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Jewish Journal

Who Was Bart Crum?

Books

by Rob Eshman

June 5, 1997 | 8:00 pm

Who was Bart Crum? Now there's a question that separates the young from the old, or, to be kind, the younger from the older.

For the generation that came of age in the 1940s and 1950s, Crum was a ubiquitous actor on the national stage. With Zelig-like frequency, he appeared at the center of news-making events. There's Bart Crum representing Rita Hayworth in her divorce with the Aga Khan; here's Bart Crum defending Hollywood's "Unfriendly Nineteen" before the House Un-American Activities Committee; there's Crum managing the presidential campaign of Wendell Wilkie.

But Jews of that era mostly remember him this way: Bart Crum was good for the Jews.

On Jan. 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman appointed Crum to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in Palestine. The joint British-U.S. committee was charged with recommending policies to deal with the 100,000 Eastern European Jewish refugees of the Holocaust. To the consternation of the British and the Americans, Crum took his job seriously. He was moved by the cruelty and squalor of the Displaced Persons camps to speak out on behalf of the DPs. He gave speeches, describing the unimaginable horror of Holocaust survivors being forced to live in camps so horrendous that the German army had refused to use them to house POWs. Crum called for the immediate emigration of the DPs to Palestine.

These were Jews with few friends, no power, and no place to go. Crum, a successful, well-connected Catholic lawyer, had nothing to gain and everything to lose by standing up for them.

If pushing the cause of the DPs was one of the high points of Crum's life, there were plenty of low points -- a failed attempt to run a New York City daily, the suicide of his beloved son, his own addiction to alcohol and barbiturates, the constant harassment by the FBI, his ultimate inability to withstand the pressure to name names, and, finally, his own suicide.

History has footnoted Bartley Crum, reducing his life and accomplishments to a mention here or there. In his massive "A History of Israel," historian Howard M. Sachar dismisses Crum as a "would-be politico." But the man is more fascinating, and more troublesome, than that.

In her moving, elegiac memoir, "Anything Your Little Heart Desires" (Simon & Schuster, $27.50), Patricia Bosworth, Crum's daughter, re-examines her father's legacy.

Bosworth was 25 when her father killed himself. For many years, he remained lodged in her memory as a glamorous crusader for high ideals and just causes. Only when she uncovered new evidence that ran counter to her father's "heroic image" did Bosworth, the author of much-lauded biographies of Montgomery Clift and photographer Diane Arbus, turn her talents on her own dad.

The result is a book that is simply, wholly captivating. It begins with one of the finest first sentences in the history of nonfiction: "The night before my father committed suicide, my mother gave a dinner party." And the writing remains supple, insightful, as intriguing as the subject himself.

Raised a devout Catholic in a politically active household in Sacramento, Bartley Crum seemed destined for a life that combined political intrigue with high moral purpose. Handsome and energetic, he used his law degree and his ever-widening circle of establishment connections to defend striking workers and persecuted Communists in the 1930s (though he himself was anti-Communist).

He sought out wealthier clients too, and he and his pretty wife, Anna Gertrude Bosworth, spent lavishly, especially on entertaining at their San Francisco home.

But, Bosworth writes, her father always gravitated back toward the usually indigent, underdog clients, as if engaged on a personal "search for redemption...to find a deeper, more dedicated purpose in his life."

That search seemed to come to an end with his appointment to the Anglo-American Committee. Charged with finding a solution to the DP crisis, Crum toured the former concentration camps, listened to the testimony of survivors -- sometimes vomiting from what he heard -- and saw, firsthand, the squalid DP camps. Crum met with Arab and Jewish leaders -- Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, even Albert Einstein -- and was won over by the latter. Because the British were intent on maintaining the status quo in Palestine, which was under their control, and the American State Department didn't want to upset the Arab oil states, neither government ever had any intention of taking the Committee's report seriously. It was, writes Bosworth, "one of the most futile missions in history."

Still, immigration to Palestine was the windmill that Crum decided to tilt at. He went on radio, gave lectures and wrote columns, defending the Jews' right to enter their homeland. He voiced his support for a partition solution to Palestine when the reality of it was still two years away. He charged British and American officialdom with deceiving the public about the Palestinian question, and he unveiled the content of secret communiqués between the State Department and Arab leaders, going back to the 1920s, that reassured the Arabs that "no matter what public promises were made to the Jews, the situation would remain the same, and nothing would be done."

The journalist Yehuda Hellman wrote in the Palestine Post: "What Bart Crum did was crucial. He brought all these secrets out into the open. The story had tremendous impact because Bart was a Gentile and Bart had been there."

Crum's crusade on behalf of the Jews brought him to the attention of British intelligence, the CIA and the FBI. For the rest of his life, the FBI would track him, investigate him, dog him. When the Communist witch hunt started up, Crum was already high on the FBI's list of targets.

The FBI pressures, Bosworth believes, ultimately led her father to reveal the names of two Communist lawyers to the FBI and HUAC in 1953. Although the lawyers' involvements were already well-known, Crum did name names, a fact he concealed from his daughter and wife.

The revelation that he did so upset Bosworth, who finally found out in 1977. The myth of her father as hero was shaken, although she is ultimately able to find some explanation for his actions.

"I realized I felt betrayed that he'd betrayed me and my impossible fantasies of him," she writes.

Whatever the reasons, the experience shook Crum too. That, combined with the suicide of his son, Bart Jr., and his growing dependence on alcohol and barbiturates, brought him to take his own life in 1959, at the age of 59.

After years of research and reflection, Bosworth has managed to make sense of such a sad trajectory. "Anything Your Little Heart Desires" is part history, part elegy and always captivating. In it, Bosworth-the-daughter and Bosworth-the-biographer finally complete the difficult task of finding out who Bart Crum really was.

My Father, Myself

He had a tremendous moral conscience," Patricia Bosworth says of her father, the subject of her memoir, "Anything Your Little Heart Desires."

Sitting for an interview with The Jewish Journal while on tour in Los Angeles, the acclaimed biographer reflects on the reasons Crum stood up to two governments to advance the cause of the Jews.

"He was sickened at all their double-dealing," she says of the U.S. State Department and the British. "I was a young girl back then, but I remember him being appalled at the conditions of the DPs."

Although Crum had been exposed, all his life, to anti-Semitism from his own family, from within the establishment and, most shockingly, from most of the members of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in Palestine itself, he never took the bait. Bosworth recalls that her father was influenced by the sermons against anti-Semitism of a young priest he had heard as a boy in Sacramento.

Speaking out for the DPs remained one of her father's greatest accomplishments, says Bosworth, and one of his most memorable. Twelve rabbis attended his funeral, and he was eulogized warmly in the Jewish press.

For years after his death, Bosworth says that she was greeted with tears by Holocaust survivors and Israelis who remained touched by her father's advocacy. One of those Israelis gave Bosworth, then a young actress, her first typewriter. On it she launched her career as a writer.

It took the author 10 years to write her memoir. She conducted dozens of interviews, researched FBI files and explored historical archives. (She was told that there are JNF forests and streets in Israel named for her father, but her research turned up none.)

In the end, she found that her father retained an "innocent, childlike spirit" that, at the same time, brought him to the side of the downtrodden but exposed him to the cruelties of a Cold War America gone berserk.

"I suppose I wish he had been tougher," she says. "I wish he had protected himself more."


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