Seventy-seven years ago today the U.S. apologized to Germany after the mayor of New York City made disparaging remarks about Adolf Hitler.
NYC Mayor Fiorella La Guardia said he wanted to end the 1939 World’s Fair with a “chamber of horrors” that would have “as a climax … a figure of that brown-shirted fanatic who is now menacing the peace of the world.”
The son of Italian immigrants, La Guardia’s mother was Jewish and his father was Catholic.
The German press covered the story calling La Guardia a “dirty Talmud Jew” and “New York’s gangster-in-chief.”
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On March 6, 1937, three days after La Guardia's remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull issued an apology to the German Embassy for the insult.
“In this country, the right of freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution to every citizen and is cherished as part of the national heritage,” Hull said, adding, “I very earnestly deprecate the utterances which have given offense to the German Government.”
Mayor from 1934 to 1945, La Guardia warned in a 1931 speech that Hitler was taking control of the German government. In 1934 he supported a boycott of German good, calling Hitler a “perverted maniac” who wanted the “the complete annihilation of the Jews in Germany.”
According to Haaretz, President Franklin D. Roosevelt also commented on La Guardia’s remarks during a cabinet meeting before Hull’s apology.
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“What would you say if I should say that I agreed completely with La Guardia?” Roosevelt asked Hull, according to the posthumously published diary of his secretary of interior, Harold Ickes.
Hull responded that La Guardia still had to be reprimanded.
According to Ickes, “The President, still with a grin on his face, touched his left wrist lightly with the first two fingers of his right hand and remarked to Hull: ‘We will chastise him like that.’”