Thursday, January 26, 2012

Antisemitism as national policy: The US Congress shuts the borders, 1923-4

Wednesday Jan 25, 2012

“Upon signing the Act, President Calvin Coolidge commented, America must remain American.’ This phrase would become the rallying cry of anti-immigration sentiment until after World War II.”

Over the next months the United States will become the focus of my writing. This is not because I believe this country more antisemitic, is historically more aggressive in persecuting its Jewish citizens. The contrary. While the level of popular and institutional antisemitism in the U.S. roughly paralleled Europe before and during the years of National Socialism; and while the United States failed to live up to tradition as refuge when it came to Jews fleeing Auschwitz, neither did it actively participate in the systematic bloodletting that was Europe’s effort to achieve a Final Solution to the West’s enduring Jewish Problem. No, I discuss antisemitism in the United States because I happen by birth to be far more familiar with this country’s history: as I discuss the United States over the months it should not be seen as an example, but as a metaphor for western antisemitism. I firmly believe, and try to demonstrate in my writings, that the risk to Jews represented by the Diaspora has not diminished over the centuries: the Holocaust demonstrates that its mortal threat has exponentially increased.

Introduction: It is a matter of historical fact and common knowledge that in the years before and during the Holocaust the United States first limited, then barred entry to Jewish refugees, targets of Europe’s persecution and eventual murder campaign. According to the president American immigration law tied his hands. And while there were other options available had the will to rescue been present, technically Roosevelt was correct. In the 1920’s Congress passed legislation widely understood as targeting the Jews that would only be lifted forty years later; twenty years after Auschwitz gassed its last victims.

Jews had lived in the United States since earliest colonial times. And while they faced discrimination in the past it was not until the early 1920’s, influenced by growing antisemitism and American eugenics, that discrimination took a more ominous and, for European Jewry, fateful turn.

Henry Ford distributed the Protocols at all dealerships across the U.S. His purchase of  The Dearborn Independent allowed hit to spread antisemitism beyond the showroom.

“The Immigration Restriction Leaguewas the first American entity associated officially with eugenics. Founded in 1894 by three recent Harvard University graduates, the League sought to bar what it considered inferior races from entering America and diluting what it saw as the superior American racial stock (upper class Northerners of Anglo-Saxon heritage).”

League membership was a virtual who’s-who of academic luminaries and included, “A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard, William DeWitt Hyde, president of Bowdoin College, James T. Young, director of Wharton School and David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University.”

Between 1880 and 1923 approximately two and a half million Jews, mostly fleeing Russian pogroms, arrived in the United States. In deciding the year to base the demographic profile for its Federal Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 Congress chose the census of 1890, the boundary at which Jews began arriving in greater numbers. The bill, “limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890.”

If the law sounds as if written by American eugenicists, it was. It was based directly on testimony provided by the Eugenics Record Office (ERO). “Eugenics Record Office Superintendent Harry Laughlin became the anti-immigration movement's most persuasive lobbyist... [He was appointed by the chairman of the committee writing the law their] expert eugenics agent.” By deceptive data and reasoning Laughlin fed Congress what it wanted to hear, that new immigrants were polluting America’s bloodline with “feeblemindedness, insanity, criminality, and dependency.” The resulting bill “did everything eugenicists had hoped for... it restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe countries to only 9% of the total. Northern and western European countries got 86% of the quota, even though they made up the minority of immigrants in 1923.”

Though the law's quota system targeted immigrants based on their nation of origin rather than ethnicity or religion, Jewish immigration was a central concern… The law sharply curtailed immigration from those countries that were the homelands of the vast majority of the Jews in America, almost 75% of whom came from Russia alone.Because Eastern European immigration only became substantial in the final decades of the nineteenth century, the law's use of the population of the U.S. in 1890 as the basis for calculating quotas effectively made mass migration from Eastern Europe, the home of the vast majority of the world's Jews, impossible.”

