Comic / Bezos in Bessemer

Eli Valley March 29, 2021

After Lola’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire illustration, 1911.

In April 1911, two weeks after 146 garment workers were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the New York satirical weekly Der Groyser Kundes published a haunting illustration by Yiddish artist Leon Israel (“Lola”) of the factory’s owners scrounging for “new employees – new victims.”

On the 110th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama were in the final week of voting to become the first unionized Amazon employees in the United States—facing not only a grueling and inhumane work environment but a relentless drive by company management to crush the seeds of solidarity.

Translation of the Yiddish in Lola’s art:

Header: “Open for Business – Help Wanted!”

On the main figure’s back: “Triangle Waist Co.”

Sign, left side: “New employees wanted.”

Sign on whipper, bottom left: “Poverty”

Caption: “The dead from the fire have not even been removed from the bloody sidewalk; The smoke from the burned bodies of the child laborers has not yet cleared out of the air, and the money hungry ‘Triangle’ ghouls are already advertising in the Trade Record that ‘We are open for business!’ The cursed Triangle Company has opened up a new fire and death trap for new employees – new victims.”

Translation by Eddy Portnoy

Eli Valley is a Jewish Currents contributing writer. His comics collection Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel is available from OR Books.

Eddy Portnoy is the academic advisor and exhibitions curator at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. He is the author of Bad Rabbi and Other Strange but True Stories from the Yiddish Press (Stanford University Press, 2017).