Matt Koehl and Ezra Pound: The Untold Story
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (1885-1972) is considered the foremost English-language poet of the 20th century. Additionally, he was a political and economic thinker who was broadly sympathetic to National Socialism and Fascism, and opposed to any and all forms of Jewish hegemony. Pound spent the Second World War in Italy, where he made pro-NS, pro-Fascist radio broadcasts in English, addressed specifically to Americans. After the War, it was claimed that he suffered an emotional breakdown, and he was involuntarily interned in St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington, D.C.
In the 1950s, small movement arose demanding that Pound be set free. Among those active in this cause was a young Matt Koehl, who was just starting out on his lifelong career as a National Socialist.
In 1990, I interviewed Commander Koehl about his involvement in the “Free Pound” movement. I submitted written questions to him, and he responded through the mail. This interview has never been published before. It is the only time that Comrade Koehl ever wrote about this episode in his life.
– Martin Kerr
Q: Commander, I understand that you were secretary-treasurer for the Committee to Free Ezra Pound. How and when did this come about?
A: In 1957 I was asked by several individuals active on Ezra’s Pound’s behalf to join their efforts for his release. The financial means at our disposal were somewhat modest, and so my designation as “secretary-treasurer” can more accurately be described as honorary rather than real. In any event, that is actually beside the point. My participation was intended for another purpose.
Q: Could you describe that purpose?
A: Ever since Pound’s confinement in a psychiatric gulag by the U.S. government after World War II, a number of prominent literary and artistic figures had called for the poet’s release without notable success. It was the intention of the Committee to Free Ezra Pound to force the issue by deliberately adding an “extremist” factor to the equation. As one of a number of federally certified “extremists,” I was happy to play whatever useful role I could. The whole idea was that the specter of “Nazis” and “fascists” co-opting the cause of such an internationally recognized figure might finally prod those responsible for his continuing confinement to grant a release. I would like to think that in some small measure we did, in fact, contribute to that result.
Q: Did you ever meet Pound personally?
A: Yes, indeed. I had an opportunity to meet him on two separate occasions.
Q: Could you describe your meetings?
A: The first occasion was on a pleasant spring day in 1953 on the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington D.C. I was greeted in hearty fashion by the poet, who expressed his special pleasure that I shared his own basic outlook in the controversial matters which had brought him to that dismal institution in the first place. Our discussion touched on a variety of subjects, ranging from economic and social theory and recondite aspects of the Cantos to the strange and stupid behavior of the American government.
Q: And the other time?
A: Our second meeting took place two years later, in 1955. The weather being inclement, our venue was the interior of St. Elizabeth’s, a thoroughly bleak and gloomy setting complete with wandering loonies and the ministrations of Jewish and Black attendants—all of which merely served to enhance the hideous gulag effect. Cheered by my visit, the old gent honored me with a carefully reasoned exposition of Social Credit theory and the principal of usury. During the remainder of our conversation, we speculated on the prospects for his release and discussed some of the individuals working on his behalf.
Q: What was your personal impression of Ezra Pound? Did he give any evidence of suffering from mental illness?
A: Ezra Pound presented the very image of a sage—in appearance, with his philosophic calm, indeed, in every aspect of his demeanor. He radiated good-will and sincerity, and displayed the poise and inner freedom of the truly honest man. And in our meetings, I always sensed a special warmth and rapport that is denied those who do not share a common Weltanschauung. Contrary to reports of mental illness, he was the very picture of rational lucidity and lively good humor. What amazed me was the fact that subjected to the most degrading and dehumanizing of experiences, not only did he manage to retain his sanity, but he did so with the most wonderful grace and dignity. Throughout the entire ordeal, Pound was quite philosophical about it all. “There are a lot more crazy people out there than in here,” he was wont to say.
Q: Was he contrite about his actions during the Second World War?
A: Hardly. The Ezra Pound I knew was cheerfully unrepentant, firm in his beliefs, and staunchly true to those principles he had upheld throughout his life. Never once did he give so much as the slightest hint that he had any regret about anything he had ever done or spoken during the ‘30s and ‘40s—not excluding his celebrated views on the Jewish Question. In fact, his pointed references to any number of nefarious Jewish practices left no doubt as to where he stood on that particular issue.
Q: Jewish poet Allan Ginsburg met Pound in 1968 and subsequently claimed that Pound repudiated anti-Semitism. Does this ring true to you?
A: Allan Ginsburg is an imposter. I first came into contact with Mr. Ginsburg when he sent me a postcard from India in 1961 threatening to put a hex on me if I did not cease my “anti-Semitic activity.” (At the time I was local leader of the National Socialist party in Chicago.) All I can say about his unsubstantiated, posthumous assertions are that they bear all the landmarks of the usual kosher chutzpah. Unable to deny the manifest greatness of a literary giant but concerned lest Pound’s “other ideas” gain acceptance, this Jew employs one of the oldest tricks in the book: he tries to have the master himself recant. But the master—“il miglior fabbro”—has spoken otherwise!
Q: What do you know about Pound’s connections with postwar National Socialist and fascist groups?
A: Pound’s associations were with individuals, rather than with groups as such. He was always interested in meeting and discoursing with individuals who had something to say. There were, of course, those who did not; and old Ezra was besieged by “i dilletanti”—the inescapable literary groupies who constituted a mild plague for the poet during his enforced confinement. He had a special fondness, to be sure, for Gesinnungskameraden. Notable among these were John Kasper—the anti-desegregation firebrand of Clinton, Tenn.—and anti-Jewish, populist and pro-fascist writer Eustace Millins. And, of course, there was George Lincoln Rockwell, who trekked to St. Elizabeth’s before his career as founder of the American National Socialist movement.
Q: What is your appraisal of Ezra Pound’s place in history?
A: Ezra Pound’s role as father and progenitor of the modern poetry movement is beyond dispute. Before the message and meaning of his work is properly understood as an integral whole, however, the prejudices of the present age will have to give way to a new attitude of honesty and truthfulness. Only then will Ezra Pound be seen as he really was. Only then will the poet receive his due honor.
Q: I understand that Pound gave you inscribed copies of two of his books of poetry. Could you describe these?
A: Better still, I am presenting you with photostatic copies of those inscriptions—one written in my Pisan Cantos and the other in Personea—which are a small memento of our association.