 President Coolidge Signs the immigration act on the south lawn of the White House(Wikipedia)

Upon signing the Act, President Calvin Coolidge commented, ‘America must remain American.’ This phrase would become the rallying cry of anti-immigration sentiment until after World War II.”

“When Hitler published Mein Kampf in 1924, he held up a foreign law as a model for his program of racial purification: The U.S. Immigration Restriction Act of 1924… When the Nazis took power in 1933, they installed a program of eugenics--the attempted "improvement" of the population through forced sterilization and marriage controls--that consciously drew on the U.S. example... Small wonder that the Nazi laws led one eugenics activist in Virginia to complain, "The Germans are beating us at our own game."”

We will return in more detail to the impact of this restrictive immigration law on European Jewry when the topic turns to the Holocaust. One result not often discussed was that, beyond providing a fig leaf for the administration to hide behind as justifying inaction, the fact that the leading democracy in the west, representative of the humanistic and liberal ideals, the fact that the one country that might have provided a model of moral and ethical behavior instead set an example for other potential countries of refuge (tiny Bolivia was the exception having admitted some 30,000 Jews between 1938 and 1941) to also close their borders.

Such theatrical gestures by the administration as the Bermuda Conference and that “too little-too late” afterthought the War Refugee Board were mere window dressing intended to placate critics at home, and particularly America’s mostly impotent Jewish community themselves fearful of antisemitism sweeping the United States, even as Europe’s Jews were being murdered.

Recent writings in this Series:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Before Hitler the Aryan Master Race was America’s ideal

“[T]he concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn't originate with Hitler. 

"Eugenics is the self-direction of human evolution": Logo from the Second International Eugenics Conference, 1921, depicting Eugenics as a tree which unites a variety of different fields (Wikipedia)

Introduction: While I will be drawing on multiple sources for this article, I recommend Edwin Black’s War Against the Weak to the reader interested in a single source for the topic of America’s pursuit of it’s own Aryan racial population. I will allow Mr. Black to provide the introduction:

Eugenics was the racist pseudoscience determined to wipe away all human beings deemed "unfit," preserving only those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype. Elements of the philosophy were enshrined as national policy by forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions, enacted in twenty-seven states. In 1909, California became the third state to adopt such laws [the first was Indiana, 1907]. Ultimately, eugenics practitioners coercively sterilized some 60,000 Americans, barred the marriage of thousands, forcibly segregated thousands in "colonies," and persecuted untold numbers in ways we are just learning. Before World War II, nearly half of coercive sterilizations were done in California, and even after the war, the state accounted for a third of all such surgeries.”

Eugenics was not an “invention” of the United States, but it was enthusiastically embraced by America. Politicians, educators, social scientists of all stripes saw in genetic engineering and the resulting American racial ideal a strategic national imperative, a goal of the highest order. The following are drawn from the book, The Nazi Connection, by Stefan Kuhl: In his inaugural address, Woodrow Wilson said: “[T]he whole nation has awakened to and recognizes the extraordinary importance of the science of human heredity [eugenics], as well as its application to the ennoblement of the human family… Theodore Roosevelt expressed the fear that “inferior” segments of the population were gaining power.” Steps taken to control the danger to humanity’s “ennoblement,” to ensure that the “inferior” would not “gain power”, at least in the early years included legalization of the involuntary sterilization of the “unfit,” and laws “that prohibited marriage and sexual intercourse between blacks and whites... The Commission of the American Genetic Association… proposed that the lowest 10% of the population be sterilized. [The measure] was intended to “eradicate” the “inferior” members of the society over a time period spanning two generations.”

Without American leadership, training and support, German National Socialism would likely have still pursued the Final Solution to the West’s Jewish Problem, but the effort would have lacked the credibility of a “scientific” justification, the enthusiastic moral support of America’s elite, the funds provided by America’s wealthy.

