By John J. Dunphy
The author of Onward Christian Soldiers, one of the most anti-Semitic books ever written by an American, was a Brooklyn-born journalist who served for years as head of the Chicago Tribune’s Baltic News Bureau. Donald Day also broadcast over German State Radio during the final months of World War II and tried to convince his fellow Americans that they were fighting on the wrong side. After the war, Day resumed his job with the Tribune.
Onward Christian Soldiers has been published in various editions over the years by the Noontide Press, which the Anti-Defamation League notes “publishes and disseminates Nazi and anti-Semitic classics.” The Noontide Press is affiliated with the Institute for Historical Review, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “a pseudo-academic organization ...whose real purpose is to promote Holocaust denial and defend Naziism.” The 2002 edition of Onward Christian Soldiers features a foreword by Mark Weber, who serves as director of the Institute for Historical Review. Although not currently offered for sale on the web site of the Noontide Press, the book is still marketed on line by various book stores – and for the kind of prices one ordinarily associates with collectible tomes. Indeed, one copy offered for sale on www.abebooks.com was priced at $187.69.
Written during World War II, Onward Christian Soldiers demonizes Jews and glorifies Nazi Germany. Day regarded the Soviet Union as a nation dominated by Jews. Christian Europeans and Americans, he believed,
Donald Satterlee Day, the author of Onward Christian Soldiers, was born in 1895. One of his sisters was Dorothy Day, the famous Catholic pacifist and social activist. Day served in the navy during World War I and later became the labor editor of the New York World. When Ludwig Martens, the unofficial Soviet envoy to the United States, was deported 1921, he invited Day to accompany him and report on events in the USSR. Day was denied a visa to enter the Soviet Union but settled in Latvia and accepted a job offer to head the Baltic News Bureau of the Chicago Tribune.
Day followed the rise of Nazi Germany and found much to admire in the Third Reich. In Onward Christian Soldiers, he wrote of his “friend” Erich Koch and glowingly described him as “one of those human dynamos in the Nazi movement with an extra large portion of that special genius so widely evident in Germany, the ability to create and organize.” Koch was responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands in Nazi-occupied Poland and Ukraine during World War II. After the war, he was tried and convicted for war crimes by a Polish court and sentenced to death. Koch escaped execution by dying in prison.
In dispatches such as “Ski Army Moves Swiftly In Quiet of Finnish Night,” published in the December 18, 1939 edition of the Chicago Tribune, Day left no doubt that he favored the Finns in their war with the USSR. The Soviets expelled Day from Latvia when the USSR invaded and occupied that Baltic nation in the summer of 1940. He imbedded himself with the Finnish army and wrote dispatches for the Tribune. The newspaper announced in its September 15, 1942 edition, that Day had resigned his job to join the Finnish army. Washington applied diplomatic pressure on the Finns to reject Day. Now unemployed and convinced that Nazi Germany’s war against the USSR was justified, Day moved to Germany and on August 31, 1944 began broadcasting on German State Radio to American military personnel in Europe as well as to the United States itself.
The September 1, 1944 edition of the Montreal Gazette carried an account of Day’s first broadcast.
Clearly embarrassed by Day’s mention of his connection to the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper announced that it formerly had a correspondent in northern Europe named Donald Day who had been discharged when he refused to leave Finland when it became an ally of Nazi Germany. This statement directly contradicted the Tribune’s earlier article that Day had quit his job. A spokesman for the newspaper said that the Tribune didn’t know if the speaker on German radio was the same man.
A reading of Onward Christian Soldiers gives one a good idea of the substance of Day’s broadcasts. Day proclaimed that World War II
In his introduction to Onward Christian Soldiers, Mark Weber described a broadcast on March 29, 1945, which explains Day’s appeal to Holocaust deniers. “It is hard to believe,” Day told his listeners, “that a Christian people should gang with a barbaric nation to try to exterminate another Christian nation, solely because the victim of this conspiracy expelled the Jews from its country.” Onward Christian Soldiers contains not a word about the Nazi campaign to kill every Jew in Europe.
In an article published in the July 9, 1945 edition of the Milwaukee Journal, L.S.B. Shapiro wrote,
A declassified U.S. Department of Justice memo dated December 6, 1946 that deals with Americans who broadcast over Nazi radio states
Like Day and Gillars, Best and Chandler had also broadcast over German radio during the war. Best was convicted on 12 counts of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison in 1952. Chandler was convicted on 10 counts and also drew a life sentence. President John F. Kennedy in 1963 pardoned Chandler after serving 16 years of his sentence on the condition that he leave the United States. Chandler moved to Germany and was never heard from again. Gillars – undoubtedly the best known American “radio traitor” – was convicted on just one count of treason but served 12 years in prison. Of the four Americans mentioned in that Justice Department memo, only Day escaped prosecution. Why?
Day’s broadcasts over German radio, during which he had clearly identified himself as a correspondent for the newspaper, obviously embarrassed the Chicago Tribune. In response to his initial broadcast, the newspaper noted that Day had been fired for refusing to leave Finland. Yet, the Tribune rehired Day after the U.S. government declined to prosecute him for treason and reassigned him to northern Europe. Indeed, Day wrote for the newspaper until his death. The Tribune’s online archives contain Day’s article, “Guards Keep Watch Along Desolation of Soviet-Finn Border, which ran in the September 11, 1966 edition. Day died on October 1 of that year.
Day’s job as a newspaper correspondent covering northern Europe for a major American metropolitan daily would have given him a superb cover story for work as an operative for the CIA. He knew northern Europe well from his decades in the area and had numerous contacts. His sympathy for Nazi Germany and wartime broadcasts would not have disqualified Day for employment by the CIA. Following World War II, the U.S. Army’s Counter-Intelligence Corps recruited Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon,” and later helped him escape to South America in order to avoid prosecution by France as a war criminal. Unlike Barbie, Day was an American citizen and, while guilty of treason, had committed no war crimes.
Day’s contempt for Russians was a matter of record. In Onward Christian Soldiers, he wrote that “the Russian, compared to the Teuton-Nordic, is a sub-man,” an opinion that reflected the Nazi attitude toward the Russian people. He would have welcomed the opportunity to avoid prosecution for treason by providing the United States with information about a nation whose population he regarded as subhuman.
Two days before Christmas 2014, I wrote a letter to the CIA and asked point blank whether Donald Day avoided prosecution for treason by agreeing to provide the CIA with information regarding the Soviet Union during the Cold War. On February 4, 2015, I received a letter from John Giuffrida, Acting Information and Privacy Coordinator of the CIA, which noted that
“In accordance with section 3.6(a) of Executive Order 13526, the CIA can neither confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to your request. The fact of the existence or nonexistence of requested records is currently and properly classified and is intelligence sources and methods information that is protected from disclosure by section 6 of the CIA Act of 1949, as amended, and section 102A9(i)(1) of the National Security Act of 1947 as amended. Therefore, your request is denied pursuant to FOIA exemptions (b)(1) and (b)(3).”
Day’s CIA files will someday be declassified and made available to historians and journalists. If Day indeed was recruited by the CIA, let’s hope he provided a plethora of valuable information about the Soviet Union to atone for his broadcasts from Nazi Germany. The author of Onward Christian Soldiers owed a huge debt to the nation he betrayed.