Cover image for America, its Jews, and the rise of Nazism
America, its Jews, and the rise of Nazism
Arad, Gulie Ne'eman, 1946-
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Bloomington : Indiana University Press, [2000]

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ix, 314 pages ; 24 cm
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E184.36.P64 A73 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This meticulously researched and brilliantly argued account of American Jewry and the Nazi crisis is an outstanding achievement.... This is history at its best, a work of humane and balanced scholarship that unveils the nuances and ambiguities of the human experience. Framed within a compelling narrative, it is beautifully written with lucid restraint, yet deep compassion.... an essential corrective to an often misunderstood history." --Saul Friedlander

What did American Jews do to help the threatened Jewish communities of Europe as the Nazi grip tightened in the 1930s? Why didn't they do more to help Jews leave Europe and bring them to America? Probing these questions, Gulie Ne'eman Arad finds that, more than the events themselves, what was instrumental in dictating and shaping the American Jews' response to Nazism was the dilemma posed by their desire for acceptance by American society, on the one hand, and their commitment to community solidarity, on the other. When American Jews were faced with the desperate plight of European Jews after Hitler's accession to power, they were hesitant to press the case for immigration for fear of raising doubts about their own patriotism. In this gripping and thoroughly researched account, Arad contextualizes the American Jewish encounter with Nazism within the overall history of the American Jewish experience from the mid-19th century and offers a persuasive explanation of the ambivalent political response of American Jewish leaders in dealing with the Roosevelt administration.

Author Notes

Gulie Ne'eman Arad teaches American and European history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She is author of numerous articles and coeditor of the journal History & Memory.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Israeli historian Arad explores a thorny issueÄcould the American Jewish community have done more during WWII to save Europe's Jews from genocide? Arad's scholarship is beyond reproach, but her writing style shows why the best researchers aren't always the best authors. Her style is too dry to be savored by anyone other than professional peers, which is a shame, because she presents a powerful, albeit pessimistic, argument. By the time the Nazis came to power in Germany, Arad contends, many American Jews had risen to positions of power and prominence in U.S. politics; nevertheless, she avers, these same Jews realized that retaining their status was contingent on being perceived as neutral when Jewish and American values clashedÄas they inevitably would, according to Arad: "In a society that claimed to uphold universalist ethics and insisted that we treat the whole world as our brothers and sisters, loyalty to the nation and loyalty to a separate tribe were seen as incompatible. In the end, Arad maintains that America's Jewish leaders didn't have the clout to affect the fate of European Jewry; however, the ambivalence of those leaders, who refused to take a clear public stand against what was happening in Germany, should not, she makes clear, go unnoticed. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Demonstrating extensive archival research as well as mining a vast amount of memoir and secondary literature, Arad focuses on the American Jewish political elite from the early 19th century to the onset of the Holocaust. Jewish leaders, largely of German origin, who treasured an America that promised equal rights and economic and political freedom placed their homeland's interests above the needs of K'lal Israel (the people of Israel) and defined their own security by renouncing all forms of sectarianism. Building on the works of Naomi Cohen (Encounter with Emancipation, CH, May'85) and Henry Feingold (Bearing Witness: How America and its Jews Responded to the Holocaust, CH, May'96), Arad trades their equivocal record, from the Damascus Affair to Krystallnacht, of combining public protests with cautious private remonstrances. Thus, during the fateful 1930s and early '40s, despite assaults on liberalism at home and the threat of fascism abroad, such powerful Jewish figures as Felix Frankfurter and Stephen Wise, refusing to act "for our own sake," remained staunch patriots and FDR partisans and failed to criticize US policies on such crucial issues as lifting immigration restrictions to save the Jews in Hitler's Europe. A useful, if controversial, interpretation for all collections. C. Fink Ohio State University



Chapter One "Amerika du hast es besser" German Jewish Immigrants in America A nation, like a tree, does not thrive well till it is engraffed with a foreign stock. --Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals , 1823 It was only in America that a civilization was conceived with the pronounced intent of accommodating all (white) peoples. For Jews this unprecedented social experiment presented a unique opportunity: nowhere else could they secure legal and political rights by merely coming to settle. The constitutional guarantee that "[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust," coupled with the separation of church and state as confirmed by the First Amendment, assured the entry of Jews into the sphere of citizenship as individuals.     With the American spirit embodied in the notion of a fresh start, the New World appeared an ideal ground for creating a new Jew no longer haunted by his turbulent past. In the oft-quoted words of Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, in America "every thing tended to regenerate" the poor of Europe: "new laws, a new mode of living, a new social system: here they become men." But to become an American, the new immigrant was expected to leave behind "all the ancient prejudices and manners, receive new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds."     However, in the experiences of most newcomers, these conditions were easier to define than to realize. Modernity's promise to emancipate "individual life from collective destiny," and "to strip everyone of their parochial clothing, liberating them by reducing them to pure human essence," was not entirely fulfilled even for individual Jews who made the choice to abandon their particular ties and join the universal civil order. Jews (and Catholics), whose foreignness was perceived as a threat to the Protestant majority culture, had a particularly hard time overcoming suspicion. Even in the United States, where liberal democracy was by far more firmly rooted than anywhere else, individual Jews were quick to learn that equal protection under the law was not sufficient to guarantee them free and equal access to the social sphere. Indeed, well into the twentieth century they could hardly escape the stigma of being identified as members of a spurned and clannish group.     