GOP Viewpoint: Let’s not honor a bigot

Unless town officials step up to leadership responsibilities soon, Ridgefield is in for major public embarrassment.

Actually, it would be more than embarrassment. It would reek of cruel insensitivity because our town is on the verge of naming one of its buildings in honor of an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler and his anti-Semitic bigotry.

Hailed as the jewel of the Schlumberger property, the structure already is commonly called “the Philip Johnson Building,” but Johnson was not just its architect. He was a passionate apostle of Adolf, preaching the Nazi gospel in pre-war tours of Europe and, back home in the United States, campaigning for political candidates who leaned toward Der Fuhrer’s fascism.

Indeed, Johnson’s embrace of Hitler’s “ethnic cleansing” and a “master race” attracted the attention of the FBI, which suspected him of being a Nazi spy and, in a memo to Director J. Edgar Hoover, called him a “dangerous man.”

In his book, “Fighting the Shadow War,” Marc Wortman reports that at a Hitler rally, Johnson warned the French government that a “group — the Jews” always gains control in a weak nation.

In 1940, after Nazi armies invaded the Polish Corridor, Johnson all but applauded, calling the area a “wasteland” populated by more Jews than Poles. For most of those people, it was the first step toward the ovens at Buchenwald.

Johnson’s ardor cooled then, but he never apologized or recanted. Instead, he blamed his “Hitlerism” on a “young man’s fancies” protesting that “you simply could not fail to be caught up in the excitement of it, the marching songs, by the crescendo and climax of the whole thing as Hitler came on at last to harangue the crowd,” according to Wortman’s book.

Johnson was gay and pioneered modern architecture, but he was so enamored of the Nazi movement that he was willing to overlook Hitler’s sometimes violent homophobia and caustic view of that architecture as “degenerate.”

There would be other irony at a building named for a bigot. Plans call for it to house works of the late Maurice Sendak, famous author/illustrator of children’s books. Mr. Sendak, who had lived in town, was the son of Polish and Jewish parents.

The building label is not yet official, but we need to head it off before it becomes another painful reminder of the great injury done to millions of families, whose ancestors were persecuted and whose sons had died fighting to save the world from a madman.

Yet, for convenient identification, town officials and developers, uninformed or insensitive, or both, began labeling the structure with the name of the man who designed it.

Ridgefield already seems guilty of at least hypocrisy. While we express outrage at the swastikas and other hateful graffiti, we identify a town-owned building by memorializing a man who had cheered the Nazis’ bloody march through Europe.

The Ridgefield Republican Town Committee provides this column. They meet the third Thursday of each month in Town Hall starting at 7:30 p.m.