A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Lindbergh, the hero’s fall (temporarily): Chapter 3


In the fall of 1941, newspapers were filled with accounts of the blitzkrieg in London as well as Hitler’s invasions of more European countries — Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands and France, to name a few. And some news of how the Nazis were treating Europe’s Jews — as well as artists and intellectuals — was making its way across the Atlantic. 

President Franklin Roosevelt, who was in public disagreement with Lindbergh about what role the U.S. should take in the

European war, had launched a strategic campaign to prepare Americans for what he thought was the U.S.’s inevitable participation in the war, said Daniel Greene, curator of the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibition at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

It was against that backdrop that Lindbergh gave his speech at the America First rally in Des Moines, Iowa.

“I also think something critical was coming to a boil,” Greene said of that evening. “The mood in the hall that night was already angry. Roosevelt gave one his fireside chats that same night. It was piped into the hall before Lindbergh spoke. Most of the negative reaction in the hall was when he talked about Roosevelt. People would jeer.”

But most people who heard the speech weren’t in the hall that night; they heard it over the radio. And somehow, to a broad swath of the public, Lindbergh crossed a line when he openly named Jews as one of three groups advocating for American involvement in the war.

It’s not that antisemitism went away as Americans became more aware of what was happening in Nazi-occupied countries. Rather, it’s that the tolerance level for what was acceptable changed. 

“When you confront history, you also have to look for a sign of hope,” Greene said. “One sign is that mainstream America responded so critically. Even if they might believe some of the things (Lindbergh) believes — that Jews have undue influence in America — you didn’t side with the Nazis if you are in the mainstream. The response to that speech is that Lindbergh is a Nazi.”

A few months after Lindbergh’s Des Moines speech, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America’s reluctance to join the war basically evaporated, and along with it, the memory of the role Lindbergh played in protesting American involvement in the war. 

In the years since, neither the country’s reverence for Lindbergh nor the existence of antisemitism have gone away. Rather they morphed into a different flavor.

What’s old is new again

Lindbergh fought in the war, although in an unofficial capacity. During the years leading up to America’s entrance into World War II, Lindbergh’s spats with President Roosevelt and his ardent opposition to entering the war had prompted him to very publicly surrender his position as colonel in the Army Air Corps.

Once the war started, Lindbergh tried to convince his friends in the military to reinstate him. But the years Lindbergh spent as part of the America First movement undermined the administration’s faith in him. Even though he was not allowed back in, he managed to find ways to help the war effort.

According to A. Scott Berg’s seminal biography, Lindbergh worked for Henry Ford, advising his company on construction of its B-24 bomber. He also served as a guinea pig for scientists to advance their understanding of high-altitude flying. He eventually made his way to the South Pacific where he advised various air force commands and eventually, surreptitiously, joined numerous combat missions. Such activities were against regulation, but Lindbergh’s skills and charm caused even Gen. Douglas MacArthur to look the other way.

Once the war was over and the public learned of his contributions, Lindbergh was, once again, receiving accolades and honors.

In St. Louis, a south county school district named its high school after Lindbergh in 1952. 

According to the district history, last updated in 2014: “On September 14, 1952, the new Lindbergh High School was dedicated with the reading of a letter from Col. Charles A. Lindbergh and the presentation of his autographed portrait, which is currently displayed in the administration building.”

The high school students became the Flyers. Its yearbook, the “Spirit.” Its marching band, “The Spirit of St. Louis.” In 1957, the entire school district took on Lindbergh’s name. 

In 2007, 50 years after its naming, the Lindbergh School District unveiled a 16-inch-tall bronze sculpture of its namesake by renowned St. Louis-based sculptor Don Wiegand. The sculpture and portrait sat outside the school’s auditorium until last year when it was removed for construction of a new auditorium. They haven’t been put back on display.        

And yet, when repeatedly asked for an interview about how the district thinks of Lindbergh the man, or how it uses his legacy as an educational tool, the district wasn’t interested in talking. 

“I’ve shared your email with our administrative team and the struggle we are having is that Lindbergh schools does not associate its identity with Charles Lindbergh at all and has not for many years,” the district’s communications officer responded in an email. “Anyone who would have been familiar with the district’s original decision to choose this name has long since retired. If people ask us how our district was named today, we tell them that it is a nod to the district’s location on and surrounding Lindbergh Boulevard.”

