OTD in History… May 13-June 20, 1939, the ill-fated St Louis filled with German Jewish refugees is refused entry into the Americas

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY FEATURES

OTD in History… May 13-June 20, 1939, the ill-fated St Louis filled with German Jewish refugees is refused entry into the Americas

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: Washington Post

Eighty years ago on this day in history, May 27, 1939, 937 Jewish refugees passengers aboard the ship the S.S. St. Louis later known as “the Voyage of the Damned” reach their destination of Havana, Cuba after departing from Hamburg, Germany two weeks earlier on May 13, 1939. Cuba, the United States, and Canada would refuse entry to the Jewish refugees as anti-immigration sentiment, isolationism, and anti-Semitism would prevail in as the American countries that already instituted tight laws to prevent immigration. Cuba made its final decision to refuse the refugees entry on June 5, sending them away from the Havana on June 2, where they were never allowed to disembark. Between June 2 and June 5 as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) attempted to broker deals with Cuba and the US, the St. Louis lingered by the Miami, Florida shoreline as the refugees desperately cabled for entry to the American shores they saw longingly.

On June 5, the final word came the US State Department and the US Coast Guard escorted the St. Louis away from the US shores. They began their slow trip back to Europe on June 6, fearful they would return to Germany and certain death. The JDC and advocates continued negotiating for the refugees’ disembarkment but on June 7, Canada refused the refugees entry. The JDC turned to Western Europe as the St. Louis crawled back towards Great Britain. On June 11, The JDC would hear good news, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Britain would divide-up the refugees. They would reach their destinations between June 16 and 20, 1939, however, within a year two-thirds would end up under Nazi-controlled territories and a quarter would die in the Holocaust. The global reaction and treatment of the Jewish refugees on the St. Louis was a defining moment and turning point demonstrating that the world’s scales tipped towards anti-Semitism.

After the Kristallnacht on November 9–10, 1938, Germany’s Jews were looking for a way out of the country, while Germany was looking to rid the country of Jews. However, European transit countries were no longer taking in Jewish immigrants and after Arab protests, Britain tightened immigration to Eretz Israel/Palestine. Latin America with a plan of later entry to the United States was the last hope for many Jewish refugees in Germany. Cuba was one of the destinations because of its proximity to the US and agreement with Germany. Cuba would end up revoking their landing permits and in the end, only let a handful of Jewish refugees remain. Nowhere in the Americas would neither the United States nor Canada would accept the refugees. Both countries had immigration quota systems and strict restrictive laws in place, as isolationist and anti-immigration policies were in the norm in the interwar years.

Source: JTA

The majority of the refugees were German citizens, while a few were from Eastern European countries, practically all aboard applied for US visas and only intended to stay in Cuba while they awaited US immigration’s approval on their visas. Havana, Cuba had been the safe haven previously for refugees but not for the over 900 Jews on the St. Louis. Over 2,500 Jews already found saftey in immigrating to Cuba. News of the ship’s arrival put the Cuban left in motion; they wanted the government to stop the Jewish refugees from arriving. As the St. Louis set sail, however, there were already issues the Hamburg-Amerika Line that owned the St. Louis, kept the information hidden from the passengers.

The St. Louis’ captain Gustav Schroeder, a German sympathetic to his Jewish passengers already suspected there might be problems with the landing permits. The Director-General of the Cuban immigration office, Manuel Benitez Gonzalez had been making a very profitable business from selling landing certificates. Gonzalez took advantage of a loophole in the law, which stated tourists, and those “transiting” through Cuba going to other countries did not need to buy the $500 a person bond required in Decree 55. Gonzalez had an arrangement with the Hamburg-Amerika Line he sold them landing permits and the company, in turn, sold them for $235 to their desperate Jewish passengers. Gonsalez’s corruption led to the Cuban government to force him to resign.

On May 8, Cuban leftist protesters headed by former president Grau San Martin took the streets of Havana objecting to the arrival of more Jewish refugees in the country. Although Cubans worried about the refugees taking away jobs from them during the Depression, the motivation behind this huge rally was anti-Semitism aiming to “fight the Jews until the last one is driven out.” Over 40,000 attended the rally, which was also broadcast on radio. The newspapers in Havana and the province argued Jews were Communists to feed the frenzy, while the Cuban Nazi Party spread “anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic” propaganda. (Ogilvie & Miller, 18)

The rally convinced the Cuban government to change their minds about accepting the refugees. The week before their arrival Cuban President Federico Laredo Bru decided to invalidate all the landing certificates and transit, which the Cuban Director-General of Immigration granted the St Louis’ refugees. The new law Decree 937 would close the loophole and it would require the Cuban Secretaries of State and Labor to personally write and sign permissions to anyone entering the country, and each individual with the exception of American citizens would be required to post $500 in bond. Bru caved to the pressure to turn away the St. Louis’ refugees from Cuba.

Sarah A. Ogilvie and Scott Miller in their book Refuge Denied, The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust point out, “But now, quite suddenly, a convergence of factors — including greed, political infighting, public agitation against immigration, fascist influences, and anti-Semitism — changed that equation, making the majority of those aboard the St. Louis unwelcome on Cuban soil.” With Cuba added to the list of countries unwilling to accept Jewish refugees, the German Foreign Office and the Propaganda Ministry were able to use it to their advantage proving nowhere n the world wanted Jews and that they were letting their Jewish population go free.

Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts recount in their book, Voyage of the Damned, A Shocking True Story of Hope, Betrayal, and Nazi Terror, “The voyage could be exploited to the full for propaganda purposes: the German nation could be told that it was part of the general “housecleaning” operation; the world at large could be told that there was clear evidence that Germany was allowing Jews to leave unharmed and unimpeded.” (Thomas & Morgan Witts, 17) The Jews leaving Germany paid a heavy price to leave; they could only take four dollars and personal clothing and effects, giving up any other belongings they owned. The St. Louis would be one of the last ships to leave Germany with refugees before World War II commenced.

On May 23, Captain Schroeder was notified that the passengers might not be allowed to disembark because of the change in Cuban laws. The Hamburg-Amerika line sent Schroeder a cable saying, “MAJORITY OF YOUR PASSENGERS “IN CONTRAVENTION OF NEW CUBAN LAW 937 AND MAY NOT BE GIVEN PERMISSION TO DISEMBARK. . . . YOU WILL MAINTAIN SPEED AND COURSE, AS SITUATION IS NOT COMPLETELY CLEAR BUT CERTAINLY CRITICAL IF NOT RESOLVED BEFORE YOUR ARRIVAL.” Schroeder recruited five of the male passengers to deal with the permits crisis. The passengers’ committee was led by lawyer Josef Joseph and included Max Weiss, Max Zellner, Arthur Hausdorff, and Herbert Manassee. (Ogilvie & Miller, 15–16) The committee served as the spokesman for the refugees and would “play a key role in communicating with international relief agencies and advocating on behalf of the passengers.” (Ogilvie & Miller, 15–16)

The St. Louis reached Havana on Saturday, May 27, docking in the middle of the harbor. The Havana police came aboard and marked R for return on the majority of the refugees’ passports. Family members waiting at the harbor were not allowed to go see their loved ones on the ship. Later in the day, the police permitted only 22 of the 936 Jewish refugees, who had valid US visas and secured the bond to go to land (one refugee died during the trip and had been buried a sea). Additionally, Cuba let in six other passengers, “four Spanish citizens and two Cuban nationals.” On May 30, another passenger Max Loewe attempted suicide slitting his wrists and jumping overboard and was able to stay because he was hospitalized, he later was sent to Britain. The remaining 908 passengers were refused entry neither were they allowed to disembark based on Gonzalez’s permits. The ship and its refugees became the story in the European and American press, however, American journalists did not consider that the refugees be allowed entry into the US, their sympathy only went so far.

