The Jewish Problem in America

Original 1941 editor's note: In this and successive issues, the Atlantic will open its columns to the discussion of a problem which is of the utmost gravity. We have asked Mr. Nock to begin the enquiry, and we shall invite expressions of opinion from Jew and Gentile alike, in the hope that a free and forthright debate will reduce the pressure, now dangerously high, and leave us with a healthier understanding of the human elements involved. —The Editor

Representative Jews are thoroughly well aware of all this. One of them told me that their discovery of the strength and volume of anti-Jewish sentiment in this country had taken all Jewry as much by surprise as it had taken me. There is furthermore some evidence that their discovery came almost as late in the day as mine. The Jews now have eighteen national organizations devoted to defensive and protective purposes, and thirteen of them were established within the last ten years. There are also local organizations in our ten largest cities serving the same purposes, all of which are of as recent date. I do not know how many such there are in other cities; they are not officially reported, nor could they well be, probably, because many of them would naturally be of an impermanent character, extemporized as occasion required, and dissolving when the occasion passed. Many more, no doubt, regularly serve other purposes—religious, social, charitable—and take on defensive function only occasionally as need arises.

It is highly desirable that representative non-Jews should be as well-informed about the status of anti-Jewish sentiment as the Jews themselves are. I have reason to believe that they are not; I think most of them are as ignorant as I was. For example, one of my friends, the head of a thriving business, had a letter from a correspondent on the Pacific Coast who said he was much worried about anti-Jewish demonstrations out there, but supposed they must be a great deal worse in New York. My friend replied that this was a mistake, that he knew nothing of any trouble of that sort in New York, and was sure there was none. This was in the late summer of 1939, when anti-Jewish street demonstrations - however provoked were going on in Brooklyn, Jackson Heights, the Bronx, and Yorkville at the rate of fifty or sixty a week. * My friend was by no means exceptional in his ignorance. It must be constantly kept in mind that a general resentment against any minority is always of proletarian or sub-proletarian origin; and therefore the evidences of it are slow in coming to the notice of society's more reflective element. I shall have more to say about this later.

It is this reflective element that I wish to approach and impress with a sense of the Jewish problem's urgency, for it is the element likeliest to find a solution of it if one is ever to be found. It is also the likeliest to see that, in spite of Goethe's fine saying, our civilization has not all the time in the world to devise one before the problem is taken over and dealt with by methods which none of us cares to contemplate. Die Ziet ist unendlich lang is an admonition that can be profitably invoked upon human enterprise in general far oftener than it is, but the time for this particular enterprise is very closely limited by circumstances.

Of this fact also a great many representative Jews are keenly aware, while representative non-Jews seem hardly aware of it at all. The last report of the American Jewish Committee, one of the most powerful and influential of the national organizations for defense against anti-Semitism, speaks very guardedly, even vaguely, but with obvious awareness. Emphasizing 'the need for continuous vigilance,' the report says, 'We should not lose sight of the fact that, there exist in this country economic and social factors which, in time of stress and strain, inspire individuals and groups which for their own selfish interests exploit ignorance, bigotry and prejudice in order to promote distrust and hostility among American citizens.'

This is putting it as forcibly as is consistent with the proprieties which an official report must respect. As a matter of good taste, also, it is put as forcibly as a member of a minority would probably care to put it when the interests of his own particular minority are under consideration. The trouble is that efforts like these do virtually nothing towards properly informing the non-Jewish majority either about the actual state of affairs or about the ensuing probabilities which the future holds.

** These were assaults, baitings, intimidations, picketings, soapbox speeches, incitements to boycott, and the like. —Author

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