WHEN BUKOWSKI WAS A NAZI, Part 2

A special Hollywood Investigator report … appearing for the first time anywhere:

WHEN BUKOWSKI WAS A NAZI, Part 2

by Ben Pleasants, guest contributor.  [April 8, 2003]

[HollywoodInvestigator.com]  When he enrolled at Los Angeles City College, located on Vermont Boulevard in Hollywood, Bukowski said, “It was like I never left high school. I just went from one place to another. I was supposed to be taking a journalism program, but I just took the courses I wanted to take. It was basic journalism. I’d open the book, but I wouldn’t follow it.”

His parents gave him a typewriter and their blessing. They just wanted their son to get a job and survive. Bukowski never blamed LACC on his father; he had others to blame: the non-published professors who held good writers back.

The first issue of the school paper, The Collegian, on September 18, 1939, gives us a taste of what Bukowski experienced. First there was the Howdy Hop, a dance Mullinax attended and Bukowski did not. Then there was the note from the Journalism Club from president Irwin Simon: “Our purpose is to better acquaint new journalism students.” The Aero Corps, looking for new members, warned “subject to call in time of war.” And then there was the German Club, Deutscher Verrien, headed by Lillian Morrill, “a girl for Christ’s sake.”

Again, I asked Bukowski about his interest in the school newspaper, The Collegian, a tri-weekly.  After all, he was a journalism student. Did he try out?  He said no. “I walked in and looked around.  There were these guys with little paper hats on. Tremendous egos. I couldn’t stand it. So I walked right out. I never did get into it. Never liked the look of the place. I got into the Nazi trip instead.”

I tried to follow the logic of that: Nazism instead of journalism.

I asked what he meant by the Nazi trip. He said he’d been thinking about Hitler’s Germany ever since the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He looked me straight in the eyes and asked: “Tell me who won them?”

“The 1936 Olympics?” All I could remember was the Hitler slight of Jesse Owens. “I guess the U.S. did. Right?”

He laughed. “Hollywood propaganda. The Germans won by a mile. The U.S. wasn’t even close. Look it up.”

I did. He was right. The Germans had an overall count of 89 medals, while U.S. had 56.

It all fit.  His anger at women, his hatred of the standard American type with straight teeth, like Jim Haddox and his father. He felt the Germans had been slighted by the U.S. newspapers, except for The Examiner, the one Hitler wrote for. I tried to understand. He was sensitive about his German birth. In 1936 it wasn’t very important, but when the peacetime draft bill was passed, in September of 1940, he started to worry. His worst fear was to be drafted into the army and sent to Germany to fight against his own people. That was the way he put it.

I reminded him that in 1940 the U.S. was neutral.

“They were and they weren’t,” he said.

He learned to be careful about expressing his feeling on the war. In his political science and history classes he said most students favored the British and the French over the Germans. As he read The Examiner and delighted in the German victories in Poland and France, he discovered an odd fact: Most of his teachers were against the U.S. getting into a war.

“I think they were Marxists,” he said. The Moscow line was all about peace. They’d signed a treaty with the USSR. A Non-aggression pact. “As for myself, I have the feeling that any creative person is a rebel. Whichever way his country goes… everyone is saying this one thing… believing this one thing. There’s a tendency to believe the opposite. What the hell are the masses? They read the papers and are easily fooled!”

Bukowski even recalled a peace demonstration on campus where Dalton Trumbo, the famous Hollywood screenwriter, attacked the U.S. government for being too friendly to Britain and France.

As school became boring and drab for him, Bukowski was drawn more and more to the “Nazi trip.”

* German-American Bund

The only place he could express himself comfortably about his love of Hitler and his growing distaste for the U.S. was at the Deutsches Haus, which was just a walk from his home. Now it was no longer a boring place. The D.H., as it was called, had become a front for Hitler. Here he could find books, magazines, and pamphlets in German and English praising Nazism. They were available cheap at the Aryan Bookstore, which was located on the first floor of the D.H.

It was at the D.H. that Bukowski viewed the German war film, “Blitzkrieg in the West,” a Nazi propaganda feature that depicted the crushing defeat of Holland, France, Belgium and Denmark before the advancing German army. It played to packed houses of enthusiastic German sympathizers who roared with delight at the triumph of the Fatherland, Bukowski among them.

