The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Transfer Agreement

Chapter 2

The Ideological Struggle

REACTIONS to Nazi anti-Semitism were immediate, especially in America, reflecting the cross-sectional anger of ordinary people. Naturally, Jewish Americans were at the vanguard. That was a problem for many in Jewish leadership who considered Jewish protest their private province. 

On February 22, 1933, B'nai B'rith president Alfred Cohen convened a special conference of fifteen Jewish leaders, five from each of the Big Three. Meeting in New York, the leaders reviewed the situation.(1) Thus far, Hitler was nothing more than an interim chancellor appointed until the next general elections scheduled for March 5. By March 5, Hitler might be gone. But if the election increased Hitler's voter support from a minority 33 percent to an actual majority, he would control the entire German government. 

The conference was divided. Two of the American Jewish Congress representatives had discussed a series of public protests, here and abroad, to show the German people that the world was indeed watching and that Brownshirt violence against Jews must stop. The men of B'nai B'rith didn't want to endanger its 13,000-member German organization or its 103 fraternal lodges in Germany by publicly antagonizing Hitler and the Nazis. The Committee leadership had close friends and relatives in Germany who had advised that public protest would surely provoke a far stronger Nazi counteraction. Finally, the leaders agreed to establish a "Joint Conference Committee" merely to "watch developments in Germany very carefully" and hope for the best.(2) 

But as the gathering broke up with an apparent trilateral agreement to keep mum, the Congress people planned otherwise. They hadn't told the B'nai B'rith or the Committee representatives, but two weeks earlier the Congress had secretly decided to pursue the path of protest.(3) 

On February 27, 1933, the Hitler takeover began. Hitler himself was attending a party at Propaganda Minister Paul Joseph Goebbels' Berlin apartment. A frantic telephone call to Goebbels relayed the news: " "The Reichstag is burning!" The Nazis snapped into action. During that night Hitler and Goebbels prepared a propaganda campaign. By the next morning, the German public was convinced that the fire-which Hitler's own people probably ignited-was in fact the beginning of a Jewish-backed Communist uprising. Hitler demanded and received temporary powers suspending all constitutional liberties. 

The Nazis were riding a wave of anti-Jewish, anti-Communist hysteria. In the name of defending the nation from a Communist revolution, Hitler's private militia-the storm Troopers, or SA, together with rank-and-file party Brownshirts-destroyed editorial offices, brutalized political opponents, and increased atrocities against Jews. Through it all, Nazi-dominated local police forces looked the other way. The apparatus of law and order in Germany had been suddenly switched off. 

One week before the Reichstag fire, Hitler had met with over a dozen leading industrialists to assure them that nothing was as important to the Nazis as rebuilding the German economy. This was to be the foundation of a strong, rearmed Germany, which, under Hitler, would prepare for war and racial domination. All Hitler wanted from the gathered industrialists was their financial support in the days preceding the March 5 general election. Before the meeting was over roughly $1 million was pledged to establish an unparalleled propaganda war chest, all to be spent over the next two weeks. With that prodigious sum, the Nazis were able to saturate every newspaper and radio station, dispatch pamphleteers to every city, and flood the streets of Germany with sound trucks blaring election propaganda. Under Hitler's emergency powers, only Nazis were permitted to rally voter support. 

Yet when the March 5 votes were counted, the Nazis were still unable to muster a majority. Despite the biggest campaign blitz in history, Hitler polled only 43.9 percent of the vote. Only after sealing alliances with other right-wing parties did Hitler achieve a slim majority. Nevertheless, he called it a "mandate" and promised to quickly eradicate the enemies of Germany: Communism, democracy, and the Jews. 

As the polls were opening March 5, the largest Jewish organization in Germany, the Central Verein in Berlin, issued a statement: "In meetings and certain newspapers, violence against Jews is propagated... The spirit of hated now directed against the Jews will not halt there. It will spread and poison the soul of the German people." When local Nazi party activists learned of the statement, Storm Troopers vandalized the Central Verein office. Worried about the impact of such news among anti-Nazi circles in New York, Nazi leader Hermann Goering summoned Central Verein leaders to his office for a formal apology and assurances that the incident would be the last.(4) 

But within days, Germany's dark future became clear. On March 8 and 9, Hitler's Storm Troopers smashed into the provinces and towns. Within forty-eight hours, provincial authority was virtually disassembled and replaced with Hitler's hand-chosen people. At the same time, the Nazis began attaching party observers or kommissars to all major newspapers, companies, and organizations. Carefully orchestrated anti-Jewish actions in Essen, Magdeburg, and Berlin accompanied the takeover. In some cases, Nazi flags were merely raised over Jewish store entrances and owners "voluntarily" closed. In other cases, windows were shattered, stench bombs rolled in, customers escorted out, and proprietors manhandled.(5) 

The Nazis now controlled not only the federal government, but state and local governments as well. Virtually every institution was now subject to Nazi party dicta and brought into readiness for the achievement of Nazi social, political, and economic aspirations--including the elimination of German Jewry. On March 9, Central Verein leaders returned to Goering's Berlin office. He again used reassuring words to downplay the anti-Jewish incidents.(6) And the Central Verein wanted to believe. 

