During the Holocaust, many people in America didn’t know about the atrocities that were being committed against the Jews of Europe. But as the war progressed, word did start to spread across the Atlantic–and this motivated some people to take action.
To raise awareness, Ben Hecht, a Hollywood screenwriter (Gone with the Wind, Scarface), wrote a dramatic pageant called “We Will Never Die.” The pageant was both grave and inspiring, partly a memorial for those killed, partly a testimonial about Jewish contributions to the world.
The event faced tremendous opposition. Its producers asked President Roosevelt to release a statement about the Nazi atrocities to be read during the pageant, but he declined, worried that it would “raise a political question” about admitting Jewish refugees into the U.S. And every Jewish organization which Hecht approached refused to sponsor or publicize the event–mostly out of fear of anti-Semitism.
But then prominent Hollywood stars such as Paul Muni and Edward G. Robinson volunteered to perform, and “We Will Never Die” opened at Madison Square Garden, playing to 40,000 people. The show traveled to various other American cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., where it was performed for the President and First Lady. “We Will Never Die” was a remarkable, forgotten event during one of our darkest times.