Arthur Hays Sulzberger

Arthur Hays Sulzberger

Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the son of Cyrus L. Sulzberger, a cotton-goods merchant, and Rachel Peixotto Hays, was born on 12th September, 1891. Both his parents were descendants of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish families.

Sulzberger graduated from the Horace Mann School in 1909 and Columbia University in 1913, and married Iphigene Bertha Ochs, the daughter of Adolph Ochs, the owner of the New York Times, in 1917. The following year he began working for the newspaper. On the death of his father-in-law in 1929 he became the new publisher of the newspaper. That year he founded the Jewish Advisory Board (Columbia-Barnard Hillel) and served on its board for many years.

Sulzberger was deeply concerned by the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. However, he was concerned about being seen as a Zionist and in 1934 issued a statement: "I am a non Zionist because the Jew, in seeking a homeland of his own, seems to me to be giving up something of infinitely greater value of the world. ... I look askance at any movement which assists in making the peacemaker among nations merely a national warrior."

In 1940 he financially supported a series of pro-intervention groups established by the British Security Coordination (BSC). In his book, Without Fear or Favor: The New York Times and its Times (1980) Harrison Salisbury argues, "Not long after the outbreak of the war (in Europe) Sulzberger learned that a number of these correspondents had connections with MI6 the British intelligence agency." Salisbury describes him as being "very angry" about this but they remained on the newspaper. According to Hanson W. Baldwin, a journalist on the New York Times "leaks to British intelligence through The Times continued after U.S. entry into the war."

Despite the help he gave to the campaign to persuade the United States to enter the Second World War, Sulzberger was still criticised by the BSC for not supporting the cause as well as the New York Herald Tribune. One of its agents, Valentine Williams had a meeting with Sulzberger and on 15th September, 1941, he reported to Hugh Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare: "I had an hour with Arthur Sulzberger, proprietor of the New York Times, last week. He told me that for the first time in his life he regretted being a Jew because, with the tide of anti-semitism rising, he was unable to champion the anti-Hitler policy of the administration as vigorously and as universally as he would like as his sponsorship would be attributed to Jewish influence by isolationists and thus lose something of its force." He also suggested to Isaiah Berlin, who lobbied Sulzberger to be more outspoken about the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany: "Mr Berlin, don't you believe that if the word Jew was banned from the public press for fifty years, it would have a strongly positive influence."

Laurel Leff has argued in her book, Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper (2005) that Sulzberger did not do enough to help persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany. She quotes William Cohen who wrote to a newspaper in February 1942, saying that Sulzberger was a self-hating Jew who had plunged "the dagger of betrayal in the back of the helpless millions of Jews". Leff's main complaint was that he did not display news of the Holocaust prominently enough. However, Ira Stoll, has pointed out: "It would be an exaggeration to say the Times entirely ignored the Holocaust. By Ms. Leff's own count, it published nearly 1,200 stories about the fate of the European Jews. In 1944, the year that the story received the most prominent attention, there were 12 front page articles and 13 editorials. Other newspapers didn't do much better, and, as Ms. Leff describes, the American government spokesmen in Washington weren't making a big deal of the fate of the Jews, either." Leff also claims that Arthur Krock, the Washington bureau chief, "was embarrassed of being Jewish... and of nearly 1,200 Krock columns published during the war, not one mentioned the Jews' persecution."

Sulzberger, who served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation (1939-1957), received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award in 1956. He retired in 1961 and was succeeded as publisher by his son-in-law, Orvil E. Dryfoos. During the time he was in control of the New York Times, daily circulation rose from 465,000 to 713,000 and Sunday circulation from 745,000 to 1.4 million. In 1963 his son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, took control of the newspaper.

Arthur Hays Sulzberger died on 11th December 1968.

Primary Sources

(1) Valentine Williams, letter to Hugh Dalton (15th September, 1941)

I had an hour with Arthur Sulzberger, proprietor of the New York Times, last week. He told me that for the first time in his life he regretted being a Jew because, with the tide of anti-semitism rising, he was unable to champion the anti-Hitler policy of the administration as vigorously and as universally as he would like as his sponsorship would be attributed to Jewish influence by isolationists and thus lose something of its force.

(2) Ira Stoll, New York Sun (13th April, 2005)

Arthur Hays Sulzberger has received fairly cursory treatment from historians of the Times. Now comes Laurel Leff, whose Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper (2005) amounts to a fascinating biography of the man who ran the Times during World War II and presided over what the paper has since acknowledged was its own botched coverage of the Nazi extermination of European Jewry.