The school district wasn’t the only place that skirted talking about the problematic legacy of its namesake, although it’s the only one that wouldn’t engage at all. John Bales, the director of aviation at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport, insisted that the airport’s name is a reference to the city’s spirit of aviation. 

In Godfrey, Ill., Pam Whisler, the town’s first clerk, organized the effort to relocate the hut that served Lindbergh’s relay station when he was working for the U.S. Postal Service from an out-of-the-way farm to the front lawn of the city hall. Whisler said there were some people in Godfrey who didn’t care for Lindbergh, but they recognized that the city was capitalizing on “good history” by preserving the tiny cabin, she said. They supported the move by buying inscribed bricks to fund the project.

‘Antisemitism is like a virus that mutates’

Being uncomfortable talking about antisemitism — or refusing to talk openly about the sentiments of a man whose legacy is imprinted all over the region — isn’t a sign that people harbor antisemitic beliefs. But it is a sign that society as a whole still hasn’t reconciled its relationship with the Jews in its midst. Since Oct. 7, 2023 — when Hamas attacked Israel, murdering more than 1,200 Israelis and taking more than 250 people hostage — it’s become even more clear that antisemitism didn’t disappear at the close of WWII — a fact that is not surprising to anyone who is well-versed in Jewish history.

“Antisemitism never goes away. It’s more like a virus that mutates. It hangs around for a long time and then it crops up,” said Rabbi Diana Fersko, author of “We Need to Talk About Antisemitism.” 

“It’s an idea. And ideas have a way of lingering and returning,” Fersko added.

In many ways, antisemitism in the 21st century is still full of the tropes and assumptions that people in Lindbergh’s time held. But the war with Hamas demonstrates how it has morphed from a set of beliefs that mostly right-wing, white supremist groups espouse into an ethos that politically progressive people now embrace. It is easier to villainize Israel — and by default, Jews — than it is to learn about the complicated history of the Jewish people and of the conflict with Palestinians, Fersko said.

There was already an uptick in antisemitic incidents prior to Oct. 7. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 3,697 antisemitic incidents took place in 2022, the highest number since 1979 when the ADL started tracking it. They include things like vandalism at synagogues, harassment and personal assaults.

But there are other ways that antisemitism manifests itself, including attitudes. The ADL surveyed more than 4,000 Americans to gauge those beliefs in 2022 and found that 70% of Americans said Jews stick together more than others; 39% thought Jews were more loyal to Israel than to the U.S; and 20% thought Jews have too much power in the U.S.

“It’s fair to say that people are more aware of antisemitism in society than they have been in years. In some ways, this is due to increased reporting in the media and social media,” said Aryeh Tuchman, director of the center of extremism at the ADL. “But there’s also an increase in the number of incidents and the pervasiveness of attitudes. It’s facilitated by ways of communication, the spread of antisemitism in social media. We’re just one click away on Facebook into the fever swamp of 4chan.” 

Even in the face of rising incidents of antisemitism, people are less likely to report it if nobody is bleeding, said Dara Horn, author of “People Love Dead Jews,” an exploration of the modern face of antisemitism. Horn said that since the publication of her book in 2021, people have been confiding in her about their own experiences. One person wearing a yarmulke in public told her about being slammed from behind with a grocery cart at the supermarket. Another person reported being pelted by pennies, she said. Still another recounted a boss taunting her for being frugal.

These aren’t the kinds of incidents that someone reports to police in part because no one was physically hurt and in part because Jews still feel powerless. Horn said there’s an embarrassment to reporting something seemingly minor when you feel that way.

“But there’s a bigger thing going on here,” Horn said. “American Jews have a profound belief in America as an exception to Jewish history. In some ways, they’re not wrong. There’s no state-sponsored violence and oppression. American Jews are not wrong to be grateful to this country compared to the rest of Jewish history. 

“But this dynamic creates a very deep belief that America is an exception to Jewish history. When you have a deep belief like that and something happens to contradict that belief, you settle that cognitive dissonance by finding excuses to explain it away, saying, ‘This is an exception’ in order to maintain a belief that is important to you.”

That belief could explain why, when Jewish people experience antisemitism in any form, they are reluctant to call attention to the problem. The ADL surveyed Jewish college students in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks and found that 55% did nothing after experiencing an antisemitic incident, mostly out of fear of backlash.


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