When The American Nazi Party Staged a Protest Outside ‘Exodus’

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The recent Nazi rally in Charlottesville is somewhat reminiscent of what happened in Boston, Massachusetts over 56 years ago, when the American Nazi Party picketed outside the film Exodus.

A peaceful demonstration protesting the American Nazi Party’s proposed picketing of the film Exodus erupted into violence yesterday afternoon when four Nazis, including Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell, appeared in front of the Saxon theater.

The crowd of 500 anti-pickets, composed mainly of refugees from Nazi concentration camps, college students, and labor unionists, sent up a loud yell and descended on the khaki-uniformed men wearing swastika arm bands as they emerged from a car near the theatre.

Most of the 125 uniformed policemen and 30 plainclothesmen on the scene rushed to save the Nazis from the screaming, egg-throwing crowd. After a short struggle, three of the four men were ushered into a side door of the Saxon and taken to safety out another exit. The fourth Nazi, a tall, blond man, had been hustled into a police wagon at the start of the molee.

Nazis Taken for Own Safety

Deputy Superintendent John J. Slattery of the Boston Police Department said that Rockwell and his men were not arrested, but just taken into custody for their own safety and then released.

After the Nazis had been taken away, Rep. Julius Ansel of the 14th Ward spoke to the crowd over the police public address system. Having marched all afternoon as “a representative and a private citizen,” Ansel declared “We have won a victory for decency and freedom.”

The anti-pickets, who had begun to assemble two hours before the Nazis arrived at 2:15 p.m., were a crowd of many faces. Almost 150 of the 500 pickets (police estimates of the total crowd ran from 2000 to 10,000) were refugees from concentration camps.

Dressed for the most part in shabby overcoats, the refugees marched silently as a light snow began to fall. They carried signs reading “Remember Dachau,” “Remember Auschwitz,” “Don’t let another Buchenwald happen.”

One of the marchers stopped to talk. When asked why he was picketing, he plied with a heavy accent: “It can happen here. We don’t want to see any more gas chambers. We have seen it happen. Remember, it can happen here.”

Students In Crowd

Many college students also made up the crowd, their bright dress providing a striking contrast to the drab refugees. Most of the students said they felt that the Nazis had a right to picket the theatre, but upheld their own picketing as “the only way we can protest against what they stand for.”

The Young Socialist Alliance, whose leaflets were distributed all over the Boston area, had a small group of picketers. Many labor unions, including the ILGWU, also marched in protest. A young couple, carrying a baby, typified the sentiments of the rest of the crowd when they said “We don’t belong to any group, we just came down to do anything we can to help.”

Clearly the main similarity is a high profile Nazi rally occurring, under the protection of the police.

But I said somewhat reminiscent because there are some key differences. For a start, here, the main violence was being directed at the Nazis – as opposed to Saturday’s rally where the opposite was the case (although some Nazis did bear the brunt of protesters). With the wounds of the Holocaust so raw and open back in 1961, it is understandable why so many protesters tried to take matters into their own hands.

And the 1961 rally was specifically targeting the film Exodus – you know, Otto Preminger’s classic film on the founding of the modern State of Israel, based on the Leon Uris novel of the same name.

Yet:

Many college students also made up the crowd, their bright dress providing a striking contrast to the drab refugees. Most of the students said they felt that the Nazis had a right to picket the theatre, but upheld their own picketing as “the only way we can protest against what they stand for.”

I cannot imagine this happening today. We unfortunately live in a time when most US college students would also be picketing a film like Exodus, about the founding of the state of Israel. I could imagine if such a Zionist film opened today – large crowds of US college students and right-wing Nazis would find common ground in protesting.

Of course, the former would show their disgust at the Nazis, but that’s today’s Left for you. Some antisemitism is just beyond the pale – just not ours.

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