When the U.S. joined the Allies in 1941, the Nazi party had been in power for nearly a decade, and they already murdered a million Jews. Nevertheless, in America, knowledge of the Holocaust was limited to rumors, suspicions and half-truths. People knew Hitler was invading Europe, but the specifics of his campaign against Jews and others–the widespread killing, that is–were unknown to most. Greater American ignorance was so widespread that, in 1943, American Jews put on a pageant in Madison Square Garden called “We Will Never Die” to cultivate greater awareness.
But Jews weren’t the only ones making noise about Hitler and the Holocaust. The blues singer Huddie William Ledbetter (1888-1949), better known as Leadbelly, wrote a song back in 1941 called “Mr. Hitler” (listen to it here) that simply–and accurately–explained the looming danger.
Hitler started out in nineteen hundred and thirty two
When he started out, he took the homes from the Jews
When Hitler started out, he took the Jews from their homes
That’s one thing Mr. Hitler you know you done wrong.
We’re gonna tear Hitler down someday.
We’re gonna bring him to the ground someday.
While it’s not a comprehensive history lesson, the song is filled with plenty of well-intentioned anger. It spread the message of Hitler’s evil back then, and it reminds us of it today.