A Zionist Play

by Ben Hecht that Changed History




From his earliest days on the stage and screen, Marlon Brando was a

heartthrob who was accustomed to young women responding emotionally to his

performances. But the frenzy Brando stirred with his role in the 1946 play, A

Flag is Born, was a different kind of emotion than the one to which he was



Portraying a Holocaust survivor who criticizes American Jewry's response to

the Holocaust, Brando's character shouts: "You Jews of America! Where was your

cry of rage that could have filled the world and stopped the fires?"


That accusation "sent chills through the audience," Brando later recalled.  

At some performances, "Jewish girls got out of their seats and screamed and

cried from the aisles in sadness, and at one, when I asked, 'Where were you when

six million Jews were being burned to death in the ovens of Auschwitz?', a woman

was so overcome with anger and guilt that she rose and shouted back at me,

'Where were YOU?'."


"At the time, there was a great deal of soul-searching within the Jewish

community over whether they had done enough to stop the slaughter of their

people," Brando later wrote. "Some argued that they should have applied pressure

on President Roosevelt to bomb Auschwitz, for example - so the speech touched a

sensitive nerve."


A Flag is Born, which premiered on Broadway 60 years ago today, was the

creation of Academy Award winner Ben Hecht, perhaps the most celebrated

screenwriter in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. His credits included such

blockbuster movies as Gone With the Wind and Scarface.


When news of Hitler's intensified persecution of European Jewry began reaching

the West in 1941-1942, Hecht joined the Bergson Group, a New York-based activist group that lobbied for the rescue of Jewish refugees and the creation of a Jewish state. The group made waves with its use of protest tactics that were unusual for that era, including full-page newspaper ads, theater productions, and a march by 400 rabbis to the White House.

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