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American anti-Semitism, 1929–1945
From: Encyclopedia of American History: The Great Depression and World War II, 1929 to 1945,
Revised Edition (Volume VIII).
Anti-Semitism in America, present since the nation's founding and particularly
virulent in the 1920s, remained high and in some ways intensified during the Great
Depression and World War II. Manifested not just in attitudes about Jews but also in
actions ranging from name-calling to discrimination to acts of vandalism and
sometimes violence, anti-Semitism rose during the war before declining by the end
of the war.
Public opinion polls in the 1929–45 era indicated that a significant minority of
Americans accepted derogatory stereotypes of Jews. Such views held, for example,
that Jews had too much political and economic power, and that they used this power
to manipulate world and national events for their own benefit. The economic
insecurities of the depression years sometimes led to scapegoating and reinforced
anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior. Job discrimination, restrictive quotas in
universities, and bans against Jews belonging to clubs or buying property in some
developments remained common. Because President Franklin D. Roosevelt included
a number of Jewish officials in his New Deal, anti-Semites called his administration
the "Jew Deal." after the United States entered into World War II, many Americans
erroneously accused Jews of shirking military duty and charged them with
profiteering from the war. From 1941 until 1944, Americans consistently reported to
pollsters that they were more suspicious of Jewish Americans than they were of
either Japanese Americans or German Americans.
Anti-Semitism was frequently expressed in harsh rhetorical attacks against Jews,
including those by the Silver Shirt League, a nativist group, and by the American
Bund, a Nazi-funded group that the U.S. government would later target after
America's entry into the war. A single anti-Jewish demonstration in Madison Square
Garden in 1939 by the Bund drew more than 20,000 people and little counterprotest.
Millions of Americans listened as well to the radio programs of Father Charles E.
Coughlin, a Catholic priest who accused Jews of being Communist sympathizers and
of subversively plotting to draw America into World War II. In his broadcasts,
Coughlin subtly advocated violence against Jews. He openly supported the Christian
Front, a native fascist group, whose members physically assaulted Jewish children in
cities across America and, in one instance, conspired to poison dozens of Jews in
Detroit and to assassinate members of Congress. Hostility toward Jews also led to
vandalizing Jewish businesses and to desecrating synagogues in some cities.
Most tragically, anti-Semitism contributed to the refusal of most Americans to
support admitting the mostly Jewish refugees fleeing from Hitler's regime and the
unfolding Holocaust in Europe into the United States. A poll in 1938, in fact, indicated
that 60 percent of Americans objected to the presence of Jews in America. The antiSemitism of high-ranking officers in the State Department and in consulates abroad
helped produce restrictive immigration procedures designed to drastically limit
Jewish immigration into the United States. Fear of provoking a powerful anti-Jewish
backlash inhibited pro-immigration organizations that might otherwise have more
forcefully called for members of the United States Congress to liberalize immigration
Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, formed the General
Jewish Council to counter the real and perceived threats posed by widespread antiSemitism and to debunk anti-Semitic rumors and stereotypes. The U.S. government
used other evidence gathered by the council to pursue and dismantle the American
Bund. Not until 1944, when Americans felt confident that the nation would emerge
victorious from World War II, did anti-Semitic sentiment in the United States
subside. After the war, anti-Semitism declined sharply, in part because of a horrified
reaction to the Holocaust and the attitudes that had produced it.
Whitcomb, Julie. "anti-Semitism, 1929–1945." In Jeffries, John W., and Gary B. Nash, eds.
Encyclopedia of American History: The Great Depression and World War II, 1929 to 1945, Revised
Edition (Volume VIII). New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. American History Online. Facts On File,
ItemID=WE52&iPin=EAHVIII015&SingleRecord=True (accessed December 14, 2010).
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