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The stock market crashed on this date in 1929 and launched the Great Depression, a twelve-year economic slump that affected all of Western Europe and was only ended by the advent of World War II. The era, writes Beth S. Wenger (New York Jews and the Great Depression), would become “seared in Jewish memory as the Hitler era, a time when the weakened economy nurtured the growth of anti-Semitism, strengthened the movement for restrictions on immigration, and contributed to the lack of an American response to Nazism.” (It also became a time of political radicalization within the Jewish community.) Few Jews had Wall Street investments, but when the Jewish-owned Bank of the United States failed in December of the next year, the savings of about a fifth of New York’s two million Jews were wiped out.
“You felt as though the bottom had dropped out of your life… people felt that one reason the other banks didn’t want to [help] was because that was a minority bank — it was owned by and run by Jewish stockholders and a Jewish president.” —Bank of U.S. customer
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.