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Mencken Was Pro-Nazi, His Diary Shows

December 05, 1989| From Associated Press

BALTIMORE — The previously secret diary of writer and social critic H. L. Mencken discloses virulent anti-Semitism, racism and pro-Nazi leanings, shocking even the sympathetic Mencken scholar who edited it.

On Mencken's instructions, the diary, typewritten on 2,100 pages from 1930 to 1948, remained sealed for 25 years after his death in 1956. The Baltimore Evening Sun, where Mencken once worked, published excerpts Monday. The diary has been available to scholars since 1981, but quoting either directly or indirectly from the 2,100-page document was prohibited.

On the subject of Jews, Mencken wrote in December, 1943, that the Maryland Club had decided against admitting any more Jewish members after the only one on its rolls died. "There is no other Jew in Baltimore who seems suitable," he said.

Of blacks, he wrote in September, 1943, that " . . . it is impossible to talk anything resembling discretion or judgment to a colored woman. They are all essentially child-like, and even hard experience does not teach them anything."

On Oct. 24, 1945, he wrote that "the course of the United States in World War II . . . was dishonest, dishonorable and ignominious, and the Sunpapers, in supporting (President Franklin D.) Roosevelt's foreign policy, shared in this disgrace."

The book, "The Diary of H. L. Mencken," was edited by Mencken scholar Charles A. Fecher of Baltimore and published by Alfred A. Knopf. It was scheduled for January release but is already available in many bookstores.

The delay in publishing the diary stemmed from legal questions over whether Mencken intended it to be published, as well as concern over the extremely unflattering statements in it.

Mencken is revered by many writers and journalists for his erudite writing and often brilliant social and political criticism. The National Press Club in Washington has a library named in his honor and the Baltimore Sun bestows an annual writing award named for him.

He spent 40 years at the Evening Sun, edited the Smart Set and the American Mercury magazines and wrote dozens of books.

"His feelings about World War II are incredible in a man of his intelligence, knowledge and perception," Fecher wrote in his introduction to the book. "He seems to have had no conception at all of what a German-Japanese victory would have meant to the civilized world, or to the liberties that he himself so cherished."

Mencken's attitude toward blacks "was a curious mingling of total egalitarianism . . . and patronizing superiority," Fecher wrote.

Mencken regularly published black writers in American Mercury and persuaded his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, to publish their books. The last article he wrote for the Evening Sun in 1948 attacked segregation laws in Baltimore.

But the diary discloses Mencken's "deeply ingrained conviction that black people were by their very nature inferior to white," Fecher wrote.

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