Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were murdered and six more were injured, is believed to be the deadliest attack against the American Jewish community in U.S. history. The massacre is an unprecedented act of violence against American Jews—but it is by no means the first time that anti-Semitism has manifested in deadly violence against Jews in the United States.
American anti-Semitism is as old as America itself. For decades, American Jews have faced social discrimination, acts of vandalism against sacred spaces, and, in recent years, social-media harassment—and the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents has risen dramatically since 2016. Fatal attacks against American Jews have been far less common than these other forms of discrimination. And yet American history is full of episodes of physical violence against Jews and Jewish institutions. What follows is a list, far from comprehensive, of some of the many violent attacks targeting Jews in recent history.
The Leo Frank Affair of 1915
In 1913, a 13-year-old child laborer at an Atlanta pencil factory named Mary Phagan was found dead in the factory’s basement. Leo Frank, the Jewish superintendent of the factory, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. In 1915, Georgia’s governor commuted Frank’s sentence to lifetime imprisonment due to a lack of sufficient evidence; Frank was abducted from prison and lynched. Despite the consensus among historians that Frank was innocent, as well as the corroborating claims of a witness, white-supremacist groups today continue to implicate Frank in Phagan’s murder. The controversial Frank case is credited with inspiring the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan movement; it also played a role in the creation of the Anti-Defamation League in 1913.