Source: The Globe & Mail

On May 28, Lawrence Berenson, who was a lawyer and representative from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) arrived from the US to Havana to attempt to negotiate the St. Louis’ passengers’ entry. Berenson had ties to Cuba having served as the president of the Cuban-American Chamber of Commerce. Berenson personally met with President Bru, who was adamant against allowed the refugees to enter, and on June 2, he demanded they leave Havana. After the St. Louis departed Berenson and JDC kept negotiating with the Cuban government. JDC and Berenson offered $125,000 and promised none of the refugees would seek employment in Cuba and would just stay there as they wait for the US visas. The Cuban government wanted the JDC to post the $500 a passenger bond, a staggering $453,500. According to historian Howard Sachar in his book A History of Jews in America, Bru demanded the JDC post a million dollar bond for the refugees, an amount beyond their reach still, Berenson and the JDC asked for more time. Bru refused, ending the Jewish passengers’ chances to find refuge in Cuba. On June 5, Berenson secured $500,000 in cash and deposited in a Havana bank but Bru was unable to agree to allow the refugees in bowing to public pressure. (Sachar, 493)

The Passenger committee chairman Josef Joseph described the site as the St. Louis left the Havana harbor:

The sirens signaled the engines and we were moving out of Havana into the sunlit blue Caribbean. To our right, we passed the lush colors of tropical gardens, blossoming trees, and exciting flora. To the left, the docks were bordered by the ostentatiously ornate buildings of a tropical metropolis. . . . Crowds filled every space along the shoreline, waving, weeping, and watching with great sadness. Automobiles accompanied us as far as the roadway permitted. And alongside a motorboat with a gentleman from the Joint Distribution Committee as well as a HAPAG [Hamburg-America Line] official who all shouted continuous encouragement and hopes for a speedy “Wiedersehen,” see you soon. A harbor patrol boat followed them and us. It was their duty to see that we moved swiftly out of the harbor. But the officer in sight managed to convey his sympathy for our plight. An indescribable drama of human concern and despair played on us as we sailed into the twilight of uncertainty. This is one of the most tragic days on board because we feel cheated for the freedom we had hoped for. What started as a voyage of freedom is now a voyage of doom.” (Ogilvie & Miller, 18–19)

As they left Cuba, Captain Schroeder slowly steered the boat north close to the coast of Florida, even docking close to Miami on June 3. Schroeder hoped the US would take the refugees since they already have filed the necessary immigration documents. To the St. Louis’ passengers, “America was a magic word. It was the be-all and end-all. We knew America would not let us down.” (Ogilvie & Miller, 19) The JDC and the committee attempted to negotiate a possible docking in the US. On June 5, the US Coast Guard guarding Miami ports to ensure that the ship would not dock or any refugees would attempt to swim to shore and military planes flew overhead. They used a cutter to force the St. Louis away from the shoreline and go north away from American shorelines. The Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis could see Miami and the freedom they craved in the US but were not allowed to enter. A number of the passengers cabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the White House, while the children wrote letters to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

The White House did not respond and the State Department’s only response came from A. M. Warren of the State Department’s Visa Division who cabled on June 4, “The German refugees… must await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.” The St. Louis lingering around Miami became a tragic news story. Only Hollywood stars, which included a number of American Jews cabled Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull to no avail but that was as far as American sympathy went. (Ogilvie & Miller, 20)

The United States and President Franklin Roosevelt refused to accept the refugees. Since 1924, when the Republican-controlled Congress US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924, quotas were put in place limiting the number of immigrants allowed to come from a given country. In 1939, only 27,370 immigrants Germany and Austria were allowed to enter the US and each year thousands were waitlisted waiting for maybe three years or more until they could enter depending on the country. Although a large number in peacetime, the US government further limited the number of Jews to be included in the quota making it a quota within a quota. Historians and Jewish leaders have criticized Roosevelt primarily on two inactions, not admitting the refugees aboard the St. Louis and later not bombing the gas chambers and crematoriums at Auschwitz. Roosevelt heeded to the anti-immigrant lobby in not allowing the St. Louis refugees into America. The president viewed it unfair to the other Jewish refugees in Cuba and Europe, who were awaiting entry to the U.S. to have the St. Louis circumvent the system, and giving a bad example to other ships.

Although, Americans were sympathetic to the refugees’ story, not enough to overcome their deep resentment for immigrants. An April 1939 Fortune poll showed an overwhelming 83 percent of Americans opposed increasing immigration in March 1939, rising from 67 percent the previous year. Roosevelt’s decision not to admit the St. Louis refugees was politically motivated. In the 1938 midterm election Republicans and their promises of increased and sustained isolationism, gained seats in Congress. At that, point if Roosevelt even thought of running for a third presidential term he had to consider the mood of the country. The country was fiercely isolationist and opposed to immigrants entering. While “middle blue-collar Americans” were mostly anti-Semitic adherent to Father Charles E. Coughlin whose radio show reached millions and preached “Nazi anti-Semitic principles.” (Thomas, Morgan-Witts, 16) Roosevelt, the State Department, the FBI, and the country also had a mostly unfounded fear that refugees including Jews from Germany were spies.

However, reluctant Americans were they were not supportive of the opposite extreme total restrictionism. Three restrictionist bills were introduced in Congress in 1939. Senator Robert Reynolds and Representative Joseph Starnes of Alabama introduced a bill intended to stop all immigration for 10 years or until only three million Americans were unemployed, it also would have fingerprinted and registered all immigrants in a database, and deport any “inimical to the public interest.” (Sachar, 491) This bill also died in the committee stage despite outside support from restrictionist groups including the American Legion and a public wary of admitting immigrants into the country.

Changes in immigration could not pass through Congress. After the Anschluss in 1938, Congressional Representatives Samuel Dickstein and Emanuel Celler both of New York introduced a bill allowing refugees to immigrate by using the combined unused country immigration quotas and “forgo the application of the ‘public charge’ provision.” (Sachar, 490) The bill was set for hearings when the restrictionists threatened to retaliate and the White House advised the Dickstein and Celler the bill would interfere in foreign policy. Celler reintroduced the bill in January 1939 allowing refugees to enter on a five-year probationary period. The bill died in the Ways and Means Committee.

