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Anti-Nazi Boycotts

In protest against anti-Jewish excesses in Germany after the Nazi Party's victory at the polls on March 5, 1933, Jews throughout the world held mass rallies, marches, and a spontaneous anti-German boycott. This boycott developed into an organized movement after the demonstrative all-day boycott of the Nazis against German Jewry on April 1. The boycott proclamation of March 20 by the Jews of Vilna marked the launching of the boycott movement in Europe; Warsaw followed six days later. Soon the movement embraced virtually all Poland and was subsequently consolidated by the United Boycott Committee of Poland. This boycott movement was short-lived, however, for in January 1934, Poland signed a ten-year nonaggression pact with Hitler, in which cessation of boycott activities was stipulated as a precondition. Under Poland's premier, Józef Pilsudski, the provision was ignored. But in June 1935, about a month after his death, the United Boycott Committee was liquidated.

A mass boycott movement in England first began in the Jewish quarter of London's East End on March 24, 1935. The English-German fur business practically ceased as a result. The boycott groups included the Capt. Weber Boycott Organization, the World Alliance for Combatting Anti-Semitism, the British Anti-War Council, and the Anglo-Jewish Council of Trades and Industries. However, the *Board of Deputies of British Jews opposed the boycott throughout the 1930s.

In France, boycott sentiment was not as intense as in Poland or England; nevertheless, on the eve of the April 1 boycott, French Jewry warned that it would counterboycott the Reich if the Nazis carried out their plans, and they executed their threat by action similar to that of London's East End Jews. Two of France's most active boycott groups were the International League against Anti-Semitism, and the Comité de Défense des Juifs Persécutés en Allemagne. However, the *Alliance Israélite Universelle remained opposed to the boycott. At the end of March 1933, the anti-Nazi boycott movement spread to Romania and Yugoslavia, eventually encompassing the Jewish communities of Egypt, Greece, Latvia, Morocco, Palestine, several Latin American countries, and the United States.

In the United States the anti-Nazi boycott reached its peak. America's first established boycott group was the *Jewish War Veterans (March 19, 1933), followed by the American League for the Defense of Jewish Rights (ALDJR), a new organization founded by the Yiddish journalist, Abraham Coralnik, in May 1933. Three months later the *American Jewish Congress (AJC) made a boycott declaration and subsequently created a Boycott Committee. In October, the American Federation of Labor, a non-Jewish worker's organization, also announced that it was in favor of the boycott. The ALDJR was first led by Coralnik, and after six months by attorney-at-law Samuel Untermyer. In a move intended to alter the League's Jewish character, Untermyer changed its name to the "Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights." In 1934 the *Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) was created claiming to represent about 500,000 Jewish workers, and it immediately initiated a boycott program. Two years later, the organization's central body for boycott activities combined with the Congress' Boycott Committee to form the Joint Boycott Council (JBC). The Council and the League proved to be America's principal boycott organizations; the Jewish Veterans and other boycott groups that arose in the late 1930s cooperated with or joined these two organizations. However, attempts to unite the Council and the League were unsuccessful, the two organizations acting separately in consolidating the boycott on an international level.

The Joint Boycott Council's chairman, Joseph Tenenbaum, obtained passage of a boycott resolution at the *World Jewish Congress (WJC) in 1936. This was a reaffirmation of a worldwide boycott resolution adopted by the Second Preliminary Conference (1933), preceding the establishment of the WJC. Also in 1936, Coralnik and Untermyer convened a World Jewish Economic Conference in Amsterdam to coordinate the growing international boycott movement and help find for the boycotting businessmen substitutes for former German sources of supply. To this end, the Conference created a World Jewish Economic Federation, presided over by Untermyer. In keeping with his view that the boycott was a nonsectarian movement, Untermyer changed the Federation's name to the "World Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi Council to Champion Human Rights." American Jewry's failure to form a united boycott front did not prevent the movement from achieving success. Thus eventually the department store colossi of Macy's, Gimbel's, Sears and Roebuck, Woolworth, and others gave in to continued boycott pressure.

There is evidence that the Nazis, at least during the first two years of their regime, feared that a tight boycott would cripple their economy. Regarding the United States, for example, a memorandum prepared for Hitler by the Economic Policy Department of the Reich as late as November 18, 1938, cited the following comparative figures, which it attributed partly to the boycott:

Boycott, Anti-Nazi

Year 1929 1932 1937
* In millions of Reichsmarks
Import from the U.S. 1,790* 592 282
Export to the U.S. 991 281 209

In January 1939 dissolution of the *B'nai B'rith in Germany moved its American counterpart to join the boycott movement. However, the American Jewish Committee remained unalterably opposed to the movement throughout the Nazi era. In the United States, a non-belligerent until Pearl Harbor, the boycott was continued until 1941.


M. Gottlieb, "Anti-Nazi Boycott Movement in the American Jewish Community, 1933–1941" (Ph.D. dissert., Brandeis Univ., 1967); B. Katz, "Crisis and Response" (M.A. thesis, Columbia Univ., 1951); J. Tenenbaum, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 3 (1959), 129–46; S. Wise, Challenging Years (1949), ch. 15; AJHSQ, 57 (June, 1968).

[Moshe Gottlieb]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.