In New York City, however, the Jews were more realistic. On March 12, the American Jewish Congress leadership convened a three-hour session and voted to commence a national program of highly visible protests, parades, and demonstrations. The centerpiece of the protest would be a giant anti-Nazi rally March 27, at Madison Square Garden. An emergency meeting of regional and national Jewish organizations was set for March 19 to work out the details.(7) 

Before the group adjourned, Dr. Joseph Tenenbaum, a Congress vice-president, spoke a few words of warning to Germany for the newsmen present. Threatening a bitter boycott, Tenenbaum said, "Germany is not a speck on Mars. It is a civilized country, located in the heart of Europe, relying on friendly cooperation and commercial intercourse with the nations of the world.... A bellum judaicum-war against the Jews-means boycott, ruin, disaster, the end of German resources, and the end of all hope for the rehabilitation of Germany, whose friends we have not ceased to be." Measuring his final words carefully, Tenenbaum spoke sternly, "May God save Germany from such a national calamity."(8) The protest would begin-American Jewish Committee or no American Jewish Committee. 

The next day, March 13, American Jewish Committee leaders were startled to learn of the Congress' protest decision. The Committee called an urgent meeting of the Big Three for the following day under the aegis of the "Joint Conference Committee." The top leadership of the Congress attended, led by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the Congress' founder, currently serving as its honorary president. The hierarchy of the Committee and B'nai B'rith were at the meeting as well. The Committee's intent was to abort any Congress protest and forestall Congress attempts to contact "Washington circles."(9) 

As the conference began, the Congress people defended their decision to rally at Madison Square Garden. They saw Hitler's bold provincial takeover and the accompanying violence against Jews as a threat that could no longer be ignored. Nazi rhetoric was turning into action at a frightening rate. And the Congress' national affiliates were demanding an immediate response, including a comprehensive boycott of all German goods and services.(10) 

Wise added that he had been in touch with Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a leading American Zionist and one of Wise's close personal friends. The advice was to delay a direct appeal to newly sworn-in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was preoccupied with America's Depression and a calamitous banking crisis. But Brandeis did feel that ultimately the matter should be brought to the ear of FDR personally.(11) 

Those Congress leaders most favoring the path of protest and even boycott pleaded that only economic retaliation frightened the Nazis. Even Nazi party leaders had admitted Hitler's strength rested on the German public's expectation of economic improvement.(12) 

Committee leader David Bressler scorned all protest ideas, insisting that any such moves would only instigate more harm than help for the German Jews. The committee's reluctance was based upon urgent communications from prominent Jewish families to kill any anti-German protest or boycott. German Jewish leaders were convinced that the German public would abandon the Nazis once the economy improved. And even if Hitler remained in power, German Jewish leaders felt some compromise would be struck to provide Jewish cooperation for economic convalescence. Hitler might then quietly modify, or set aside, his anti-Semitic campaign.(13) 

Wise was also reluctant to move on a boycott, but insisted that a joint protest statement be issued and efforts commence with the new administration in Washington. There could be no more delay. Bressler rejected this and castigated the Congress for even releasing its March 12 protest decision to the press. A Conservative Congress leader, Nathan Perlman, tried to assure the Committee people that the protest policy would be overruled or delayed at a meeting of the Congress' Administrative Committee later that night. But Wise advised against second-guessing the Administrative Committee, suggesting instead that for now, the three major organizations agree on a joint statement and a Washington plan. American Jewish Committee Secretary Morris Waldman interrupted and declared that any trilateral action would hinge on the Congress's protest decision. Wise accepted that proviso.(14) 

The Committee delegates were cautiously reassured. Immediately following the meeting they dispatched a telegram to B'nai B'rith president Alfred Cohen, in Cincinnati: "CONFERENCE THREE ORGANIZATIONS GERMAN SITUATION...DISCOURAGING INDEPENDENT ACTION JEWISH GROUPS THROUGHOUT COUNTRY."(15) 

But within hours, the Committee learned that its efforts had failed. The Congress' Administrative Committee had rejected the conservative position and by a vast majority opted for visible, vocal protest highlighted by the March 27 Madison Square Garden rally. The next morning, March 15, American Jewish Committee secretary Morris Waldman telephoned Congress vice-president W. W. Cohen to inform him that the Committee-B'nai B'rith binary would disassociate itself from the Congress-indeed from any anti-Nazi protest. Waldman then sent a telegram to Alfred Cohen in Cincinnati telling him to fly to New York to help plan countermoves to any organized Jewish protest against Hitler.(16) In that moment, the "Joint Conference Committee" was dissolved. 

