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Business and the Holocaust
Articles | Excerpts | Government Resources | Historical Media Reports | Media Reports | Organizations | Restitution | War Crimes Trials
©2000 - 2001 Edwin Black.   Used by permission.
Chapter One 1 |  2 |  3   Chapter Two 1 |  2 |  3 |  4 |  5 |  6 |  7   Chapter Three 1 |  2 |  3 |  4 |  5 |  6 |  7 |  8

The Transfer Agreement:
The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine
  by Edwin Black
Excerpts from Three Chapters

~ Chapter Two - 5 ~

The Ideological Struggle

The Transfer Agreement: The Pact Between the Third Reich & Jewish Palestine

Stephen Wise stepped in to avoid total humiliation for the Committee, which he still hoped would use its influence in Washington. He offered to redraft the protest resolution, but the final wording was virtually the same and still anathema to the Committee. The date March 27 was approved, and Madison Square Garden was ratified as the epicenter of a day of global anti-German protest that would signal the beginning of mass Jewish resistance to Hitler. But through Wise's counsel, the Congress did not declare a boycott. He felt the big inter-organizational boycott the Congress could mount would be indeed the final nonviolent weapon. The time had not yet come.(28)

But official Congress hesitation did not rule out outspoken unofficial support for the Boycott movement. The very next day, March 20, Congress vice president W. W. Cohen became inspired while lunching at a fine German restaurant. When the waiter came by and offered Cohen an imported Bavarian beer, Cohen suddenly became enraged, and shouted "No!" The entire restaurant turned to Cohen, who then pointedly asked for the check.(29)

Cohen left the restaurant and went directly to a Jewish War Veterans' boycott rally, where he proclaimed to an excited crowd, "Any Jew buying one penny's worth of merchandise made in Germany is a traitor to his people. I doubt that the American government can officially take any notice of what the German government is doing to its own citizens. So our only line of resistance is to touch German pocketbooks."(30)

As W. W. Cohen was exhorting his fellow Americans to fight back economically, the Jews of Vilna, Poland were proposing the identical tactic. Poland contained Europe's most concentrated Jewish population, nearly 3.5 million, mainly residing in closely-knit urban communities. They were economically and politically cohesive, often militant. Bordering Hitler's Germany, Polish Jewry could organize an anti-Nazi boycott that would not only be financially irritating to the Reich, but highly visible in central Europe. The Jews of Vilna held a boycott rally on March 20, 1933. To recruit added interpolitical and interfaith support, they incorporated their boycott movement into the larger national furor over the Polish Corridor. Hitler, in his first days as chancellor, had hinted strongly that Germany might occupy the Corridor to ensure the Reich's access to the free city of Danzig. German access via a corridor traversing Poland and controlled by Poland was part of the Versailles Treaty. Poland, unwilling to relinquish its Versailles territorial rights, reacted defensively, and rumors of a preemptive Polish invasion of Germany were rampant.(31)

By identifying their anti-Nazi boycott as national rather than sectarian retaliation, the Vilna Jews sought to construct the model for other worried Europeans. Vilna's March 20 mass anti-Hitler rally urged all Polish patriots and Jews throughout the world to battle for Polish territorial defense by not buying or selling German goods. The Jewish War veterans were no longer alone.(32)

As the former governor of New York, President Roosevelt was attuned to the pulse of the Jewish constituency. The legends of FDR's strong friendship with Stephen Wise of the American Jewish Congress were feared in Berlin. In truth, however, the Wise-Roosevelt relationship by 1933 was strained. Two years earlier, in his last face-to-face meeting with FDR, Rabbi Wise had presented Governor Roosevelt with written charges against then New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker. Roosevelt objected to Wise's pejorative manner that day and then lectured the rabbi about an earlier protest on an unrelated issue. That was to be their last private conversation for five years. Wise openly broke with Roosevelt in 1932 by backing Democratic primary loser Alfred E. Smith for the presidential nomination.(33) Berlin did not know it, but in March 1933, Wise was reluctant to test his access to the White House.

Roosevelt himself had shown little official concern for the plight of Germany's Jews. Shortly before the inauguration in the first week of March, one of Wise's friends, Lewis Strauss, tried to convince outgoing President Hoover and President-elect Roosevelt to send a joint message of alarm to the German government. Although Hoover sent word of his concern through the American ambassador in Berlin, FDR refused to get involved.(34)

Yet Nazi atrocities intensified, as bannered each day in the press: Midnight home invasions by Brownshirts forcing Jewish landlords and employers at gunpoint to sign papers relenting in tenant or employee disputes. Leading Jewish physicians kidnapped from their hospitals, driven to the outskirts of town and threatened with death if they did not resign and leave Germany. Dignified Jewish businessmen dragged from their favorite cafes, savagely beaten and sometimes forced to wash the streets.

Wise felt he could wait no longer and on March 21, 1933, he led a delegation of American Jewish Congress leaders to Washington. To set the tone of his Washington efforts, Rabbi Wise released a statement that effectively burned the last thread of hoped-for cooperation with the Committee-B'nai B'rith binary. "The time for caution and prudence is past," Wise said. "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?"(35)

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NOTES

28. See letter, John Haynes Holmes to Stephen Wise, Apr. 20, 1933, BPM at AJA; see "Christian Leaders Protest on Hitler," NYT, Mar. 22, 1933; also see press release, AJC, Sep. 16, 1933, BPM at AJA. RETURN TO TEXT

29. Interview with Morris Mendelsohn. RETURN TO TEXT

30. "Boycott Advocated to Curb Hitlerism," NYT, Mar. 21, 1933; interview with Morris Mendelsohn. RETURN TO TEXT

31. "Vast Protest Movement Throughout Poland: Jews, Non-Jews Join in Demonstration," JDB, Mar. 29, 1933; dispatch, British Embassy, Warsaw, to Sir John Simon, Mar. 29, 1933, PRO-FO 371/16721-1556; "Poland Antagonized," JC, Mar. 31, 1933; see telegram, "The Ambassador in Great Britain to the Foreign Minister," Mar. 8, 1933, DGFP 1918-45, (London: HMSO, 1957), ser. C, I: 124-25; telegram, "The Deputy of Department IV to the Consulate General at Danzig," Mar. 10, 1933, DGFP, 130; "The Minister in Poland to the Foreign Ministry," Apr. 19, 1933, and enclosed memorandum, Apr. 12, 1933, DGFP, 306-10; also see "In Europe's New Tenseness the 'Corridor' Looms Large," NYT, Mar. 19, 1933. RETURN TO TEXT

32. "Polish Jews Condemn Germany," NYT, Mar. 21, 1933; "Vast Protest Movement Throughout Poland," JDB, Mar. 19,1933. RETURN TO TEXT

33. Carl Herman Voss, Rabbi and Minister: The Friendship of Stephen S. Wise and John Haynes Holmes (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus, 1980), 275-76. RETURN TO TEXT

34. Letter, S. Wise to J.W. Mack, Mar. 8, 1933, in Voss, ed., Servant, 180. RETURN TO TEXT

35. "Jews Here Demand Washington Action," NYT, Mar. 23,1933. RETURN TO TEXT

©2000 - 2001 Edwin Black   Used by permission.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this work covered by the copyright hereon may be used in any form or by any means--graphic, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems--without the permission of the publisher.


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