The Jews: A Problem or an Asset?


DURING the last ‘Great War,’ the Jews supplied 40 per cent more than their proportionate quota of soldiers in the United States Army. Eighteen per cent of these soldiers were volunteers, half of the volunteers being in the Marine Corps, where the hottest action was expected. Indicative of the quality of their fighting is the fact that 6 of the 78 Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to Jews. Such is the impressive account of the military service of our Jewish population as described in the Congressional Record for November 25, 1940.

Nevertheless the gossip goes around: ‘The Jews are slackers.’ ‘The best thing that the Jews could now do would be to volunteer for military service.’ With a Jewish population in the United States at that time of 3 per cent, 5 per cent of the death roll was Jewish. They did their part, and more.

Those who are concerned with the forces that mould American opinion at once recognize this charge of ‘slacker’ as the result of propaganda from some interested source. Of the hundreds of organizations openly anti-Semitic that have recently been active in the United States, one of the most important bears a German name and is unquestionably a part of the Nazi propaganda machine. Perhaps more dangerous, however, are those that work under a cloak of religion or of ‘America for the Americans.’

Such propaganda follows a well-known technique. As that past master, Adolf Hitler, explains it, the bigger the lie the more believable it becomes. Name calling, assigning to disreputable categories, raising fears of domination and prejudices based on half-truths, generalizing from isolated examples — these are standard procedure. The method is as effective in well-read circles as among the illiterate.

Business men are told that Jews are Communists, and as the employer sees a Jewish agitator fomenting a strike in his plant the statement is believed. According to a poll made by Fortune in 1935 and published in February 1936, however, not more than one in a thousand of American Jews is a member of the Communist Party. Within the party they are active, and are the intellectual leaders, though they hold few of the highest offices and form but 15 per cent of the membership. The business man is not reminded that for every Jewish Communist there are a hundred Jewish shopkeepers, traders, and employers to whom a radical revolution would mean disaster.

The peace-loving poor and middle classes are told that the Jews are ‘the international bankers who are getting us into war.’ The editors of Fortune name seven non-Jewish banking houses that do larger business in foreign loans than does the most active Jewish house.

‘Your industries are run by a bunch of Jews,’ the laborer is warned. Yet, according to Fortune’s summary, ‘if the Jews have a subordinate place in finance, where they are often said to control, they have an even more inconspicuous place in heavy industry.’ This statement is documented with figures on steel, coal, automobiles, rubber, and shipping. The electrical and chemical industries might equally have been included. Significant exceptions are in the scrap-metal and clothing industries, on which Jewish effort has concentrated.

Workingmen are told that shiploads of Jewish refugees landing in New York will displace them from their jobs, and perhaps some individual is pointed out as a horrible example. The fact is that, during the years 1932 to 1938 inclusive, ‘4487 more aliens (including all countries) departed than were admitted to the United States’ (statistics from the American Friends Service Committee and Current History).

Even Mr. Albert Jay Nock, in his recent articles on ‘The Jewish Problem in America,’ in the Atlantic Monthly, notes that ‘today as I write this I read a disclosure from the State Department that 4000 refugees a month are coming here, that 600,000 more have applied for visas, half of them, “including many Jews,” in Germany and German-occupied countries.’ I do not know in which particular month 4000 refugees may have arrived; but the average from July 1, 1932, to June 30, 1940, was approximately 1000 per month, or a total during eight years of less than one part in a thousand of our population. The figure of 600,000 has nevertheless served the typical propaganda function of leaving the impression, however false, that these refugees are a serious national hazard. In his scholarly writing as an historian, Mr. Nock could not afford to let himself be so misled by someone’s expression of opinion.


Mr. Nock bases a large part of his discussion on the assumption that antiSemitism is the result of an inborn human instinct, which will run riot among the masses. It is not to be expected that one who describes himself as ‘on the extreme Right of present-day economic theory’ will have faith in the soundness of popular judgments. In spite of his all too true references to American mob violence, those who are familiar with our working people know their deep sympathy with others in distress. Social service agencies reëcho the story of the widow’s mite.

Here again statistics are not lacking. Mr. Nock dates ‘the sudden flaring up’ of anti-Semitism in the United States as from the onset of the depression in 1929, and thus ascribes it to economic causes. On the contrary, a poll carried out in October 1935 by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, with the objective of learning where their work was most needed, showed that 95 per cent of those questioned considered that there was at that time less anti-Semitism in their communities than there had been at the beginning of the depression.