While the Big Three were arguing over whether to protest Hitlerism, smaller Jewish organizations were already committed to action. For these smaller organizations, closer to the Jewish masses, the debate was whether or not the Jews should unleash a comprehensive boycott against Germany as the best means of protest. In pursuit of that answer, the militant Jewish War veterans held a fiery session in New York the evening of March 18.(17) 

Shouts for and against a boycott bounced back and forth as the delegates debated how far the protest against Hitler should actually go. Speeches, interruptions, calls to order, and sporadic applause stretched the meeting well past midnight with no decision. Unable to make their deadlines, the press went home. Finally, to break the deadlock, Benjamin Sperling of Brooklyn, formally moved that the Jewish War Veterans organize a vigorous national boycott of all German goods, services, and shipping lines. The yells in favor were abundant, but the presiding officer insisted on a formal vote, and with a flurry of excitement the boycott was unanimously adopted.(18) It was done so in accordance with the JWV's charter: "To combat the sources of bigotry and darkness; wherever originating and whatever their target; to uphold the fair name of the Jew and fight his battle wherever unjustly assailed." 

History thus records that in an era distinguished by appeasement, the Jewish War Veterans were the very first, anywhere in the world, to declare openly their organized resistance to the Nazi regime. They had fought Germany once and would fight again. This small association of ex-warriors, mostly men of little finesse and even less pretense, would no longer be bound by the Jewish hierarchy. 

The gentlemen of the JWV felt especially obligated to persevere that night. They wanted to present their boycott movement as a "fact" that would inspire the other 1,500 representatives of Jewish organizations meeting the following day to consider the dimensions of the American Jewish Congress call to protest. Indeed, a JWV protest march was already planned, as was a boycott office, a publicity campaign, and a fund-raising effort.(19) The Veterans wanted to be sure that when the March 19 emergency conference convened, the word boycott would be an established term in the language of confrontation with the Nazis. 

But that same day, Nazi, Jewish and Zionist interests were anxious to stillbirth the protest movement before it could breathe life. A Paris conference, called by a group of European Jewish organizations analogous to the American Jewish Committee and B'nai B'rith, tried to stifle the growing protest movement on the Continent inspired by the American Jewish Congress. The Committee was unable to attend the sudden conference, but did telephone their concerns to the meeting. The Parisian conference unanimously decided that public protest by Jews was "not only premature but likely to be useless and even harmful.(20) Committee people in New York could now tell the Congress that Jewish organizations closest to the trouble in Europe agreed that there should be no public agitation against Hitler. 

March 19, 1933 was also the day that the swastika was unfurled over German consulates in Jerusalem and Jaffa. Germany maintained the two consulates in Palestine as part of its normal diplomatic relations with Great Britain. Angry Tel Aviv Jews prepared to storm the consulates and burn the new German flag. But Zionist leaders were afraid to provoke the Nazis, lest Berlin suddenly clamp down on Zionist organizing and fund-raising activities in Germany. In Jerusalem, Jewish Agency Executive Committee member Dr. Werner Senator dispatched a letter about the flag-raising to the Zionist Organization in London. Senator explained that Zionist leaders were working with the British Mandatory authorities to defuse the problem "to avoid hostile encounters, which would cause unpleasant repercussions for our people in Germany."(21) 

In Berlin, the Hitler regime was clearly worried. Atrocity reports covered the front pages of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. Der Forverts correspondent Jacob Leschinsky's report from Berlin was typical: "One can find no words to describe the fear and despair, the tragedy that envelops the German Jews. They are being beaten, terrorized, murdered and...compelled to keep quiet. The Hitler regime flames up with anger because it has been forced through fear of foreign public opinion to forego a mass slaughter.... It threatens, however, to execute big pogroms if Jews in other countries make too much fuss about the pogroms it has hitherto indulged in." The dispatch was carried by The New York Times and many other newspapers. Leschinsky, immediately after the dispatch, was arrested and expelled.(22) 

Atrocity scandals were complicating almost every attempt at the German economic and diplomatic recovery Hitler desperately needed to stay in power. The Jews of New York would have to be stopped. Within a few days, the reconvened Reichstag was scheduled to approve sweeping dictatorial powers enabling Hitler to circumvent the legislature and rule by decree. But this talk of an international Jewish-led boycott was frightening Germany's legislators. Such a boycott could disable German export industries, affecting every German family. Goebbels expressed the Nazi fear in his diary: "The horrors propaganda abroad gives us much trouble. The many Jews who have left Germany have set all foreign countries against us.... We are defenselessly exposed to the attacks of our adversaries." But as Nazi newspapers castigated German Jewry for the protests of their landsmen overseas, German Jews themselves responded with letters, transatlantic calls, and cables to stifle American Jewish objections to Hitler. 