Ms. Leff, a former reporter and editor who now teaches at Northeastern University, has chosen not to frame the book as a biography. Instead, perhaps as a result of her academic employment and the academic publisher of this book, she criticizes the New York Times for not displaying news of the Holocaust prominently enough. She grounds that critique in communications theory, but it's worth wading past that for the groundbreaking biography buried within....

He was committed to an odd definition of journalistic balance. The Times, according to Ms. Leff, refused to run letters to the editor that attacked the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany, so that it would not also have to offer space to those supporting anti-Semitism.

Instead of speaking of Jewish refugees, Times editorials tended to speak of German refugees. Arthur Hays Sulzberger refused to intervene with American officials to get a visa for a cousin, Fritz Sulzberger, advising him in 1938 to stay in Germany. But he did intervene and rescue others. (Fritz Sulzberger made it to America, but other distant relatives of the Ochs-Sulzberger family were not so lucky - at least one died at Auschwitz, according to Ms. Leff.) The Times ran a campaign of nine editorials and three front-page stories that urged Congress to allow British families to send their children to safety in America, but made no such campaign on behalf of the Jews.

When the British issued the White Paper of 1939, restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine, the Times ran an editorial praising the move as necessary "to save the homeland itself from overpopulation as well as from an increasingly violent resistance on the part of the Arabs." (By February 1944, the Times had reversed itself on that one.) The notion that Jews should avoid doing things in the face of threats of violence by Arabs was (and, some might argue, is to this day) a recurring theme of Times editorials. A 1942 editorial argued against the creation of a Jewish brigade as part of the Allied forces because it might "provoke an Arab uprising."

The Times soft-pedaled the news of Nazi atrocities against Jews while emphasizing Nazi atrocities against Czechs and Christians - a fact recognized at the time by the likes of Senator Edwin Johnson of Colorado, according to Ms. Leff. And by American Jews like William Cohen who, writing in the New Frontier of February 1942, said that Sulzberger was a self-hating Jew who had plunged "the dagger of betrayal in the back of the helpless millions of Jews who look anxiously to Palestine for haven after the war." Or like Milton Steinberg, rabbi of Manhattan's Park Avenue Synagogue, who said in 1946, "God protect us from the kind of Jew who publishes the Times."

Sulzberger wasn't the only one at the Times who had a strained relationship with his own Jewish background. The influential columnist and Washington bureau chief, Arthur Krock, "was embarrassed of being Jewish," according to a source quoted by Ms. Leff. "Of nearly 1,200 Krock columns published during the war, not one mentioned the Jews' persecution," she writes.

It would be an exaggeration to say the Times entirely ignored the Holocaust. By Ms. Leff's own count, it published nearly 1,200 stories about the fate of the European Jews. In 1944, the year that the story received the most prominent attention, there were 12 front page articles and 13 editorials. Other newspapers didn't do much better, and, as Ms. Leff describes, the American government spokesmen in Washington weren't making a big deal of the fate of the Jews, either.

Would different coverage have saved the lives of some of the 6 million? In her book What Is the Use of Jewish History, the historian Lucy Dawidowicz writes that less restrictive immigration policies by America before the war could have saved some Jews, that a stronger American military might have stopped Hitler before he conquered Europe, and that a Jewish state, had it existed, "would have made a difference."

Buried by the Times doesn't discuss efforts by later generations of Timesmen to confront the paper's failures on the story of the Holocaust. Once such effort was an article by a former executive editor of the Times, Max Frankel, in a special 150th anniversary section of the Times, published in 2001. Mr. Frankel described the paper's performance on the story of Hitler's war against the Jews as a "staggering, staining failure." Nor does the book attempt to assess whether today's Times, in its coverage of Israel or the current war against the Jews, suffers from any of the same tendencies that afflicted the paper and its publisher in World War II.

But a careful contemporary reader scanning a Times editorial excoriating Prime Minister Sharon and mocking "Zionist settlers who believe that God gave them the land" needs only to roll his eyes and have them settle at the top of the column on the name of Arthur Hays Sulzberger. Ms. Leff's work means that his name will carry more meaning - not good for his reputation, though perhaps of some use to those seeking to understand the institution that has survived him.