The American public reaction to the Nazi anti-Jewish measures was caught by a Fortune poll on the question: ‘Do you believe that in the long run Germany will be better or worse off if it drives out the Jews?’ The answers were: —

Worse Don't Know Better
Per cent 54.6 31.4 14.0

Perhaps even more significant than the confidence thus expressed in the value of the Jews is the large group that has been so unconcerned as not to have formed an opinion. To them there is no ‘Jewish problem.’

Mr. Nock must have known the weakness of his theory that because of his Oriental character the Jew cannot be understood by his American neighbor. It seems futile to argue the well-known absence of anthropological differences. If these did exist, the ‘Aryans’ would trace their origin to Iran, or Persia, which is farther east than Palestine.

There are, however, marked differences of culture, partly of religious origin and partly caused by the different social surroundings for many generations. The latter differences may be expected to disappear rapidly in our country, unless by various discriminations we force upon the Jews a feeling of separateness. The sensitiveness to criticism to which Mr. Nock refers can unquestionably be traced to this source. As Mr. Nock himself observes, wherever in our country there has been opportunity for the Jews to live without effect of prejudice they have promptly become integral parts of the community. Elsewhere by discriminations we are forcing the Jews to be different.

It is nevertheless true that since 1935 in some parts of our population antagonism toward the Jews has grown. This change is definitely the result of propaganda of foreign origin. The fact that the Atlantic Monthly now considers the Jews a problem of common concern is indicative of the change that has come in certain educated circles. Father Coughlin has radioed half-truths to all who would listen. The German Bunds have been active in promoting the Nazi views. Annual subscriptions to anti-Semitic papers from one North Carolina publisher recently investigated by the government amounted to over $50,000. The primary objective of this propaganda is political.

In 1927 I became acquainted with a family of educated Russian Jews living in Vienna. Through them I learned of the swastika, which was just beginning to become prominent as an anti-Jewish emblem. Its chief representatives were a group of hot-headed students who saw in an anti-Jewish movement the opportunity to develop a powerful group to uproot the Socialist Party, then in control of the city. Its methods and standing were similar to those of our Ku Klux Klan. Their appeal to the passion of hate gave them a unity that carried with it extraordinary political powder. It was the power of this small movement that gave Hitler his start. By 1933 the usefulness of rabble rousing against the Jews had become established as a potent, large-scale, political tool. In Europe the present anti-Jewish action wans thus fomented definitely with the objective of obtaining political power. It was in no sense a mass movement, as Mr. Nock would have us believe.

In America an even more immediate use is being made of anti-Jewish feeling. It is Hitler’s most favored weapon of ‘divide and conquer.’ By fanning into flame every latent spark of suspicion between groups, foreign propagandists hope to prevent our national strength from asserting itself. Labor against capital, industry against government, Protestants against Catholics, and Christians against Jews — these are obvious possibilities for division, and every one is being exploited.

If at this moment intense anti-Semitic feeling can be aroused, an accusation that ‘ the Jews are trying to get the country into war’ can discredit every measure of defense. Though promptly exposed, if such a story is effective for only a few months it may delay important measures for a crucial period.


The fundamental divergence between the Nazis and the Jews is not mentioned in our anti-Jewish propaganda. This is the question as to whether one’s supreme loyalty is to be given to the local tribe or to humanity, whether the true God is Wotan of the Teutons or the One God of all the world. Our tradition, as we sing ‘Great God, our King,’ is to place the welfare of humanity above patriotism. On this our Christians and Jews are united. Those who discuss the Jewish problem in America thus avoid the issue which in Nazi Germany is paramount. With us it would weaken the effect of the disorganizing propaganda to point out that since the time of Ezekiel and Isaiah and Jesus the whole trend of Jewish teaching has been toward bringing about a common understanding among all men.

It would be equally fatal to the antiJewish drive to call attention to the value of the Jews as a national and human asset. Historically our greatest debt is undoubtedly for our religious and moral heritage, which we owe to Judaism through Christianity. It is here that we must look for the recognition of the value of the individual, which is the basis of democracy. Here likewise is history’s most effective force that has worked toward human brotherhood.