When the Congress' emergency protest planning conference convened on March 19 at New York's Astor Hotel, Committee representatives arrived with a prepared statement. It read: "It is only natural for decent and liberal-minded men and women to feel outraged at these occurrences give public expression to their indignation and abhorrence, (but) the American Jewish Committee and the B'nai B'rith are convinced that the wisest and the most effective policy for the Jews of America to pursue is to exercise the same fine patience, fortitude and exemplary conduct that have already overwrought feelings, but to act wisely, judiciously and deliberately.(24) 

These words of caution were emphatically rejected by the delegates who well knew that the Committee had become a megaphone-via friends and family relations-for Nazi pressure on the American anti-German protest movement. Bernard S. Deutsch, Congress president, set the meeting's defiant tone: "The offices of the American Jewish Congress are being flooded with messages from all over the country demanding protest... We are met here to translate this popular mandate into responsible, vigorous, orderly and effective action," Cries of approval bellowed from the crowd. The protest motion was formally introduced: "This tragic hour in Jewish history calls imperatively for the solidarity of the Jewish people. And we American Jews are resolved to stand shoulder to shoulder with our brother Jews in Germany in defense of their rights, which are being grievously violated, and of their lives, which are imperiled.(25) 

The audience cheered. But from among the cheering delegates stood up J. George Fredman, commander in chief of the Jewish Was Veterans, who proudly announced his organization had already-on its own initiative-commenced the national anti-Nazi boycott. He urged fellow Jewish organizations to join and formally called for a boycott amendment to the protest resolution.(26) 

Judge Joseph M. Proskauer, the American Jewish Committee's representative at the rally, became livid. He stood up and insisted that marches and meetings were improper and unproductive. He advised quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy-as the Committee had always done. The crowd booed and hissed. Undaunted, Proskauer turned toward Fredman and condemned his boycott amendment as "causing more trouble for the Jews in Germany by unintelligent action." Over waving hands and hostile jeering, he insisted on placing into the record a message from another Committee stalwart, Judge Irving Lehman, the brother of the governor of New York. In a voice struggling to be heard, Proskauer read Lehman's letter: "I feel that the [Madison Square Garden protest] meeting may add to the dangers of the Jews in Germany.... I implore you in the name of humanity, don't let anger pass a resolution which will kill Jews in Germany." At this the crowd stormed their disapproval in English, Yiddish, and Russian. The hotel meeting room became so unruly that police had to be called to restore order.(27) 

Stephen Wise stepped in to avoid total humiliation for the Committee, which he still hoped would use its influence in Washington. He offered to redraft the protest resolution, but the final wording was virtually the same and still anathema to the Committee. The date March 27 was approved, and Madison Square Garden was ratified as the epicenter of a day of global anti-German protest that would signal the beginning of mass Jewish resistance to Hitler. But through Wise's counsel, the Congress did not declare a boycott. He felt the big inter-organizational boycott the Congress could mount would be indeed the final nonviolent weapon. The time had not yet come.(28) 

But official Congress hesitation did not rule out outspoken unofficial support for the Boycott movement. The very next day, March 20, Congress vice president W. W. Cohen became inspired while lunching at a fine German restaurant. When the waiter came by and offered Cohen an imported Bavarian beer, Cohen suddenly became enraged, and shouted "No!" The entire restaurant turned to Cohen, who then pointedly asked for the check.(29) 

Cohen left the restaurant and went directly to a Jewish War Veterans' boycott rally, where he proclaimed to an excited crowd, "Any Jew buying one penny's worth of merchandise made in Germany is a traitor to his people. I doubt that the American government can officially take any notice of what the German government is doing to its own citizens. So our only line of resistance is to touch German pocketbooks."(30) 

As W. W. Cohen was exhorting his fellow Americans to fight back economically, the Jews of Vilna, Poland were proposing the identical tactic. Poland contained Europe's most concentrated Jewish population, nearly 3.5 million, mainly residing in closely-knit urban communities. They were economically and politically cohesive, often militant. Bordering Hitler's Germany, Polish Jewry could organize an anti-Nazi boycott that would not only be financially irritating to the Reich, but highly visible in central Europe. The Jews of Vilna held a boycott rally on March 20, 1933. To recruit added interpolitical and interfaith support, they incorporated their boycott movement into the larger national furor over the Polish Corridor. Hitler, in his first days as chancellor, had hinted strongly that Germany might occupy the Corridor to ensure the Reich's access to the free city of Danzig. German access via a corridor traversing Poland and controlled by Poland was part of the Versailles Treaty. Poland, unwilling to relinquish its Versailles territorial rights, reacted defensively, and rumors of a preemptive Polish invasion of Germany were rampant.(31) 

By identifying their anti-Nazi boycott as national rather than sectarian retaliation, the Vilna Jews sought to construct the model for other worried Europeans. Vilna's March 20 mass anti-Hitler rally urged all Polish patriots and Jews throughout the world to battle for Polish territorial defense by not buying or selling German goods. The Jewish War veterans were no longer alone.(32) 

As the former governor of New York, President Roosevelt was attuned to the pulse of the Jewish constituency. The legends of FDR's strong friendship with Stephen Wise of the American Jewish Congress were feared in Berlin. In truth, however, the Wise-Roosevelt relationship by 1933 was strained. Two years earlier, in his last face-to-face meeting with FDR, Rabbi Wise had presented Governor Roosevelt with written charges against then New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker. Roosevelt objected to Wise's pejorative manner that day and then lectured the rabbi about an earlier protest on an unrelated issue. That was to be their last private conversation for five years. Wise openly broke with Roosevelt in 1932 by backing Democratic primary loser Alfred E. Smith for the presidential nomination.(33) Berlin did not know it, but in March 1933, Wise was reluctant to test his access to the White House. 

