JOSEPH ROOS, a pioneering community relations adviser and activist who helped to infiltrate the prewar Nazi movement in Los Angeles, died of natural causes Dec. 11 in Los Angeles. He was 94.
The pro-Nazi German American Bund, a national organization, arose in Los Angeles in the 1930s about the time Adolf Hitler gained power. Roos, a founding member of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation Council, took a leading role in investigations that would expose white supremacy groups and help to arouse the local Jewish community to the seriousness of the Third Reich’s threat.
Under the leadership of the Hitler-appointed American fuhrer, Fritz Kuhn, the Bund tried to organize boycotts of Jewish-run businesses, especially those in the movie industry. Ultimately, the group hoped to purge the United States of Jews, minorities, Communists and anyone who did not share its notion of Aryan supremacy.
In 1984, Roos helped to form USC’s Office of Civic and Community Relations, the university’s community outreach arm. He continued to advise USC on community relations matters until 1993.
A CHICAGO NEWSPAPERMAN during the height of the Depression, Roos came West in 1934 to work in book publishing and wound up as a publicist for Universal Pictures. He later became a story editor at United Artists and RKO Studios.
In 1938, more interested in stemming the rising tide of anti-Semitism and intolerance than in writing for Hollywood, Roos began work with the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation Council. Roos went on to serve as executive director of the committee from 1945 to 1969, when he retired.
In his work with the Community Relations Committee, Roos gained a nationwide reputation as a pioneer in the fields of race relations and community relations. In 1969 he started his own firm, Community Relations Consultants.
He was founder and past board member of the Pacific Coast Council in Inter-Cultural Relations and of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.
In the 1980s, Roos and USC genetics expert Michael Melnick went to the former Soviet Union with USC’s authorization to offer academic appointments to six Jewish scientists who were refuseniks. “These positions were swiftly and gladly accepted,” Roos said in an interview published in the Heritage Jewish Press in 1994.
In 1997 at USC’s second annual Jewish Community Luncheon, President Steven B. Sample gave Roos a Lifetime Achievement Award for his service to the Southern California Jewish community.
“Joe Roos is the model for a servant of the community,” said Sample at the time of the award. “Few have done so much to make Southern California a better place for all people, and that is why we are proud to bestow upon him today the USC Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Roos was loved and respected by many, said Morton Owen Schapiro, dean of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and a founding member of USC’s Institute for the Study of Jews in American Life. “His tireless service to the Jewish community was an inspiration to us all.”
ROOS WAS HONORED in 1979 by USC’s School of Journalism with its Distinguished Achievement in Journalism Award and has been honored by the Los Angeles chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, which established the Joseph Roos Community Service Award.
His longtime friend, Herb Brin, publisher of the Heritage Jewish Press, said he will miss Roos. “Joe was a brilliant man who got me involved in Jewish journalism. He fought the Nazis and fought for human and civil rights. He was very special,” Brin said.
A native of Vienna, Austria, Roos was the recipient of numerous awards and citations, including the Public Relations Society’s Man of the Year Award and the Jewish Federation Council’s Judge Harry Hollzer Human Relations Award.
Roos is survived by his wife, Alvina; his son, Leonard M. Roos; his daughter-in-law, Shelley Roos; and his grandchildren, Steven and Kim, all of Los Angeles.
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