In 1939, Congress again attempted to admit Jewish refugees, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senator Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Representative Edith Rogers (R-Mass.) would have allowed 20,000 Jewish child refugees to immigrate to the US, both parties refused to take up the Wagner-Rogers Bill to a House or Senate vote and it languished in committee. The bill received support from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. The first lady was supportive of Jewish refugees but could not sway the president. The American Jewish Committee mounted a campaign in support of the Wagner-Rogers Bill and journalists and newspapers supported the bill to allow refugee children. (Sachar, 491)

However, nativist groups used anti-Semitic propaganda calling it a “Jew Bill” and trying to scare the American public that the refugees would take away food from American children and it might lead to other immigrant children including the much disliked at the time Chinese. The biggest problem was the Roosevelt administration would not support the bill, with Secretary of State Cordell Hull afraid it would open a “Pandora’s box” in immigration requests. Had Roosevelt spoke out in favor of the bill it might have had a chance to pass in Congress. However, according to Thomas and Morgan-Witts, “The message was clear: any president would change the American immigration laws at his peril.” (Thomas & Morgan-Witts, 16)

In general, Americans and Congress wanted Jewish refugees to find a place but not in America, the right-wing wanted to resettle European Jews in “British or French Guiana or Kenya.” (Sachar, 493) While President Roosevelt “appealed to the world for a suitable area ‘to which refugees could be admitted in almost unlimited numbers.’” (Thomas & Morgan-Witts, 14) The world played ping-pong with European Jewish refugees as their lives hung in the balance. The US wanted to find a place for Jews in Central Africa, with Roosevelt advocating Ethiopia. The Soviet Union wanted Alaska. Thomas and Morgan-Witts recount, “The Orinoco River valley in Venezuela, Mexico, the plateaus of southwestern Africa, Tanganyika, Kenya, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland — the entire confusing collection of suggested sites were discussed, investigated, and dismissed, either by Jewish organizations or by national governments.” (Thomas & Morgan-Witts, 14) Most Jews wanted to go to America, however, the American public, government, and Roosevelt refused.

As historians, Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman analyze in their book, FDR and the Jews, that before and during World War II and the Holocaust Roosevelt’s actions towards Europe’s Jews were conflicting. Breitman and Lichtman explain, “For most of his presidency Roosevelt did little to aid the imperiled Jews of Germany and Europe. He put other policy priorities well ahead of saving Jews and deferred to fears of an anti-Semitic backlash at home. He worried that measures to assist European Jews might endanger his political coalition at home and then a wartime alliance abroad.” … Still, at times Roosevelt acted decisively to rescue Jews, often withstanding contrary pressures from the American public, Congress, and his own State Department. Oddly enough, he did more for the Jews than any other world figure, even if his efforts seem deficient in retrospect. He was a far better president for Jews than any of his political adversaries would have been.” (Breitman & Lichtman, 8)

The last hope for docking in the Americas was Canada, whose immigration policy was even tighter and crueler than the US. As historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper argue in their book, None Is Too Many, Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933–1948, “Once Canada’s door was shut to Jews, it stayed shut. Even while the Nazis slaughter of European Jewry was taking place, the determination of immigration officials to withhold entry to those few Jews who might yet be rescued never wavered.” (Abella & Troper, 17) On June 7, 1939, a number of Canadians looked to have the Canadian government accept the St. Louis refugees. George Wrong led among those who advocated including “B.K. Sandwell of Saturday Night, Robert Falconer, past-president of the University of Toronto and Ellsworth Flavelle, a wealthy businessman.” (Abella & Troper, 64) They sent a telegram to Prime Minister Mackenzie King asking to “show true Christian charity.”

King was not interested in the plight of Jewish refugees he was hosting the royal family and “accompanying” them as their toured Washington, DC. King asked the Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe and director of the Immigration Branch of the Department of Mines and Resources Charles Blair on the idea both were against it with Lapointe from French Quebec, “emphatically opposed.” Blair believed the Canadian government had already done enough for Jewish refugees from Europe, responding, Canada could “open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who want to leave Europe: the line has to be drawn somewhere.” (Abella & Troper, 64)

With the US and Canada refusing to take in the St. Louis refugees that only left the possibility of Western European countries and Great Britain. On June 6, 1939, the St. Louis started its return trip to Europe. The JDC turned its attention to finding the refugees a place in Europe away from Germany and Austria. The JDC’s European director Morris Troper “frantically” negotiated with European governments, offering to pay for the refugees “board and lodging.” None of the countries seemed receptive, Schroeder to ask his boss the Hamburg-Amerika Line in Berlin if they would allow him to sail to Shanghai, China, a location willing to accept Jewish refugees but they refused such an expense on Jews.

Instead, Schroeder slowly steered the St. Louis towards Europe and Great Britain to buy the JDC time. On the ship, desperation had seeped through with many of the passengers considering suicide. Schroeder devised a contingency plan somehow to crash the ship along the coast of Britain, with it shipwrecked; Britain would have to the Jewish refugees onto land. On June 11, Troper received a response, the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, and France would take in the refugees. Troper sent news to Schroeder and the St. Louis on June 13, where they would first arrive at the dock in Antwerp, Belgium. On June 17, the St. Louis reached Antwerp by June 20 they would all reach their destination countries. In 1993, the Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel named Schroeder as Righteous Among the Nations.

There seems to be a historical disagreement on the number of each country accepted and how many died under the Nazis. The historian Howard Sachar noted in his book A History of the Jews in America, that the Netherlands accepted 194 refugees; Belgium and France admitted “250 refugees each,” while Britain took the remaining passengers. The United States Holocaust Museum Museum claims, “Great Britain took 288 passengers, the Netherlands admitted 181 passengers, Belgium took in 214 passengers, and 224 passengers found at least temporary refuge in France.” Sachar indicates that 617 out of the 621 who ended up on mainland Europe died within the year. The USHMM says, by May 1940 when Germany conquered Europe, 532 passengers remained on mainland Europe. Of them, 284 “survived” through the Holocaust, while 254 of the St. Louis refugees died in the Holocaust, “84 who had been in Belgium, 84 who had found refuge in Holland, and 86 who had been admitted to France.” Ogilvie and Miller recount, “While a significant number wound up in the relative safety of Great Britain, the rest found themselves embarking — although they at first might not have realized it — upon yet another perilous journey. In less than a year’s time, Germany would control much of Europe, and more than six hundred veterans of the St. Louis trapped on the Continent would once again be in the crosshairs of Nazi terror.” (Ogilvie & Miller, 25)

Had the United States or Canada acted taking a stand against anti-immigrationalists and taken a humanitarian position, all the 936 passengers aboard the St. Louis, who arrived in Havana would have survived and thrived in freedom. The world and Europe’s Jews always viewed the US as a leader and beacon of hope for those in danger, President Roosevelt and the country let them down. Ogilvie and Miller indicate, “The St. Louis affair has come to symbolize the world’s indifference to the plight of European Jewry on the eve of World War II. The episode speaks directly to contradictions in American society when it was faced with the increasingly alarming effects of Hitler’s totalitarian regime. On the one hand, there was widespread disapproval of Nazi brutality and persecution of Jews and other minorities. On the other hand, tough economic times, isolationism, and anti-Semitism hindered any moves to let more refugees in. In the end, the resulting gap — “between sympathy and action” — proved too great to overcome.” (Ogilvie & Miller, 1)

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Abella, Irving M, and Harold M. Troper. None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933–1948. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.

Breitman, Richard, and Allan J. Lichtman. FDR and the Jews. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013.

