CORDELL HULL and the American Jewish Committee soon
learned that their efforts to contain the anti-Nazi movement would be seriously challenged.
Page-one headlines of the March 23, 1933, New York Times portrayed the new public mood.
"PROTEST ON HITLER GROWING IN NATION. Christian and
Non-Sectarian Groups Voice Indignation Over Anti-Jewish Drive. URGE WASHINGTON TO ACT."(1)
"BOYCOTT MOVE SPREADS. Merchants Canceling Orders for German
The movement was spreading spontaneously, along
interreligious lines. Spurred on by the Jewish War Veterans, the nation's emotions were
mobilized. Boycott was finally a word lifted out of the whispers and into the headlines.
Under the direction of Col. Morris J. Mendelsohn, chairman of the JWV's Boycott Committee,
a veterans' protest march was organized. In solidarity, W. W. Cohen, vice-president of the
American Jewish Congress, accepted the position of parade marshal. He participated at his
own initiative, since Stephen Wise was still reluctant to commit the Congress to a boycott
per se, and Congress leaders didn't want to detract from their own upcoming Madison Square
Garden protest.(3) Cohen's visibility nevertheless associated the powerful
Congress with the JWV's banners and placards declaring economic war on Germany.
Without the active support of the Congress,
Mendelsohn was uncertain how many marchers would participate and how many prominent figures
would actually show up to endorse the boycott. The day before the parade, Mendelsohn tried
to cheer up JWV leader J. George Fredman by telling him, "George, if we have nobody else,
you and I will march the full line of the parade and call on the mayor." But in truth
Mendelsohn doubted whether even Mayor John O'Brien would attend, since he was known to be
saving his first anti-Nazi appearance for the Congress rally.(4)
Everyone was surprised, therefore, when the Jewish
War veterans' boycott parade received an enthusiastic reception. Many thousands of cheering
sympathetic watchers encouraged the thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish vets as the parade
moved through the East Side to City Hall where Mayor O'Brien was waiting on the reviewing
stand. With much fanfare and applause, resolutions were presented demanding diplomatic
measures and an economic protest against the Reich. Dovetailing with the JWV protest parade
was a variety of sympathetic conferences, petitions, and resolutions by interfaith and
nonsectarian groups, including the American Federation of Labor, which pledged its 3 million
members to fighting Nazism here and in Germany.(5)
March 23 was a success for the Jewish War
Veterans. Their boycott kickoff generated maximum publicity. One radio station covered
the day with updates every fifteen minutes. Extensive support was offered by those in
prominence and power-as well as by the anonymous faces in the crowd, outraged and merely
waiting for a raised hand to lead the protest against Adolf Hitler.
German legations around the United States reported
the anti-Nazi developments to the fifty-one-day-old Reich. Jewish protest was not merely a
nuisance, it preyed upon the minds of the Nazis as they braced for their first big fight
against their avowed enemies, the Jews.(6) How effective any anti-German
boycott and protest movement would be was the question. Could mere popular protest in Europe
and America influence the Third Reich? Could a boycott-an economic war-topple the Hitler
regime or force Germany to abandon its anti-Jewish program? At the time, some Jewish leaders
either doubted the power of the anti-Nazi movement or were unwilling to participate. This
failure to participate worked to Hitler's advantage, because the Jewish-led worldwide anti
Nazi boycott was indeed the one weapon Hitler feared.
To understand why, one must examine Germany's economic
precariousness in 1933, the Nazi mentality, and the historic power of Jewish-led boycotts.
To do so requires a dual perspective: statistical and perceptual. Of equal weight in history
is reality and the perception of reality, because the two ignite each other in a continual
chain reaction that ultimately shapes events and destinies among men and nations.
The deterioration of the once powerful German economy really
began in World War 1, when German military and political leaders simply did not calculate the
economic effects of prolonged war. The Allied blockade cut off Germany's harbors and most of
her land trade routes. Trade was decimated. Industry couldn't export. War materiel and
civilian necessities, including food, could not be imported.
Before the blockade was lifted, 800,000 malnourished German
civilians perished. Actually the blockade created less of a food shortage for Germany, which
was 80 percent food self-sufficient before the war, than did the short-sighted policy of
pulling Germans off the farms to fight without compensating for reduced food production.
But the popular perception among Germans was that they had been starved into submission,
defeated not on the battlefield but by political and economic warfare and connivance, by what
became known as the "stab in the back."
The Treaty of Versailles' nonnegotiable terms demanded the
forfeiture of German colonies as well as a number of conquered or traditionally German lands:
the dismemberment of the German military machine; the arrest of hundreds of German militarists
and leaders as war criminals, including the German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II; the granting of
most-favored, nonreciprocal foreign commercial rights in Germany; and a certain amount of
interim foreign occupation. The German leadership was to sign a hated statement of total war
guilt. Additionally, Germany was to pay war reparations over the next two years of 5 billion
gold marks and approximately 15 billion marks' worth in cattle, timber and other barterable
items. The Allies allowed no negotiation of Versailles' oppressive terms and refused to lift
the economic and material blockade until German leaders accepted what later German generations
would call the Diktat.
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