In Memory of Bartley Crum, Fighter for Jewish Rights

"I shall be telling this with a sigh," wrote Robert Frost about the road less travelled by. The same emotion can be experienced about the story of Bartley Crum, a fascinating, charming figure, an honorable man , a Roman Catholic who fought courageously for causes he considered just and in which he strongly believed. Among them were the fight against anti-Semitism, solving the plight of Holocaust survivors, and support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Sadly, his life ended at the age of 59 in a tragic way, suicide after a life of alcohol, addiction to drugs, and barbiturates.

Some well-known non-Jews, Arthur Balfour, Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, Clark Clifford, Martin Luther King, and General Orde Wingate, contributed to the fight for the emancipation of the Jews, to finding a haven for European Jews, and to the struggle for the creation of a Jewish state. One of the overlooked and little-known valiant participants in that struggle was Bartley Crum.

Bartley Crum, a handsome, hard drinking, tough, politically Republican San Francisco lawyer, was known at first as a player in the elite corporate legal fraternity, especially for William Randolph Hearst, and for his active role in politics. His roster of legal clients embraced both Hollywood celebrities and leftist trade unionists. In Hollywood, he was the lawyer for Rita Hayworth in her million-dollar divorce from Prince Aly Khan, as well as attorney for Orson Welles, John Garfield, and Montgomery Clift. Outside La La Land, he acted for the Australian-born Harry Bridges, head of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union who, as an alleged Communist, was threatened with deportation, and for the young Jack Kennedy.

Possessor of a clear sense of justice, Crum, a Republican, worked with communists and took on leftist causes. He was one of the four lawyers in 1949 defending the "Hollywood 10" who were subpoened to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities headed by J. Parnell Thomas. He also endorsed Paul Robeson's American Crusade against Lynching founded in 1946 and also supported by Albert Einstein and Lena Horne, but which was characterized by the FBI as a "communist front." As a result of these activities by Crum, his phone was tapped, his mail was opened, and he was kept under close watch by the FBI.

Crum, the politically connected lawyer, was also the campaign manager for Wendell Willkie, the Republican challenger to FDR in the 1940 presidential election. Willkie was one of the few leading politicians at the time sympathetic to the plight of the Jews. Wilkie's book One World affected Crum, who adopted Willkie's view of universal justice. Crum joined Willkie in speaking strongly for the need to clear out the Dispaced Persons (DP) camps in Germany. If not, Jews might engage in mass suicide, or they would fight their way into Palestine. Crum, as did Willkie, supported the cause of Jews while the British government and prominent American figures were hostile or indifferent. One sign of this was Crum's support of RKO in the production of Crossfire, the 1947 film noir drama that dealt with U.S. domestic anti-Semitism.

In the present world when Palestinian leaders still refuse to enter peace negotiations with the State of Israel, it is relevant to remember Crum's support for such a state as a member of the Anglo-American Committee set up in January 1946 to examine political, economic, and social conditions in Palestine as related to the problem of Jewish immigration and settlement. The Committee was composed of diplomats, scholars, and some politicians, six individuals from Britain and six from the U.S. including Crum and Frank Aydelotte, director of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, who was less sympathetic to Jewish concerns.

With the creation of the Committee the British Mandate for Palestine was thus transformed, with the implicit acknowledgement that the U.S. now shared responsibility in finding a solution to the postwar Jewish refugee question in Europe. It resulted from the conclusions of a report by Earl G. Harrison, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania law school, a Republican Quaker, on the appalling condition of Jews, some stateless, some non-repatriable, in the European DP camps set up after World War II.

Harrison toured the camps, and witnessed their harsh and poor condition, with malnourished persons, many ill, some dying, with physical and psychological problems, with inmates living behind barbed wire fences and wearing striped concentration camp clothing. His conclusion was devastating: "We (the U.S. administration in Germany) appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of SS troops."

President Harry S. Truman, impressed by the report, wrote on August 31, 1945 to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone in Germany, explaining that the U.S. had a particular responsibility towards those victims of persecution ant tyranny who were in the U.S. zone of Germany, and instructing him to clean up the conditions mentioned in the Harrison report.

The A-A report of 40,000 words was presented on April 20, 1946. Coming from a divided committee, it was an unsatisfactory compromise, calling for restrictions on Jewish land purchases in Palestine but it did not call for a political solution of the Palestinian issue, or the end of the British mandate which was to continue its administration until the end of its Trustee agreement under the UN which succeeded the League of Nations. It held that Palestine should be neither a Jewish state nor an Arab state. But it did recommend that Britain immediately admit into Israel 100,000 Jewish refugees in the DP camps who had been the victims of Nazi and Fascist persecution.

President Truman, moved by the plight of the Holocaust survivors, and who was also conscious of the need for Jewish political support, agreed with this recommendation, though many in the U.S. State Department, including Secretary of State George C. Marshall, George Kennan, and Loy Henderson, and in the Defense Department, including Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal, did not agree. Not did British Prime Minister Clement Attlee. British intransigence led to Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin announcing in February 1947 that Britain was referring the problem to the UN General Assembly.

This was eventually was done by UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947, approved by 33, including the Soviet Union, to 13 with 10 abstentions, including the UK, that recommended the creation of two states, one of them a Jewish state.  Crum had published Behind the Silken Curtain in 1947, as book critical of the working of the A-A Comm. and the anti-Semitism of some of its members. Crum remained concerned about the issue, favoring partition of "Palestine," and a state for Jews.

Crum continued to justify his position, He revealed the existence of secret documents between the U.S. State Department and Arab leaders saying that no matter what pubic promises were made to the Jews, the situation in Palestine would remain the same. Bart Crum was more than a whistleblower. He became chair of a group, Lawyers Committee for Justice in Palestine, with Paul O'Dwyer, New York lawyer and politician, as NYC chairman. Together, they wrote a letter on June 10, 1948 to President Truman indicating that the actions of Arab states had violated Resolution 181, which provided an equitable solution for Palestine, and the UN Charter. The letter criticized the U.S. administration on two grounds: for not facilitating the necessary steps to implement the Resolution; and for the U.S. arms embargo to the Palestinian Jews on December 7, 1947. They were equally critical of UK for opposing the ceasefire resolution of May 24, 1948, after Arab states attacked Israel, and for justifying the invasion of the newly created Israel by Trans-Jordanian forces.

Seventy years after this powerful letter, the memory of Crum remains as a beacon for other U.S. politicians and lawyers to be equally courageous in the struggle for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and the security of the State of Israel. A start might be the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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