2004-01-30 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

Much has been made lately of the rebirth of the Rockaway Catholic Jewish Council and the cooperation between the two communities that share much of our small peninsula, and that is good.

More people have been killed through out history in the name of religion and it continues today throughout the world. Cooperation is good, and the reopening of the RCJC by Geraldine Chapey and others is a positive event for Rockaway.

Having said that, what is not so good is a recent decision by the Queens County St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Cultural Committee to award a scholarship award to a young lady who wrote a laudatory essay about one of the most anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi men of the World War II period, a Catholic Priest named Charles Coughlin.

Never heard of him? Many people have not, but anybody who lived through the 1930’s and 1940’s has to, at the very least, remember the name. Certainly, anybody who paid attention in high school history class should have at least an inkling of who he was and what he meant for the nation in the years leading up to World War II.

We would have hoped that the three people on the scholarship committee: Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey, Dr. Gerald ine D. Chapey (who is the co-president of the RCJC) and Dr. Robert Hoatson, would have understood what the name Father Charles Coughlin means to the Jewish Rockaway residents who remember that period in our history, or who have studied history.

Father Coughlin was a Catholic Priest who was more interested in politics and economics than in faith. In the 1930’s, Coughlin started a radio program called, "Golden Hour Of The Little Flower." At the beginning, Coughlin supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and his "New Deal." By 1937, however, Coughlin, convinced that Roosevelt was a Communist and that he was kowtowing to the "Jewish interests that controlled America," became more and more vitriolic against both Roosevelt and the Jews.

By 1938, his programs were violent anti-Semitic diatribes. He started a newspaper, "Social Justice," that put into print the same ideas that went over the air during his radio programs.

He was convinced that America could not beat Germany and that our citizens should think of "America First."

He was convinced that America would go to war "to save the Jews," who wanted to take over the world.

He pushed the "Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion," a tract that supposedly revealed the Jewish plan to take over the world, but that was, in fact, written by the Tsar’s secret service in Russia to discredit the Jews in that nation prior to World War I.

Take a look at some of the quotes from Coughlin’s radio programs.

In November of 1938, he said, "If Jews persist in supporting Comm unism directly or indirectly, that will be regrettable. By their failure to use the press, the radio and the banking houses, where they stand so prominently, to fight Communism as vigorously as they fight Nazism, the Jews invite the charge of supporting Communism."

In January of 1939, when Hitler was already scooping up real estate and killing Jews: "From European entanglements from Nazism, communism and their future wars, American must stand aloof. Keep America safe for Americans and the Stars and Stripes the defender of God."

At the end of January, 1939: "Must the entire world go to war for 600,000 Jews in Germany, who are neither American, nor French, nor English citizens, but citizens of Germany?"

He expressed sympathy for Fascist dictatorships in Germany and Italy, urging them to continue to do what they were doing in fighting "Godless Communism."

By 1940, he had lost so many listeners because of his diatribes that he lost his show.

Two years later, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, he had embarrassed the church so badly that his Bishop ordered him to stop all political activities. He obeyed, a broken and bitter man, sure that he was done in by the Jews and the communists who now controlled America under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The essay that won the prize from the parade committee, however, calls Coughlin, "an important role model because he said what he thought was right and lived by it."

It lauds Coughlin as "a powerful and engaging preacher who, within four years, had a national radio program."

While I did not have access to the entire essay, I have been told that the only mention of Coughlin’s politics is the fact that Coughlin "felt that socialism and communism were dangerous."

I understand that the student who wrote the essay that won a prize did not know those things about Coughlin, although she could have if she had researched using more than the Internet.

Too many children today use the net as the only source for information when doing research and are often "fooled" by sites that have an agenda and provide false or misleading information.

She wrote a good essay that was flawed by bad information. I cannot fault her for that. Many adults do the same.

That the adults involved in judging the essay did not know, or did not care if the information was correct or complete, is the shame of it.

The elder Chapey lived through World War II. She had to know who Coughlin was and what he stood for. She holds a seat on the New York State Board of Regents, where she has a direct impact on what is taught in our schools. That is a frightening thought in light of her actions in awarding the prize for the Coughlin essay.

The younger Chapey is a PhD and a college professor. She purports to be a student of Irish History. I cannot believe that she never heard of Cough lin prior to reading the student’s essay. It is hard to understand, then, why she and her mother chose the essay as a winner.

She is a politician, and the incident will certainly not help her with the Jewish constituency, which she has assiduously courting with her Trinity Seniors organization, when she runs for election against Joe Addabbo or Tony Weiner somewhere down the road, perhaps sooner than later.

I do not blame the student, though perhaps she should do more research in the future. I do blame the adults who obviously either did not know or did not care enough to flag the essay for further checking.

That those who chose the essay are in positions of power makes it even more imperative for them to do the right thing.

Perhaps they should publicly apologize to the Jewish community for their error. They can do no less under the circumstances.


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