A central figure in the development of armored tactical warfare, General George Smith Patton, Jr. (1885 –1945), whose very name evokes the stuff of legend, is best known for his leadership of the U.S. Third Army in France and Germany and for leading a highly successful rapid armored drive across France following the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
His colorful image, hard-driving personality, and success as a commander were at times overshadowed by his controversial public statements and vulgarity-ridden speeches. His philosophy of leading from the front, his ability to inspire the troops, and his strong emphasis on rapid and aggressive offensive action all contributed to his great success.
While Allied leaders may have held sharply differing opinions about him, he was highly regarded by the German High Command, perhaps the best commentary on the effectiveness of a military leader.
But there is simply no doubt that this great American hero was also a vile and crude anti-Semite who in letters home to his wife and in personal diary entries was blunt about his feelings regarding Jews. More important, his actions reflected those views.
Though he commanded many Jewish soldiers, he refused to permit Jewish chaplains in his headquarters. Even learning about the scope and breadth of the Holocaust at the end of the war when he was tasked with running the DP camps in southern Germany did not dampen Patton’s anti-Semitism. If anything, the death camps and crematoriums seemed to exacerbate his Jew-hatred. He actually kept emaciated, barely alive Holocaust survivors under military guard and, shockingly, put Nazi sympathizers in with them and appointed former S.S. soldiers, whom he believed were most qualified to oversee an “orderly administration” of the DP camps, to positions of authority.
With food scarce and malnutrition rampant, he refused to provide extra rations to Jewish survivors lest he be seen as giving them preferential treatment over Nazi prisoners. As he noted in his diary: “Today we received orders…in which we were told to give the Jews special accommodations. If for Jews, why not Catholics, Mormons, etc.?”
In a letter to General Eisenhower discussing a report by Earl G. Harrison, the dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law whom President Truman had sent to inspect the camps, the incensed president noted that
[W]e appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of SS troops. One is led to wonder whether the German people, seeing this, are not supposing that we are following or at least condoning Nazi policy.
Patton responded in his September 15, 1945 diary entry:
Evidently the virus started by [FDR’s treasury secretary Henry] Morgenthau and [financier and presidential adviser Bernard] Baruch of a Semitic revenge against all Germans is still working…. Harrison and his ilk believe that the Displaced Person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to the Jews, who are lower than animals.
He went on to complain that the Jews had “no sense of human relationships” and lived in filth like “lazy locusts.” He wrote that “I know the expression ‘lost tribes of Israel’ applied to the tribes which disappeared – not to the tribe of Judah from which the current sons of [expletives] are descended. However, it is my personal opinion that this too is a lost tribe – lost to all decency.”
In another appalling diary entry, dated September 17, 1945, Patton writes about taking Eisenhower on a tour of a makeshift synagogue set up by survivors to commemorate Yom Kippur:
This happened to be the feast of Yom Kippur, so they were all collected in a large, wooden building, which they called a synagogue. It behooved General Eisenhower to make a speech to them. We entered the synagogue, which was packed with the greatest stinking bunch of humanity I have ever seen. When we got about halfway up, the head rabbi, who was dressed in a fur hat similar to that worn by Henry VIII of England and in a surplice heavily embroidered and very filthy, came down and met the General…. The smell was so terrible that I almost fainted and actually about three hours later lost my lunch as the result of remembering it…. Of course, I have seen them since the beginning and marveled that beings alleged to be made in the form of God can look the way they do or act the way they act.
Patton not only showed utter contempt, even hatred, for Jewish survivors, he also expressed a kind of admiration for the Nazi prisoners of war under his watch and bitterly criticized attempts to bring Nazi leaders to justice for war crimes. When Eisenhower visited him, Patton spoke of his plans to convert an empty nearby village into an American concentration camp for Jews. When Eisenhower finally fired him, it was no surprise that Patton blamed Jews and Communists for his problems.
In a fascinating side note, the legendary U.S. Colonel Mickey Marcus, who played an important role in Israel’s War of Independence (and was the subject of the famous film starring Frank Sinatra, “Cast A Giant Shadow”), was frequently asked by Israeli soldiers under his command to explain Patton’s anti-Semitism. Despite all the evidence, Marcus would always angrily deny the charges.
Less known than Patton’s heroics during World War II is his role during World War I. After first seeing action during the Pancho Villa Expedition (1916), he joined the newly formed Tank Corps of the American Expeditionary Forces and saw action in World War I, commanding the U.S. tank school in France before being wounded while leading tanks into combat.