Roosevelt himself had shown little official concern for the plight of Germany's Jews. Shortly before the inauguration in the first week of March, one of Wise's friends, Lewis Strauss, tried to convince outgoing President Hoover and President-elect Roosevelt to send a joint message of alarm to the German government. Although Hoover sent word of his concern through the American ambassador in Berlin, FDR refused to get involved.(34) 

Yet Nazi atrocities intensified, as bannered each day in the press: Midnight home invasions by Brownshirts forcing Jewish landlords and employers at gunpoint to sign papers relenting in tenant or employee disputes. Leading Jewish physicians kidnapped from their hospitals, driven to the outskirts of town and threatened with death if they did not resign and leave Germany. Dignified Jewish businessmen dragged from their favorite cafes, savagely beaten and sometimes forced to wash the streets. 

Wise felt he could wait no longer and on March 21, 1933, he led a delegation of American Jewish Congress leaders to Washington. To set the tone of his Washington efforts, Rabbi Wise released a statement that effectively burned the last thread of hoped-for cooperation with the Committee-B'nai B'rith binary. "The time for caution and prudence is past," Wise said. "We must speak up like men. How can we ask our Christian friends to lift their voices in protest against the wrongs suffered by Jews if we keep silent?"(35) 

Seeking an audience with the president, Rabbi Wise telephoned the White House and spoke with FDR's executive assistant, Col. Louis Howe. Howe remembered Wise unfavorably from the 1932 primary campaign, but was nonetheless cordial. Wise mentioned that he had delayed his visit for several weeks on the advice of Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, whom he had checked with again that very day. Howe answered that with Roosevelt preoccupied with the nation's catastrophic banking crisis, the time still wasn't right. Howe did promise, however, to have the president telephone the U.S. delegate to the Geneva Disarmament Conference, who would raise the subject with the Germans there.(36) 

Wise and his group also testified before the House Immigration Committee, urging a halt to restrictive procedures at U.S. visa offices in Germany. German relatives of American Jews might then be granted refuge in the United States. Obstructing that succor was a so-called Executive Order issued by Herbert Hoover in 1930 at the height of Depression woes. Actually, the order itself was only a press release circulated to consular officials. Quite reasonably, the presidential memo directed visa sections to stringently enforce a paragraph of the 1924 Immigration Act barring indigent immigrants who might become "public charges." The paragraph was intended to be waived for political refugees. However, consular officials, some of them openly anti-Semitic, used the Hoover order to deny visas to those legitimately entitled. In the past, the wrong enforcement of the order had been of no grave consequence because Germany's immigration quota had been grossly underfilled.(37) But now the need was urgent, especially for German Jewish leaders targeted by Nazi activists. For them, procuring a visa was in fact a matter of life or death. 

Chairing the House Immigration Committee was New York Representative Samuel Dickstein, a close friend of Rabbi Wise. Dickstein responded to Wise's testimony by introducing a House resolution to nullify Hoover's Executive Order. Dickstein also set about the longer process of introducing a Congressional bill revising immigration procedures in view of the new emergency.(38) 

Rabbi Wise also met with Undersecretary of State William Phillips. Wise and the Congress people vividly described the brutalities suffered by German Jews-many of them relatives of American citizens, some of them actual U.S. citizens residing in Germany. Wise made it clear that the Congress was leading a national anti-Nazi movement to be launched by a countrywide day of protest, March 27, focusing on a mass rally at Madison Square Garden. But then Wise assured the State Department that he would not demand American diplomatic countermeasures until the department could verify the atrocity reports. Phillips felt this was reasonable. In his press announcement, Phillips said, "Following the visit of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the Department has informed the American Embassy at Berlin of the press report of mistreatment of Jews in Germany...[and] the deep concern these reports are causing in this country. The Department has instructed the Embassy to make....a complete report of the situation."(39) 

Rabbi Wise's maneuver won him a triple achievement: First, he appeared reasonable to the State Department; second, he instigated an on-the-spot State Department investigation putting the Reich on notice that the American government was studying her anti-Semitic campaign; third, the State Department's investigation would provide independent, official confirmation that could not be ignored. This would obligate the U.S. government to follow up diplomatically. The U.S. Government was now involved in a conflict it had sought to avoid. 

