Cross Posted from Dan Kurz’s Jersey Globe Blog: http://kurzglobe.blogspot.com/…
This week the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published its annual report on Anti-Semitic incidents in the Garden State. The results, as reported in many of our area’s papers, are mixed. While it is true that an overwhelming majority of Jewish people living in New Jersey go about their daily lives without having to face this historic scourge, still, 78 incidents occurred in 2013. According to the ADL, these incidents involved acts of vandalism, assault and threats.
Racism and discrimination in all their perverse forms are bad, but ‘modern’ Anti-Semitism is its own kind of historical nemesis. I’ve been in education for over a decade, and I can honestly tell you, most New Jerseyans, despite our state’s Holocaust awareness requirement, fail understand the danger of organized Anti-Semitism to humanity in particular, and it’s long history in New Jersey (of all places!). It’s worth a retelling.
Medieval anti-Semitism is rooted in the Christian Bible, which has been interpreted as blaming Jews for the conspiracy to arrest and kill Jesus. Much of this hatred was fed to Europeans over the centuries by the Catholic and later Luther-inspired Protestant Churches. To be fair, this belief in collective Jewish guilt has been formally renounced by the Roman Catholic Church and most Protestant Churches. Over the past three decades, in fact, the Papacy has gone to great lengths to embrace good Jewish-Catholic relations through Papal Synagogue visits and various edicts. I do not think that I would be inaccurate in stating that, at least in New Jersey, if any Christian priest or preacher got up on next Sunday morning and told his or her congregation that Jews were “Christ Killers” the parishioners would simply walk out, throw the preacher out, or both. But this kind of anti-Semitism isn’t what motivates modern day Jew haters anyway.
Modern, formerly “respectable” Anti-Semitism is not ancient. It’s not even German. It’s not from the Arab world and it had nothing to do with the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades. It wasn’t born in the desert or amongst some maniacal civilization. It emerged, largely, from one of the most cosmopolitan centers of European civilization, from a city that still prides itself on its Baroque architecture, its cobblestone streets, and its sumptuous coffeehouses. Modern-day Anti-Semitism was born in Vienna, Austria, between 1880 and the outbreak of World War I.
These people, whoever they are – be they punks, White Supremacists, or Klansman, who are going around New Jersey committing acts of hatred are believers, for the most part, in this kind of anti-Semitism. Though Modern Anti-Semitism’s origins are a bit complex, the movement really crystalized and gained respect and electoral power in Turn-of-The-Century, cosmopolitan Vienna. It was there that, in the effort to gain votes and create some kind of national identity out of a diverse population, leaders pointed to the Jews as a common enemy. These anti-Semites stipulated that Jews, both religious and secular, were a cancer on humanity. These people preached, to great success, that Jews, through their achievements in the professions, were climbing to the top of their fields in a conspiratorial plan. This “plan,” was to be executed at the ‘right’ moment, on some kind of international basis, when Jews would strike to enslave and degrade all Christians. The conspiracy theory took several forms, but this was the most common one. In the meanwhile, most Anti-Semites said, Jews, by increasing their power and influence, were out to make the lives of Christians impoverished and marginal.
The moment of “respectable crystallization,” happened with the election of one of the great urban mayors of the early 20th century: Dr. Karl Lueger. Today Austrians like to forget about his intense anti-Semitism, as he was responsible for much of the modernization of Vienna. But at the time, Lueger’s strong hatred for the Jewish people – who comprised of a sizable minority of Vienna itself – was well known. Lueger used his tremendous oratory and persuasive powers to convince city voters that Jews were the main problem. In 1907, a few years before his death, Lueger told one reporter:
“A Jew must remember that neither Germany, nor Austria, nor Poland is his land. He must remember that wherever he may be, he is a stranger to the native population…I do not care about the welfare of the Jews. If their life here is miserable, let them go away.”
Today any big city mayor who made such a statement would be branded as crazy…insane. But these were the words of one of the most popular, elected politicians in the civilized world, and his words would not go unheeded. Under Lueger’s rule, Jews would be discriminated against, publicly assaulted, ridiculed and pushed out of organizations of all kinds. But his admirers were many, including one down-on-his-luck, failed artist and frequent inhabitant of the city’s homeless shelters and rooming houses named Adolf Hitler.
Now wait just a second. I thought this was a blog about New Jersey? What does an infamous Austrian mayor who died in 1910 have anything to do with anti-Semitism in, say, Newark or the Jersey Shore?
The respectability that Lueger gave to such hatred had transatlantic consequences, and this influence spread quickly. How quickly? He died in 1910; within a decade his organized, articulate anti-Jewish rhetoric would assist the growth of two of New Jersey’s most infamous – and powerful – hate groups: the Klan and the Nazis.
The Anti-Semitic Klan, partly due to the ‘respectability’ that Lueger and others had given the hatred of Jews and Judaism, spread rapidly here. Klan groups and “klaverns” organized by the thousands and the repressive organization established its headquarters in Newark. Amazing as the sight would be today, during holiday parades in several New Jersey towns and cities, Klan members marched by the hundreds – even the thousands – to promote their nefarious cause. Their organization published newsletters and newspapers and endorsed candidates running for local and state offices.
The Klan held huge ceremonies in the summertime, particularly at the Shore. One New York Times article claims that a July 1924 rally near Long Branch drew 20,000 supporters. The Klan participated in open, publiziced acts of terrorism. In April of 1922 they burned a huge cross on top of Paterson’s Garrett Mountain that was visible throughout much of Passaic County. While publicly promoting itself as another civic organization, Klansmen terrorized Jews, Catholics and immigrants through assaults and even bombings. Amazing right? Yes, it happened right here, in New Jersey. And it wasn’t over.
The Klan’s national power faded in the late 1920’s due to a variety of factors, one being a major murder scandal involving its Grand Wizard. The movement’s deterioration was reflected in New Jersey as well. But by the early 1930’s, Anti-Semitism was back in the Garden State and in a big, terrifying way.
In the years before the Second World War, New Jersey was home to a sizable Nazi movement that called itself “The Bund.” Like its evil twin in Germany, New Jersey’s Nazis dressed up in brown uniforms, held gatherings in beer halls, and established their own “base camps” in places like Andover. Yes, I am not kidding here. In the mid-1930’s, there was a Nazi camp, with real, goose-stepping, Hitler saluting, anti-Jewish stormtroopers, in Sussex County.
Area residents, like my grandmother who lived in Irvington at the time, grew concerned and frightened. When a collection of Nazi organizations from New Jersey and New York sold out Madison Square Garden for a rally in the mid-1930’s, the movement was on the borderline of – and its frightening to say – respectability. I would like to report that it was the outrages of the Nazis in Germany that led to the Jersey Bund’s decline, and that is frequently taught, but it was more likely the efforts of the state and Federal governments to squash the movement that probably brought on its end. And, of course, The War.
So here we are again, sort of, but on a much smaller basis. The Neo-Nazis or the Anti-Semites or whomever you want to call them are in our presence, but they’re not respectable. The average New Jersey resident, of course, knows from our present perspective what these kinds of ideas lead to: violence, mass death, collective sadism…etc. We’re all decent people, right? We’ll continue to work together as a diverse community towards the future. Yes, we’ll have our disagreements, but this is all our land. We still believe in those ideals…don’t we?
Man, I hope so. But the ADL’s report of 78 Jersey-based incidents in 2013 does shake my faith. A little bit.