Ear­li­er this week, Ezra Glin­ter wrote about the research behind his anthol­o­gy Have I Got a Sto­ry for You: More Than a Cen­tu­ry of Fic­tion from The For­ward, released this week from W. W. Nor­ton & Com­pa­ny. Ezra is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

In the course of research­ing Have I Got a Sto­ry for You: More Than a Cen­tu­ry of Fic­tion from The For­ward, I spent hours going through old micro­film, look­ing for the sto­ries to include in the anthol­o­gy. Dur­ing that process I also came across count­less items that were equal­ly fas­ci­nat­ing, but that fell out­side the frame­work of the col­lec­tion. Often these were non-fic­tion pieces, like news reports and trav­el­ogues writ­ten by some of the most renowned writ­ers in Yid­dish lit­er­ary his­to­ry. Below is a trans­la­tion of one such item, a report by nov­el­ist Israel Joshua Singer on a May 17, 1934 ral­ly of some 23,000 Amer­i­can Nazi sup­port­ers at Madi­son Square Garden.

The ral­ly was held under the aus­pices of the DAWA, or the Ger­man-Amer­i­can Pro­tec­tive Alliance, an umbrel­la orga­ni­za­tion that had been found­ed with the express pur­pose of coun­ter­ing the Jew­ish boy­cott of Nazi Ger­many with a boy­cott of their own against Amer­i­can Jew­ish busi­ness­es. Both the main­stream and the Jew­ish press cov­ered the event; the Jew­ish Tele­graph­ic Agency deemed it one of the strongest anti-Jew­ish attacks ever tol­er­at­ed in this coun­try.” The Forverts cov­ered the ral­ly with mul­ti­ple front-page arti­cles, includ­ing a first-per­son report by Singer, who had immi­grat­ed to the Unit­ed the same year. Aside from the his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al inter­est of the piece, Singer’s descrip­tions of the apolo­getic rhetoric used by the speak­ers at the ral­ly, who defend­ed them­selves and their audi­ence as true Amer­i­can patri­ots, rings eeri­ly pre­scient against the back­drop of today’s polit­i­cal climate.

May 18, 1934

Nazis Defame Jews at Madi­son Square Gar­den Ral­ly; Call to Boy­cott, Defend Bar­bar­ians
I. J. Singer Describes the Nazi Ral­ly at Madi­son Square Garden

The renowned author vis­its the ral­ly and describes what hap­pened there; Nazis at the meet­ing are like wild beasts with muz­zles on their mouths; a lady Hitler sup­port­er wants to sell him a DAWA” sign; she curs­es him when he refus­es to give her a dol­lar for the Nazi rack­et; impres­sions of the rally.

By I. J. Singer

Truth be told, peo­ple warned me not to go to the local Nazi gath­er­ing at Madi­son Square Gar­den. But my inter­est in see­ing Hitler’s Ger­many in the mid­dle of New York over­came any reluc­tance. I bought a tick­et with a swasti­ka on it and took myself to lit­tle Berlin in New York.

As soon as I entered I for­got that I was in New York; imme­di­ate­ly I tum­bled into a dark Nazi atmos­phere. Hitler sup­port­ers in black pants, tall boots and white swasti­ka arm­bands sur­round­ed me on all sides. Women Nazis in brown out­fits spread all kinds of mer­chan­dise in front of me: DAWA signs, flow­ers, Nazi literature.

How much does a DAWA sign cost?” I asked a girl.

One dol­lar,” she said.

I didn’t buy it, of course. The Nazi girl scold­ed me.

Is that too much to sup­port the Ger­man cause?” she asked.

The big hall was full. Only the top rows were unoc­cu­pied. Ban­ners in Ger­man hung on all sides: Amer­i­can Ger­man­dom Awake!” Boy­cott the Boy­cotters!” Two pil­lars bear­ing Ger­man eagles and swastikas stood onstage. An orches­tra played tedious, mil­i­tary music. Just then a group of Nazis car­ry­ing Ger­man flags and swastikas came on, togeth­er with sev­er­al Amer­i­cans. The music was some Hitler song. The chair­man raised his arm high in the air, the way Hitler did. Every­one raised their arms and screamed: Heil!”

After the whole Hitler-ish cer­e­mo­ny was over, speak­ers came on to play preach­er. Who dared say that local Ger­mans, the ones who had called today’s ral­ly, were Nazis? A libel! A Nazi was a Ger­man nation­al, and how could Amer­i­can cit­i­zens be Ger­man nation­als? There­fore? They just want­ed to pre­vent Amer­i­ca from com­mit­ting a crime. They loved Amer­i­ca, they were America’s great­est patri­ots. They had to protest against those who want­ed to destroy the friend­ly rela­tions between Amer­i­ca and the new­ly awak­ened Ger­many; they must defend them­selves, pro­tect themselves.

This mes­sage was aimed espe­cial­ly at Amer­i­ca to show that they, the local DAWA folks, were the real patri­ots, while the Jews — all those Untermy­ers, Lip­skys, Rab­bi Wise’s and oth­ers — were no more than Com­mu­nist agents of the Third Inter­na­tion­al who want­ed to bring down Amer­i­ca and ush­er in Com­mu­nism, both in Amer­i­ca and in the rest of the world. This was the gist of every speech.

Along the way, of course, the speak­ers enter­tained the crowd a bit, sprin­kling their talks with anti-Semit­ic barbs. Each time a speak­er men­tioned Untermy­er, Lip­sky, Wise and oth­ers, they made a point of draw­ing out the Jew­ish names for a bit of a Hitler-ish joke.” This gave the crowd a great deal of plea­sure. Boo,” they jeered. Tfoy!”

