A Book Revisited: When The Nazis Came to Skokie

In 1999 we published When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for the Speech We Hate, the third of six books written for UPK by Philippa Strum. The book was an immediate success and a standout in our Landmark Law Cases & American Society series. Recent events have thrust the book back into the spotlight and onto our list of best sellers.

When the Nazis Came to Skokie dramatically tells the story of a neo-Nazi group’s attempt in 1977 to hold a parade in Skokie, Illinois and analyzes its implications for the First Amendment.

In the Chicago suburb of Skokie, one out of every six Jewish citizens in the late 1970s was a survivor—or was directly related to a survivor—of the Holocaust. These victims of terror had resettled in America expecting to lead peaceful lives free from persecution. But their safe haven was shattered when a neo-Nazi group announced its intention to parade there in 1977. Philippa Strum’s dramatic retelling of the events in Skokie (and in the courts) shows why the case ignited such enormous controversy and challenged our understanding of and commitment to First Amendment values.

The debate was clear-cut: American Nazis claimed the right of free speech while their Jewish “targets” claimed the right to live without intimidation. The town, arguing that the march would assault the sensibilities of its citizens and spark violence, managed to win a court injunction against the marchers. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union took the case and successfully defended the Nazis’ right to free speech.

Skokie had all the elements of a difficult case: a clash of absolutes, prior restraint of speech, and heated public sentiment. In recreating it, Strum presents a detailed account and analysis of the legal proceedings as well as finely delineated portraits of the protagonists: Frank Collin, National Socialist Party of America leader and the son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor; Skokie community leader Sol Goldstein, a Holocaust survivor who planned a counterdemonstration against the Nazis; Skokie mayor Albert Smith, who wanted only to protect his townspeople; and ACLU attorney David Goldberger, caught in the ironic position of being a Jew defending the rights of Nazis against fellow Jews. While the ACLU did win the case, it was a costly victory-30,000 of its members left the organization. And in the end, ironically, the Nazis never did march in Skokie.

Forcefully argued, Strum’s book shows that freedom of speech must be defended even when the beneficiaries of that defense are far from admirable individuals. It raises both constitutional and moral issues critical to our understanding of free speech and carries important lessons for current controversies over hate speech on college campuses, inviting readers to think more carefully about what the First Amendment really means.

When an academic reviewer offered his evaluation of the manuscript he didn’t hold back.

“I started reading, and it is so well done that I just kept reading,” the reviewer wrote. “In sum, it is a gem of a book, and ought to be a best-seller as well as a prize-winner for the Press and the series.”

Los Angeles Times Features UPK’s Philippa Strum

9780700617197The Los Angeles Times highlights the Mendez v. Westminster case as Philippa Strum, UPK author of “Mendez v. Westminster: School of Desegregation and Mexican-American Rights,explores the important role Latinos play in the upcoming election. As Strum states, “In the coverage of the 2016 election cycle, you’ll hear this time and again: Latinos—immigrants and their families—are playing an important role in electing the next U.S. president. They are the largest minority group in the nation, and they are poised to make a major impact on American democracy.”