LA, America, Leon Louis discussed on Jewish History Matters


And believe me, it, you know, it would be very awkward for someone to do this on their own. But if you have the courage to stand up, and do it there's going to be somebody who here's you who's going to back you up, and if everyone would simply speak out against, hey when they hear it. You would stop these bullies, and you would push them back say underneath the rocks that they have lived on for many years. Because we have had hate from the moment, we settle this country in basically started pushing out native Americans in killing them to today. There's always been hate against the quote other. But the thing is most of the time that hey was not allowed to surface in a way that seemed acceptable in right now, many groups think it's acceptable to publicly eight other people and for some people to go to the extreme of killing Heather whether that other is a Jew, a Muslim LGBTQ as we saw in Orlando. You know, it doesn't matter because once you start preaching hate publicly and believe you can get away with it. It just leads to that kind of expansion of a, and it isn't that we need Morley on Lewis's, we need more informants. I think that if we compare the environment of the thirty s to the present moment, we don't need spies to tell us what is happening in the circles of hatred today in many ways, people are acting out in the open. How many times have we seen a shooting? Right. A mass shooting or a school shooting or something? Or after the fact somebody says, oh, look, you know, he posted something on Facebook. People are broadcasting their hatred in a way that it was perhaps more marginal or secretive eighty ninety years ago. And so was interesting in a way. And also, very scary is the way in which some of these things which were in certain ways on the margins a say in the thirties or in the forties, and you know, Louis and his people and all sorts of folks who were fighting fascism were really trying to stop the transition of fascist or anti semitic ideas from the margins to the mainstream. But this has happened that we don't actually need. Spy ring, so to speak or something to figure out what's going on among those who are preaching and promulgating hatred because it's so much more open and outspoken. Yes. But I think the question is still the same. What do we do? How did we respond to these things, and I'm still not sure uninstalled trying to work that through for myself? You know on this podcast. I talked to off oaks about monographs and books that are not written for a popular audience. And I try to push people to make the case for why their work matters. They're focusing on a particular topic particular figure point in time and not always, you know, looking at it from the broad historical perspective. Right. So I often push people to to make the case for why their work is relevant in a very broad sense. In terms of social political cultural context, and in a certain way, you don't have to make that case because the story of what you're engaging with of. Fortunately is so relevant at the same time in when we talk about sort of writing for a popular audience. There's always this question of what gets lost in. Translation, do we risk kind of flattening the story or the historical developments in order to tell? The story that will grab the public's attention or that will present something in a way that will really highlight that relevance it because I think that when when we look at at this particular story as you say, it does have a great deal of potential for challenging popular memory or perceptions about the past whether that has to do with the question of the nature of fascism and hatred in the US in the thirties and also just in general throughout you know, American history. But in terms of our understanding of anti semitism in America of Jewish identity in the thirties of American Jewish history or the history of L A or just America at large. So I'm kind of curious what you see are kind of the challenges and the opportunities of writing popular history as opposed to something which is more of a standard. Or more academic book will something like you said like your first your first book based on your dissertation. You know, what are the challenges and the opportunities? And in what ways do you think that we have kind of arrest that we take when trying to reach a popular audience whether in terms of writing the book itself or in terms of making the case for why what we do matters. Well, what I would say is I think historians can operate two very different levels one. Which is they sort of more academic book, which is I've written earlier on which is trying to take important arguments within history in offer a very detailed explanation of whatever the phenomenon should be. So of my first book was a study of working class life in Cincinnati during the first hundred years of the city is story of how a working class literally built a city and then lost control of it by the end of the nineteenth century, and it's not a book, a general audience is gonna read, but it was a very important contribution to understanding. Eva Lucien of industrial capitalism and working class life in Cincinnati. And I think that historians can do that. And I remember when I was a graduate student. I started Princeton in nineteen seventy three in Lawrence. Stone was the you know, the man who ruled over the department of British historian. In Lawrence stone than was arguing that historians lead to not simply do this new social science analytic work. But that we had to also go back to telling stories and at the time. I poop pod it thinking. When you tell stories you leave out too