After America declared war in April, the American Expeditionary Force arrived at the Tower of London (June 8, 1917), which had been put into service as an active military installation and was the first sign of the military strength that the United States would bring to the war effort. Patton and his 67 men were greeted by the Honourable Artillery Company, including a brass band and marching troops. Patton, who characterized his greeting as “very thrilling,” noted that this was the first time in centuries that foreign troops had entered the Tower’s “venerable portal save in the guise of prisoners.” Their stay at the Tower was brief, however, as less than a week later Patton left for Paris, where he served as Pershing’s personal aide and oversaw the training of American troops.
This June 15, 1917 handwritten correspondence to his father on Patton’s Hotel Continental (Paris) letterhead (only a portion of the entire letter is exhibited here), written two days after his departure from the Tower of London, is a historically significant record of Patton’s entry into World War I. He offers both boastful pride and his characteristic anti-Semitism:
…I will only say we had a perfectly uneventful trip. Never saw a U-Boat and reached London on the 7th of June. My Jews were quartered in the tower and so was I it was fine and the officers of the Honorable Artillery Corps who date from 1537 were fine to me. Being English the name Artillery Corps does not mean any thing as they are an Infantry Regiment belonging to the Guard Brigade.
The reception they gave us in the Tower of London was worth the trip. The officers took us in and treated us like more than brothers we could not spend a cent. The H. A. C. is a very smart regiment even now the privates have to pay $12 a year for the privilege of being killed in it. One night they gave use a theater party and the men were entertained every moment. The Jews behaved wonderfully and every one complimented them. The night we left the officers gave [Richard B.] Paddock and myself a dinner and made speeches.
The Commander Col. Truffey made a toast in which he said that the H. A. C. would always consider us as their adopted children and would take pride in our future deeds. I replied and said as follows as near as I can remember:
“Col. Truffey! Gentlemen! On the part of my men, Capt. Paddock and myself I desire to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your most courteous treatment of us while we have been your guests. Should I live a hundred years I shall never feel so proud as when I marched behind your band, beneath your historic arches, cheered to the echoes by your gallant men. My sincere wish is that we your adopted children shall be able to equal your noble record for to excel it were impossible. As for your Corps emotion chokes me; I can only say with all earnestness; the H. A. C. God Bless It.”
After supper the enlisted men gave men a show to which all the officers as well as the men were invited…. Some of the men were very talented, one sergeant having been the accompanist of [Maurice] Chevalier another private having been a vaudeville act, some of the officers also entertained. The colonel him self giving a monologue it was fine. At the end of the show a box of cuff buttons made from gold buttons of the regiment was given me to present to the men and a sergeant made a speech to us. So I had to again resort to spontaneous oratory. As well as I can remember I said,
“Col. Truffey, officers and men of the H. A. C. in replying to your generous ovation I am at a loss what to say but on the whole think that I can best express the emotions I feel by presenting your present to my men to them before you. Men, (turning to my Jews) in accepting these buttons which only the Guards and the H. A. C. may wear you must know that you are not only receiving a present but are also receiving an obligation. Were it not that I know that you are worthy I would warn you. That no one accept these tokens who feels himself unworthy of the burdens the wearing of these imposes. You are about to receive buttons which have fastened the tunics of the nobles of all the heroes of this heroic war. See that in accepting this accolade you ever live up to its requirements and strive to equal, for no mortal can accell [sic], the magnificent record of the H. A. C. Americans rise. Three cheers for the H. A. C.”
I don’t send you these as master pieces of oratory but for spontaneous effusions they are not bad and elicited much applause . . . Your devoted son, George S. Patton
Thus, it may be seen clearly from our correspondence that Patton’s anti-Semitism did not have its origins during World War II. How noble of him to be “fine” notwithstanding his (gasp!) having to share accommodations with Jews, and how kind his rank paternalism toward “my Jews.” How remarkable, unexpected, and worthy of comment is the fact that “The Jews behaved wonderfully and every one complimented them.” How wonderful that Patton thanked the H.A.C. for not excluding “my Jews” when awarding gold regiment buttons to Patton’s men, and how thoughtful of him to pay particular attention to the Jews under his command and to publicly remind them – and only them – of their duty to live up to the honor bestowed upon them.
The Honourable Artillery Company (which was actually an infantry company), incorporated by Royal Charter by King Henry VIII (1537), fought with distinction in both world wars. In 1917, its 1st Battalion became an officer training battalion and provided demonstration platoons, and it is almost certainly this battalion that hosted Patton at the Tower of London.
The HAC also played an important role in Eretz Yisrael during World War I. In February 1917 it fought in the Palestine Campaign; saw action in the First and Second Battle of Gaza; entered Jerusalem with General Allenby in December 1917; and participated in the Battle of Megiddo.