The Immigration Restriction League (founded in 1894) was the first American entity associated officially with eugenics. The League sought to bar what it considered dysgenic members of certain races from entering America and diluting what it saw as the superior American racial stock through procreation.” Although “eugenic ideas” were already “in the air” among America’s elite in the 19th century (Alexander Graham Bell, married to a deaf woman, proposed sterilization as a way to eliminate “deafness” from America’s gene pool around 1881) America’s movement to genetically engineer an ideal racial stock gained general popularity only in the early 20th century.

 Contestants get ready for the Better Baby Contest at the 1931 Indiana State Fair (Wikipedia)

In 1904 the Carnegie Institution created a laboratory complex on Long Island dedicated to eugenics research. Carnegie generosity was soon matched by other far-sighted philanthropies such as the Harriman railroad fortune and the Rockefeller Foundation. “The Rockefeller Foundation helped found the German eugenics program and even funded the program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.” But this is getting ahead of our story.
Before describing how American eugenics was applied as social engineering in the years before Nazism it is instructive to acknowledge some of its more prominent supporters.

A short list of the founders of the American Eugenics Society (established in 1922) includes: J. P. Morgan, Jr. of U. S. Steel; Miss E. B. Scripps of Scripps-Howard and United Press International; John H. Kellogg of cereal fame; Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood.

Prominent politicians and others included: President Theodore Roosevelt; President Woodrow Wilson; Alexander Graham Bell; the Rockefellers, Harrimans, and Carnegies; Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, to name a few.

Nearly all educational institutions from Ivy League to local collages promoted eugenics as a positive model to improve the national gene pool. Positive change, according to the model, would be achieved through encouraging, “the higher classes of society to reproduce offspring.” Those outside that model, the “unfit,” would be eliminated “humanely” by forced sterilization. Euthanasia, or “negative eugenics,” was proposed as a national project, was in fact utilized by some physicians and hospital administrators, but never became, as in Germany, a national program of race improvement. One reason advanced was that Germany’s public and overuse of euthanasia made it unattractive outside of Europe.

The “Unfit” defined: Among the so-called genetic traits to be eliminated from the national Aryan gene pool was deafness, blindness, insanity, criminal tendencies and laziness. Schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and depression: mental illness in general was also slated for elimination. Some races would be allowed to survive in segregated reservations, but sexual intercourse or intermarriage, called miscegenation, would be illegal and carry severe penalties. But restrictions on racial intercourse was not unique to eugenics; its history as practiced by many states went back to the American colonies.

“In 1907 Indiana became the first of more than thirty states to adopt legislation aimed at compulsory sterilization of certain individuals. Although the law was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court in 1921, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Virginia law allowing for the compulsory sterilization of patients of state mental institutions in 1927.”

Eventually thirty-three states would adopt laws, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, providing for involuntary sterilization resulting in more that 60,000 by mid-century. The last legal forced sterilization in the United States was performed thirty-six years after WWII, in Oregon in 1981.

The American model of race improvement by means of sterilizing the “unfit” would be replicated by the Third Reich. “[T]he Germans enacted compulsory sterilization laws partly based on the U.S. experience, and American eugenicists took pride in their influence on Nazi policies. 

Miscegenation laws forbade sexual relations, including marriage, between white and non-whites in the United states from earliest colonial days until as recently as the year 2000. Penalties varied from state to state and could involve a fine, “up to $2,000 and/or prison terms of up to 10 years.” But often offenders did not face justice in court, but at the end of a rope, or worse.

At mid-20th century approximately 30 states still had laws regarding miscegenation. One example was the Virginia Integrity Act of 1924. It prohibited marriage between a white person and anyone with a trace of blood other than Caucasian. The 1967 Supreme Court decision on Loving v. Virginia made American anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional.” At the time of the Court’s decision Barack Obama was six years old.

But Virginia was not the last state to surrender its miscegenation laws. Alabama was the last hold-out and only rescinded the law in November, 2000.

