Robert William St. John (March 9, 1902 - February 6, 2003) was an American author (23 books), broadcaster (NBC Radio) and journalist (AP, etc.).
St. John was born in March 9, 1902, in Chicago. His mother Amy (Archer, before her marriage) was a nurse, and his father John, a pharmacist. He had one brother, two years younger, Archer. In 1910 his parents moved the family to the well-to-do suburban Oak Park, Illinois. There, St. John attended Oak Park River Forest High School, where he was in a writing class with Ernest Hemingway. According to an interview he gave The Washington Times in 1994, their teacher kept them both (St. John and Hemingway) after class one day, to tell them they had no future in writing - "Neither one of you will ever learn to write."
St. John's father died from cancer in 1917, and the mother remarried (he had a half brother from his mother's second marriage), while St. John, at age 16, lied about his age to enlist in the Navy during World War I.
On his return from France, St. John became the campus correspondent for the Hartford Courant while attending Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. But he was soon expelled for trying to expose the college president's censorship of an outspoken English professor.
Abandoning formal education, St. John pursued journalism as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago American. In 1923, with his younger brother Archer St. John(1904–1955), he co-founded the Cicero Tribune in suburban Cicero, Illinois, and at 21, became the youngest editor-publisher in the United States. A short while after that his brother Archer founded the Berwyn Tribune, in the city of Berwyn near Cicero.
St. John published a series of exposes about Cicero brothels and other operations of gangster Al Capone. In response, on April 6, 1925, he was accosted by four Capone goons and beaten severely. He brashly complained to the police, and was invited back the next day to meet Capone in person. The gang leader offered St. John money—which the reporter rejected—and apologized, saying he liked newsmen and considered the exposés a form of advertising. Soon after these incidents, Capone purchased the Cicero Tribunein order to silence St. John. Faced with an obviously impossible situation, St. John quit and went into partnership with Archer on the Berwyn paper. In 1927, St. John left theBerwyn Tribune for a job as managing editor of a paper in Rutland, Vermont. At that point the two brothers' ways departed from each other, and Archer was to become the founder of St. John Publications in 1947.
St. John joined the Associated Press and covered Franklin D. Roosevelt's first presidential campaign, then farmed for six years with his wife Eda in New Hampshire. In 1939, St. John moved to Europe to report on the imminent war for the Associated Press.
For two years, St. John reported from the Balkans. The persecution of Jews that he witnessed during that period helped instill in him a deep and enduring interest in Israel, Jewish issues and anti-Semitism. Covering the January 1941 pogrom in Bucharest, when Romanian fascists tortured and killed about 170 Jews, marked a watershed for him. St. John hid a Jewish editor's family as a Christian fascist group called "The Brotherhood of the Archangel, Michael" rounded up several hundred Jews in the city. The next morning, St. John learned what had happened. The Jews were taken to a stockyard at the edge of the city. They were stripped naked and led up the ramp where cattle were slaughtered. One by one they were clubbed and their throats were slit. Their bleeding corpses were then hung on the meat hooks.
"We sat around the table and I did more thinking than I had ever done before," St. John says in a film, many years later. "I realized that I had been born into a group that had been doing this sort of thing for 2,000 years and therefore had to bear some of the responsibility... for what had happened. They were Christians. They sang Christian hymns as they committed these atrocities. And so I promised myself that if I lived out what was happening in Rumania, if I lived out World War II, I would live out my life trying to atone for the sins of my group... for the atrocities committed in Bucharest by men born Christian and presumably exposed to Christian precepts they had so barbarically violated".
He fled from Belgrade to Cairo with other newsmen when Hitler's troops overran Yugoslavia and was wounded in the right leg by shrapnel while riding in a Greek troop train. He returned home to New York, where he wrote "what I saw and smelled and heard." The resulting book, From the Land of Silent People, published in 1942, was his first, and abestseller.
After writing the book, St. John switched to broadcast reporting for NBC Radio, moving in 1942 to head its London bureau. He covered The Blitz, the Nazi bombing of the city, for a year before returning to Washington, D.C., and then New York to broadcast general war news. His broadcast brought the Americans the news about D Day, on June 6, 1944, and he was the first to announce the end of the Second World War on August 14, 1945.
When he wrote a second book on Yugoslavia, The Silent People Speak in 1948, C. L. Sulzberger wrote a review in The New York Times Book Review suggesting that his use ofCommunist sources made him "a subconscious follower of the 'party line.' "
Although intimates said St. John never liked communism, he became one of 151 writers, performers, directors and others listed in the 1950 Red Channels, an American Business Consultants' report of communist influence in radio and television, and NBC fired him.
St. John spent the next 15 years based in Switzerland, before returning to the United States, always roaming the world to write and broadcast major events on radio or in magazines and books. His work included research around the globe for the World Book Encyclopedia.
He became regarded as a Middle East specialist after covering the war for Israeli independence. St. John covered the Eichmann trial and five Arab-Israeli wars, including the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. At that time, he was 80, by far the oldest of the hundreds of reporters on hand, and the only one who had covered all four previous Arab-Israeli conflicts. He wrote a dozen or so books about the Middle East and Judaism, including well-reviewed biographies of David Ben-Gurion and Gamal Abdel Nasser. An eloquent non-Jewish spokesman for Jewish causes, he maintained close ties with the Jewish state and was honored by Jewish and Israeli institutions. David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, called him "our goyisher Zionist".
A few of his books were non-documentary. The story of Rudolf Kastner, the Zionist Romanian-Hungarian Jewish leader who was accused of betraying his people to the Nazis, was the base upon which he built his fictional novel The Man who Played God (Doubleday, 1962).
All in all he wrote 23 books, the last of which in the year 2002, when he turned 100 years old, an autobiography. He also wrote many articles, some of which got published as booklets.
St. John was married twice. He married first to Eda Guerrieri (marriage dissolved), and second in 1965, to Ruth Bass. He died in Waldorf, Maryland, on February 6, 2003.