This was all the more painful for the German Jews who arrived in America. Discouraged by the setbacks caused by the periods of reaction following Napoleon's defeat in 1815, and later by the 1848 debacle, they had made the momentous decision to emigrate, hoping that in America they would harvest the promises of emancipation. They were attracted by the belief that in the New World, where peoplehood was not a Volk , "civil betterment" could lead to full acceptance into the new national community.     Upon arriving in America they were prepared, even eager, for a change in their collective condition. Indeed, as the world opened up for them and new options competed for their loyalty, traditional religious hierarchies lost their power to preserve the tight structure of Jewish solidarity. In return for the privileges that were intrinsic to citizenship, Jews readily accorded the liberal state their undivided loyalty. As a result, the old form of communalism that cemented Jewish group existence was undermined. German Jewish immigrants arrived in America well prepared; their sense of community was already diluted.     Yet, as they were to discover, in every situation of discontinuity there was much continuity left; even the alluring new environment and their strong desire to integrate did not entirely erase traditional attitudes. Religious animus against Jews was not left behind in the Old World. The medieval European Christian discourse of the demonic Christ-killer survived in America well into the mid-nineteenth century. Endlessly wandering among the nations of the world, Jews continued to be perceived as aliens; because they were everywhere, they were thought to belong nowhere. Jews continued to be identified as outsiders, which made them both collectively and individually extremely vulnerable.     There is no doubt that most Jews who immigrated to the United States wished to integrate into, if not completely assimilate to, American society. Yet group consciousness, in pan due to contingencies and in part to preference, did not die easily. But it survived on American terms. In Jewish life communal responsibility was not only ordered by the Covenant, it was a proven tool for collective survival and a primordial political interest. However, as Jews were to learn in America, the very nature of power in a pluralistic democracy placed restrictions on efforts to further particular group interests, a lesson they learned anew whenever they attempted to exercise influence on behalf of their fellow Jews abroad.     Indeed, for Jews it was no easy matter to adjust to America's liberal doctrine in which the individual was viewed as the fundamental unit of political life. In American political culture social justice meant treating each individual's demands with equal concern; hence, showing preference for a particular group of individuals was regarded as unfair. Group separateness was considered an anathema to the central concepts of the American social-political experiment. Making one out of the many was the main idea of the melting pot, and becoming a Homo Americanus called for abandoning particular group interests and commitments. Embracing a particular identity was viewed as implying a fundamentally chauvinistic and degrading attitude toward the majority.     Settling the conflict between "Americanism" and "Jewishness" and arriving at a synthesis that would enable them to remain Jewish and become Americans has therefore been an ongoing challenge for American Jews. The strain of the trials and tribulations that they encountered played a decisive role in shaping their consciousness and actions as Americans, as Jews, and as American Jews; it influenced not only the way in which they came to interact with the host society, but no less, perhaps, the way they interacted among themselves. As Ira Katznelson has noted, they were frequently reminded that they could not enter American life unimpeded, whether they chose to downplay or emphasize their identity as Jews. Either move, as it were, was encumbered with risks whose dimensions were difficult to discern. What American Jews sought, therefore, was an orienting stance that could protect them while they probed actually existing possibilities.     Until recently the preferred reading of the American Jewish experience was very much in tune with the notion of American exceptionalism--a belief in America's unique destiny and history that stresses its liberality and the unrestricted access of Jews to its greatness. It is difficult to argue with the exceptional achievements of Jews in America, but one should not neglect the ugly underside of their experience. Notwithstanding the guarantees of the Constitution, Jews were to discover that even in America laws and reality did not always correspond. They had to struggle for their rights as Americans by challenging laws and treaties and filing lawsuits. To succeed they had to join coalitions and form alliances, but finding the right partners was not always easy or possible.     The experience of Jews in America followed neither a linear path nor a single trajectory; there were many and varied American Jewish experiences. How Jews fared in America depended on when they came, where they came from, and where they settled. Yet the Jewish community has often been studied with little regard for the social, cultural, ethnic, and political contexts in which Jews found themselves. The result is a narrow parochial focus where Jews are divorced from the general society in which, to some degree or other, they have lived. Such an approach generally tends to assume the existence of universal Jewish norms and thereby reduces empirical problems to theoretical assertions. This impedes the explications of the reasons for changed behaviors and responses by Jews, both as individuals and as a community.     Basic to the understanding of Jewish life in America, as Benjamin Ginsberg has pointed out, is the realization that the triumph of liberalism in the United States was not preordained by the mere existence of an immutable ideology. Rather, liberalism has prevailed as a result of the victories won by liberal forces in political struggles against opponents whose values were decidedly illiberal. As we shall see, when American liberalism was challenged so was the position of Jews in society.     Our story begins with the German period of American Jewish history. It follows the process of the Americanization of German Jewish immigrants and the ways in which it affected their collective Jewish identity and their behavior as a group. More specifically, I will focus on how German Jews reacted as a collective to particular issues, both domestically and abroad: how they functioned in the public sphere and interacted with the political centers of power.     