Joseph Roos; Fought for Ethnic, Religious Fairness


Joseph Roos, an anti-Nazi activist and one of the guiding founders of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation Council, has died at the age of 94.

Roos, a newspaperman, Hollywood story editor and publicist who capped his long career in community relations as an advisor to USC, died Dec. 11 in Los Angeles, university officials said.

Dedicated since the early 1930s to promoting fair treatment for all ethnic and religious groups, Roos helped lay the groundwork for such current groups as the World Affairs Council of Greater Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City and County Human Relations Commissions and the California Fair Employment Practices Commission.


He served on the boards of the county commission and of the Pacific Coast Council on Inter-Cultural Relations, which he also helped foster.

“Joe Roos is the model for a servant of the community,” USC President Steven B. Sample said in 1997 when he awarded Roos the university’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “Few have done so much to make Southern California a better place for all people.”

At USC, which also gave Roos its Distinguished Achievement in Journalism Award in 1979, Roos helped create the Office of Civic and Community Relations in 1984. During the height of the former Soviet Union’s crackdown on Jews seeking to leave that country, Roos accompanied USC genetics expert Michael Melnick there to offer academic appointments to six of the scientists dubbed “refuseniks.”

Born in Vienna and reared and educated in Berlin, Roos became a naturalized U.S. citizen and began his career as a newspaperman in Chicago. He moved to Los Angeles in 1934, working as a publicist for Universal Pictures and then as a story editor at United Artists and RKO Studios.

But the work he had begun during his off-duty hours in Chicago with a small weekly paper called the National Free Press overtook his professional plans. Fighting Nazism and other hate-mongering entities, he discovered, required his every waking moment.

Roos had come to the lion’s den to wage his anti-Nazi campaign. In the 1930s, the pro-Nazi German American Bund started in Los Angeles, organizing boycotts of Jewish-run businesses, spreading slander against anyone advocating American entry into World War II and distributing handbills that offered such advice as: “Buy Gentile. Employ Gentile. Vote Gentile. Boycott the movies. Hollywood is the Sodom and Gomorrah where Jewry controls vice, dope and gambling.”

Along with Community Relations Committee founders Leon Lewis and Mendel Silberberg, Roos helped organize a dozen anti-Nazi, and mostly non-Jewish, spies who infiltrated the Bund, the Ku Klux Klan and the fascist Silver Shirts.

“They made a lot of big talk about what they were going to do to the Jews and so forth, but they always knew that we were there,” Roos told The Times in 1989 when an exhibit about the spy network was shown at Cal State Northridge’s Oviatt Library. “They never knew who among them was the informer. So they were scared to try anything.”

After the U.S. did enter the war in 1941, Roos’ organization shared its files, including photos of pro-Nazi rallies, with the FBI and American military intelligence units.

Roos was named executive director of the Community Relations Committee in 1945. Twenty-four years later, he formed his own consulting company, Community Relations Consultants.

Over the years, Roos produced and wrote hundreds of radio scripts for both local and national broadcast about human and community relations. That work earned him a Peabody Award.

Among his other honors were the Judge Harry Hollzer Human Relations Award from the Jewish Federation Council and man of the year recognition from the Public Relations Society of America, which has created the Joseph Roos Community Service Award.

Roos is survived by his wife, Alvina; son, Leonard; and two grandchildren.