‘Hitler in Los Angeles’ is the Wake-Up Call America Needs Now [REVIEW]

Nazis in Los Angeles celebrate Hitler's birthday

The Nazi-based Friends of the New Germany hold a party in Los Angeles to mark Adolph Hitler’s birthday in 1935. (Photo courtesy Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, Community Relations Committee Collection, Part 2, Special Collections and Archives, Oviatt Library, California State University, Northridge.)

Radicalized hate groups. Political conspiracies. Undercover spies. The Hollywood elite. These may sound like elements taken from today’s news headlines, but in fact they are aspects of a little-known story that unfolded more than 80 years ago in the the City of Angels. Now historian Steven J. Ross reveals this compelling tale in his Pulitzer-Prize nominated book, Hitler in Los Angeles. 



Even before World War II began, Adolph Hitler had his eye on Los Angeles. He’d been effectively blocked from infiltrating the East Coast, but things were a bit more lax in California since US law enforcement was more concerned with Communists at that time, which gave the growing Nazi regime better accessibility.

Not only did the Nazis want to recruit German immigrants who had relocated to the United States, but they wanted American citizens to join their ranks too. Most of all, they wanted to seize control of Hollywood, the greatest propaganda machine in the world.

Although film studios were largely run by Jewish moguls at that time, new Nazi recruits infiltrated Hollywood and had Jewish staffers replaced by “Aryans” in an effort to squelch negative stories about the German military forces for as long as possible. But that was only the tip of the iceberg, as it were. The Nazis were also hatching plans to kill the city’s Jews and sabotage America’s military installations.

Thankfully, attorney Leon Lewis was paying attention to the growing factions of radicalized hate groups in Los Angeles, including the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and other fascist entities who had embedded themselves up and down the West Coast. Determined to take this information to the highest levels of government, Lewis built a secret spy ring comprised of military veterans and their wives, who infiltrated every Nazi and fascist group in LA, often rising to leadership positions and foiling terrifying plans for death and destruction.

This is one of those true-life stories that initially had me asking, “How could that have happened here?” But in hindsight, I think that disbelief sprouts from what we predominantly hear about Depression Era Hollywood, when the government was hunting Communists and their sympathizers during those pre-war years. Then again, Ross’s book serves as a cautionary wake-up call regarding what could easily happen today, as similar themes and attitudes are once again rearing their ugly heads across the US and Europe, in startling and terrifying ways. Therefore, it makes sense that Hitler focused on the film industry at that time, because it was the closest thing to the social media channels everyone uses today.

Written from the perspective of Lewis and the men and women living through the alarming events of the 1930s rather than as a present day retrospective, Ross captures the immediacy and necessity of the spy ring and how its undercover agents ultimately smothered the Nazis’ plans, saved countless lives, and salvaged Hollywood’s power players from becoming victims of the Third Reich. Hitler in Los Angeles makes for a hard-hitting look at how hate can blossom even in one of the most liberal communities in the country, and serves as a compelling reminder of why we can never quietly accept these dark allegiances to take root ever again. Insightful and authoritative, Steven J. Ross delivers a chapter of history that will rattle your nerves and make you grateful for the courageous stand taken by this widely-unknown group of California residents.

UPDATE: Fortunately, this intriguing slice of history won’t soon disappear. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen (American Beauty, Silver Linings Playbook) has optioned the feature film rights to the book with Chris Bremner (Bad Boys for Life) attached to write the screenplay.

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Steven J. Ross

Steven J. Ross
(Photo courtesy USC)


Steven J. Ross is Professor of History at the University of Southern California and director of the Casden Institute for the Study of American Jewish Life.

His book, Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America, received the prestigious Theater Library Association Book Award for 1999. It was also named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the “Best Books of 1998” and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in History.

Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, received a Pulitzer Prize nomination and a Film Scholars Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Ross’ writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, International Herald-Tribune, Newark Star Ledger, Washington Independent, Huffington Post, and Politico.

For more information, visit the book’s website here.

By Steven J. Ross
432 pp. Bloomsbury. $18.

Purchase Hitler in Los Angeles at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound and Powell’s.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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