The Emergence of a Community The German Jews who dreamed of freedom and searched for economic security were eager to believe, as Goethe wrote, "Amerika du hast es besser" (America, you have it better). It was not only their confidence in America that drove German Jews to uproot themselves, but also their pessimism about their future in Germany. The Jewish immigrants were poor and usually uneducated in either Jewish or secular learning, but being squeezed out by interacting social and economic forces and harassed by marriage restrictions, they had no other alternative than to search for a "new world." One Bavarian Jew who was anxious to believe in the soundness of his choice, upon being asked on the eve of his departure if he planned to return to his homeland after striking it rich in the United States, answered: "[N]ot until America becomes Bavarian."     Prior to 1830 there was only a trickle of Jewish newcomers from Germany. But the 200,000 or so who arrived between 1830 and 1880 were a fraction of the 2.7 million Irish, 3 million Germans, 950,000 English, and 400,000 Scandinavians who arrived during the same period. From the outset several factors distinguished German Jews from other Jewish immigrant groups that came to build their home in America. Unlike the others, they arrived with a strong dual ethnicity: they were both Jews and Germans. It was a long while before these Jews began to let go of their ties with German culture. They spoke German at home, prayed in German, and educated their children with German methods. Indeed, throughout most of the Nineteenth century German Jews proudly accepted the German identity that Americans attributed to them.     The close collaboration with the German Gentile community provided Jews with broader options than were available to the Sephardim who had preceded them and the East Europeans who were to follow them. Unlike these two groups, who mostly clustered in the urban centers of the Atlantic seaboard, German Jews followed the general population movement of the Germans to Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, upstate New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Maryland. As a result of their geographical dispersion they enjoyed greater opportunities for their commercial pursuits. New York City, for example, which was later to absorb the majority of Russian Jews, became home to only about one-fifth of all the Germans who came through its port.     Following in the footsteps of the waves of German immigration, Jews were invited to participate in the social life of the larger Germany community, where they were free, if they wished, to maintain a distinctive religious life. Although social anti-Semitism made this mix neither entirely equal nor always cordial, most Jews preferred to ignore "minor" mistreatment in return for the chance of quicker integration through the mediation of the Gentile German community. There is a double irony in the fact that the Jews' desired integration into German society was achieved in America, where they were still outsiders.     Unlike the Sephardim or the Jews of Eastern Europe who came to the New World hoping to maintain a corporate religious community life, German Jews were anxious to be liberated from the rigidities that obligatory membership in Jewish Gemeinden (congregational communities) entailed. For them emancipation--the transition from a merely tolerated element of the population, subjected to legal discriminations, into citizens with equal rights --signified freedom of choice within society at large as well as within Jewish society. As Max Kohler noted, the liberty and self-assertiveness of the immigrants motivated "each little body or clique to form a separate and distinct congregation for itself ... instead of coalescing ... into a few large congregations or organizations."     Indeed, for the first Jewish immigrants who came from Germany in the early nineteenth century, America's social openness and economic expansion proved very beneficial. Zealous to conquer the West, the nation eagerly awaited newcomers who would help to realize this dream. The spirit of the age was expressed in President John Tyler's message to Congress in 1841, where he extended an invitation to people of other countries to come and settle among us as members of our rapidly growing family, and for the blessings which we offer them we require of them to look upon our country as their country and to unite with us in the great task of preserving our institutions and thereby perpetuating our liberties. Feeling welcomed, Jews thrived in the land where "the dark clouds of sectarian prejudice seem everywhere to be fast fading away before the widely spreading light of right, reason and philosophy." All the more so since in American society there was a growing belief that a new generation born in America "would be free from those errors generally imputed to the Jews, and participating in the blessings of liberty, would have every inducement to become valuable members of society." In such an optimistic climate the centripetal forces that made disunity of Jewish life endemic were further reinforced by the social and geographical openness of American society. With internal restraints already weakened and external restraints removed, there was not much to mobilize for unity. Instead, Jewish newcomers used their independence to form a loose congregational life in which they were free to determine their own practices with regard to ritual as well as fiscal and organizational matters. Although this high degree of decentralization suited the American surroundings and eased the entry of German Jews into the larger German community, they were soon to realize that whenever a crisis threatened their own particular group a particular rated action was called for. But America society, they learned, rarely viewed such behavior with favor.     One such crisis occurred when the news of the Damascus affair reached America. In February 1840 a Capuchin monk and his servant disappeared in Damascus. The Ottoman government, convinced that Jews had killed the two, moved into the Jewish quarter and tortured several Jews until a confession to the murder was obtained. According to reports, seventy-two Jews were sentenced to be hanged and the entire Jewish community was under suspicion. In England the Board of Deputies of British Jews met in April and decided to approach the secretary of state for foreign affairs. During June and July the matter was broached in the British and _French Parliaments as well as in the Jewish communities of those countries. After many deliberations it was decided that Sir Moses Montefiore from England and Adolphe Crémieux from France would go to Alexandria to persuade the pasha of Egypt, Muhammed Ali, to re-examine the Damascus case.     