Across the Atlantic, the Reich took notice of Wise's visit to Washington. Goebbels and other party leaders were convinced that Rabbi Wise was the archetypal powerbrokering Jew who could manipulate the U.S. Congress, the State Department, and even the president.(40) Even as Wise was finishing his round of Washington meetings, the Reich Foreign Office in Berlin dispatched a cable to its consulate in New York denying "exaggerated (press) reports" about "brutal mistreatments." The cable denounced "opponents of the present nation government" who are hoping that "well-organized atrocity propaganda may undermine the reputation and authority of the national government." The statement added Hitler's personal assurance that future violence would be averted by tough new police efforts.(41) 

By 11:30 A.M. the next day, March 22, German Ambassador Friedrich von Prittwitz called on the State Department. Offering a Goering press statement as evidence, von Prittwitz declared that there would be law and order in Hitler's Germany, that Jews would be protected, and that crimes would be punished.(42) The State Department was becoming aware of the escalating Nazi-Jewish conflict. Within twenty-four hours of the German ambassador's visit, an American Jewish Committee-B'nai B'rith delegation called on Secretary of State Cordell Hull. The Committee knew that Hull deplored public protests such as the American Jewish Congress was organizing. Even more importantly, they knew he would oppose any boycott of the Reich. Hull's expressed view was that "the friendly and willing cooperation of Germany is necessary to the program of world [economic] recovery."(43) 

Hull received the Committee-B'nai B'rith representatives cordially in his office. The delegation did their best to impugn the methods and the organization of Rabbi Stephen Wise. They wanted no misunderstanding. Their anxiety over the German situation was just as great as that of the Congress but their tactics differed. The Committee-B'nai B'rith group made clear to Hull that they favored quiet, behind-the-scenes action.(44) 

Their argument to the secretary probably added little to the joint Committee-B'nai B'rith communiqui issued after the Congress' March 19 emergency protest organizing meeting. To salve the angry demands of rank and file B'nai B'rith members, and to show quotable concern in the light of the Congress' public rallying, that joint communiqui declared: "The American Jewish Committee and the B'nai B'rith express their horror at anti-Jewish action in Germany, which is denying to German Jews the fundamental rights of every human being. The events of the past few weeks in Germany have filled with indignation not only American Jews but also Americans of every other faith... We shall take every possible measure to discharge the solemn responsibility which rests on our organization to marshal the forces of public opinion among Americans of every faith to right the wrongs against the Jews of Germany and for the vindication of the fundamental principles of human liberty."(45) 

From Hull's point of view, listening to a distinguished Committee and B'nai B'rith delegation was an obligation to fulfill, not an inspiration to action. The March 23 visit therefore did not accomplish any amelioration for the Jews in Germany. Worse, the visit confused the State Department. One Jewish group was bent on loud and vigorous protest. Another was calling for quit, discreet diplomacy. But the Committee-B'nai B'rith people were the influential and prominent leaders of the Jewish community. So Hull concluded that their voice was representative of Jewish sentiment.(46) 

In one sense, then, the Committee's "methods" had worked. Despite a tiny constituency that numbered about 300, the Committee's pronouncements were still more potent than those of the half-million-strong American Jewish Congress. The delegation had effectively discredited the Congress as naove rabble-rousers. 

Shortly after the Committee-B'nai B'rith mission left Washington, Hull dispatched a cable to George A. Gordon, America's charge d'afffaires in Germany: "Public opinion in this country continues alarmed at the persistent press reports of mistreatment of Jews in Germany.... I am of the opinion that outside intercession has rarely produced the results desired and has frequently aggravated the situation. Nevertheless, if you perceive any way in which this government could usefully be of assistance, I should appreciate your frank and confidential advice. On Monday next [March 27] there is to be held in New York a monster mass meeting. If prior to that date an amelioration in the situation has taken place, which you could report [for]... release to the press, together with public assurances by Hitler and other leaders, it would have a calming effect.(48) In essence, Hull was asking for an encouraging report-justified or not-to soothe angry Jewish groups. Thus, he could cooperate with the Committee request as well. 

Within twenty-four hours, Gordon composed a response to Hull: "I entirely agree with your view...[of] the present situation of outside intercession.... There suggestion I venture to make in case you have already not thought of it.... [T]he general tenor of communications between foreigners and the government here has necessarily been one of complaint and protest, and it is possible that if confidence [were expressed] in Hitler's determination to restore peaceful and normal conditions, emphasizing what a great place he will achieve in the estimation of the world if he is able to bring it about, it might have a helpful effect.... Hitler now represents the element of moderation in the Nazi Party and I believe that if in any way you can strengthen his hand, even indirectly, he would welcome it."(49) 

Gordon then held meetings with several of his counterparts in the Berlin diplomatic community, obtaining a consensus against any efforts in their countries to use diplomatic channels as a medium of protest against Adolf Hitler. He wired news of his achievements to Hull.(50) 

An unwitting alliance of groups now saw their mission as obstructing anti-Nazi protest in America and Europe, especially an economic boycott. The members of this alliance included B'nai B'rith, the American Jewish Committee, and even the Jewish Agency for Palestine, each preoccupied with its own vested interests, each driven by its own ideological imperatives, and each wishing that conditions for German Jews would improve in the quieter climate they hoped to establish. 

A fourth member of this alliance was now the United States government, which was pursuing what it thought was America's vital interests. As for the fate of German's Jews? Officially, the U.S. government simply wasn't concerned.