His parents by that time were not enthusiastic and did not attend. His father openly opposed Hitler and when Bukowski defended him his father would say, “Why don’t you find a job? You live in this house and do nothing but read.” It was a sore point.

The D.H. gave Bukowski his introduction to the German-American Bund, Hitler’s front organization for American youth over eighteen years of age. While fellow students at LACC tried to forget the war, drowning their fears in the Swing Music of the era, petting in the parking lot, or dancing at the Howdy Hop, Henry Bukowski showed up with pamphlets from the Aryan Bookstore and defended the Nazis in class. It made him feel unique!

Meanwhile, the same old problems with teachers occurred. In an English class with a Professor Richardson, who “played Gilbert and Sullivan and was big on enunciation,” Bukowski brought up the usual complaints:

 

“The class started at 7:00 a.m. I never showed up till 7:30 ’cause I was drinking, even though I was living at home. The first piece of writing I turned in, Richardson said, ‘This is great writing, Bukowski, but women aren’t that bad.’ But then the grades dropped down. Finally, three-quarters of the way through the class he said, ‘Well, Bukowski, you’re showing up at 7:30 again. I’m gonna give you a “D” whether you show up or not.’ So I stopped showing up.  It was a strange class.”

 

It was standard American fare. It bored him. On the other hand, the Nazis offered him excitement.  Whenever he spoke of them, his eyes brightened:

 

“At LACC, Veloff and I got into the Nazi trip. We were drinking hot buttered rum and Veloff had an actual gun. He wanted it to be a Luger because that was a German gun, but it was a revolver. He used to play Russian roulette with it. He wanted me to play but I refused.  Together we attended a Bund meeting in Glendale. Of course it was Glendale. We went down into a cellar. They had this great big American flag there. They had all these chairs. It was an upper middle class house. Very large. The speaker (Hermann Max Schwinn, Los Angeles Bund leader) had his desk onstage. We all stood up to pledge allegiance to the flag, which I didn’t like to do. Then he started talking about the Communist menace. How we had to fight force with force. These guys were ready.”

So was Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr., and when he stood up and shouted for the Nazis he got noticed. He was outrageous, he was frightening, and he was funny. Quoting Henry Ford, “Don’t complain and don’t explain.”

In June of 1940 Henry dropped out of LACC, but not before contributing two pieces to the school newspaper, in the form of letters to the editor. This section was called Cubby Hole, and Bukowski had to pay to get his efforts into print. His first letter, published on May 24, 1940, is amusing and well written. He wrote:

WHY CRAB?

Dear Cubby Hole: In answer to R.D.’s complaints about our streetcar service, I would like to step forward as a valiant defender of that vehicle.

I find that the violent rocking not only awakens me for class, but also allows me to kick hell out of the guy next to me if I don’t like his looks. I never have to give my seat to a lady — I never get one. I have developed a marvelous muscular coordination by the continued process of holding the strap with one hand, my books with another, while treading heavily (and of course accidentally) upon some person’s feet in an effort to blitzkrieg my way to a seat.

All this for 7 cents. Why crab?

      Henry Bukowski

In the LACC Library stacks we found it together when looking for a book by Robinson Jeffers. He told me his father got mad because he used HIS name. All the elements of Bukowski’s Darwinian humor are present in this little essay: humor, brutality, competition, failure, and an attention-getting German word.

The second letter was published in the June election supplement; Bukowski didn’t look for it and I could never find it. It was his swan song from LACC. By that time his father had had enough. With no job and LACC an incomplete, he told his son to get a job, go into the service, or pay rent while living at home.

Henry, Jr. moved downtown and took handouts from his mother. He spent all his time reading in the library, walking through Pershing Square at night where he hoped he would find John Fante, or lying in his flop room drinking. By early 1941 he was a full-fledged Nazi and the stories he wrote reflected that point of view. None survive! When he was hungry he would sometimes sneak back home for food when his father was at work.

That summer, the summer of 1941, Bukowski’s mother came through for him again. He was twenty-one and he had never worked. As he tells it:

“My first job was with the Union Pacific Railroad. My mother got it for me through a friend of hers. He took me down to the railroad tracks in his car. I was supposed to work in the roundhouse, which had a little sense of dignity, but I ended up scrubbing the sides of trains.  Boxcars and all that. I had to go to work on the bus. I didn’t much care for it. I turned out to be the clown; one of those guys who was always fucking up.”