For the United States the events in Damascus were extremely remote. The few brief mentions in the press mostly treated the charges with extreme skepticism. Without a central organization and a recognized leadership, American Jewry was also slow to respond to the crisis. It was only after the Jewish leadership in London derided to publicize the Montefiore-Crémieux mission and appealed openly to Jews around the world to engage in public protest that American Jews launched a pubic response. In late August and early September 1840 protest meetings took place in some six American cities. Although these assemblies were held too late to be of any consequence in resolving the Damascus affair, for in fact on August 28th Muhammed Ali promised to set the Jewish prisoners free, they gain in significance when viewed in historical perspective.     The reaction of American Jews, their first participation in an international Jewish campaign on behalf of trek counterparts abroad, demonstrated that Jewish group consciousness had not dissipated. It also revealed that in America neither its existence nor its public expression could be taken for granted. Americanism as a national ideology did not look with favor upon acting on behalf of a particular group's interests.     In a speech about the Damascus crisis, Mordechai Manuel Noah, one of the most prominent Jews of his era and the editor of the Evening Star (an Anglo-American newspaper) articulated the view that however protected Jews in America might feel, their destiny was inescapably tied to that of the Jewish people: [I]t may be said that we are remote from the scene of these cruelties ... that the Almighty has cast our lot in a country of laws administered alike to Jew and Gentile, that ... we are exempt from such outrages.... We thank God that it is so.... But ... in every country on earth in which the Almighty has fixed the destiny of the Jew ... scattered by a wise Providence among every nation, we are still one people, governed by the same sacred laws and bound together by the same destiny; the cause of one is the cause of all. Isaac Leeser, who emerged as a prominent spokesman for American Jewry in the course of the Damascus affair and who in 1843 established the prestigious journal The Occident and American Jewish Advocate , was aware of the tension that existed between the particular imperative "all Israel are responsible for one another," on the one hand, and the American doctrine of citizenship on the other hand. Speaking before a meeting in Philadelphia in late August he made clear which one he thought should gain preference: We have no country of our own ... under the shadow of which we can live securely; but we have a tie yet holier than a fatherland, a patriotism stronger than the community of one government, our ... patriotism is the affection which unites the Israelite of one land to that of another. As citizens, we belong to the country we live in, but as believers in one God ... we hail the Israelite as a brother, no matter if his home be the torrid zone or where the poles encircle the earth. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of these sentiments but, as the behavior of America's Jews in this affair demonstrated, they did not necessarily guide their actions. For in fact, they were hesitant to ask their government to intervene on behalf of the Damascus Jews and, as Jonathan Frankel convincingly shows, the single initiative taken by the U.S. government was in response to the Lord Mayor of London, and not to an appeal by American Jews. Indeed, it was only after Secretary of State John Forsyth had sent a dispatch to Alexandria and President Martin Van Buren had expressed his sympathy and asked for repression of the horrors that American Jews organized public meetings to protest the Damascus persecution. By then the case was almost six months old and nearing its resolution.     The fact that the actions of the U.S. government had no effects on the events in the Middle East did not stop American Jews from rejoicing at their success. The very fact that they had managed for the first time to act as a collective and, moreover, to rouse Christian public opinion on behalf of a Jewish cause was viewed by Jews as evidence of their acceptance in America on equal terms. Indeed, this achievement lingered on in their collective consciousness as the first in a series of American humanitarian diplomatic initiatives on behalf of persecuted Jews abroad.     It is therefore not surprising that they interpreted Van Buren's intervention as a precedent for the future. His "voluntary act, " they reasoned, was an assurance of sympathy: "In whatever may hereafter be attempted or done toward extending to the ancient race of Israel, wherever dispersed, the civil and religious privileges secured to us by the Constitution of this favored land." With almost religious fervor American Jews embraced the doctrine of the "American mission" which, as expressed by Benjamin Franklin, promised that "the liberties of America will not only make that people happy, but will have some effect in diminishing the misery of those, who in other parts of the world groan under despotism." American Jews invoked this doctrine as an endorsement to act on behalf of their fellow Jews abroad; it enabled them to be Americans and Jews at the same time. If America's recent struggle for independence made it all the more protective of the principles of sovereignty, at the same time it was also eager to spread the gospels of political freedom and human rights which underpinned its practice of humanitarian diplomacy. Jews were quick to learn how to put this principle to use for their own particular agendas and, because they were probably the main client for it, they were also its chief guardians.     As novices in the world of American politics, Jews overinterpreted the intent of the President's gesture, overlooking the fact that Van Buren may have taken this cost-free opportunity to remunerate Jews for their predominant loyalty to the Democratic party on the eve of a national election in which he faced the popular Harrison as a rival candidate. Unbeknown to them, the Damascus affair had given them their first experience in the American "politics of gestures."     During this time the first fissures were beginning to appear in the wall of confidence that surrounded Jews in America. Although apprehensions about the Jews' safety in America were usually whispered in private, when the Philadelphia Congregation assembled to protest the events in Damascus, its president, Abraham Hart, publicly articulated the anxiety when he warned: "If such a calumny is not nipped in the bud, its effect will not be limited to any particular place, but will be extended to every part of the globe." Those fears were not entirely unfounded. A decade later the New York Herald returned the Damascus affair to its front page, claiming that Jews had committed the murder in accordance with Talmudic injunctions. Even worse, as far as American Jews were concerned, was the "finding" that charges had been dropped because of dubious manipulations by the Rothschilds, the archetypal symbol of Jewish international power.     