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Was Gertrude Stein a Fan of Hitler?

Was Gertrude Stein a Fan of Hitler?
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By Renate Stendhal for the Women’s Media Center

The focus of  major exhibitions currently in Paris and Washington, D.C., and opening early next year in New York City, avant-garde icon Gertrude Stein continues to inspire controversy. Here, author Renate Stendhal weighs in to set the record straight.

With two big traveling exhibitions, Gertrude Stein is having a renaissance. She is also embroiled in a political controversy. Did Stein and Alice B. Toklas survive in Nazi-Occupied France because Stein was in cahoots with Marshal Pétain, the head of the French Vichy Government, whose speeches she began to translate in 1941? Did her close friendship with Pétain’s advisor, Bernard Faÿ, who turned fascist and collaborator during the war, mean that she was a collaborator, too? Did she really want Hitler to get the Nobel Peace Prize?

These accusations are snow-balling in articles, blogs, and a new book about Stein and her “Vichy Dilemma.” There is nothing new about the facts, but Stein is always a welcome target. From the moment a woman—a Jewish, lesbian woman—positioned herself at the birth of Modernism and declared, “I am a genius,” she was attacked and ridiculed. It is a fact, however, that Stein’s avant-garde novel, The Making of Americans, was written from 1902 to 1911, long before Joyce wrote Ulysses (1918 to 1920). With her “word portraits” she was the first to create in language what such modernist painters as Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse were producing in painting.

Irony taken as fact

The bias of the recent attacks shows the most clearly in the Hitler “scandal.” In 1934, Stein was interviewed in the New York Times Magazine. The article points to the “impish” expression on Stein’s face. “‘I say that Hitler ought to have the peace prize,’ she says, ‘because he is removing all elements of contest and struggle from Germany. By driving out the Jews and the democratic and Left elements, he is driving out everything that conduces to activity. That means peace.’”

Isn’t this the way Jewish humor works? Stein recommends Hitler for the Nobel Peace Prize, just as Freud “recommended” the Gestapo—with the same perfect irony. The Germans had made a condition for Freud’s emigration, in 1938, demanding a declaration that he had been well treated. Freud declared: “Ich kann die Gestapo jedermann auf das beste empfehlen.” “I can heartily recommend the Gestapo to anyone.” Does this make Freud a collaborator? A Nazi?

Stein was a profoundly apolitical person, coming from an assimilated Jewish family that admired Ulysses S. Grant and George Washington. “Writers only think they are interested in politics,” she wrote, “they are not really, it gives them a chance to talk and writers like to talk but really no real writer is really interested in politics.” She loved to talk about Maréchal Pétain, who was every French person’s hero after saving France in the battle of Verdun, in 1916. Elected prime minister of the Vichy Government in 1940, Pétain’s armistice with Germany again prevented the destruction of France. In Stein’s eyes, Pétain was the great man who would not only keep France safe but lead the country out of the chaos of the Third Republic and restore it to its cherished agrarian and disciplined traditions.

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Photo by Carl Van Vechten; public domain as part of the Creative Americans Collection

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40 comments

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5:16AM PST on Dec 12, 2011

Personally I don't see the point in wonderng. We'll never know for sure, and even if she wasn't dead what would be do about it at this point? Burn her books?
If this all derives from the 1934 interview I think it's a bit ridiculous we ask know; she should have been asked back then.

5:09AM PST on Dec 12, 2011

Get over it. Maybe she did what she had to do....

5:53PM PST on Dec 11, 2011

The "scandal" sounds like a FOX News story. Inane and inflammatory.

2:04PM PST on Dec 11, 2011

As pointed out in her later writtens that no one seems to mention. She changed her mind.Said and did things differently.

11:49AM PST on Dec 11, 2011

"reviewers"

11:49AM PST on Dec 11, 2011

Of course it's easier to attack a woman for saying, basically, the same as Freud. Sarcasm can be difficult to understand for small minds, and (male) reviers ususally have those.

3:31PM PST on Dec 10, 2011

interesting

8:23AM PST on Dec 10, 2011

Sounds like a great mind navigating troubled waters.

5:09AM PST on Dec 10, 2011

Amazing what we do to live.

4:26AM PST on Dec 10, 2011

I am not concerned about role of Pope in selling out the Jews to monster Hitler, but about current Europe and Asia selling out Israel to the Arabs for oil and leading to another potential Holocaust. Nazi ideology of supremacy and delusional Jew-hate had found a fertile ground in the Muslim world, since it is in Koran and Hadith writings, as Salmon Rushdie rightly pointed out! Yet, there are intelligent people who do not see that having Holocaust deniers, such as Ahmedinijad and Mahmoud Abbas spew their delusional Jew-hatred in UN may lead to another Holocaust, this time in Middle East. The old European antisemitism leading to the Holocaust has risen its ugly head again, this time in form of bashing Israel and Zionists.

Even some Jewish intellectuals are fools, supporting another terrorist state from which Arab delusional Jew-haters can shoot rockets on the entire area of Israel, not just 1/3 as they are doing now from Gaza. Shame on J-street and shame on Chomsky for being so blind that they see a speck in Israel' eye and not a rod in the eyes of the Muslims who learn from Koranic verses to hate the Jews!. Shame on UN that had been supporting Arab refugees, instead having them settled in the lands left by the Jews in Arab countries and those Jews now form over 50% of the productive citizens of Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas and Htizbollah teach their children that the highest goal in life is to die as a martyr, i.e. be killed while murdering Jews and Americans.

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