Professor Borinski with students
Professor Borinski with students

 
From Swastika to Jim Crow
"It was a great good luck of mine to find my first teaching job at a Black university where I felt I had so much in common with teachers and students."
- Prof. John Herz, Howard University
Pacific Street Films proudly presents From Swastika to Jim Crow, a fascinating and moving one-hour documentary that tells the previously untold story of the many German Jewish professors who, expelled from their homeland by the Nazis, found new lives and careers at all-Black colleges and universities in the South. Through in-depth interviews with many of the surviving professors as well as their former students, From Swastika to Jim Crow uncovers a remarkable moment in American history and offers a fresh perspective on the complex history of race relations in America. Major funding provided by ITVS(Independent Television Service) and The National Foundation for Jewish Culture.

 

Nazi Youth
Nazi Youth

Only months after Hitler seized power in 1933, Jewish intellectuals who had held prestigious positions in Germany's renowned universities were targeted for expulsion. Those who dared to oppose the edicts were met with brutal suppression. Often leaving with little more than the clothes on their back, many of these scholars fled to America, hoping to continue their academic careers. They soon found themselves in a strange and mysterious country, a nation reeling from the Depression and ripe with anti-Semitic and anti-German sentiment. While the most famous refugees, like Albert Einstein, were welcomed into the hallowed halls of Eastern academia, most of these refugee scholars faced an academic world that was aloof, if not downright hostile. Much to their surprise, many of them were welcomed into a group of colleges that the vast majority of white American professors ignored -- the historically all-Black colleges in the South. For the Black colleges, including Howard University, Hampton Institute, Tougaloo and Talladega Colleges, the refugee professors provided the opportunity to add great talent to their faculty; for the professors, the arrangement provided a new home, a classroom of students eager to learn, and an insider's look at an America that few ever see. While most of these pairings between Jewish refugees and Black colleges began as marriages of convenience, very often they blossomed into love matches that lasted a lifetime.


"They found a place where they could make a contribution, and they found a place where they could pursue their intellectual life. They found a place where they could make a difference."
   - Dr. Ismar Schorsch, Jewish Theological Seminary


Segregationists in Alabama
Segregationists in Alabama
 

Through interviews with several surviving academics and many of their former students, a fascinating story unfolds of men and women who found a true home in a community that, on the surface, was as remote as possible from the world they had known. Living in the rural South during segregation, the refugees didn't fit on either side of the line. Ostracized by their white neighbors, they socialized mostly within the university. If they invited their Black students and colleagues home though, they risked a visit by the Klan. But professors and students shared a profound connection - a common history of oppression and the knowledge of what it is like to be despised and persecuted based on race.


"It was a relationship that was based on caring and concern and it developed a respect and appreciation that lasted my lifetime."
   - Jim McWilliams, former student, Talladega College

From the 1930s to the rise of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, From Swastika to Jim Crow is a mesmerizing chronicle of Jim Crow America and a profoundly moving tale of two seemingly different groups - the formal, heavily accented European scholars and their young, Southern Black students - who enriched each other's lives in ways still being felt today.

OUTREACH

Together with PBS, the Independent Television Service, the Anti-Defamation League and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, outreach screenings were held around the country in the months leading up to broadcast. A study guide commissioned by ITVS, and written in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation league, provided a framework for discussion of the themes and issues raised by From Swastika to Jim Crow. Screenings continued after the PBS broadcast at selected venues where members of both the Jewish and African-American communities were invited to view and discuss the film. This outreach proved dramatically that documentary films can have a "life" outside of broadcast.




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Broadcast Premiere on PBS February 2001

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A Film by

Lori Cheatle
Steven Fischler
Joel Sucher
Martin D. Toub

More Info Available:

PBS Web Site
ITVS Web Site
 

 
Museum Exhibit
Work begins on a museum exhibit based on the documentary FROM SWASTIKA TO JIM CROW, funded by the Helen Bader Foundation.

PRESS RELEASE (pdf)