Between Inclusion and Exclusion Jews who arrived in America from Germany after the Damascus affair--swelling their number from 15,000 in 1840 to 50,000 in 1850 and 150,000 in 1860--encountered a chillier welcome than their forebears. This much poorer and less sophisticated wave of newcomers concentrated in the crowded urban centers and underwent a painful process of proletarinization. The option of assimilating into the general German community became less available as their Gentile compatriots increasingly wished to distance themselves from these Jews. By the 1840s social anti-Jewish biases began to surface: "to jew" was a popular verb, meaning to strike a sly deal, to use "non-Kosher" ethics in business transactions; the conniving and cheating Jewish merchant ("Shylock") became the worshipper of the golden calf ("rich as a Jew"); and having no homeland of their own, the Jew was everywhere the eternal alien.     This exclusion was echoed in the Jewish sphere as well. The more Americanized Jews were disinclined to accept the "alien" and "uncouth" newcomers into their congregations. It was not so much the different degrees of piety or doctrinal distinctions that kept the old and the new apart, but rather the desire of native American Jews to assert their Americanism by separating themselves from Jewish "foreign" elements. Although the new immigrants were eager to adapt, they still sought the support of familiar traditions and hence tended to congregate around their own communities. The pattern was to repeat itself with each succeeding generation; the newcomers of one generation became the excluding elite of the next generation. Thus, for example, the New York synagogue Bene Jeshurun was founded in 1825 in protest against the discriminatory membership policy of the Shearith Israel synagogue, but already by the 1850s membership in Bene Jeshurun had become selective as well.     These ambiguous attitudes toward the newcomers from both the wider American society and established Jewish communities induced them, more by need than by choice, to establish autonomous agencies outside the Jewish congregational framework. Synagogues were unable to meet the diverse social, cultural, and philanthropic needs of the burgeoning and increasingly excluded community of new immigrants. The recognition that to "make it" as individuals called for organized group support was at the root of what was to develop into a distinctive ethnic community. What was beginning to emerge was a similar (Americanized) but separate (exclusively Jewish) institutional framework that tried to meet the needs of the immigrants who were frequently excluded by the larger American society.     During the decade of the 1850s, the growing influx of new immigrants to America--over three million newcomers arrived between 1845 and 1854, the largest number to enter in one decade before the 1880s--kindled anti-foreign sentiments. Nativism took two basic forms. The first was anti-radicalism, which played on the fear that the class-conscious European newcomers would undermine the status quo. The second was Anti-Catholicism, which reached its peak in the 1850s around the Know-Nothing movement. The Irish and German Catholic immigrants who flooded America in the nineteenth century were viewed as agents dispatched by a foreign power to subvert American institutions. The nationalist nexus provided a home for both these sentiments, resulting in the conviction that outsiders were a peril to the American way of life. While radicals and Catholics were defined as enemies of the nation, Protestantism was fused ever more inextricably into the substance of Americanism. The fundamental aim was "to make America the world's great example of a truly Protestant republic."     As usual in periods of religious revivalism and xenophobia, Jews felt the sting. The fact that Jews were eager to acculturate seems to have had little impact on the way American society perceived them. Judaism was depicted in missionary and conversionist literature as "a dead religion, long superseded by a loving and benevolent Christianity, and no longer relevant to civilization." Those who practiced Judaism "proved their moral backwardness and proverbial stiff-neckedness." More than being an insult, these attitudes were perceived by Jews as a hazard to their claim to equality. The conversionists implied that for the Jews emancipation was not granted as a right but rather was a gift Christians made in order to bring about their conversion. Although the derision that Jews encountered throughout the country was an irritant, they were not yet daunted. With Old World anti-Semitism as their reference point, they felt much less threatened in America, where anti-Jewish sentiments were not officially sanctioned by the government.     But protection of Jews by the state could not be taken for granted. In 1850, in the wake of negotiations of a commercial treaty between the United States and Switzerland, their equal status as citizens was challenged. The proposed treaty contained the restrictive clause that only Christians were "entitled to the enjoyment of the privileges guaranteed by the present Article in the Swiss Cantons." According to American Minister to Switzerland A. Dudley Mann, the measure was intended to keep out "undesirable" Jewish peddlers from Alsace, and he opined that individual American Jews would probably not be subjected to such harassment.     Despite this reassurance, Jews in America were outraged that their citizenship status was not protected abroad. They drew up a petition to the Senate which was presented before the vote on ratification took place. Indeed, in the new treaty that was finally ratified in 1855 the language was modified but the discriminatory provision remained. The new version decreed that citizens of both countries should be admitted and treated equally, provided "it shall not conflict with the constitutional or legal provisions." Although reference to exclusive Christian rights was deleted, Jews were still left at the mercy of the individual cantons which remained sovereign to refuse entry and commercial privileges to foreign Jews, or for that matter to others they wished to exclude.     Most Jewish leaders were reluctant to treat the matter as a sectarian issue, preferring instead to argue that the treaty discredited America's image in the world. Following internal bickering, a delegation of Jews met with President Buchanan in October 1857. They left satisfied with an apology and a promise to resolve the situation. In fact, they appear to have been gratified by the honor of meeting with the President; the Reform leader Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise advised that communal agitation cease. Isaac Leeser charged that American Jews, at the time mostly Reform, were shocked by the implications of the Swiss treaty because they had deceived themselves into believing that Jewish redemption had been secured in America. "We are in Galuth [exile]," he reminded his readers: We have our theoretical rights; but practically they are dependent on the will of those who have numbers on their side; and if we make all the noise in the world, and brag aloud after our heart's content, we are yet strangers in stranger lands.     