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The Boycott

Lawrence Bush
March 26, 2018

On this date in 1933, anti-Nazi rallies were held in 76 American cities and towns. In New York City, a crowd of 55,000 filled Madison Square Garden and the streets surrounding it, and the event was broadcast on the radio worldwide. These protests were organized chiefly by the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish War Veterans, which had proposed a boycott of German goods once Adolf Hitler came to power in January. Speakers in New York included the head of the American Federation of Labor, William Green, former New York Governor Al Smith, various Christian clergy members, and Rabbi Moses Margolies of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, who rose from his sickbed to lead the crowd in prayer. The Nazi government responded with a one-day boycott of Jewish businesses on April 1st (an event that yielded many well-known photographs of Nazi activists posted outside graffitied stores). Within weeks, Yiddish journalist Abraham Coralnik launched a boycott movement under the American League for the Defense of Jewish Rights; soon after, the American Jewish Congress created a boycott committee; and in 1934, the Jewish Labor Committee was formed and launched a union-based boycott. The groups tried to work together but ended up running separate efforts. Macy’s, Gimbels, Sears and Roebuck, and Woolworth’s were among the businesses that were successfully pressured into participating, and the boycott endured right through to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

“What is happening in Germany today may happen tomorrow in any other land on earth unless its is challenged and rebuked. It is not the German Jews who are being attacked. It is the Jews.” —Rabbi Stephen S. Wise

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.