Early to Mid-Twentieth Century: The American Jewish Experience
Jewish immigrants coming to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries referred to America as the Golden Land because of its promises of freedom and opportunity. Nonetheless, Eastern European Jewish immigrants were often met with distrust, while Jewish businessmen were considered part of international Jewish financial conspiracies. U.S. Jews were subjected to legalized professional and social restrictions into the twentieth century.
The United States was also not immune from historic antisemitic accusations. The canard of Jewish dual loyalty spread to the United States as well. In the nineteenth century, the disloyalty accusation manifested as a claim that Jews refused military service and were thus disloyal to the country. In response to these allegations, in 1896, a group of Jewish Civil War veterans formed the Hebrew Union Veterans, which eventually became known as the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. (JWV). JWV’s mission statement includes fostering love of America, maintaining “true allegiance” to the United States, instilling “love of country and flag,” and fighting against bigotry.
The blood libel also reached the United States, though there has been only one recorded case of U.S. Jews being accused of the ritual sacrifice of Christians. On September 22, 1928, a 4-year-old girl named Barbara Griffith disappeared in Massena, New York, two days before Yom Kippur. On the eve of Yom Kippur, Massena’s police called in a local rabbi for questioning about Barbara’s disappearance, sparking outrage among national Jewish leaders. Barbara was found the following day on September 23, apparently having gotten lost in a farmer’s field. On October 4, Massena Mayor W. Gilbert Hawes issued a letter of apology to Rabbi Stephen Wise, then president of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), for summoning a rabbi to the police station on Yom Kippur to answer for the child’s disappearance.
Though the Massena case was the only reported blood libel case in the United States, it was not the first time a Jew had been wrongfully accused of murder in America. In Georgia in 1915, Leo Frank, the Jewish superintendent of the Atlanta Pencil factory, was convicted of the April 26 murder of a 13-year-old factory employee, Mary Phagan. He was sentenced to death, but Georgia’s governor commuted his sentence. Mobs during the trial and after the sentencing raged against the accused Jew, and one juror even reportedly commented about the “goddamn Jew.” Upon learning of the commutation, a lynch mob stormed into Frank’s prison, kidnapped, and then hanged him. The Frank lynching inspired both a revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the founding of the Anti-Defamation League. U.S. white supremacists have continued to cite the incident in their antisemitic propaganda.
In the early twentieth century, automaker Henry Ford was bringing international conspiracy theories about Jews to the American public. Whereas in Europe and Russia during the early twentieth century, Jews were associated with communism, Ford accused Jews of abusing capitalism to specifically target his business. He also blamed the Jews for World War I and accused Jews of damaging the U.S. military. His newsletter, The International Jew, outlined a global Jewish conspiracy to take over the United States. One friend of Ford’s wrote in his diary that the industrialist blamed all the evils of the world on “Jews or Jewish capitalists.” Ford distributed approximately half-a-million copies of the newsletter. In addition to his automotive empire, Ford published the Dearborn Independent newspaper, which ran many of the articles that Ford would include in The International Jew. For support, Ford referenced the phony Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, from which he cited heavily. It was Ford’s infatuation with the Protocols that introduced the forgery to the United States and aided in the forgery’s longevity. In 1927, Ford settled out of court with Aaron Sapiro, a Jewish lawyer who brought a defamation suit against Ford. Ford issued an official apology. Later that year, the Dearborn Independent shut down.