The 1940 Republican Convention. My brother and I went to sleep
that nightThursday, June 27while the radio was on in the living
room, and our father, our mother, and our older cousin Alvin
sat listening together to the live coverage from Philadelphia. After
six ballots, the Republicans still hadn't selected a candidate. Lindbergh's
name was yet to be uttered by a single delegate, and because
of an engineering conclave at a midwestern factory where he'd
been advising on the design of a new fighter plane, he wasn't present
or expected to be. When Sandy and I went to bed the convention
remained divided among Dewey, Willkie, and two powerful
Republican senators, Vandenberg of Michigan and Taft of Ohio,
and it didn't look as though a backroom deal was about to be brokered
anytime soon by party bigwigs like former president Hoover,
who'd been ousted from office by FDR's overwhelming 1932 victory,
or by Governor Alf Landon, whom FDR had defeated even
more ignominiously four years later in the biggest landslide in
Because it was the first muggy evening of the summer, the windows were open in every room and Sandy and I couldn't help but
continue to follow from bed the proceedings being aired over our
own living room radio and the radio playing in the flat downstairs
andsince an alleyway only barely wide enough for a single car
separated one house from the nextthe radios of our neighbors to
either side and across the way. As this was long before window air
conditioners bested the noises of a neighborhood's tropical nights,
the broadcast blanketed the block from Keer to Chancellora
block on which not a single Republican lived in any of the thirty-odd
two-and-a-half-family houses or in the small new apartment
building at the Chancellor Avenue corner. On streets like ours the
Jews voted straight Democratic for as long as FDR was at the top
of the ticket.
But we were two kids and fell asleep despite everything and
probably wouldn't have awakened till morning had not Lindbergh
with the Republicans deadlocked on the twentieth ballotmade
his unanticipated entrance onto the convention floor at 3:18 a.m.
The lean, tall, handsome hero, a lithe, athletic-looking man not yet
forty years old, arrived in his flying attire, having landed his own
plane at the Philadelphia airport only minutes earlier, and at the
sight of him, a surge of redemptive excitement brought the wilted
conventioneers up onto their feet to cry "Lindy! Lindy! Lindy!"
for thirty glorious minutes, and without interruption from the
chair. Behind the successful execution of this spontaneous pseudo-religious
drama lay the machinations of Senator Gerald P. Nye of
North Dakota, a right-wing isolationist who quickly placed in nomination
the name of Charles A. Lindbergh of Little Falls, Minnesota,
whereupon two of the most reactionary members of Congress
Congressman Thorkelson of Montana and Congressman
Mundt of South Dakotaseconded the nomination, and at precisely
four a.m. on Friday, June 28, the Republican Party, by acclamation,
chose as its candidate the bigot who had denounced Jews
over the airwaves to a national audience as "other peoples 'employing
their enormous' influence . . . to lead our country to
destruction," rather than truthfully acknowledging us to be a small
minority of citizens vastly outnumbered by our Christian countrymen,
by and large obstructed by religious prejudice from attaining
public power, and surely no less loyal to the principles of
American democracy than an admirer of Adolf Hitler.
"No!" was the word that awakened us, "No!" being shouted in a
man's loud voice from every house on the block. It can't be. No.
Not for president of the United States.
Within seconds, my brother and I were once more at the radio
with the rest of the family, and nobody bothered telling us to go
back to bed. Hot as it was, my decorous mother had pulled a robe
over her thin nightdressshe too had been asleep and roused by
the noiseand she sat now on the sofa beside my father, her fingers
over her mouth as though she were trying to keep from being sick.
Meanwhile my cousin Alvin, able no longer to remain in his seat,
set about pacing a room eighteen-by-twelve with a force in his gait
befitting an avenger out searching the city to dispose of his nemesis.
The anger that night was the real roaring forge, the furnace that
takes you and twists you like steel. And it didn't subsidenot while
Lindbergh stood silently at the Philadelphia rostrum and heard
himself being cheered once again as the nation's savior, nor when
he gave the speech accepting his party's nomination and with it the
mandate to keep America out of the European war. We all waited
in terror to hear him repeat to the convention his malicious vilification of the Jews, but that he didn't made no difference to the
mood that carried every last family on the block out into the street
at nearly five in the morning. Entire families known to me previously
only fully dressed in daytime clothing were wearing pajamas
and nightdresses under their bathrobes and milling around in their
slippers at dawn as if driven from their homes by an earthquake.
But what shocked a child most was the anger, the anger of men
whom I knew as lighthearted kibbitzers or silent, dutiful breadwinners
who all day long unclogged drainpipes or serviced furnaces
or sold apples by the pound and then in the evening looked
at the paper and listened to the radio and fell asleep in the living
room chair, plain people who happened to be Jews now storming
about the street and cursing with no concern for propriety,
abruptly thrust back into the miserable struggle from which they
had believed their families extricated by the providential migration
of the generation before.
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