Urwand, a junior fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard, argues that American film studios actively collaborated with Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s: "Hollywood studios agreed not to make films that attacked the Nazis or condemned Germany’s persecution of Jews." Studio heads, many of whom were Jewish, dealt directly with Nazi officials to make sure that Hollywood films remained available in the German market. Some of the claims Urwand makes are horrifying:
Jewish names were slashed from credits. One German official even harassed individual crew members working on productions deemed unflattering to Germany; threats even once extended to a wardrobe man. MGM also reportedly financed the production of German armaments, and in a particularly atrocious instance of accommodation, the head of MGM Germany divorced his Jewish wife at the request of Germany’s Propaganda Ministry. Urwand uncovered evidence that she ended up in a concentration camp.
Director Quentin Tarantino called Urwand's claims "really fuckin' interesting." (You can read a lengthy interview with him on the topic here.)
Denby reviewed the book for the September 16 issue of The New Yorker, and then followed up his review with a blog post on September 23, which points out even more flaws in the book's argument. He writes, "perhaps I’m naïve about academic publishing, but I’m surprised that Harvard University Press could have published anything as poorly argued as Urwand’s book." Urwand gathered his evidence from both German and American archives. But Denby draws very conclusions from Urwand's evidence. He says of studio heads:
They negotiated, they evaded, they censored their creative people, they hid, they schemed to preserve their business in the future. They behaved cravenly. But they did not collaborate.
Denby thinks "something broke down here in the vetting process, and that likely includes the expert academic reader reports that Harvard University Press surely commissioned, which are meant to protect the author, the press, and the facts."
Urwand, for his part, is standing by his argument. He told The New York Times on Thursday, "this book is a work of historical scholarship, based on documents I uncovered in archives in nine U.S. and German cities. My objective as a scholar is to find those materials and make them public. There’s not a single statement in either piece by Denby that makes me question any of my findings.”
The Collaboration is available now through the Harvard University Press.