The Central Vereins appeals did nothing to stop
the terror against Jewish businesses. Stink bombs, picketing and shopper
harassment by Nazi Party thugs continued for several days in Magdeburg,
Essen, Kassel and Berlin. Herman
Goering announced, "I shall employ the police, and without
mercy, wherever German people are hurt, but I refuse to turn the police
into a guard for Jewish stores."
When word of the assaults reached America, representatives of the American
Jewish Committee, Bnai Brith and the American Jewish Congress
met in New York. The conferees established a joint committee to monitor
the situation but agreed that organized public protests in America would
further undermine the already precarious position of German Jewry. Less
than a month later, however, the American Jewish Congress changed its
mind and called on its partners to help organize an American protest
campaign. On March 12, 1933, the AJCongress resolved to hold a mass
protest rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City. A week later,
the organization convened an emergency conference of Jewish organizations
that 1,500 individuals attended.
At the emergency meeting, the AJCongress announced its intention to
hold a Madison Square Garden rally on March 27th. J. George Fredman,
Commander-in-Chief of the Jewish War Veterans, called for an American
boycott of German imports. After Fredman spoke, Joseph Proskauer and
Judge Irving Lehman of the American Jewish Committee publicly counseled
restraint. Lehman feared that any rally in America "may add to
the terrible dangers of the Jews in Germany." Lehman pleaded, "I
implore you in the name of humanity, dont let anger pass a resolution
which will kill Jews in Germany."
Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, honorary president of the American Jewish Congress,
had the final word:
The time for prudence and caution is past. We must
speak up like men. How can we ask our Christian friends to lift their
voices in protest against the wrongs suffered by Jews if we keep silent?
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.
The conference voted to hold the Madison Square Garden rally.
On March 27th, the AJCongress and its allies convened simultaneous
protest rallies at Madison Square Garden in New York, in Chicago, Boston,
Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland and 70 other locations. The New York
rally was broadcast worldwide. An overflow crowd of 55,000 inside the
Garden and in the streets outside heard AJCongress president Bernard
Deutsch, American Federation of Labor president William Green, Senator
Robert F. Wagner, former New York governor Al Smith and several Christian
clergy call for an immediate cessation of the brutal treatment being
inflicted on German Jewry.
The Nazi apparatus denounced the American complaints as slanders generated
by "Jews of German origin." Nazi Propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels announced a campaign of "sharp countermeasures" against these
attacks. He accused German Jewry of engineering a worldwide boycott
of German goods to destroy the German economy. To give Jews a taste
of their own medicine, Goebbels announced that the following Saturday,
April first, all good Aryan Germans would boycott Jewish-owned businesses.
If, after the one-day boycott, the false charges against the Nazis in
the overseas press stopped, there would be no further boycott of Jewish
businesses. If worldwide Jewish attacks on the Nazi regime continued,
Goebbels warned, "the boycott will be resumed
Jewry has been annihilated."
The boycott came off as planned. German police and SS troops enforced store
closings. Protestors smashed the windows of some Jewish-owned shops
and department stores and forced others to close when Nazis set off
stink bombs inside them.
Urged by Stephen S. Wise to protest to the German government, U.S.
Secretary of State Cordell Hull issued a mild statement to the American
ambassador to Berlin complaining that "unfortunate incidents have
indeed occurred and the whole world joins in regretting them."
He expressed his personal belief, however, that the reports of anti-Jewish
violence were probably exaggerated. Unimpressed by Hulls tepid
response, the Jewish War Veterans renewed their call for a boycott of
German goods. The AJCongress, the American League for Defense of Jewish
Rights, the Jewish Labor Committee, Bnai Brith and others
joined them shortly thereafter.
Of course, the American boycott did nothing to deter
the Nazis, who escalated their violence against Europes Jews until
settling on the Final Solution.
As Rabbi Wise observed, however, the boycott effort, whatever its effect,
was a moral imperative. "We must speak out," he explained.
"If that is unavailing, at least we shall have spoken."