Yankee great Babe Ruth was many things — prodigious slugger, as well as prodigious drinker and carouser.
But humanitarian and early Hitler critic?
After the U.S. and British governments verified in late 1942 the Nazi’s mass murders of European Jews, little else was said. But Ruth, who was more known for his hot dog binges and women friends, helped change that.
A two-hour documentary that tells of Ruth’s little-known humanitarian side, “Universal Babe,” by Byron C. Hunter, focuses on Ruth’s outreach to minorities and his effort to help Jews by signing a full-page ad that appeared Dec. 27, 1942, in The New York Times. The ad denounced the “Hitler policy of coldblooded extermination of the Jews” and expressed “faith that millions of Germans in the Third Reich are stirred to the depths of their souls by these crimes and will, when the hour comes, join with us to end them.”
Ruth was the most prominent of the 50 Americans of German decent to sign the ad, which featured a famous carving of Jesus. Titled a “Christmas Declaration,” it said the signatories “utterly repudiate every thought and deed of Hitler and his Nazis. Other Americans must know where we, and you, stand. … These horrors are but a prelude to further infamies by the doomed Nazi system of government.”
Rafael Medoff, founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, D.C., said in the documentary that it was “very rare for prominent athletes to lend their names to something like this.”
He told The Jewish Week that the ad, which also appeared in nine other newspapers and was reported on by newspapers and radio stations worldwide, “was the first attempt by concerned Americans to cry out on this issue.
“Ruth spoke out at a time when no one else spoke out,” Medoff continued. “It was not a popular thing when the ad came out. These were the first concerned non-Jewish Americans to raise their voices in a public way. In a sense, they were pioneers.
“It marked the beginning of a year of protests and ads by other groups. It became such a political headache for [President Franklin] Roosevelt that he gave in and created the War Refugee Board in January 1944,” which is credited with saving the lives of about 200,000 Jews.
Linda Ruth Tosetti of Durham, Conn., Ruth’s granddaughter, told The Jewish Week that she got behind the making of the documentary in order to tell about a side of her grandfather that few people know.
“All the authors who wrote about Babe knew it, but all they wrote about was his drinking and carousing,” she said. “My mother said he wouldn’t have been able to pick up a bat if he had had as many women as the books reported. It was said that he had a cigar every time he had another conquest.”
The documentary will be shown Sunday, Oct. 6 at 1:15 p.m. at the Suffolk Y JCC at 74 Hauppauge Rd., Commack. It will be followed by a discussion with Ruth’s granddaughter and Medoff. $10.