It was not the fate of foreign Jews, in this case of Alsace, that goaded American Jews to react to the Swiss treaty. The case of the former Alsatian Jews was handled, however marginally, by Theodore S. Fay, the American minister to Switzerland, who in a long note to the Swiss government in 1858 called particular attention to their plight when he defended the rights of all Jews in the modern world, thereby confirming that the acceptance of American Jews could not be dissociated from the acceptance of other Jews. Rather, what provoked the intense reaction to the Swiss treaty was a series of discriminatory domestic incidents and decrees (such as the Sunday Laws) that violated the Jews' constitutional rights on religious and civil grounds. In this wider context the ratification of the treaty was interpreted as tacit recognition of Protestantism as a dominant or superior religion, which set Jews apart from other American citizens and, as such, designated them as second-class or less-than-equal citizens.     Indeed, what concerned American Jews was not so much the universal principle of religious liberty, although this was what they emphasized in the public discussion; rather, they were mobilized to act by a particular Jewish agenda. Convinced that the continuation of Jewish collective life depended on more than a common faith, American Jews searched for a course that would assure the survival of their ethnic identity. But by invoking religious liberty to sanction their historic nationality, Jews were inadvertently helping to sow the seeds of an American Jewish problem. The conservation of Jewish group consciousness by misappropriating the concept of religious liberty not only ran counter to the ideology of the melting pot, it also imperiled the Christian-Protestant credo which held that "the privacy of religious conscience is a right of individuals and not of collective entities." The Jews' rejoinder was to endow the doctrine of separation of church and state, of which they were avid champions, with a meaning that was neither intended nor accepted by Protestant America. Under the flag of liberty of conscience they hoped to establish a sanctuary for preserving their "collective privacy."     In 1858, eighteen years after the Damascus affair, American Jews again tried to use the principle of religious liberty to further a collective concern. Edgar Mortara, a six-year-old Jewish boy of Bologna, Italy, was forcibly abducted from his home by church authorities after a Catholic maid who worked at the Mortara home confessed that she had secretly baptized him. Urged by their European co-religionists to act, American Jews appealed again for governmental intercession on the basis of humanitarian diplomacy, making clear that they were not asking their government to interfere in the internal affairs of another state.     But unlike in the case of the Damascus Jews, President Buchanan informed the representatives of the Jewish community that in the Mortara case, which did not involve torture and loss of life, "humanitarian diplomacy" could not be applied and nonintervention was the policy of the United States. When Jews reminded the president of Van Buren's action during the Damascus incident, they were told that the previous case set no precedent.     Indeed, the year 1858 was considerably different from 1840. The Buchanan administration was threatened with a domestic political upheaval that was brewing over the slavery issue and was sensitive to foreign criticism. As Buchanan told Isaac Leeser at a White House meeting in 1859, if America could stay neutral on a moral issue such as the Mortara case, it might teach the rest of the world to stay out of America's affairs. Jews, who represented some 50,000 Democratic voters, were no match in the political marketplace to the almost one million Irish Catholic loyal supporters. Moreover, the commitment of Jews to the Democratic Party was on the decline. Some of them resented the party's strong backing of the Irish in urban politics, while others deserted because the party defended slavery.     Aware of the politicization of the Mortara affair, Republicans used it to pry Jews from the Democrats. The Know-Nothing movement used it to boost their anti-Catholic campaign, and the abolitionists used the public sympathy for the kidnapping of one victim to underscore national apathy toward the fate of the slaves. American Jews, highly divided, found themselves, by association, in a strange coalition with liberal Protestants and the nativist Know-Nothing movement. But unlike the other factions who used the affair to further their own agendas, they refrained from any activity that could be interpreted as Jewish group politics. On the contrary, Jews often made the point in public that they "wholly disclaim any wish ... to be represented as a peculiar community." In 1858 the Northern Monthly noted with some surprise that "we hear of the Irish vote, the German vote, but who ever hears of a Jewish vote?" The American Israelite was quick to assert that this was "the way things should be."     Indeed, until late 1859 there was no central body that could claim to represent American Jewry. The failure to influence the Buchanan administration on behalf of Edgar Mortara induced a group of prominent New York Jews to follow the example of the British Board of Deputies, which had been formed in 1840 in response to the Damascus "blood libel," and organize a Board of Delegates of American Israelites. Its aim was "to secure and maintain Jewish civil and religious rights at home and abroad." But since the Board represented only a narrow section of American Jewry, these self-appointed leaders carried little authority and achieved even less in uniting the community. More significant, the new agency avoided the real issue that irked Jews in America--how to air their collective interests in political terms and not be accused of clannish particularism. Although the founders of the Board of Delegates disclaimed any intent of creating a political body, the Sephardic elite and most German Jews stayed aloof from this communal venture, fearing that the very idea of a Jewish defense agency could be interpreted as lack of faith in the American system. Some even suggested that such an organization would raise the charge of operating "a state within a state."     