Ogilvie, Sarah A, and Scott Miller. Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust. Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of the Jews in America. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Thomas, Gordon, and Max Morgan-Witts. Voyage of the Damned: A Shocking True Story of Hope, Betrayal and Nazi Terror. New York, N.Y: Skyhorse, 2010.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Voyage of the St. Louis,” The Holocaust Encyclopediahttps://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/voyage-of-the-st-louis

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in Judaic Studies at Concordia University. She is the author of “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is a journalist, librarian, and historian and a former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, Judaism, and news. She has a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism.

History February 14, 2020: Sanders’s views on Judaism similar to the last Jew as close to presidency Judah Benjamin

HEADLINE NEWS

Headline_News

HISTORY

Sanders’s views on Judaism similar to the last Jew as close to presidency Judah Benjamin

Bonnie K. Goodman

Bonnie K. Goodman Feb 14

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

In an unfamiliar sight, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders lights a Hanukkah menorah wearing a kippah at a Des Moines, Iowa event, December 29, 2019. Kelsey Kremer/The Register

With his victory in the New Hampshire primary, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders became the frontrunner for the Democratic Presidential nomination.[1] Sanders would become the first Jew to hold the distinction and become that close to capturing the presidency. Sanders is not a practicing Jew and withheld from discussing his Judaism during his 2016 run for the Democratic nomination and only recently he has made his religious identity a central focus in his campaign. In a January 2020 New York Times interview with Sanders, when asked about believing in God Sanders declared, “I am Jewish, I am proud to be Jewish. I was bar mitzvahed from the Kings Highway Jewish Center, a long time ago. I am not actively involved in organized religion. I believe in God. I believe in the universality of people. That what happens to you impacts me. And I certainly believe in the constitutional right of freedom of religion. And I will strongly defend that.”[2] In 2015, in an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Kimmel asked Sanders the same question, to which he replied, “I am what I am. And what I believe in, and what my spirituality is about, is that we’re all in this together.” [3] Sanders’s Jewish co-religionists are not enthusiastic about the prospect of him becoming the first Jewish Democratic nominee and he is their fourth choice among the Democratic presidential candidates.

In American history, only one other Jew has come so close to the presidency, Judah P. Benjamin. Benjamin served in three cabinet posts in the Confederate States of America government; the country formed with the Southern states seceded from the Union, a catalyst for the Civil War to preserve the union. The wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Varina Davis in her memoirs acknowledged Benjamin, “The President promoted him to the State Department with a personal and aggrieved sense of injustice done to the man who had now become his friend and right hand.” [4] Benjamin was indispensable to Davis, working ten to twelve hours a day by his side, serving as a speechwriter and trusted confident. Benjamin biographer Eli N. Evans author of Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate went as far as to claim Benjamin sometimes served as a surrogate or acting president of the Confederacy.

Benjamin was the first Jewish Senator, the first Jew nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court, and he was nominated to be the Ambassador to Spain an honor for a Jew, who came from a prominent Spanish Jewish family, and who traced their lineage to before the expulsion. The Confederacy had been welcoming to religious minorities, Benjamin, who was Jewish married into a successful Louisiana Creole and Catholic family excelled in an increasingly Protestant Christian evangelical majority. In the South and the Senate, Benjamin was a brilliant jurist, orator, a plantation owner, and a sugar cane cultivator. During the Civil War, Benjamin was “the brains of the Confederacy,” the Jew at “the very center of Southern history,” “in the eye of the storm that was the Civil War,” who remained in the “shadow” but took the fall as the Confederacy failed in the war. [5] Through it, all Benjamin refused to discuss his Jewish identity, anti-Semitism followed him throughout his political career and his actions in the Confederate cabinet caused an eruption of anti-Jewish prejudice in the North and mostly in the South, where the Jewish population had lived in harmony with their Christian neighbors.

Sanders also shares with Benjamin a reluctance to discuss his Jewish identity, which involved a religious childhood followed filled with Hebrew school and a Bar Mitzvah to marrying into a Catholic family and remaining Jewish in name only as a way to advance his political career in a Christian America. Sanders left out his Judaism, throughout the 2016 presidential campaign against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, only to be trounced by Jewish voters. Sanders addressed his Judaism on the 2020-campaign trail in November 2019 with an article in the leftist Jewish publication the Jewish Currants “How to Fight Antisemitism,” Sanders declared, “I am a proud Jewish American.”

The threat of antisemitism is not some abstract idea to me. It is very personal. It destroyed a large part of my family. I am not someone who spends a lot of time talking about my personal background because I believe political leaders should focus their attention on a vision and agenda for others, rather than themselves. But I also appreciate that it’s important to talk about how our backgrounds have informed our ideas, our principles, and our values.

I am a proud Jewish American. My father emigrated from Poland to the United States in 1921 at the age of 17 to escape the poverty and widespread antisemitism of his home country. Those in his family who remained in Poland after Hitler came to power were murdered by the Nazis. I know very well where white supremacist politics leads, and what can happen when people do not speak up against it. [6]

Sanders has increasingly discussed his Judaism in the weeks leading up to the all-important Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary turning his religion from a negative into a positive. Then Sanders debuted a new image at a Hanukkah celebration at the Brenton Skating Plaza in Des Moines, Iowa, the site of the first nominating contest, where Sanders would go to come-in a close second in a dead heat race against Pete Buttigieg, the Former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. On December 29, 2019, at the event Sanders denounced the recent anti-Semitic attack at a New York rabbi’s home in Monsey, lite the giant Hanukkah menorah, sang Hanukkah songs, and most startling wore a kippah.[7] In his remarks, Sanders discussed anti-Semitism a new staple on the campaign trail:

“What we are seeing right now — we’re seeing it in America and we’re seeing it all over the world — is a rise in anti-Semitism. We’re seeing a rise in hate crimes in this country. We’re seeing somebody run into a kid here in Des Moines because that child was a Latino. We’re seeing people being stabbed yesterday in New York City because they were Jewish. We are seeing people being assaulted because they are Muslim. … If there was ever a time in American history where we say no to religious bigotry, now is the time. If there was ever a time where we say no to divisiveness, now is the moment.”[8]

On January 25, 2020, Sanders’s campaign released a four-minute video on his Twitter feed about his Jewish identity, it included excerpts from Sanders’s October 2019 speech to J Street, “the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group,” annual conference and his campaign’s Jewish outreach director Joel Rubin, a former Barack Obama official, commentating. The video complete with Yiddish slang, “kishkes,” begins with Sanders declaring; “I’m very proud to be Jewish and look forward to becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country.” [9]

The video was meant to contrast Sanders with Republican President Donald Trump’s tolerance of white nationalism and anti-Semitism. Rubin narrates, “We live in a perilous time where not only are white nationalists attacking our synagogues and raising hate speech on the internet, we have a white nationalist right now sitting in the White House. We need to have someone in office who gets it, gets it in his kishkes, understands what it really means to ensure that we are healing our world.” [10] At the J-Street conference, Sanders also referenced anti-Semitism, saying, “If there is any people on Earth who understands the dangers of racism and white nationalism, it is certainly the Jewish people. And if there is any people on Earth who should do everything humanly possible to fight against Trump’s efforts to try to divide us up … and bring people together around a common and progressive agenda, it is the Jewish people.”[11]

