Skip to main content

Florence Mendheim Collection of Anti-Semitic Propaganda

 Collection
Identifier: AR 25441

Scope and Content Note

Unique manuscript material makes up a small but potentially valuable portion of this collection, while the print material that constitutes the bulk of the collection varies greatly in form and character. Some is obviously anti-Semitic, some is more subtle, but a number of other subjects are represented as well. The connections between these topics may be tangential or may not exist at all. Possibly Ms. Mendheim’s training as a librarian led to an encyclopedic collecting habit, or perhaps items of personal interest became mixed with research files. The origins and custodial history of the collection itself make it difficult to determine. Before coming to LBI, the collection was housed in another repository where it was partially processed, used for a public exhibit, and likely intermingled with other collections (see Series IV, Box 9, Folder 25). The original arrangement, if there was one, is now unknown. Nevertheless, the collection provides rare examples of anti-Semitic rhetoric in 1920s and 1930s America. Evidence of economic, political, and social disquiet appears in a range of media formats, documenting the turbulence of the pre-WWII era through advertisements, calendars, travel guides, local news and popular publications.

Dates

  • 1917-1994
  • Majority of material found within 1922-1948

Language of Materials

The collection is in English and German, with some Arabic, French, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Yiddish.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

email: lbaeck@lbi.cjh.org

Biographical Note<extptr actuate="onload" altrender="Portrait of Florence Mendheim circa 1934" href="http://digital.cjh.org/webclient/DeliveryManager?pid=1525644" linktype="simple" show="embed" title="Portrait of Florence Mendheim circa 1934"/>

Florence Mendheim was born in Illinois in 1899, but raised in New York where she spent the rest of her life. She was the daughter of German Jewish immigrants and had two brothers. After attending Washington Irving High School, she completed New York Public Library training in 1918, and worked in various NYPL branch locations over the next two decades. Sometime around 1933, Ms. Mendheim began her undercover surveillance of the Nazi-associated group “Friends of the New Germany.” She reported her activities to Rabbi Jacob Xenab Cohen, who was connected with both the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue and the American Jewish Congress, but the full extent of this project is not entirely clear. In the course of this undertaking, Ms. Mendheim used at least three pseudonyms: KQX (for correspondence with the Rabbi), Gertrude Mueller (for the Nazis), and Anna Hitler (for conducting genealogical research on Adolf Hitler). After 1936, correspondence between Mendheim and Rabbi Cohen seems to have decreased sharply. Professional correspondence with her library superiors from the mid-1940s indicates that Ms. Mendheim suffered chronic health problems that led to her retirement, although she lived to the age of 85. She observed kosher dietary laws and never married. She was survived by Arthur, her younger brother, when she passed away in 1984.

Extent

9 Linear Feet

Abstract

This collection of mainly anti-Semitic material was compiled by a Jewish librarian of German descent who infiltrated the pro-Nazi community developing in New York City in the years leading up to World War II. The bulk of the collection consists of publications and printed matter, with the notable exception of narrative reports that describe first-hand experiences and observations of Nazi-affiliated events. Document types include advertisements, event announcements, books, clippings, correspondence, magazines and newspapers, travel guides, political memorabilia, and other print ephemera.

Related Material

The Mendheim Family Collection (AR 25010), which was donated to LBI separately, includes materials similar to those in this collection, such as Florence Mendheim’s correspondence and creative writing, and some reports on the Friends of the New Germany.

Rabbi J.X. Cohen’s papers are housed in a number of archives. Documents located in Series IV of this collection indicate that related materials were found at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue’s Edward Klein Memorial Library, likely containing background information on Ms. Mendheim’s undercover activities, but it is not known if SWFS still holds these papers. The Papers of Jacob Xenab Cohen (P-661) at the American Jewish Historical Society might also be relevant.

John Roy Carlson’s Under Cover: My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America (Dutton, 1943) may provide additional historical context. Carlson (a pseudonym for journalist Arthur Derounian) conducted an investigation similar to Florence Mendheim’s, but his became the basis for this bestselling non-fiction book.

Separated Material

The following periodicals were removed from the collection because full runs have already been digitized or are available at the LBI library:



Aufbau (issues dated 1934-1940)

Das Schwarze Korps (1936-1939)

Der Stürmer (1933-1938)

Full issues and clippings from the New York Times, dated 1934-1941, were also removed, because their physical condition would have required extensive preservation treatment and the newspaper is widely available in digital form.

The quality of newsprint in this collection was generally poor and extremely brittle, which meant some publications and clippings were unidentifiable. Two issues of Der Adler magazine, published in Nazi-era Berlin, were fragmented beyond repair (numbers 19 and 22, 1940).

A number of kosher food guides (dated 1935-1940) were separated to the LBI library, as well as a 1945-1948 run of International Conciliation, a periodical published by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.

A small quantity of memorabilia related to the 1939 New York World’s Fair was also removed.

Processing Information

Physical arrangement was comprehensive and the entire collection was rehoused in new folders and boxes. Duplicate copies were weeded, and rusted paperclips and staples were removed from delicate or damaged paper. Encapsulations sealed with double-sided tape, found predominantly in Series III and IV, had to be discarded, and all fragile items were placed in plastic sleeves.
Title
Guide to the Florence Mendheim Collection of Anti-Semitic Propaganda, 1917-1994 (bulk 1922-1948) AR 25441
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by Alyssa Carver
Date
© 2012
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
Made possible by the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources through The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support "Illuminating Hidden Collections at the Center for Jewish History"

Revision Statements

  • October 14, 2014 : Links to digital objects added in Container List.
  • March 19, 2015: Container list updated with further oversized items moved to oversize boxes.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States