Recent writings in this Series:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Zionism , from antisemitism to Holocaust

“Eliminate the diaspora or the diaspora will eliminate you!”
 (Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Poland, 1937)

Had antisemitism remained social and political very likely most Jews, conditioned by centuries of religion-inspired discrimination, would have patiently waited for the most recent storm to pass. But following 1500 years of persecution and the dawn of political-religious reform, having tasted the promise of emancipation and acceptance represented by the Enlightenment, for some at least hope turned quickly to despair. Awareness grew that Christendom’s religion-based Jewish Problem was too deeply embedded in the in the West’s history and culture to vanish because secularism replaced religion-based society.

Jewish responses to Emancipation and continuing discrimination predated Zionism by decades. Two very different such efforts, are represented by Moses Mendelssohn, descended from a line of orthodox rabbis, and Karl Marx, the son of a Lutheran convert himself the son of a rabbinical family. Mendelssohn would ensure Jewish survival by “modernizing” religious practice while Marx’s was far more radical: Jewish identity along with Judaism would fall away, as would distinctions for all based on class, religion and nationality in proletarian revolution (pardon the obvious oversimplification). He wrote On the Jewish Question in 1843 in part in opposition to an opponent of Jewish emancipation. But the work was also a first attempt at his theory of dialectical materialism, and in it he identified the Jews symbolically with money, the West’s universally recognized stereotype. This symbolic representation of the Jews would provide a rationale for already existing antisemitism, provided a political ploy for both the left and the right, before and after the Holocaust and, when a state of the Jews appeared, included Israel and the movement whose creation it was, Zionism.

The first sparks of what would become a Zionist movement came out of Russia-Poland in the late nineteenth century. In 1882 Leon Pinsker, an assimilated Russian physician wrote Autoemancipation, a prescient work that anticipated the risk to Jewry in the twentieth century. That work, written fifty years before Germany voted the National Socialists into power, may even today represent the most accurate diagnosis of the condition of Jews in Christendom; of the West’s Jewish problem and its cure

Leon Pinsker (Wikipedia)

Pinsker’s preface is an impassioned Zionist challenge: Take responsibility for the fact that antisemitism is a permanent feature of the Western Diaspora; accept that the obvious Jewish response to “the terror of bloody atrocities” is self-emancipation, the creation of a Jewish national homeland.

After the terror of the bloody atrocities [the pogroms] a moment of calm… the Western Jews have again learned to suffer the cry, "hep! hep!" [by anti-Jewish rioters, typically students, in Germany]… Shut your eyes and hide your head like an ostrich -- there is to be no lasting peace unless … you apply a remedy more thoroughgoing than those palliatives to which our hapless people have been turning for 2000 years.”

“But,” Pinsker continues, “the greatest impediment in the path of the Jews to an independent national existence is that [we] do not feel its need… deny its authenticity (see Jabotinsky, below).”

Pinsker was not a Marxist but a Zionist and his solution to the Jewish problem lay not in a larger social revolution but in the removal of the Jews from that danger: “This change cannot be brought about by the civil emancipation of the Jews in this or that state, but only by… the foundation of … our inalienable home, our country.” Pinsker the physician diagnosed Judeophobia a, “psychic aberration… [an incurable] disease transmitted for two thousand years… Prejudice or instinctive ill-will is not moved by rational argument (so much for educating society away from persecution), however forceful and clear.”

For several decades after the appearance of Autoemancipation young and idealistic Jews, inspired by Pinsker and prodded by pogrom, made their way to Palestine as individuals and in groups. Among the first were the Hoveivei Zion, the Lovers of Zion, who founded Rishon l’Zion, one of the first Jewish towns in Palestine. But enthusiasm alone was not enough to inspire immigration sufficient to create in a state, and another decade would pass before another, more charismatic and politically-savvy leader would appear.

