude Stein was uninvited, an irony not lost on people who remember that in 1934, Stein and Toklas were invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to have tea with her at the White House.
Dov Hikind’s Urban Legends of Stein, “the Nazi”
Dov Hikind and his likes who beat the drum of Stein as a Hitler lover, a fascist, a Nazi collaborator, also bullied the Metropolitan Museum in New York into including more commentary on Stein’s survival in the show “The Steins Collect,” which is on the last leg of its journey from San Francisco to Paris to New York. The New York provincialness of these battles in the press and blogosphere doesn’t even take into account that the controversy and the whole rumor mill started a whole year ago with “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories” in San Francisco. There is no such thing as an old hat when it comes to scandal-mongering. (See even the New Yorker blog)
I talked about Urban Legends before. Stein the Nazi now is a top favorite. In Dov Hikind’s words: “It is a matter of fact that, among other things, Stein lobbied for a Nobel Peace Prize for Adolph Hitler and was only allowed to remain in France and continue collecting art because she aided the Vichy government in its collaboration with the Nazis.”
There is not a single fact in this statement, but the more the nonsense of Dov Hikind is repeated the more it sounds like facts to people who don’t know any better. He trumpets around the notion that Stein “lost her soul”: “People need to know who owned this art and how she came to maintain it while her fellow Jews were being robbed, tortured and murdered. Indeed, the collection should be presented as collected and safeguarded by a Nazi Collaborator.”
Gertrude Stein’s War Years: Setting the Record Straight
Slowly, however, and finally, public responses are forming that bring back factual facts into the distorted picture. Some of the most eminent Stein scholars have united under Charles Bernstein to circulate a Dossier“Gertrude Stein’s War Years: Setting the Record Straight” . Ulla Dydo and Edward Burns repeat and add to their solid analysis of Stein’s survival; Joan Retallack and Marjorie Perloff join the dossier confirming their knowledge that Stein ”was no fascist.” It’s a great breath of fresh air in a poisonous atmosphere. I will write more about it, but here I would like to share how already in 1996 Burns and Dydo had debunked the rumor that Stein lobbied the Nobel Peace Price Committee for Hitler – a favorite for the Dovkinds of this world.
Stein did not campaign or lobby for Hitler and the Nobel Peace Price!
The rumor was spread in 1995 to the Israeli journal Nativ by the Committee member Gustav Hendrikksen. He was enraged by the nomination of Arafat and wanted to underscore the Jews’ failure to support their own interest– no matter to him that in 1937, Hitler had already decreed that no German could ever receive a Nobel Price in any category. Hendrikksen’s accusation was quoted in 1996 by the English language edition of Forward and subsequently denied by the office of the Nobel Peace Price Committee in Oslo. But the official correction of the outright lie has done little for Gertrude Stein’s reputation. (The evidence is found in The Letters of Thornton Wilder and Gertrude Stein by the eminent scholars Ulla Dydo and Edgar Rice.)
To be continued.