Great joy was had at the men­tion of some Jew named Ginzburg.

Ha ha! Ginzburg!” the crowd delighted.

Wun­der­bar… Tara-loo…

It was sim­ply astound­ing to lis­ten, for sev­er­al hours, to the long-wind­ed argu­ments from the speak­ers. Not one of them would stop insist­ing that they were no Nazis, that they didn’t want to turn Amer­i­ca toward Ger­man pol­i­tics, that they were opposed to race hatred, that Amer­i­ca is a free coun­try and every­one has the right to live here, even Jews… So why did they fight so strong­ly for Hitler’s Ger­many and call for a boy­cott of Amer­i­can Jew­ry? On this sub­ject they didn’t have a sin­gle ratio­nal word to say. They all told sto­ries about how the Jews were hurt­ing Amer­i­ca, how the Jews were import­ing Com­mu­nism, how the Jews want­ed to bring ruin to Ger­man Amer­i­cans, who com­prised a quar­ter of the entire Amer­i­can population.

Also, only the Ger­mans stood up for Amer­i­ca and fought against the Com­mu­nism” of Untermy­er and the rest of the Jews. They wore swastikas, sang the row­dy Host Wes­sel Song, screamed heil” and found­ed the DAWA — all to save America.

It was just laugh­able to hear such arguments.

Aside from such win­ning” argu­ments there was also a flood of prim­i­tive Nazi phras­es and patri­ot­ic lyrics,” in which real Ger­mans have always been great experts.

What wasn’t heard at the ral­ly? Ger­many would bring good for­tune to the world, just as it had brought to itself. Hitler had brought fame and lus­ter to the coun­try. And the twen­ty-five mil­lion Ger­mans in Amer­i­ca, in whose veins flowed true Ger­man blood, were great ide­al­ists like Hitler, who said that the indi­vid­ual is noth­ing and the peo­ple every­thing.” They shouldn’t believe the news­pa­per scrib­blers who said that Ger­many was bar­bar­ic. Ger­many was the rest­ing place of their fathers” and moth­ers,” and how could such a land, where their fathers” and moth­ers” rest­ed, be barbaric?

In response to such log­i­cal” argu­ments the entire hall thun­dered with applause. So too real Ger­mans expired from sen­ti­men­tal­ism when the edi­tor of the Deutsch­er Zeitung took to reck­on­ing the right­eous­ness of the Ger­man peo­ple, who had no equal in the world. While Jews, with­out excep­tion, were store­keep­ers and careerists with­out a sin­gle ide­al, the Ger­mans, whether in Ger­many or else­where, were true ide­al­ists, wor­thy souls and saints, who believed only in what was best for the world. In a word, angels in tall boots.

In con­trast, the Jews were just fat cats who got plea­sure from pay­ing twen­ty-five dol­lars to sit at a ban­quet with Ein­stein, the mas­ter of rel­a­tiv­i­ty. The Ger­mans were pitiably poor, and there­fore could only afford a sin­gle dol­lar for a DAWA sign.

At that point my neigh­bor, a blond Ger­man woman, began to weep copi­ous tears at the speaker’s lyri­cism, which remind­ed me of the bor­ing, sweet, patri­ot­ic songs they gave to Ger­man sol­diers at the front in 1914 so that it would be sweet­er for them to die for Kaiser and Fatherland…

I sat and lis­tened to the tire­some false­hoods, saw the incite­ment of the crowd, and I under­stood Hitler’s pow­er. With just those sim­ple, fool­ish, pur­ple phras­es he seized hold of the small fry, of the patri­ot­ic house­wives and beer-guz­zlers. The engorged edi­tor of the Deutsch­er Zeitung even man­aged to bring Moses into his lyri­cal” ser­mon. Moses said that one must hon­or one’s father and moth­er; there­fore they must hon­or Hitler’s Ger­many, where their fathers and moth­ers were laid to rest. Even if the whole world made a hue and cry about Germany’s mur­ders, Ger­mans must not take it to heart, because they must fol­low the instruc­tion of the Ten Com­mand­ments and Hon­or thy father and mother”…

More than at the lyri­cal” speak­ers, how­ev­er, I looked at the faces of the crowd. Their fea­tures were filled with hate, with beast­ly sav­agery, with murder.

Each time the Jews were men­tioned, they screamed with a bes­tial blood­thirsti­ness. I once saw a wild ani­mal that would have bit and chomped if not for a muz­zle placed over her mouth. The speak­ers tried to present them­selves as sheep, but the mob seemed like a wicked ani­mal that roared with rage because of the muz­zle it was forced to wear. The hall breathed with hatred, with medieval blood­thirsti­ness against any­one who was for integri­ty, jus­tice and humanity.

We must keep this muz­zled beast before our eyes, and fight to pre­vent it from escap­ing its muz­zle. And the only way to do so is to boy­cott Nazi Germany.

With that con­vic­tion fill­ing my body and soul I left the black Hitler nest for the free air of Broadway.

Ezra Glin­ter is The For­wards crit­ic-at-large. His writ­ing has appeared in The New Repub­lic, Paris Review Dai­ly, Book­fo­rum, and The Wal­rus. His biog­ra­phy of the Lubav­itch­er Rebbe is forth­com­ing from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press.

Relat­ed Content:

Ezra Glin­ter is the senior staff writer and edi­tor at the Yid­dish Book Cen­ter. He is the edi­tor of Have I Got a Sto­ry for You, a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award. He lives in Brook­lyn, NY.