Theodor Herzl in Basel, 1897 (Wikipedia)

Theodore Herzl, another assimilated Jew, was a Viennese playwright and journalist. In 1894 he was sent to Paris to cover the treason trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. “Herzl witnessed mobs shouting “Death to the Jews” in France, the home of the French Revolution, and resolved that there was only one solution: the mass immigration of Jews to a land that they could call their own.” Apparently unaware of Pinsker or Autoemancipation, Herzl came to the same conclusion regarding the risk to Jewish survival in the West. Antisemitism, he concluded, “was a stable and immutable factor in human [well, Western] society, which assimilation did not solve.”

Recall that the events described above took place before the First World War, before National Socialism was voted into power in Germany and half a century before the West embarked on its final solution to it’s Jewish problem. For the Jews, at least, the Holocaust was still unimaginable. But some among the younger generation were already sensing the coming, if indefinable, disaster. Among them was Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Following Hitler’s electoral victory Jabotinsky crisscrossed Poland and Eastern Europe warning of the impending Final Solution. While few took the warning seriously, who beyond visionaries could imagine the unimanageable and unprecedented fate awaiting the Jews, Jabotinsky knew. On Tisha B’ Av of 1937, a traditional day of mourning on the Jewish calendar a leader accepting defeat Jabotinsky exhorted the Jewish people to expunge themselves of the Diaspora or perish:

It is already three years that I am calling upon you, Polish Jewry… warn you incessantly that a catastrophe is coming closer… [you] do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spit all-consuming lava… In the name of G-d! Let anyone of you save himself, as long as there is time, and there is very little… whoever of you will escape from the catastrophe, he of she will live to see the… the rise of a Jewish state.

“Eliminate the Diaspora or the Diaspora will eliminate you!”

Recent writings in this Series:

An American lynching: the Leo Max Frank Affair

Ninety years ago, some of Marietta's leading citizens gathered to hang a man, Leo Frank, a Jewish superintendent of an Atlanta pencil factory… [He was] murdered on a farm belonging to former Cobb County sheriff William Frey.”

Introduction: The trial and murder of Leo Frank stands in stark contrast to the outcomes of those other contemporaneous antisemitic outrages, the “trials” of Menahem Beilis and Alfred Dreyfus. In the end Russia and France, however reluctantly, recanted and their victims survived. Not so the American Jew. This incident illustrates the depth of antisemitism present in the United States for decades preceding the First World War, a level that only intensified after that war, and continued to do so through the Second World War and beyond. It was this same antipathy towards Jews, endemic to Western culture, that resulted in America violating its long tradition of refuge as last resort, at least when it came to Europe’s Jews fleeing the Holocaust.

Leo Max Frank was manager of the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta, Georgia. On the night of 27 April, 1913 the body of a thirteen year old employee was discovered in the factory basement. She had been raped and strangled.

Frank was accused of the 1913 murder of Mary Phagan, a former Mariettan who worked at the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta. Historians [and some police investigators at the time] believe that the state's main witness, Jim Conley, a janitor at the factory, murdered the 13-year-old girl.”

As it turned out John Conley, “who was arrested when he was seen washing red [described as “blood”] stains from a shirt,” became the state’s main witness. Conley, who had an arrest record involving alcohol and violence, “later gave at least four contradictory affidavits explaining how he had helped Frank dispose of the body. ”At one point he testified to being illiterate, a claim later contradicted when he asserted that Leo Frank had ordered him to write two notes, as if by the girl, as she lay dying. Conley also claimed that Frank paid him $200 for helping move the body but, but when asked by the police where the money was he claimed Frank had taken it back.

One of the two murder notes found near the body. (Wikipedia)

Tom Watson, publisher of the Jeffersonian newspaper, [see earlier submission] was instrumental in creating the atmosphere of antisemitism that would shape public outrage against Frank. He made cash payment to the police for access to police evidence, was accused of having removed evidence he felt favored Frank.

The grand jury investigating the case indicted Frank in the death of Mary Phagan on 24 May, 1913. On 28 May the pencil factory foreman was reported by the newspaper The Georgian to have said that he believed Conley "strangled Mary Phagan while about half drunk.” Two other witnesses against Conley were also not called to testify.