1. Letter Alfred M. Chen to Morris D. Waldman, Feb, 16, 1933, AJCmA; Annual Report of the Executive Committee, 27th Annual Report (New York, 1934), BBA, 36.     BACK TO TOP

2. See Stephen Wise, Challenging Years: The Autobiography of Stephen Wise (New York: Putnam, 1949), 236-37; see Annual Report of the Executive Committee, BBA, 36; Moshe Gottlieb, "The Anti-Nazi Boycott Movement in the United States: An Ideological and Sociological Appreciation," Jewish Social Studies XXXV (July-Oct., 1973): 199, 211, 225; Edward E. Grusd, B'nai B'rith: the Story of a Covenant (New York: Appleton-Century, 1966), 201; Deborah Dash Moore, B'nai B'rith and the Challenge of Ethnic Leadership (Albany: State Univ. of New York, 1981), 176).     BACK TO TOP

3. Gottlieb, "Anti-Nazi Boycott Movement," (article), 211.     BACK TO TOP

4. "Victory for Hitler is Expected Today," NYT, Mar. 5, 1933; "Offices of Jews Raided," NYT, Mar. 6, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

5. See F. Thelwell, "Memorandum on the German Economic Situation, April 1933," Apr. 26, 1933, PRO-FO 371/16695-1527, pp. 1-3, 7-10; Dr. Joseph Goebbels, My part in German's Fight, trans. Dr. Kurt Fiedler (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1935), 227-29; see telegram, "The Counselor of Embassy in Germany (Gordon) to the Secretary of State," Mar. 23, 1933, FRUS 1933 (Washington, D.C. United States Government Printing Office, 1949), II: 328-29: "Reich Takes Over Rule of Hamburg," NYT, Mar. 5, 1933; "Nazi Bands Stir Up Strife in Germany," NYT, Mar 9, 1933; "3 More Americans Attacked in Berlin as Raiding Goes On" NYT, Mar, 10 1933; "German Fugitives Tell of Atrocities," NYT, Mar. 20, 1933; "Reports of German Atrocities Not Exaggerated, Declares Anglo-Jewish Doctor," JDB, Mar: 24, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

6. "3 More Americans Attacked," NYT, Mar 10,1933.     BACK TO TOP

7. "Protest Meeting at Madison Square Garden Decided on by American Jewish Congress," JDB, Mar. 14, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

8. See "Protest Meeting at Madison Square Garden," JDB, Mar. 14, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

9. Letter, M. D. Waldman to A. M. Cohen, Mar. 15, 1933, AJCmA.     BACK TO TOP

10. Ibid.     BACK TO TOP

11. Ibid.; See letter, S. S. Wise to L. D. Brandeis, Mar. 23, 1933, in Carl Hermann Voss, ed., Stephen S. Wise; Servant of the People (Philadelphia: JPSA, 1969), 180-81.     BACK TO TOP

12. Ibid.; See "Speech of Hitler in Reichstag on His Policies for Germany," NYT, Mar. 24, 1933; William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Fawcett Crest, 1960), 191-92.     BACK TO TOP

13. Annual Report of the Executive Committee, BBA, 37, 39; Stephen Birmingham, "Our Crowd:" The Great Jewish Families of New York (New York: Dell, 1967), 416-28; Wise, 219.     BACK TO TOP

14. Letter, Waldman to Cohen, March 15, 1933, AJCmA.     BACK TO TOP

15. Telegram, Harry Schneiderman to Alfred M. Cohen, Mar. 14, 1933, AJCmA.     BACK TO TOP

16. Letter, Waldman to Cohen, Mar. 15, 1933, AJCmA; cable, Waldman to Cohen, Mar. 15, 1933, AJCmA.     BACK TO TOP

17. Interview with Morris Mendelsohn by Moshe Gottlieb, July 20, 1965, author's transcript.     BACK TO TOP

18. Ibid.     BACK TO TOP

19. Ibid.; "Conference Called by the Jewish Congress Decides on Protest Demonstration," JDB Mar. 21, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

20. Annual Report of the Executive Committee, BBA, 37.     BACK TO TOP

21. Letter, Werner Senator to Berl Locker, Mar. 19, 1933, CZA S49/381 (trans. GZ/EF).     BACK TO TOP

22. Moshe Gottlieb, "The Anti-Nazi Boycott Movement in the American Jewish Community 1933-1942," (unpub. Ph.D. diss., Near Eastern and Judaic studies, Brandeis, 1967), 20.     BACK TO TOP

23. Goebbels, 236-37; "Reich is Worried Over Our Reaction," NYT, Mar. 23, 1933; also see "Herr Hitler's Nazis Hear an Echo of World Opinion, NYT, Mar. 26, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

24. Statement, AJC, in Gottlieb, "Anti-Nazi Boycott Movement," (dissertation), 46.     BACK TO TOP

25. "Nazi Foes Here Calmed by Police," NYT, Mar. 20, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

26. Ibid.; "Conference Called by the Jewish Congress" JDB, Mar. 21, 1933; "American Jewry Protests," JC, Mar. 24, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

27. "Nazi Foes Here Calmed by Police," NYT, Mar. 20, 1933; "Conference Called," JDB, Mar. 21, 1933; "American Jewry Protest," JC, Mar 24, 1933     BACK TO TOP

