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Karl Schwesig’s Schlegelkeller: Anatomy of a Rejected Warning of Prewar Violence at LIFE Magazine

  • Willa M. Johnson
  • Kirk A. Johnson
Article
  • 135 Downloads

Abstract

This essay examines the 1939 decision by Time, Inc., publisher of LIFE magazine, to reject Schlegelkeller, an eyewitness account of early pre-Holocaust violence by German artist Karl Schwesig. While scholars have suggested a number of reasons why the American press minimized or failed to report the Nazi decimation of Jews and other marginalized groups, we borrow from two influential works by sociologist C. Wright Mills to suggest that an intricate intersection of social statuses, along with ideological perspectives, institutional norms, and personal temperament, may explain why LIFE rejected Schlegelkeller. We discuss the implications of this decision in light of both the magazine’s internal metrics and the response of the American news media to prewar violence in Europe.

Keywords

Holocaust Art Henry Luce Karl Schwesig C. Wright Mills LIFE magazine Communism 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, where Willa Johnson was the 2012–2013 Cummings Foundation Fellow; the University of Mississippi Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (2011); a University of Mississippi Tenured Faculty Fellowship (2013); and a matching grant from the University of Mississippi College of Liberal Arts (2012–2013). Archival materials referenced in this manuscript can be found at the US Library of Congress Manuscript Division; the Lilly Library at the Indiana University Bloomington; the University of Delaware Library Special Collections; the Nordrhein-Westphalia Lanfdesarchiv in Düsseldorf, Germany; and several online sources. The authors wish to express appreciation to McIntosh & Otis, Inc., for permission to quote letters from the Upton Sinclair estate; Mr. Gertijan Desmet for archival assistance in Belgium; Dr. Peter Klefisch for his helpful guidance in the Nordrhein-Westphalia Lanfdesarchiv; Dr. Peter Barth and Mr. Herbert Remmert, who provided access to private papers and artworks in Düsseldorf; Ms. Hanna Gorszczynska, who provided expert research assistance at archives throughout Germany; Drs. Jürgen Matthaus and Richard Breitman at the Mandel Center, who read an early draft of this paper and made helpful suggestions; and the editor and anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments. Finally, we thank Mr. David K. Frasier and colleagues at the Lilly Library, University of Indiana Bloomington; Ms. Joan R. Duffy of the Yale University Divinity Library; and the Manuscript Room librarians at the US Library of Congress for the helpful guidance through their respective archives. We also thank Dr. Chad Russell of the University of Mississippi Center for Writing and Rhetoric for his technical assistance.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyUniversity of MississippiUniversityUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Anthropology and African-American Studies ProgramUniversity of MississippiUniversityUSA

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