On Thursday, February 6, 2020, speaking at a CNN town hall for Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire, Sanders answered an audience question about his Jewish identity being “a help or a hindrance” as he runs for the presidency. Sanders responded to his Judaism, “impacts me very profoundly. When I try to think about the views that I came to hold there are two factors. One I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money … and the second one is being Jewish…. At a very early age, even before my political thoughts were developed, I was aware of the horrible things that human beings can do to other people in the name of racism or white nationalism, or in this case Nazism.”[12]

On the campaign trail, the most surprising Sanders’s allies and shave been touting his Judaism, among them Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Professor Cornel West. At a September 2019 campaign rally, Sarsour declared, “I would be so proud to win, but also to make history and elect the first Jewish American president this country has ever seen and for his name to be Bernard Sanders.” [13] At a pre-New Hampshire primary event on Monday, February 10, 2020, West, expressed, “We got a deep Jewish brother named Bernie Sanders who is bringing us together.” West supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and questions the Jewish historical claim to Israel.[14]

Sanders’s position on Israel is also troubling and he is overtly critical especially of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Sanders declares he is pro-Israel, writing, “I have a connection to Israel going back many years. In 1963, I lived on a kibbutz near Haifa. It was there that I saw and experienced for myself many of the progressive values upon which Israel was founded.” However, Sanders has sympathies with the Palestinians’ viewpoint, rights and “their displacement,” calling the Israeli settlements an occupation. Sanders’s plans threaten American military aid and funding to Israel making it contingent on their treatment of Palestinians, justifying it by saying, “$3.8 billion is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government.” [15] Sanders claims that kind of criticism “does not “delegitimize” Israel any more than acknowledging the sober facts of America’s own founding delegitimizes the United States.” [16] At the J-Street conference, Sanders justified his criticism, claiming, “It’s going to be very hard for anybody to call me — whose father’s family was wiped out by Hitler — anti-Semitic.”[17]

American Jews have reluctant to support Sanders partially because of his campaign surrogates who have a history of making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks and Sanders’s position on Israel. A January 2020, Pew Research Center poll finds that only 11 percent of Jewish members of the Democratic Party intends to vote for Sanders in the primaries. Sanders garners most of his support from “religiously unaffiliated Democrats, self-described atheists and agnostics,” and from Muslims than he does from Jewish Democrats. [18] Jewish Journal Political Editor Shmuel Rosner points out, “Still, it is clear that he is not the Jews’ preferred cup of tea. For many Israelis, a Sanders presidency seems like a nightmare. Sanders says he is “proud to be Jewish” but many Jews find it hard to feel the same pride as they look at him.” [19] The New York Times in their interview with Sanders noted his different views on his religion and his place in history. The Editorial Board indicated, “Senator Sanders is religiously an anomaly among the candidates, for several reasons — if elected, he would be the first Jewish president, and also one of few who have openly discussed a disconnect from organized religion. He attended Hebrew school as a boy and spent time in Israel on a kibbutz, but has said he does not have a regular religious practice.” [20]

In contrast, to Sanders’s recent declaration about his Jewish identity, Judah Benjamin supposedly only once declared his Jewishness in his political career on the Senate floor; however, historians dispute the occurrences since it was out of caricature for Benjamin. Benjamin chose not to discuss his Judaism but it followed him and he was the target of anti-Semitic attacks from colleagues and political enemies alike. Benjamin was the consummate insider and outsider as a Jew at both times. Sanders too shares the distinction of being an outsider in the American Jewish community and among Jewish voters.

Judah P. Benjamin

In March 1858, while Benjamin delivered a speech supporting Kansas being admitted to the Union as a slave state supposedly, Republican Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio “denounced” Benjamin on the Senate floor calling him, “an Israelite with Egyptian principle.” Wade stated, “Why sir, when old Moses, under immediate inspiration of God Almighty, enticed a whole nation of slaves, and ran away, not to Canada to old Canaan, I suppose Pharaoh and all the chivalry of old Egypt denounced him as a most furious abolitionist… there were not those who loved Egypt better than they loved liberty… They were not exactly Northern men with Southern principles, but they were Israelites with Egyptian principles.”

To which Benjamin supposedly responded, “It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amidst the thundering and lightning of Mt. Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain.” [21] Although attributed to Benjamin, Benjamin never acknowledged his Jewishness in issues in the Senate that affected American Jews. Historian Bertram W. Korn does not believe that Benjamin delivered this remark. According to Korn, “The fact that Benjamin did not feel obliged, in either of these cases, to register himself as a Jew would appear to be much more significant than any of the questionable traditions and legends concerning allegedly defiant answers to which he is purported to have made to any anti-Jewish attacks upon himself.” [22] Evans also questions Benjamin’s declaration, since historians have told “ four different versions” of the anecdote and “the quote cannot be verified.” Still, Evans notes “the statement remains a part of the legend of Judah P. Benjamin, even though it indicates an uncharacteristic acknowledgment in public of his Jewishness.”[23]

The Benjamin family was not Orthodox and kept their store open on the Sabbath, and they did adhere to the daily religious rituals. Judah’s father Phillip Benjamin “was an intellectual” and “well versed in Jewish law.” Phillip was one of the founders of Charleston’s first Reform synagogue, the Reform Society of Israelites after he and 46 other members of Congregation Beth Elohim petitioned the synagogue to among other reforms modernize prayers using English, shorten the prayers, and include an English sermon in the service. The petitioners looked to anglicize Judaism in Protestant Charleston. Evans indicates, “As a son of one of the leaders of the society Judah understandably would have been deeply affected by the religious divisions. The reform movement was not just for adults, it sought to influence history through the children of its members and the generations to come.”[24] When Judah turned thirteen in 1824, he participated in a confirmation ceremony rather than a bar mitzvah. Phillip Benjamin served on the committee of correspondence of the new congregation. The family’s religious observance was lax, especially because of financial needs Phillip kept his store open on the Sabbath. In 1827, even under reform rules the new congregation “ousted” the Benjamins from the synagogue for not observing the Sabbath.[25]

Despite his non-observance, Benjamin remained a Jew his whole life although he was never attended or a member in a synagogue or involved in the Jewish community of any city he lived throughout his adult life in America or Britain. According to Korn in his article, “Judah P. Benjamin as a Jew,” “Altogether it would appear that Benjamin had no positive or active interest in Jews or Judaism. The only known facts are that he was born into a Jewish family… that he never denied being Jewish or sought to escape his background through conversion to the Catholic faith of his wife and daughter.” [26] “More recently Evans claims, “To presume Benjamin a nonbeliever by his public acts represents a fundamental error in Southern history.” Evans believes Benjamin could not cut ties completely with his Judaism after his religious upbringing, arguing, “No Jew can make the leap from a childhood with religious immigrant parents to an assimilated Southern leader in twenty years, without retaining psychological ties to his Jewish past.” [27]

The lack of personal sources about Benjamin makes it even more difficult to analyze his personal feelings about his Jewish identity as opposed to the public reticence available from the scarce sources. To Catharine MacMillan, in her article, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” “This failure is significant not only in the understanding of Benjamin’s life but also in a greater understanding of one of the most prominent Jewish figures in the nineteenth-century English speaking world. This prevents a greater understanding of the acceptance of Jewish people in America and the United Kingdom.” [28] Benjamin’s success was because of his passionate loyalty to Southern issues and his ability to downplay his religion. Despite Benjamin assimilating to Southern white Christian society, the anti-Semitic attacks towards Benjamin both before and especially during the Civil War gave rise to widespread anti-Jewish prejudice in the South. Historians will never know how he felt about the personal attacks or how he felt about his actions in the cabinet were affecting the wider Jewish community in the South.