Upward Mobility Reawakens Old Prejudices Focusing on incidents that induced Jews to engage with American society in the public and political spheres may create a distorted picture of intense group participation. But in fact, in mid-nineteenth-century America Jews were still rather invisible as a group. For the most part they were optimistic enough to venture on their own and find their niche in American society as individuals. It was during, and particularly after, the Civil War that Americans began to notice with increasing apprehension and distaste the swelling number of Jews and their rapid mobility that was markedly unmatched by any other immigrant group. In 1865, Isaac Leeser gave bitter expression to the emerging new mood: With the great increase of Hebrew residents in America, their general prosperity has also augmented in the same ratio.... Now, if nothing else would cause prejudice, this circumstance will.... While we were poor and unsightly, we may be tolerated; but let us only look up, and become the social equals of our neighbors, and their ire be at once roused. Although during the Civil War Jews proved their patriotism when some 10,000 of them, far above their proportion in the population, joined both armies, the period brought a definite upsurge of anti-Jewish sentiments. The most notorious instance was General Ulysses S. Grant's Order Number 11, issued on December 17, 1862. "The Jews as a class ," it stated, "violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order." The background for this Order was widespread activity by cotton speculators in the western area under Grant's command. While some of them were undoubtedly Jews, Grant decided on collective punishment for all Jews in the district. The community leaders protested to President Abraham Lincoln, who issued a directive on January 4, 1863, that rescinded the order. There is no reason to belittle the significance of this incident, but there is also a danger of making too much of it. It is likely that Grant's extreme response manifested, at least in part, national sensitivities carried to extremes in time of a war that threatened the survival of the Union. Under such circumstances, perhaps, anti-Jewish tendencies were as easy to inflame as to extinguish.     Indeed, Jews were not eager to strike back at Grant when he campaigned for the presidency in 1868. According to the national press, which raised the issue of the Jewish vote, the Democrats hoped Jews would disavow Grant, while the Republicans made an effort to retain their Jewish voters. As a group Jews were divided. Many deserted the Republicans, but there was a Hebrew Grant Club and some public pro-Grant proclamations of prominent individual laymen. The Jewish Messenger , which five years earlier had promised to exact revenge, was now defending its neutrality by claiming that at present there was "no religious issue." It maintained that in fact political independence would gain outside respect, while voting as a class would only confirm the group libel propagated by Grant's order of expelling Jews "as a class." Even a Democrat like Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, editor of the Israelite who, shortly after Order 11 had become a controversy, had announced that if Grant ever ran for the presidency it would be his duty to oppose him, hid under his rabbi's hat during the campaign, claiming that he had been expressing his views in a religious journal. Henceforth, it devolved upon "offended citizens" to act.     As for Grant, he never again revealed any prejudice toward Jews. On the contrary, he appointed many Jews to public office, the better known of whom were Edward S. Solomon as governor of the Washington Territory and Joseph Seligman, whom he invited to serve as secretary of the treasury--an offer Seligman declined. Grant even demonstrated considerable interest in the fate of Jews overseas. When in 1870 pogroms broke out in Romania, he appointed a Jew to serve as consul in Bucharest in an effort to bring pressure on the government to cease the attacks on Jews.     Jews protected their rights in the political sphere by adopting, at least outwardly, a neutral posture: there were to be no separate Jewish formations on political issues and the community leaders were to have no influence on political matters. Political affiliations and expressions were to be kept within the individual domain. But their experience during the Civil War pointed to the futility of professing a non-partisan position, for while Jews themselves were not unified on the war issues, the outbursts of Judeophobia were common both in the North and in the South. The frequently repeated warning by Jews themselves that the misbehavior of the individual reflected upon the entire collective was confirmed.     Professing such neutrality in the much less controlled social and economic spheres was entirely to no avail. For it was in these domains that existing prejudice and discrimination found their most extreme expressions. It was the unmatched success of Jews as a group in achieving middle-class status, often within one generation, that evoked strong anti-Jewish sentiments during the Civil War era and after. Following the war, department stores across the urban landscape bearing such names as Straus, Lazarus, Altman, Bloomingdale, Filene, Gimbel, Wertheim, Saks, Bamberger, and Hecht, along with the Loebs, Kuhns, Seligmans, Guggenheims, Lehmans, and others who became household names in the world of finance, were glaring evidence that Jews had "arrived" in America. Their achievements, however, were not attributed to honest hard work. Rather, as Jews began to play a more conspicuous role in the economy, they increasingly came to be stigmatized as a disreputable and dishonest people. Credit-rating firms responded to the image of the Jewish "swindler" by imposing penalties for being "an Hebrew," and insurance companies refused to take on "Jew risks." The fact that Jews overcame these obstacles, in part by resorting to their own credit networks, made them all the more feared and disliked. As John Higham has noted, Jews "lost in reputation as they gained in social and economic status."     The period of commercial and industrial expansion in the decades following the Civil War allowed a small but notable group of Jews to take the great leap from rags to riches. Somewhat ironically, the fact that Jews were barred from representation in Yankee banking houses to which their capital entitled them drove them to establish investment banks of their own just at the time when the American economy was vying for finance capital. Most significant for Jews, who did not have it easy in the private sector, the federal government sought their collaboration in the "high-risk" rebuilding of the American nation after the war. The Seligmans, for instance, played a key role in repaying and refunding the national debt by serving as agents in selling government securities in Europe, where the buyers were also overwhelmingly Jews. Financing the reconstruction of the South was hardly attractive for American or English investors who had first-hand knowledge of the shaky southern economy. They left these risky ventures to others--Jews like Joseph Seligman, Jacob Schiff, and Franklin Moses, who through their European Jewish banking connections were able to market even the most questionable securities.     