Ivan Greenberg: Did the London Jewish Chronicle Downplay the Atrocities in Europe?

Page one of the London Jewish Chronicle on February 9, 1945.

By Renee Gross

Ivan Greenberg’s resources were slashed. The editor of the London Jewish Chronicle during WWII had no more foreign correspondents in Germany or Vienna. His limited staff couldn’t fact check the stories coming out of other areas. But even when the evidence of the genocide was overwhelming, there were still initial doubts about its accuracy. It was so awful that it was unbelievable.

Greenberg regularly ran stories about the biggest atrocity of the century in the longest-running established Jewish papers of the time. While it seems to be the obvious choice to do so, the decision turned out to be a maze of ethical problems, as Greenberg came under pressure from government guidelines and even his own readers. It may be the reason why the newspaper’s coverage of the Holocaust was sparse.

Greenberg first worked as an assistant editor of the Jewish Chronicle while his father, Leopold Greenberg, worked as the editor. His father died in 1931 and following a long boardroom struggle, Ivan Greenberg took over the position.

It wasn’t just the struggle of limited resources and the unfathomable nature of the Holocaust that made reporting difficult. Greenberg was required to follow formal censorship parameters in Britain. In 1939, the Ministry of Information put out guidelines encouraging journalists not to foster sympathy for the Jews trying to reach Palestine as it would embarrass the British and annoy the Arabs.

In 1941, the Ministry of Information added a memorandum stating that the “horror stuff… must be used very sparingly and must always deal with the treatment of indisputably innocent people. Not with violent opponents. And not with Jews.”

Still, the paper occasionally reported on the Holocaust. But, according to David Cesarani in Why Didn’t the Press Shout, an anthology of research on press coverage of the Holocaust, “the size and the location of these stories were erratic” and “the editorial comment on these stories was minimal.” The exception came in 1942 when the paper reported, “Two Million Jews Slaughtered. Most Terrible Massacre of All Time.” The editorial said, “Week after week, the paper has striven to awaken the public mind to the facts of the Jewish extermination being carried on by the Nazi threat of Jewish extermination being carried on by the Nazi masters in Europe.” After this article, the paper returned to its irregular coverage of the mass murder.

The paper faced the question of how to report on arguably the most important story of the century to an unresponsive audience. Greenberg didn’t feel his readers could take an unrelenting news diet of mass murders and genocide without any suggestions of actions people could take to intervene. But there was nothing the paper could suggest for the people to do. Even though the coverage was lacking, the paper reported in 1942 that some Jewish congregants complained that “the facts it recorded so harrowed the feelings.”

The paper published more editorials on the failure of governments to give sanctuary for Jewish refuges than on news of the Holocaust. Greenberg fought for a Jewish army and a national home in Palestine. He was part of the Revisionist Zionist organization, a faction inside Zionism trying to occupy the full territory of Palestine. Greenberg championed the slogan “Palestine or Extinction,” which, Cesarani wrote, captured the “increasingly shrill tone” of the editorials. In 1946, the managing director of the paper, David F. Kessler, fired Greenberg because of the divisiveness of his Zionist opinions.

Greenberg eventually translated the The Revolt by Menachem Begin into English, and died in 1966.

 

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