The very little record does not indicate if he had any pride in being Jewish or involvement after his childhood. Whitaker in his Sketches of Life and Character in Louisiana, The Portraits Selected Principally from the Bench and Bar noted in 1847 that the public was aware that Benjamin was Jewish, writing, “Mr. Benjamin is by birth, and as his names imports, an Israelite. Yet how far he still adheres to the religion of his fathers, I cannot tell, though I should doubt whether the matter troubled him much.” [29] One incident indicates that Benjamin took an interest in the community; he purchased a subscription to the Philadelphia Rabbi Isaac Leeser’s newspaper The Occident and American Jewish Advocate. On March 20, 1848, Gershom Kursheedt, the leader of the New Orleans Jewish community notified Leeser in a letter that “Before I forget it let me state on Friday last Mr. J.P. Benjamin handed me $5.50 for you.” In 1843, Leeser sent free copies to influential Jews so they would purchase a subscription to his magazine. Benjamin was not as distanced to know the leader of the community and his connection to Leeser and to want to be current on Jewish issues.

Jewish leaders looked to claim Benjamin as a member of the Jewish community more than Benjamin wished to identify publicly with his religion. Two stories circulated that embellished his involvement. The first attributed to Isaac Mayer Wise, who claimed in the fall of 1850 to have had two discussions with Benjamin, Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Lieutenant Matthew F. Maury. In 1874, Wise recounts in his memoir, Reminisces he discussed religion and Judaism with Benjamin in the two meetings, the first in Webster’s office then later at dinner. Korn believes the discussions did not occur because Benjamin became a Senator in 1853, while Webster died in 1852, and Benjamin did not visit Washington in the fall of 1850 but July 1851. Wise contradicted his story in a response to a Boston Transcript editorial from January 5, 1861, which criticized Jews, Benjamin, Senator David (Levy) Yulee and Benjamin Mordecai of Charleston for contributing to the secession crisis, Benjamin and Yulee through their Senate actions and Mordecai with a monetary contribution. Wise responded Jews were divided politically and that he had only met Mordecai. Neither did Wise mention meeting Benjamin in his obituary for Benjamin in the Israelite.

Years later, Herbert Ezekiel author of the book The History of the Jews of Richmond from 1769 to 1917 (1917) claimed in 1860 that while Benjamin was in San Francisco arguing the mining case United States V. Castillero, he delivered a sermon at a San Francisco synagogue for Yom Kippur, on September 26. The United States V. Castillero was one of Benjamin’s most important cases in front of the Supreme Court concerned with “the ownership of the New Almaden quicksilver mine in California.” [30] Ezekiel quoted Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati. Wise had not been San Francisco that year and neither did the only Jewish paper The Weekly Gleaner claim Benjamin was anywhere near a synagogue let alone deliver a Yom Kippur sermon.

Two days earlier Rev, Julius Eckman of The Weekly Gleaner reported Benjamin delivered a lecture on politics and government at Tucker’s Academy for an Episcopal Church. The speech, however, did mention American Jewry, Eckman reported Benjamin made rare comments speaking out against political discrimination. Gleaner wrote, “He next referred in a very happy manner to the injustice in the distribution of offices and asked why the citizens of his religious tenets were not favored by those who have it in their power to bestow offices of emolument and trust. In a very pathetic manner, he asked ‘Would the great Washington have excluded a citizen from holding federal appointment because of his religion.’” [31]

Ezekiel believed Benjamin’s speech was delivered as a Yom Kippur sermon, Korn, however, indicates the speech must have been one Benjamin delivered to the Church of Advent. Korn claims the official printed version of the speech referred to “the spoils system and political prejudice, not religious prejudice.” Korn argues Eckman was either drowsy that evening and did not hear Benjamin right, or he was so eager to identify Benjamin as a positive Jew that he misinterpreted what the Louisiana Senator did say.” [32] Korn’s basis for his analysis was because Benjamin never spoke about himself in his address or anything related to Judaism in his addresses, quoting Jefferson Davis who claimed, “No more reticent man ever lived where it was possible to be silent.”

Without many records, it is difficult to say for certain. Despite Korn debunking the Benjamin quote, Eckman’s paraphrasing of Benjamin speaks volumes on why he, for the most part, stayed away from Judaism in his public life, his fear his religion would hold his ambition back from political advancement. Historian Diane Ashton explains the situation for Southern Jews during the Civil War in her article “Shifting Veils: Religion, Politics, and Womanhood Among Jewish Women During the Civil War.” Ashton writes, “When the determination of friend or foe was the degree to which an individual displayed shared values and commitments and when religion was made to serve political causes, Jewish identity could be a liability or an asset.” [33] With the array of anti-Semitic attacks on Benjamin from his political foes, he long learned that assimilation and keeping his religious difference private was best for his political advancement.

Two later incidents while Benjamin served in the Senate, however, demonstrated just how distanced publicly he was from his religion. In 1850, the “American Minster to Switzerland” A. Dudley Moore negotiated a commercial treaty with the Swiss Confederation. An article in the treaty allowed Swiss cantons the right to refuse Jews’ entry and not allow them to benefit from the treaty, only Christians, and included the ability to expel any Jew conducting business in their canton. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Senator Henry Clay opposed the clause and President Millard Fillmore wanted the clause removed from the treaty.

The controversy became known as L’Affaire Swiss. Rabbinical leaders in both North and South opposed the anti-Semitic clause and lobbied the government to advocate religious tolerance abroad. Among those leading the movement were “Rabbis Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia, David Einhorn of Baltimore, J. M. Cardozo of Charleston, and Capt. Jonas Phillips Levy of New York.” Former Representative Phillip Phillips of Alabama and Jonas Levy advocated the government on behalf of American Jews. In the Senate, Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan led a movement opposed to ratifying the treaty. Cass would later become Secretary of State and notably delivered a speech on the Senate floor on April 19, 1854, placing his support in America’s Jewish population.

Benjamin, however, refused to be involved in the Senate floor debate; instead, he did not identify himself as a Jew that would have been subjected to the treaty’s exemption. Benjamin presented the petition on May 10, 1854, on the Senate floor, he advocated for equality in the treaty but Benjamin chose not to include that he too was a Jew, excluding himself from his coreligionists. According to the Congressional Globe from the day, “Mr. Benjamin resented… a petition of citizens of the United States, professing the Jewish religion, praying that measures be taken to secure to American citizens of every religious creed, residing or traveling abroad, their civil and religious rights; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.” [34] The clause was rewritten but it still allowed the Swiss to discriminate against Jews. What had been an objection became a protest movement by American Jews, the situation only grew when an American citizen and Jew, A. H. Gootman, who conducted commercial business for five years was forced to leave La Chaux-de-Fonds, in Neuchâtel in 1856.

