Monday, June 28, 2010

America in the 1920s and 1930s: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism

For most of its collective history, American Jewry has enjoyed the full benefits of all that this nation has offered to those immigrant groups seeking a freer and better life. Unlike their European experience, Jews in America did not have to face the wrath of an established anti-Jewish religion or the whims of a government or national leader who decided they were no longer a part of the “nation.”

But that was not always the case. Anti-Semitism in America reached dangerous levels in the years between World War I and World War II and was practiced in different ways by highly respected individuals and institutions. By 1939, one researcher estimated that at least 800 organizations in the United States were carrying on “a definite anti-Semitic propaganda.” Private universities, summer camps, resorts, and places of employment all imposed restrictions and quotas against Jews, often in a public way. Jews were accused of a lack of patriotism and character by American titans of industry and leading religious voices. Jews faced the threat of physical attacks and often were the victims of vicious beatings. It was a time of terror for the American Jewish community.

The Art Not Hate Rogues Gallery allows the reader to encounter just some of those who were responsible for this time of terror. They are not relics of an ancient and bygone era. Their ideas and their calls for action against what they perceived as the destructive influence of American and world Jewry contributed to the murder of six million Jews during the terrible years of the Holocaust. And while they are gone, their beliefs are not. They live in the hundreds of internet sites devoted to hatred of Jews and Judaism; they live in the pages of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion readily available in bookstores around the world; and they live in the efforts to de-legitimize the State of Israel and in the calls for its destruction. They live as a warning to us all.

Visit the Rogues Gallery

Jean M. Peck is a writer, editor, and educator who lives in Portland, Maine. She is the author of two books: At the Fire's Center (University of Illinois Press) and, with Abraham Peck, Maine's Jewish Heritage (Arcadia Press). She is an adjunct professor of English at the University of Maine, Augusta.


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