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Craving for something bigger


Anti-Semitism in America
Philip Roth Writer
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So I knew from my father's experience that Jews were… not despised, but were kept out, they were kept out. I knew from the radio that they were despised. How did I know? Because there was a Catholic priest in Dearborn, Michigan – maybe he was in Detroit, maybe he was in Dearborn – named Father Coughlin, who broadcast his weekly sermon on the radio, and he was a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite and sometimes my father was reckless enough to listen to it, you know. He didn't want to, but he couldn't resist. He would… he would go crazy in the living room. 'Listen to that son of a bitch.' So… so I knew. I knew from Hitler, I knew from… from the newspaper, I knew from the Metropolitan, I knew from Father Coughlin, I knew… from Henry Ford, from Charles Lindbergh; the two most famous men in America. And in many ways two of the most famous men in the world were avowed anti-Semites, Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford. And they were major figures, of course, and Lindbergh's flight was in 1927, Henry Ford, the assembly line begins in about 1920. So no, I never felt it in the neighborhood, but I knew it was there, as did all my friends.

And… stories that my grandparents had told my mother or father, they would repeat to us. My… one of them from the region of Kiev – my mother's mother – and one of them from Polish Galicia – my… my father's mother. And… so you see where the comfort derived from. We had nothing to worry about here.

The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Detroit, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Kiev, Father Coughlin, Adolf Hitler, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh

Duration: 2 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013