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Q&A: Benjamin Ginsberg, the Author of ‘How the Jews Defeated Hitler’

His thoughts on Jewish strength, Jewish weakness, and the secret history of the Judeo-Episcopate in America

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I want to look back at one other aside in your book that I found really, really fascinating and kind of generative, because it was the one thing in this book that I’d never thought of before.

If I had known that, I wouldn’t have written the rest of the book.

Well, this idea really could and should be a book of its own: In America today, the major East Coast ruling class faction is a fusion of Jews and WASPs. I call it the Judeo-Episcopate, and its manners are kind of fascinating. When I first encountered this grouping as an undergraduate at Harvard, there were clearly two sides—there were Jewish private-school kids from New York and L.A., and there were WASPy kids from prep schools in New England. I think it was more common for the Jewish men to date the WASPy girls, but it sometimes went the other way, too. As I’ve seen that class continue to cohere in the professional sphere, I say to myself, Oh, that was a coherent social group, which turned out to wield some real power.”

My son graduated from Harvard recently enough, and I quizzed him about this and he sort of looked blank. To him, the Jews and the WASPs are now the same people.

I vaguely located the formation of this group sometime in the 1970s and imagined that once you’ve eliminated quotas at Harvard and Yale, all these Jewish kids came in and they had money and they were smart and then the WASP ruling class picked off the bright ones and let them into their finals clubs and other institutions. But you located the formation of the WASP-Jew alliance much earlier, in the Second World War, back when the quotas still existed, and the moment you suggested that in your book I thought, “Oh my God, he’s right.” So, what I want you to do is to flesh out that argument.

The relationship goes back even further, to the period after the Civil War, when you had the “Our Crowd” group, the German Jewish families who were very closely allied financially and even socially with WASP industrialists. They all stole together and built railroads and whatnot.

Then there was this horrible influx of filthy Eastern European Jews.

Yeah, that was one factor—the Yids. So, the old aristocracy accuses the WASP robber barons of being no better than the Jews. This, after a series of political struggles, leads the WASP part of the first WASP-Jewish alliance to cast the Jews off and to ally themselves instead with the old WASP aristocracy. They create a system of “exclusive” institutions, meaning no Jews—exclusive clubs, exclusive hotels, and exclusive boarding schools—which are sort of run by the old aristocrats but funded by the new ones. So, it takes the Jews a long time to recover. During the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, the Jews, even if they have some money, are very much at the social margins. But then just before the beginning of the Second World War, the Jews and the WASPs re-ally again—against the Nazis.

They re-ally not just against the Nazis, but internally they form an alliance against the American masses, who want no part of saving either European Jews or England.

Right. And they find they also have other things to agree about. This is solidified in the 1950s, when you have two strands of anti-Communist crusading. You have the HUAC strand, which was created to investigate Nazism but was seized by Southern Democrats who used it to investigate the liberal wing of the Democratic Party—labor unions, urban machines—and there were a lot of Jews in that part of the Democratic Party. So, the HUAC hearings are very anti-Semitic. They list all the Jews, the real names: “Edward G. Robinson, well his real name is … Goldenberg!”

Then there’s the McCarthy strand. McCarthy is the weapon of the Taft wing of the Republican Party against the East Coast Establishment, and there are no Jews in the East Coast Establishment. McCarthy has no anti-Semitic rhetoric, and in fact his chief assistant is Roy Cohn. But when you put HUAC and McCarthy together, the Jews and the WASPs once again had a common enemy, and this is when they re-coalesced, more or less permanently. And they did so in the media campaign against the witch hunters. People argue that the media is controlled by the Jews. Well, not exactly, but the Jews and the WASPs together did control the media. Then, in the civil rights movement, the Jews and the WASPs also had common enemies, namely the Southern conservatives. And after that, they let you into Harvard.

One of the things that’s fascinating about my WASPy friends and compatriots is that so many dislike the State of Israel, to varying degrees. It bugs them. What interests me is trying to suss out the underlying or psychological impetus or sense of injury beneath these feelings, which are frankly less common in general among American gentiles than they are among American Jews. When I’ve asked them, “Why does this particular injustice bother you so much – why not Tibet?” the answers are very interesting. They come down to something like, “Why on one hand do you Jewish people come to us and say we have to be democratic and inclusive because otherwise we’re anti-Semites, and then back in the old country, where you go on your family vacations or Birthright trips, you get to strut around with automatic weapons and oppress everybody else, which isn’t fair, and is probably what we would want to do here, in some secret corner of our WASPy brains.”

That is a very good line, and I think it’s totally true. The animus is some form of displaced anti-Semitism.

Is that what I’m saying? I actually think that American Jews are in this sense way too quick to label such feelings as anti-Semitism, even when the effects may be anti-Semitic.

I think you’ve characterized it very well. It’s not 1930s anti-Semitism, but it’s a resentment. It’s a resentment of a particular evil that the Jews have done, which is the Jews have undermined WASP America but refuse to do the same thing in their own country.

You know, there’s an old joke: Three elderly Jewish Communists in the Bronx are talking. They’re in their eighties. One is in a wheelchair. So they say, “Abie Cohen, have you heard from him lately?” “Abie, he’s had some health problems but he’s living in Los Angeles in a nursing home, still working for socialism.” “All right, what about Mike Abramowitz, have you heard from him?” “Well, you know Mike is in rehab, he fell, he broke his hip, a lot of problems. But even in the nursing home he’s fighting for socialism!” So someone says, “What about Moe Goldberg?” “Oh, Moe, he moved to Israel, didn’t you know that?” “Well, is he fighting for socialism?” The guy answers, “In his own country? What kind of man do you think he is?!”

So I think as Jewish humor often does, that captures the point that you made. I’ve actually had students say exactly this. They say, “How come in my high school we couldn’t sing Christmas carols; however, in Israel they can establish a religion?” And they believe that it was the Jews who brought this about in the United States. And are they wrong? No.

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Q&A: Benjamin Ginsberg, the Author of ‘How the Jews Defeated Hitler’

His thoughts on Jewish strength, Jewish weakness, and the secret history of the Judeo-Episcopate in America