This past weekend, Newspapers.com, a popular repository, opened its site for free, as it does periodically. I chose to take advantage and while I normally look for news regarding family members from past generations, this time, I decided to search for Jewish history from 100 years ago. I’d like to share a little of what I discovered.
The February 19, 1922 the Brooklyn Daily Times reported the launch of a nationwide relief drive which had a goal of $14 million dollars to benefit Jews in Eastern Europe who were starving and destitute. “There are three hundred thousand orphans of Jewish blood and faith in Eastern Europe, including Poland, Rumania and the Ukraine, whose parents have been massacred in the pogroms which have been going on since 1917. There is no accurate and dependable calculation of the number of Jews in the war, and revolution-swept lands, but it is immense, beyond question, and the sufferings of the destitute, hungry, hopeless and helpless people is extreme. Of starvation, of want, of famine, of violent attacks on them, Jews are dying for need of aid.” A number of papers in the following weeks across the county carried updates on how their local fundraising was developing. Non-Jews as well as Jews contributed. But the hardships in Europe continued.
Here in the US, there may have not been pogroms, but there was still hatred.
On June 14 1922, one front page story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was about how Leonard Kaplan, a graduate with high honors of the U.S. Naval Academy, was mistreated in his yearbook and how the editor’s only punishment was being deprived of a letter of commendation. Instead of placing Kaplan’s information on the page where it belonged, the editor moved it onto a separate and perforated page, so fellow students could remove it. “Instead of a photograph of Kaplan, a fictitious cartoon was used. Besides the straight biography there is also a sketch headed “porky” which begins: ‘Born in the township of Zion, County of Cork, State of Ignorance, Sunday 17th of March.’ The remainder of the article is highly uncomplimentary, emphasizing in every sentence Kaplan’s Jewish extraction.”
Three days later, The New York Times published on its front page a letter from a Jewish lawyer and alum, Alfred Benesch, who was incredulous at Harvard confirming that they limit how many Jews the school would admit. The paper also printed Harvard’s president Lawrence Lowell’s response, in which he said that “anti-Semitic feeling amount the students is increasing, and it grows in the proportion to the number of Jews” and proposed reducing the number. In fact, he wrote, “if every college in the country would take a limited proportion of Jews, I suspect we should go a long way toward eliminating race feeling among the students and, as these students passed out into the world, eliminating it in the community.” He called this a new problem that came with immigration from the old world, as if the Jews were to blame for the antipathy others feel towards them. In Mr. Benesch’s response, he asked if it is not the responsibility of the school to discourage discrimination and not encourage it and pointed out that the logical conclusion of Lowell’s approach would be for such a severe reduction of Jewish students as to necessitate the establishment of separate schools. Lowell’s discrimination did not end with Jews. Today, Harvard acknowledges Lowell’s racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia.
A few months later, on November 21, 1922, a story appeared on page 21 of the New York Times, “New Popular Idol Rises in Bavaria.” The sub-headers proclaimed how Hitler’s “extraordinary powers of swaying crowds to his will” result in his own armed army, “well disciplined, they obey orders implicitly.” The article describes how his platform is more against anything than for and that his violent antisemitism causes Bavarian Jews to flee when he speaks in public. The article also quotes an unnamed “sophisticated politician” who says, “You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism.” Other sources agreed that this kind of propaganda keeps followers “aroused, enthusiastic and inline for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.” And yet we also know that when the war was in its last days, Hitler did not abandon his desire to kill Jews.
Hate abounds wherever it is let in. Victims of discrimination are not responsible for the bias and violent words and actions others perpetrate against them. It is up to each and every person to recognize the seeds of hatred and to stop it in its tracks. Otherwise it will only fester and grow.