28. See letter, John Haynes Holmes to Stephen Wise, Apr. 20, 1933, BPM at AJA; see "Christian Leaders Protest on Hitler," NYT, Mar. 22, 1933; also see press release, AJC, Sep. 16, 1933, BPM at AJA.      BACK TO TOP

29. Interview with Morris Mendelsohn.     BACK TO TOP

30. "Boycott Advocated to Curb Hitlerism," NYT, Mar. 21, 1933; interview with Morris Mendelsohn.     BACK TO TOP

31. "Vast Protest Movement Throughout Poland: Jews, Non-Jews Join in Demonstration," JDB, Mar. 29, 1933; dispatch, British Embassy, Warsaw, to Sir John Simon, Mar. 29, 1933, PRO-FO 371/16721-1556; "Poland Antagonized," JC, Mar. 31, 1933; see telegram, "The Ambassador in Great Britain to the Foreign Minister," Mar. 8, 1933, DGFP 1918-45, (London: HMSO, 1957), ser. C, I: 124-25; telegram, "The Deputy of Department IV to the Consulate General at Danzig," Mar. 10, 1933, DGFP, 130; "The Minister in Poland to the Foreign Ministry," Apr. 19, 1933, and enclosed memorandum, Apr. 12, 1933, DGFP, 306-10; also see "In Europe's New Tenseness the 'Corridor' Looms Large," NYT, Mar. 19, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

32. "Polish Jews Condemn Germany," NYT, Mar. 21, 1933; "Vast Protest Movement Throughout Poland," JDB, Mar. 19,1933.     BACK TO TOP

33. Carl Herman Voss, Rabbi and Minister: The Friendship of Stephen S. Wise and John Haynes Holmes (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus, 1980), 275-76.     BACK TO TOP

34. Letter, S. Wise to J.W. Mack, Mar. 8, 1933, in Voss, ed., Servant, 180.     BACK TO TOP

35. "Jews Here Demand Washington Action," NYT, Mar. 23,1933.     BACK TO TOP

36. Letter, S. Wise to L. D. Brandeis, Mar. 23, 1933, in Voss, ed., Servant, 180-81; Wise, 218.     BACK TO TOP

37. Morris Frommer, "The American Jewish Congress: A History, 1914-1950," (unpub. Ph.D. diss., history, Ohio State, 1978), 376-77; letter, Max J. Kohler to Cordell Hull, Aug. 28, 1933, AJCmA.     BACK TO TOP

38. Gottlieb, "Anti-Nazi Boycott Movement," (dissertation), 453, n. 5.     BACK TO TOP

39. Ibid., 49; see telegram, "The Secretary of State to the Chargi in Germany (Gordon)," Mar. 24, 1933, FRUS, 330-31.     BACK TO TOP

40. Martin Rosenbluth, Go Forth and Serve: Early Years and Public Life (New York: Herzl, 1961), 253; see VB, Apr. 1, 1933; "Roosevelt Under Jewish Influence, Nazis Chargi," JDDB, May 19, 1933; "Nazis Get Pick of Jobs," NYT, July 20, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

41. "Reich is Worried Over Our Reaction," NYT, Mar. 23, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

42. Ibid.; see "Memorandum of Press Conference of the Secretary of State," Mar. 22, 1933, FRUS, 327-28.     BACK TO TOP

43. Nathan Schachner, The Price of Liberty: A History of the American Jewish Committee (New York: AJC, 1948), 113. Naomi W. Cohen, Not Free to Desist: The American Jewish Committee, 1906-1966 (Philadelphia: JPSA, 1972), 162; see " Hull Obtains Consul's Data on Jews' Cases," Chicago Sunday Tribune, Mar. 26, 1933; see telegram "The Secretary of State to the Chargi in Germany (Gordon)," Mar. 24, 1933, FRUS,330-31.     BACK TO TOP

44. See "Jews Here Demand Washington Action," NYT, Mar. 21, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

45. Ibid.     BACK TO TOP

46. Telegram, "The Secretary of State to the Chargi in Germany (Gordon)," Mar. 24, 1933. FRUS, 330-31; telegram, "The Secretary of State to the Chargi in Germany (Gordon)," Mar. 26, 1933, FRUS, 333-34.     BACK TO TOP

47. Cohen, 338; see Frederick Aaron Lazin, "The Reaction of American Jewry to Hitler's Anti-Jewish Policies 1933-1939 (unpub. Master's thesis, political science, Univ. of Chicago, 1968), 22; see "Jews Here Demand Washington Action," NYT, Mar. 21, 1933.     BACK TO TOP

48. Telegram, "The Secretary of State to the Chargi in Germany (Gordon)," Mar. 24, 1933, FRUS, 330-31.     BACK TO TOP

49. Telegram, "The Chargi in Germany (Gordon) to the Secretary of State," Mar. 25, 1933, FRUS, 331.     BACK TO TOP

50. Telegram, "The Chargi in Germany (Gordon) to the Secretary of State," Mar. 26, 1933, FRUS, 334.     BACK TO TOP


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