This is, however, only the beginning. ‘If we could but have the eyes to see,’ said Woodrow Wilson, ‘we should easily discover how very much besides religion we owe to the Jews.’ Among our scientists and inventors the Jew stands high. My late colleague Albert A. (‘he taught the world to measure’) Michelson was the first American to win the Nobel prize. More recently Karl Landsteiner of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research has received the same honor. Simon Flexner, who studies infantile paralysis, Milton Rosenau with his antitoxins, Julius Stieglitz, the chemist of dyes, and David Sarnoff with his radio inventions, have helped to shape our world. Mr. Hitler has presented us with others, equally notable, such as Einstein and Franck and Rossi and Bethe, to mention only a few in my own field of science.

As shapers of public opinion, though only 31/2 per cent of our one thousand leading newspapers are Jewish-controlled (data from the International Yearbook of Editors and Publishers), this small fraction includes the New York Times, whose impartiality, reliability, and thoroughness have set the standard for American journalism for a generation. The credit as well as the blame for our moving pictures, whose quality is such as to put them in demand throughout the world, must go largely to the Jews. In our radio broadcasting chains the nation takes proper pride. Of the three principal ones, National, while non-Jewish in management, has a Jewish head in David Sarnoff. The Jews control Columbia. Mutual is non-Jewish, but has some important Jewish-controlled outlets. Except for their lurid bedtime stories, the quality of their programs and the ethics of their operations have made these broadcasting companies an important national asset.

In the professions the service of the Jews is distinctive. Whether it is in the Supreme Court of the land or before the criminal bar, our Jewish lawyers are outstanding. According to Fortune’s survey, though there are as many Jews as nonJews who try to enter our medical schools, only one fifth as many are admitted. Because of this higher selection, the Jewish students make excellent records, and keep up the enviable tradition that Jewish doctors have established since the Middle Ages.

It is perhaps our country’s greatest source of strength that it has within it so many varied groups. In nature those organisms persist which have great versatility. The specialized ones, adapted only to a particular environment, are eliminated when conditions change. Always in America someone can be found who is prepared to meet the new demands. Is it a Mohammedan sultan who is suspicious of the American Christians who would work among his Armenians? Our ambassador Oscar St raus, as a religious neutral, can quell his fears. Does the world situation at a favorable moment indicate the possibility of a permanent peace? As a keen observer of international affairs, Salmon Levinson prepares and urges a pact and remains behind the scenes while Mr. Kellogg and Mr. Briand place it before an alas too faithless world. When, however, militarist dictators would forcibly dominate the world, the humanitarian Jews see in military counter-force the only means of meeting the gangster threat. As in an organism, our strength lies in the healthy growth and coördination of these many cells that compose our structure.


In unity, then, lies our strength. Never before did we need more urgently to keep in mind our nation’s motto, ‘E Pluribus Unum.’ It is an inevitable consequence of the growth of science and technology that we have all become more highly specialized. Such specialization means greater efficiency and skill in performing our tasks, but it means also greater dependence upon our fellows. If we would thrive in a world of machine tools, telephones, motorcars, and breakfast fruit from across a continent, far more than in any previous civilization our efforts must be coördinated. The plight of the unemployed in a depression shows the difficulty of living now by one’s own effort. The destruction that ravages a hemisphere demonstrates the chaos that comes from division into antagonistic groups. Never before have the punishments for hatreds been more severe or the reward for coöperation more evident than in these difficult days. Coördination of effort, based upon intelligently directed good will, is to an entirely new degree the condition for the strength and welfare of modern society.

In a lesser degree this brotherly cooperation has become the evident need at every period of highly organized society. Akhnaton sensed it when Egypt first became an empire, and founded the first religion of one friendly God who ruled the world. When the Roman Empire was at its height the Jewish rabbis selected the love of God and the love of one’s neighbor as the two great laws, which Jesus incorporated as the heart of his religion. Vast migrations of peoples, world-wide economic dependencies, and the thinking of common thoughts inspired by newspaper and radio have now for the first time truly made mankind a unit. If we have not yet learned that the major condition for adaptation to this new mode of life is friendship among men as expressed in service for the common good, it can merely be because the implications of the world’s growing social unity have not yet been understood.

Personally I am vastly more hopeful than Mr. Nock regarding what he calls the ‘Jewish problem.’ Not easily will any considerable group of Americans be inspired to turn violently against a section of our society. The fact that every one of us belongs to some minority group breeds wide sympathies. A century and a half of give-and-take has shown our nation how to bring these groups together. The tragedy around us is sufficient warning against listening to divisive propaganda.

With great problems before us, both of war and of peace, we are faced with common trials. It is by such hot fires that the bonds of unity are welded.