Another opportunity was the construction of railroads, the national government's single most important industrial development project during this period. The government subsidized this undertaking by giving land grants to firms in exchange for construction of rail lines, but there was high demand for private financing to provide the capital for equipment and laying the tracks. The Seligmans and the Schiffs were there again, and their clients included every major railroad company in America. Jews were also present as active partners in America's imperialist enterprise, a move that brought them into close relations with governmental institutions. The Seligmans, for instance, extended credit to U.S. naval pay officers throughout the world, helping them meet the navy payroll obligations. But the highlight of their close link with the national government was their active involvement in the Panama Canal project in 1880. How far the wheel of fortune had changed for Jews can be exemplified by the offer the Seligmans made to former President Grant to head the Panama Canal Committee for a salary of $24,000 per year--but now it was his chance to turn them down. It is perhaps not surprising that this period of tremendous expansion, when fortunes were made and lost, was accompanied by corruption and scandals.     Jews, so heavily involved in finance, politics, and society, figured prominently in the American imagination as symbols for the evils of the Gilded Age. These sentiments were fermented in two groups that lost the most in the economic transformations of the post-Civil War era. The first were western and southern radical agrarians, who were deeply distressed by the economic and political changes that came in the wake of the new industrial order. The second were old-stock New England patricians, who lost their economic and political pre-eminence to the new class of industrialists and financiers.     Even in good times traditional anti-Jewish biases did not disappear among these two groups; in bad times the old myths were revitalized in response to contemporary frustrations. An increasingly diversified society characterized by frenzied social climbing stimulated by the spirit of the age engendered insecurity among traditionally favored groups. Those whose status was compromised yearned for a positive self-definition and sought it through renewed national pride in the Anglo-Saxon creed. Underlying the resurgence of the Anglo-Saxon tradition in the 1870s was the desire to forge a unique link between this "race" and America's national greatness. The newly elevated Anglo-Saxon culture, which made the ethnocentric residue of Jews all the more objectionable, was now recruited in the name of setting up "areas of exclusiveness that would mark off the favored groups and protect them against excessive contacts with outsiders." For the Brahmins, the "outsiders" were the new commercial and financial parvenus who threatened to replace them as the nation's elite. Jews embodied for them the parvenu spirit; greedy, materialistic, and uncouth, these nouveau riche capitalists were easily identified as the object of exclusion by the traditional elite.     Hannah Arendt's remarks on the equivocal nature of equality are germane to understanding the predicament that Jews faced in America well into the twentieth century. "The more equal conditions are," she poignantly noted, "the less explanation there is for the differences that actually exist between people; and thus all the more unequal do individuals and groups become." In a society like America, she wrote, "where equality of conditions had been taken for granted, discrimination becomes the only means of distinction, a kind of universal law according to which groups may find themselves outside the sphere of civic, political and economic equality."     Indeed, in America discrimination against Jews was usually restricted to the social sphere, which was largely outside government jurisdiction and not punishable by law. Hotels, resort areas, residential housing, professional and social clubs, and private education were the principal venues of discrimination against Jews. The famous episode of Joseph Seligman, who in 1877 was refused accommodation in a Saratoga hotel, was by no means the first or an isolated occurrence. But the fact that even Seligman--a prominent banker and a friend of Presidents Lincoln and Grant with links to the various administrations since the Civil War--encountered social discrimination ominously foreshadowed the looming pattern of Jewish exclusion.     For German Jews the transition from the warm welcome that was first extended to them by American society to their rather abrupt rejection just as they were becoming Americanized was a painful experience. It spoke to the fact, as Ira Katznelson observed, that in an age of mass migration, assimilation of individuals, short of conversion, is an unlikely option. Contrary to their dreams and desires, and like other American ethnic groups in this period, Jews were forced back into a tightly based ethnic and religious enclave. In an increasingly concentrated urban setting they formed their own social space. Although separate, the independent institutions that Jews established were a remarkably close replica of the American model. It may appear somewhat ironic that the Jewish elite coped with its ousting from American society by creating an alternative civil society that was modeled after the one that had rejected them. Indeed, Jews of German descent had hoped that from their separate but American-like environment they would gain a more favorable position from which to transact with the greater American society. They had yet to acknowledge that in America "citizenship opened far fewer doors than they had imagined."     It was the massive influx of East European Jews in the 1880s, followed by the xenophobic and nationalist decade of the nineties, that constituted the great divide in American Jewish history. It brought German Jewish oldcomers face to face with the praxis of American liberalism and obliged them to take stock of their position in American society. While trying to protect their gains under increasingly strenuous domestic circumstances, they were faced with an exceptional challenge as millions of their East European kin began to contemplate leaving their homelands. How they responded to this challenge is the subject of the next chapter. Copyright © 2000 Gulie Ne'eman Arad. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Part 1 Incoming
1 "Amerika du hast es besser": The German-Jewish Immigrants in America
2 A Community Transformed: The Influx from the East
Part 2 A Growing Divide--"We" and "They"
3 Hard Times in the "Goldene Medine": The Jewish Question in the American Context
4 A Crisis of Faith: Anti-Semitism in Weimar Germany
Part 3 A Scant Political Voice, 1933-35
5 The Jewish Leaders vs. the Voice of America
6 Cooptation of Protest: Trying to "Break Through"
7 Jewish Power: The Demise of a Myth
Part 4 Crisis and Patriotism, 1936-1942
8 FDR: "The Greatest Friend We Have"
9 "On Being an American": (In Place of a)