Except for presenting the petition, Benjamin chose not to take on a leadership role; historians suggest he felt it better for non-Jewish Senate members to take on that position. However, it was often the practice of some Jews in the South to “veil” as historian Diane Ashton called it, their religion in front of their Christian neighbors. If he would have taken on a leadership role he would have been known as the “Jewish Senator,” and he worked his whole career not to be defined or hindered by his Judaism. [35] In 1860, Benjamin remained just as detached, when China and Japan put similar clauses in their treaties with America only allowing Christians to worship freely. Again, Jewish leaders objected to the included clauses and lobbied that any American of any faith should have their right. Rabbi Max Lilienthal wrote to Benjamin looking for him to advocate in the Senate on American Jewry’s behalf. Benjamin replied:

Washington, March 24, 1860

My dear Sir:

I have received your favor of the 21st inst., and shall be watchful of the China treaty, in order to take care that by no omission shall the Israelites of the United States be debarred the privilege secured by the treaty to their Christian fellow citizens.

Thank you for your complimentary expression toward myself, I remain,

Yours with great respect,

J.P. Benjamin.

Rev. Dr. Lilienthal.

Benjamin’s reply was detached from the situation, although he agreed to advocate, he did not include himself as one of the aggrieved Jews.

Benjamin would the ultimate political insider but he spent his life as a Jew on the outside from his religion and community. Benjamin remained an outsider as a Jew, who like the rest of the Southern Jewish population tried to be more devoted, loyal and fervent in all the South’s institutions and social constructs to avoid anti-Jewish prejudice. Legal scholar Catharine MacMillan even concurs, “Benjamin’s life, it is also argued, demonstrates how some individuals can ‘overcome’ the initial marginalization which attends the circumstances of their birth to move within the mainstream of society.”[36] Historians agree that Benjamin’s ability to turn his “weakness into strength” led to his success and his “perseverance in the face of adversity.” [37] Benjamin died on May 6, 1884, although he remained a non-observant Jew, his wife Natalie St-Martin Benjamin had a Catholic priest administer last rites on Benjamin before he died, had his funeral services in a church and buried him at the St Martin family crypt at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

The United States is probably the most polarized politically it has been since before the Civil War, the ideological war between the left and right has widened into a chasm. Sanders has found being a Democratic socialist his new religion, his adherence to the ideology has helped him propel to the top of the candidates and gained him popularity among the growing progressives within the party. Benjamin too molded to the Southern social and political norms to rise the political ladder, he supported and defended slavery, states’ rights, and then secession to reach the heights of power in the South. Evans describes, “Benjamin as a Jew would have to be more loyal to the Cause than anyone else — more outspoken in the Cabinet, more courageous, and willing to wage war with the energy that total war demanded. And if he understood Jefferson Davis, loyalty to the President as the symbol to the Cause was the measure of a man’s worth to the Confederacy.” [38] Loyalty and adherence to America’s new political norms and downplaying their Judaism are the reasons both Benjamin and Sanders were able to advance in their political career despite their religion, now Sanders has the chance to use Benjamin’s strategy to reach what has until now elusive for Jews, the pinnacle of power in the U.S, the presidency.

SOURCES

Downey, Arthur T. The Creole Affair: The Slave Rebellion That Led the U.S. and Great Britain to the Brink of War. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Evans, Eli N. Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate. New York: Free Press, 1989.

Korn, Bertram W. “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, pp. 153–171. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

MacMillan, Catharine. “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?” Journal of Law and Society, 42 (1), 2015, pp. 150–172. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.14676478.2015.00702.

Nadell, Pamela S. and Jonathan D. Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives. Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001.

Singer, Jane. The Confederate Dirty War: Arson, Bombings, Assassination, and Plots for Chemical and Germ Attacks on the Union. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2005.

Stone, Kurt F. The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2011.

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, and historian. She has a BA in History & Art History, and an MLIS, Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She is currently expanding her article about Confederate cabinet secretary Judah Benjamin “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South” into a full-length biography.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/11/opinion/bernie-sanders-election.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/01/13/opinion/bernie-sanders-nytimes-interview.html

[3] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/01/bloomberg-and-sanders-embrace-judaism-not-each-other/605503/

[4] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 149.

[5] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xiii.

[6] https://jewishcurrents.org/how-to-fight-antisemitism/

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/01/bloomberg-and-sanders-embrace-judaism-not-each-other/605503/

[8] https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/elections/presidential/caucus/2019/12/29/bernie-sanders-celebrates-hanukkah-des-moines-menorah-lighting/2772165001/

[9] https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/bernie-sanders-rolls-out-his-jewish-bernie-campaign-video

[10] https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/bernie-sanders-rolls-out-his-jewish-bernie-campaign-video

[11] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/01/bloomberg-and-sanders-embrace-judaism-not-each-other/605503/

[12] https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/bernie-sanders-being-jewish-is-one-of-two-factors-that-shaped-his-outlook

[13] https://twitter.com/berniesanders/status/1170120494017740801?lang=en

[14] https://www.jta.org/2020/02/13/politics/cornel-west-uses-hebrew-word-chesed-at-bernie-sanders-rally

[15] https://jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain/310299/bernie-sanders-and-the-jews/

[16] https://jewishcurrents.org/how-to-fight-antisemitism/

[17] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/01/bloomberg-and-sanders-embrace-judaism-not-each-other/605503/

[18] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/01/31/among-democrats-christians-lean-toward-biden-while-nones-prefer-sanders/

[19] https://jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain/310299/bernie-sanders-and-the-jews/

[20] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/01/13/opinion/bernie-sanders-nytimes-interview.html

[21] Arthur T. Downey, The Creole Affair: The Slave Rebellion That Led the U.S. and Great Britain to the Brink of War, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 160.

[22] Bertram W. Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, 168. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

[23] Eli N. Evans, Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate, (New York: Free Press, 1988), 97.

[24] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 10.

[25] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 11.

[26] Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW”

[27] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xvii.

[28] Catharine MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?” Journal of Law and Society, 42 (1), 2015, 2. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.14676478.2015.00702

[29] Whitaker, Sketches of Life and Character in Louisiana, 28.

[30] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 11.

[31] Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 156.

[32] Ibid., Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 157.

[33] Pamela S. Nadell and Jonathan D. Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives, (Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001), 84.

[34] Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 167.

[35] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 41.

[36] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 18–19.

[37] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 18–19.

[38] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 121.

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, and historian. She has a BA in History & Art History, and an MLIS, Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She is currently expanding her article about Confederate cabinet secretary Judah Benjamin “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish Goal of Whiteness in the South” into a full-length biography.

Judaism August 19, 2013: Mediation fails in conflict over Touro Synagogue, celebrates 250th anniversary

EXAMINER ARTICLES

Examiner_Articles

JUDAISM

Mediation fails in conflict over Touro Synagogue, celebrates 250th anniversary

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Examiner.com, August 19, 2013, 6:43 PM MST

The Sephardic Orthodox Congregation dates back to 1658, and the synagogue is the oldest in the United States. Architect Peter Harrison designed the structure in the Palladian style, and it was completed in 1763.