Why the grand jury chose not to pursue Conley, is not known. What is known is that following the indictment several members of the panel expressed doubts regarding Frank’s guilt, felt Conley should have been the one indicted.

Lucille and Leo Frank at Frank's trial. (Wikipedia)

Amidst controversy surrounding the police investigation, the manipulation and even disappearance of evidence; with accusations of witness badgering and even coaching by the police and prosecution, the trial ended on 26 August, 1913. Frank was convicted in the murder. Presenting evidence of jury tampering and intimidation a mistrial was demanded. And denied. Frank’s conviction was greeted with jubilation in the street.

William Manning Smith, the attorney who initially defended Conley, reversed his position in 1914 after concluding that his own client was the guilty party.”

Appeals to both the Georgia and US Supreme Courts were unsuccessful.

Tom Watson, who in 1920 would represent Georgia in the US Senate, had little patience for the “legal wrangling” following Frank’s conviction. “If Frank's rich connections [a not subtle reference to the Jews] keep on lying about this case,SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN!” But out of public view, “Watson let it be known to [Governor] Slaton that he would throw his support behind a Senate bid if only the governor would let Frank hang.”

Days before leaving office the governor, citing inconsistencies in evidence, commuted Frank's sentence to life in prison. Forty years later the governor would recall that he was convinced following the trial of Frank’s innocence and assumed “[it] would eventually be fully established and he would be set free”.

Responding to the governor’s decision Watson led a group of Georgia’s finest citizens to the prison, drove Frank 240 miles to , “A site at Frey's Gin, two miles east of Marietta [Mary Phagan’s home], had been prepared, complete with a rope and table supplied by former Sheriff William Frey. The following morning the self-styled “Knights of Mary Phagan” lynched Leo Frank

The lynching of Leo Frank. The man on the far right in the straw hat is Newton A. Morris, a superior court judge. (Wikipedia)

The lynch party was not a drunken polyglot of street hooligans in a rage. Frank’s murders consisted of 26 cool and calculating members of the professions, the cream of Atlanta’s elite. Among these luminaries were: former governor Joseph Mackey Brown; Superior Court Judge Newton Morris (standing near the hanging body of Leo Frank, above); Eugene Herbert Clay, son of U.S. senator Alexander S. Clay, and himself the former mayor of Marietta; John Tucker Dorsey, a lawyer and state legislator (and solicitor general for the Blue Ridge Circuit who would have been responsible for prosecuting the lynchers, had any been indicted!).

Following the lynching a festive atmosphere prevailed, and crowds searched the site for souvenirs… A short time after the lynching of Leo Frank, thirty-three members of the group that called itself the Knights of Mary Phagan gathered on a mountaintop near Atlanta and formed the new Ku Klux Klan of Georgia.”

“On March 11, 1986, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles granted Frank a pardon, citing the state's failure to protect him or prosecute his killers. But neither did they exonerate him:

Without attempting to address the question of guilt or innocence, and in recognition of the State's failure to protect the person of Leo M. Frank and thereby preserve his opportunity for continued legal appeal of his conviction, and in recognition of the State's failure to bring his killers to justice, and as an effort to heal old wounds, theState Board of Pardons and Paroles, in compliance with its Constitutional and statutory authority, hereby grants to Leo M. Frank a Pardon.

Georgia has yet to admit to Frank’s wrongful conviction, responsibility for its miscarriage of justice.

The names of Frank's murderers were well-known locally but were not made public until January 7, 2000, when Stephen Goldfarb, an Atlanta librarian and former history professor, published a list on his website. The Washington Post writes that it includes several prominent citizens—a former governor, the son of a senator, a Methodist minister, a state legislator, and a former state Superior Court judge—their names matching those on Marietta's street signs, office buildings, shopping centers, and law offices today.”

Recent writings in this Series: