Polling of American opinion taken in the mid-1930’s, soon after Krystallnacht, found that “fifty-three percent believed that ‘Jews are different and should be restricted and ten percent believed that Jews should be deported…Another poll found that, 35-40 percent of the population was prepared to accept an anti-Jewish campaign [the existing model being Nazi Germany]… 23 percent of respondents in one 1945 survey [said] they would vote for a congressional candidate if the candidate declared "himself as being against the Jews" [another 35% said] it would not affect their vote.”
Westboro church members picketing the Virginia Holocaust Museum, 2011. A Christian cult, the image represents the impact of first century scripture on attitudes and stereotypes surviving into the twenty-first century.
Introduction: In 1913 B’nai B’rith’s Georgia director was tried and convicted of murder of a young Christian girl in an antisemitism-tainted trial. He was lynched two years later awaiting an appeal of his conviction. Reflecting widespread antisemitism across the United States and the trial inspired B’nai B’rith to create the Anti-defamation League. Part One of Assessing the Threat describes ADL surveys of antisemitism before, during and following the Holocaust. Pat Two will analyze those findings.
American antisemitism from Congress’s Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 through governmental apathy regarding the unfolding murder campaign before and during the Holocaust is, for all purposes, identical to European tradition. Is there a lesson in official and popular antisemitism in the post-Holocaust experience of the Rosenberg trial, Congress’s antisemitic witch hunt in Hollywood? How explain that a Jewish spy for Israel would be sentenced to life in prison when a Christian spy for Saudi Arabia walk out of the courthouse free? Does this describe a pattern or an explainable series of unrelated incidents?
If a “pattern,” were these government actions contrary to the ideal of the “will of the people;” or were they consistent with, and generally supported by, the American public?
Surveys of popular opinion covering the period demonstrate that government policy closely mirrors public sentiment.
For generations American Jews have insisted that the United States represents a departure from Old World antisemitism, that American history reflects not just tolerance but acceptance of Jews and Judaism. But faith by American Jews in the exceptionality or our homeland has a recent precedent. Before the Holocaust German Jewry, and on even better evidence, proclaimed their fatherland “exceptional.”
The best evidence against faith in American “exceptionality” is in the polls testing for antisemitism in the United States during the decades before and following the Holocaust:
"[N]ational public opinion polls taken from the mid nineteen thirties to the late nineteen forties… showed that over half the American population saw Jews as greedy and dishonest... too powerful… 35-40 percent of the population was prepared to accept an anti-Jewish campaign.” (emphasis added)
Narrowing the surveys down to year, a 1938 poll describes some 60% of Americans holding a “low opinion of Jews.” 41 percent viewed Jews as having "too much power,” and that number “rose to 58 percent by 1945.” In earlier pages reference was made to that 1939 Roper poll that concluded that 61% of Americans,
“felt that Jews should [not] be treated like other people”… Fifty-three percent believed that "Jews are different and should be restricted" and ten percent believed that Jews should be deported.”
Since the Roper poll was taken in 1939, it sampled the American public after Krystallnacht which received wide coverage in the press. And sentiment towards American Jews did not improve as the Holocaust unfolded in the press:
“Several surveys taken from 1940 to 1946 found that Jews were seen as a greater threat to the welfare of the United States than any other national, religious, or racial group… 23 percent of respondents in one 1945 survey [reported] they would vote for a congressional candidate if the candidate declared "himself as being against the Jews" and as many as 35 percent saying it would not affect their vote.”
All of these surveys reflecting widespread antipathy towards American Jews were taken before, during and following the Holocaust. The polls were taken against the backdrop of media reports describing Germany’s persecution progressing from restricting (1933), to isolating (1935) and finally murdering “the Jews” (1939-45). Krystallnacht; Heydrich’s Einzatsgruppe murder of one and a half million Jews; the horrors of Auschwitz: all, as reflected in the polls, seemed to feed Jew-hatred in the United States. As the Holocaust progressed antisemitism in America intensified!
The creation of the Anti-Defamation League in 1913 was Bnai Briths response to seeing its Georgia director, Leo Frank lynched as a Jew. ADL’s “Berkley Studies” Five-Year Study of Antisemitism in the United States is the first comprehensive survey of antisemitism in the United States and consists of seven volumes each highlighting a facet of antisemitism in America. The first volume discusses Christian Beliefs and anti-Semitism which, read alongside Catholic theologian Rosemary Reuther’s Faith and Fratricide provides an excellent introduction to both American antisemitism, and the Christian roots of anti-Judaism and its Jewish Problem. The Berkeley Studies was begun twenty years after the failed Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.
Volume Seven summarizes the earlier six. It describes the distribution of antisemitic attitudes among non-Jewish Americans for the period as, 31% “least,” 32% “moderate,” and 37%, “intensive.” Disregarding the category “least,” the findings are startling. According to ADL, in the 1960’s 69% of Americans were moderately to very antisemitic. But even those surveyed as “least” still agreed with one or two antisemitic stereotypes. How many “stereotypes” make an “antisemite”?
According to the Anti-Defamation League approximately 50 million Americans surveyed for antisemitic beliefs in 2011 fell into the “most antisemitic” category!
While there seems to be no precise polling of antisemitism among Germany’s non-Jewish population before the Holocaust, historian David Engel estimates that,
“the Holocaust was planned and executed by only a select coterie of Nazi leaders and officials, who could count on the support of a hard core of Nazi true believers that probably numbered about 10 percent of the adult German population.”
That 10 percent figure lies comfortably within the range of ADL’s “Intensive” category of American antisemitism in all surveys taken since before that organization began polling for antisemitism in the United States.
Summarizing ADL’s 2011 Executive Summary:
“Perceptions of disproportionate Jewish power in the U.S. continue to dominate the views of the most anti‐Semitic.
“In America, 31 percent believe Jews are responsible for the death of Christ, a number that has remained steady through the past decade.
“Remarkably, since 1964, approximately 30 percent of Americans have consistently believed that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America, even though the makeup of the U.S. population has changed dramatically.”
Among other findings,
• Fourteen percent (14%) agreed with the statement that "Jews have too much power in the U.S. today," an increase from 13 percent in 2009.
• Fifteen percent (15 %) agreed that Jews are "more willing to use shady practices," up slightly from 2009.
• Sixteen percent (16%) agreed that Jewish "business people are so shrewd, others don''t have a chance," up from 13 percent in 2009.
• Nearly half of all respondents agreed with the statement that Jews "stick together more than other Americans, and 33 percent said they believe Jews "always like to be at the head of things."
• One-quarter of Americans believe that Jews "still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust."