By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“That’s ridiculous,” says longtime Black Sparrow publisher John Martin on the phone from his home in Santa Rosa. “Bukowski wasn’t a Nazi, he was a contrarian. Anything he could say to get people’s goat, he’d say — especially when he was young.”
The Nazi charges stem from a 2003 article in the Hollywood Investigator by longtime Bukowski acquaintance Ben Pleasants titled “When Bukowski Was a Nazi,” which was later expanded into the 2004 biography Visceral Bukowski. Pleasants claims that Bukowski “loved Hitler” and that, as a young man, he wrote several Mein Kampf–inspired stories that were confiscated by the FBI during World War II. But years later, when Bukowski’s FBI file was made public, the stories never appeared.
Compounding the improbability of the Nazi claims is the fact that Bukowski’s maternal grandmother was Jewish — her last name was Israel. Pleasants writes that he was the one who actually made the trip to Germany and then informed Bukowski of his Jewish heritage. Describing Bukowski’s response to this discovery, Pleasants makes the dubious statement, “The idea that he could betray Hitler by being Jewish was too much for him to bear.”
For his part, Pleasants, reached by phone at his Los Angeles apartment, is sticking to his story. “I think Bukowski had a lifelong flirtation with Nazism and that he believed in certain Nazi theories of racial purity.” Yet in a seemingly contradictory statement, Pleasants admits Bukowski had several Jewish friends, himself included, and that Hollywood was the main source of his ire. “If he was a Jew-hater,” says Pleasants, “the Jews in Hollywood were the ones he hated.”
“Ben doesn’t know his left foot from his right elbow,” says Martin. “They were acquaintances but Bukowski didn’t even like him.”
Bukowski’s widow, Linda, was unavailable for comment but is said to have been so outraged by Pleasants’ accusations that shortly after the book was published she showed up at a signing and left Pleasants a two-word note saying, “Fuck you.”
A source also says that Linda thought the efforts to save De Longpre were silly to begin with. Now two Bukowski legacies — not just his house but his reputation — are under assault.
The De Longpre preservationists, however, are undeterred.
“I recognize that Bukowski himself wouldn’t have cared less about trying to save this place,” Everett acknowledges. “He would have thought the whole thing was ridiculous. But we’re not trying to save his house in accordance with what we think his wishes would have been. This building is part of our city’s history, a history that’s being destroyed piece by piece every day. Somebody has to take a stand somewhere.”
Everett and Schave hope to work with the Cultural Heritage Commission to find a nonprofit that will turn the bungalow and surrounding property into a writer’s colony. For his part, Schave is confident that the commission will see through the Nazi allegations. “They’re not buying it,” he says. “I think they recognize that this is one of Los Angeles’ most important writers and they won’t be led astray by one dubious source.”
Whether the commission believes the charges may be immaterial — it’s how much grief its members are willing to put up with. The bungalow’s owner, Victoria Gureyeva, says she and her lawyer have no plans to ever allow a cultural monument to Charles Bukowski on her property.
“This man loved Hitler,” she insists, citing Pleasants’ writing. “He may be a great writer — I’m not a critic. But that’s what libraries are for. This is my house, not Bukowski’s. I will never allow the city of Los Angeles to turn it into a monument for this man. My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. I’ll bring the whole Jewish Westside into this debate if I have to. Then what will the city of Los Angeles do?”
As for Bukowski’s own Jewish roots: “He never acknowledged his Jewish side,” Gureyeva argues. “The rumor is that Hitler’s mother was part Jewish. Now we have Bukowski — Hitler number two.”
And so what began as an effort to preserve a part of the city’s literary history has suddenly become a referendum on the author himself.
“If you let them kill you,” Bukowski once wrote, “they will.”