much. Well, you know, forty some odd years later, I think stone was right? But not that all historians have to tell stories would I realize in this book is if you want to reach a mass audience when people wanted to story most academics or went to their words went to their arguments. But if you're talking to a larger public, they wanna know, what's the story, you wanna tell if you wanna write for a large audience. What's lost is some of the detail? But what needs to be highlighted as what's the essence of the story. Why should trees dive or anything we have to say? So what why does this matter in you'll have to put it in a story that is engaging to a large public, and it isn't a nine the roar because my health is that my book will inspire a generation of younger historians to do research into what was happening in American cities throughout the country in the thirties in the forties. Some of it may be told in a trade book. But my guess is a lot of it's gonna be academic studies that really enhance our knowledge if the period, my own sense is that it took me five bucks to like though, comfortable enough. I mean, I in each one of us things we could write for a general audience, but some of it is chance to so I wrote a book in a more accessible than I ever had before. But part of the reason it's taken off is because it happened to come out at exactly the right moment in time. When people are starved for this kind of story. So again, what I would say is proposed historians who wanna go to a large audience think about what's the story. You wanna tell for others storms who are looking more academically? What are the arguments you wanna make in? How does your work expand our historical knowledge in important ways? Not simply filling in holes, you can be a tailored though in halls. You're trying to open up new ways of looking at the world. And sometimes we need a very intense academic base that allow other people to expand. Even though I uncovered this yellow story. I was reading all these secondary books about Nazism and fascism in LA excuse me in America that helped me understand the larger context that was happening in LA. So to me academics are always working in cooperation with one another. Trying to uncover new knowledge. Discover why matters, and then communicated probably I two enacted amick world in then second to a larger world, and we're all doing important things. One is it more important than the other. In a when you are talking about this particular history to an academic audience versus a public audience. Do you find that people respond to it differently? I guess now to tell you the response wherever I've been as the Brits say people are gobsmacked by the story. They just can't believe it. Whether it's been giving it to history departments in scholars or you know, the ninety seconds streak, Ryan, New York or going out to Tennessee or Jerusalem. People are just blown away by the story. 'cause it's it's an unbelievable story. I think there are clear reasons, you know, why that is the case. But it's also kind of surprising its surprising that it's still surprising. I guess is one way to put it in as much as there have been other books that have been Britain about the rise of in. These various groups like the silver shirts friends of new Germany, various attempts to fight fascism in LA and other places around the country. Well, yes, they the other thing I think that made my book different is I made a decision to also right in the way of never written before which is to write with a sense of historical contingency. And what I mean by that is a lot of the books that I've read that have been written about the silver shorts about the German American bund. They're kind of dispassionate kind of knowing how things are going to turn out. I tried to write a book from the point of view of the spies in the spymaster in the Nazis and the finishes as they saw things on Raveling in real time at any moment. They didn't know what was going to happen next. I researched this in a way, I've never researched book before the first thing, I do is try to get the skeleton of the story that is what is your entire story. What's the beginning? Middle in the end. So that you know, where you're going. But then what you wanna do is flesh it out. And to me what that meant is. Once I knew the basic thrust of the story. I wrote each chapter as I was reading the spy reports. In other words, I had read enough of the spy reports to get a general sense. But then as I was writing each chapter I read those reports in depth to see what were they scared about. What were they worried about and trying to convey that for example, they didn't know World War Two was going to happen. Many people were saying, well, you know, maybe Hitler will change one season power either. He will moderate is policies or other politicians will throw them out of the government because he's just too radical. Well, we know neither those things happen. But they didn't know they didn't know World War Two was going to happen. They didn't know there was going to be a holocaust. I was. Trying to write with a sense of drama and the Connor drama that they felt because too often is historians we want eliminate the drama and make it more dispassionate. Well, that's good. But it's a different kind of a raid in I wanted to produce a story of courage under fire. So to say of people risking their lives to do what they believed in in. What's really important to know is every one of the spies except for one with Christians only one of Leon Louis despise was Joe none of them felt they were spying for the Jews. They knew the spymaster was a Jew, but

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