“In the century spanning the years 1820 to 1924,” writes the Library of Congress, “an increasingly steady flow of Jews made their way to America, culminating in a massive surge of immigrants towards the beginnings of the twentieth century.”
Impelled by economic hardship and brutal persecution, the migrants came from Russia and Eastern Europe and settled all over the country.
One family, originally named Wonsal, or Wonskolaser, came from the village of Krasnosielc in Poland, first settling in Baltimore, then, after two years in Canada, in Youngstown, Ohio.
It was there that four brothers Harry, Abe, Sam, and Jack began exhibiting films, in small mining towns in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Soon, they began producing their own movies.
The enterprise would become an empire when Warner Brothers Studio opened in 1918 in Hollywood.
The history of Warner Brothers Pictures sounds like a glittery immigrant success story, but it also includes a significant episode of resistance to the same kind of persecution that the family had once fled, as the anti-Semitism of fascist Europe established a foothold in the U.S. and Hollywood censors started to answer to Joseph Goebbels.
“Driven by a personal knowledge of anti-Semitism,” Jack and Harry Warner became “deeply concerned about the rise of Nazism” in the 1930s, as PBS’s History Detectives notes, “and they used their studio to speak out against fascism.”
Theirs was not a popular position. Anti-Jewish, pro-fascist sentiments were common in the U.S., stoked by famous figures like Charles Lindbergh, Father Coughlin, and Henry Ford.