He laughed. I asked him how old he was.

“I was pretty fucking old. I was twenty-one.”

“And your mother got you the job?”

“Yeah.” He laughed but looked ashamed.

Along with Mein Kampf, he was reading Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, just the right fix on work and starvation. He also read John Fante’s Ask the Dust, the book that changed his life, and Hemingway’s Men Without Women, a little Nietzsche, some Schopenhauer, D.H. Lawrence, and a hell of a lot of Robinson Jeffers, especially the long poems.

On June 18, 1941, Germany attacked the USSR and the fragile peace between the world’s two most powerful dictatorships collapsed. Overnight, Marxists like Dalton Trumbo went from peace doves to war hawks, and Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr. found a new hero in Charles Lindbergh and his America First Committee.

Lindbergh complained that American Jews, especially in Hollywood, were egging America into a war with Germany. When Lindbergh, the famous aviator, came to Los Angeles and spoke to an overflowing crowd at the Hollywood Bowl, Bukowski and some of his Bund companions led a torchlight parade up into the Hollywood Hills, where they could watch their new hero from the heights as he moved the enormous crowd to their feet over and over again. That was a memory he could recall vividly, from beginning to end.

The crowd was estimated at 20,000 plus and the FBI were on hand to keep tabs on the audience.  In his speech that night Lindbergh made three points and Bukowski agreed with them all:

 

(1)  We are still unprepared for war, and it would take us years to prepare adequately for the type of war we now consider entering. It would mean turning this country into a military nation that exceeds Germany in regimentation.

(2) Even if we were fully prepared at this time, we would face the superhuman task of crossing an ocean and forcing a landing on a fortified continent against armies stronger than our own.

(3) We in America have the best defensive position in the world.  No foreign power can invade us today.

Bukowski was thrilled. With Fante the humanist in one hand and Hitler the monster in the other (both published by the same publisher) he was writing up a storm, and without his mother’s help he switched to a more civilized job as a stock boy at Sears Roebuck in Hollywood; his boss liked him so much he gave him a reference when he left.

The pay was poor, but he wanted a job that demanded no security clearance. “In 1941, before the war,” he said, “jobs were hard to get unless you went to work in a shipyard. I could never do that. Those guys with lunch pails and tin hats and badges making the big money. I couldn’t bear to do that ’cause that was again being part of the flow.”

I knew exactly what he meant.

In October of 1941, the California State Assembly opened an investigation into Un-American Activities; the German-American Bund was first on the list. Next came The America First Committee.

Bukowski nervously read the newspaper as Hermann Max Schwinn and Hans Diebel were dragged before the committee and required to testify. They were both born in Germany but unlike Bukowski, Schwinn and Diebel were not American citizens. Still, Bukowski was a German-American, born in Andernach to a German mother who still had family in the old country, some of whom were now serving the military of Adolph Hitler. At the end of the hearing charges were filed and papers were confiscated.

* Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, a Sunday, Bukowski was sitting downtown reading a book. He heard the news of Pearl Harbor with alarm. The whole city of Los Angeles was on alert. Two days later Schwinn and Diebel and a number of other German and Japanese sympathizers were arrested. His hero, Charles Lindbergh, signed up to be a fighter pilot and was a hero no more.

As the draft went into high gear, Bukowski grabbed up all his Bund materials, his copy of Mein Kampf, and his grandfather’s medals and threw them down the sewer. Tossing his writings into a bag, he climbed on a bus headed for New Orleans. Much of his travels can be found in Factotum; much cannot.

His major fear was the FBI. A few months after he left he returned to Los Angeles to see if the Feds were looking for him; to his relief they had bigger fish to catch. His second fear was his draft board. He told me he had a high number and it had not come up, but he wasn’t waiting around until it did.  For almost two years he played cat and mouse with his draft board.

“I kept going back and forth,” he said. “From the East Coast to the West. I hit New Orleans three times. New York once. I was in Philly two or three times. San Francisco twice. There was St. Louis twice and a little stop in East Kansas City. Then Charlotte, North Carolina, Atlanta, where I nearly froze to death. In Houston I stayed quite a while.”

In each city he would use his reference from Sears to get a new job. Since most of the young men were in the military, jobs were not hard to find. “I’d stay a few months in each place,” he said, “dragging my typer along with me.”

This is the end of Part Two.  Go to Part OnePart Three.

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