Play
The Sephardic Orthodox Congregation dates back to 1658, and the synagogue is the oldest in the United States. Architect Peter Harrison designed the structure in the Palladian style, and it was completed in 1763.
tourosynagogue.org

On this day in history December 17, 1862: Grant Issues General Order No. 11 Against the Jews

HISTORY NEWS NETWORK

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY…

On this day in history…. December 17, 1862: Grant Issues General Order No. 11 Against the Jews

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

HNN, Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On this day in history… December 17, 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant issues General Order Number 11, expelling Jews from areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

General Order Number 11 stands out in American history as the first instance of a policy of official anti-Semitism on a large scale. The anti-Semitic order had deeper roots; many Northerners and Union army officials harbored anti-Jewish resentments. Jews in Union occupied Southern cities and towns faced the brunt of this prejudice. As Berthram Wallace Korn explains in his authoritative work, American Jewry and the Civil War (1951): “Some of the most prominent people in the Union were imbued with prejudice against the Jews.” (Korn, 164) It was this anti-Semitism within the ranks of the Union army that led to General Grant’s General Order No. 11 that called for all Jews to be expelled in his district, which covered the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

Underlying the order was a negative image of the Jewish merchant and the belief that Jews were part of a black market in Southern cotton. Although at war, the North and South still relied on each other economically. The North especially needed the South’s surplus cotton for the production of military tents and uniforms. The Union army would have implemented a ban on trade with the South completely; President Abraham Lincoln preferred a limited trade in cotton. The Battle of Shiloh made this trade possible by opening up the Mississippi River down to Vicksburg. This soon became very profitable for both sides; army officers, treasury agents, and individual speculators became involved, although Jews were distinctly a minority.

Army officers especially took advantage of the moneymaking possibilities to such a great extent that Lincoln complained, “the army itself is diverted from fighting rebels to speculating in cotton.” Although neither side prohibited the trade, President Lincoln ordered that all of the cotton that was traded had to be licensed by the Treasury Department and the Army. Each army commander was responsible for the cotton trade in their respective areas. General Ulysses S. Grant was the commander of the Department of the Tennessee, and therefore responsible for the licenses in that area. The limited trade in cotton and the overwhelming need for cotton in the Northern army led to soaring prices. This prompted many traders to bribe officials to be able to sell cotton without a permit. Jesse Grant, Grant’s father, took a prominent role in trading cotton and obtaining permits.

By the fall of 1862, trading was getting out of hand. Grant was annoyed that requests for licenses were distracting him from planning the capture of Vicksburg. Grant was getting an abundance of requests for licenses, and when Grant’s father sought them for a group of Cincinnati merchants, among whom were some Jews, the general issued his order. Although some of the traders were Jewish, most were not. Among the high ranks of the Union Army, the words “Jew,” “profiteer,” “speculator” and “trader” all meant the same thing (Feldberg, 118), while the Union commanding General Henry W. Halleck lumped together “traitors and Jew peddlers.” Grant concurred, describing Jews as “the Israelites,” an “intolerable nuisance.” It was because of old European prejudices and anti-Semitism that Jews were singled out. As in Europe, Jews were made scapegoats. History was repeating itself, but it this time it was in America.

On November 9 and 10, Grant sent his commanders in Jackson, Tennessee, orders that “no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad southward [into the Department of the Tennessee] from any point.” Grant also noted his disdain for Jews to C.P. Wolcott, Assistant Secretary of the Army. He claimed Treasury regulations were being violated “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.” (Feingold, 93) However, the illegal trading of cotton continued, and Grant continued to believe it was the fault of the Jewish merchants. On December 17, 1862, he issued Order 11:

“The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department [the “Department of the Tennessee,” an administrative district of the Union Army of occupation composed of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order. Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners unless furnished with permit from headquarters. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.”

The order implied that all Jews in the region were speculators and traders, which they were not. Despite this, Grant’s subordinates carried out the order around his headquarters in Holly Springs and also Oxford, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky where the Jews of these communities had to evacuate from their residences within a 24 hour period. In Holly Springs, the Jewish traders in the area had to walk 40 miles to evacuate the area. Thirty Jewish families who had been long time residents of the town also had to evacuate even though none of them engaged in the cotton speculation and two of them had been veterans of the Union Army.

The order caused an uproar and was criticized by both the Jewish community under Union command, and non-Jews in opposition to the Union’s Republicans. The anti-Semitic order was a shock for a Jewish community that had rarely been discriminated against. Democrats and others opposed to the administration believed the order represented another example of Lincoln’s willingness to trample on civil liberties. Peace Democrats complained that the Republicans were more concerned with the rights of blacks than of Jews, who were white. Jewish leaders organized protest rallies in St. Louis, Louisville and Cincinnati, while the leaders of the Jewish communities in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia sent telegrams to Lincoln protesting the order.

Residents of the expelled Jewish communities denounced the order. Cesar Kaskel, a merchant and president of the Paducah Union League, sent a telegram to Lincoln condemning Grant’s actions as an “enormous outrage on all laws and humanity, … the grossest violation of the Constitution and our rights as good citizens under it.” (Feldberg, 119) Kaskel also led a delegation to Washington to meet with Lincoln directly. He arrived in Washington just two days after the Emancipation Proclamation became law. Kaskel met with the prominent Jewish Republican, Adolphus Solomons, and was accompanied to the White House by Cincinnati Congressman John A. Gurley. They showed Lincoln documents proving that the Jews who had been expelled from their homes were upstanding citizens not involved in cotton speculation.

Lincoln ordered General Halleck, General in Chief of the Army, to revoke the order immediately. Halleck wrote to Grant on January 4, “A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms, it expells [sic] all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.” Grant complied three days later, but the mass evacuation of the Jewish communities in Holly Springs and Oxford, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky had already been carried out.

The Jewish community was grateful to President Lincoln for his swift revocation. On January 7, Rabbis Isaac M. Wise and Max Lilienthal of Cincinnati, Martin Bijur of Louisville, and Moses Strauss of Baltimore led delegations to Washington to express their gratitude to the President. Lincoln tried to make amends to the Jewish community. He said he had been surprised by Grant’s order and said he did not discriminate between Jews or Gentiles and would not allow any American to be discriminated against based on their religion. Lincoln told them he believed that “to condemn a class is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.”

General Order No. 11 was a rare instance of officially ordered anti-Semitism in American history, but just the fact that an order was signed and implemented punishing a religious community, as historian Henry Feingold states, “without due process of law,” put a spot on America’s reputation for religious tolerance. (Feingold, 94) It was an act more reminiscent of the anti-Semitism Jews endured in Europe for centuries, where without reason Jewish communities were expelled from towns and countries at a moment’s notice. The order revealed a disdain for Jews by high-ranking officials in the Union army among them Grant, William T. Sherman, and H. W. Halleck. It demonstrated that Jews in both the North and South were not sheltered from official anti-Semitism even in the safe haven of America.

Sources and further reading:

Henry L. Feingold, Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, (Twayne Publishers, 1974).

Michael Feldberg, Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History, (KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 2002).

Bertram Wallace Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1951).

Meyer Weinberg, Because They Were Jews: A History of Anti-Semitism, (Greenwood Press, 1986).

Labels: , ,