Detroit Jews Divide on Public Boycott to Aid German Jews
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Detroit Jews Divide on Public Boycott to Aid German Jews

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There is a definite division of opinion among Detroit Jews on the question of a boycott of German-made goods as a means of securing relief for the Jews of Germany.

The question addressed by the writer to Detroit Jewry’s outstanding leaders was:

“On what basis shall Jews unite to aid the Jews of Germany and to defend their rights as citizens? Shall it be (1) an organized boycott; (2) relief in Germany through the Joint Distribution Committee; (3) emphasis on the emigration of German Jews and their settlement in other territories, with Palestine as the primary objective?”

Replies to this question, submitted by rabbis and laymen, differed widely. While some were emphatically in favor of a boycott, others were equally as emphatic in their opposition, and still others favored the combination of all three proposals.


The most emphatic statements in favor of a boycott were made by Dr. S. S. Wittenberg, chairman of the Detroit League for the Defense of Jewish Rights; Rabbi Leon Fram, Milton M. Alexander, prominent advertising man, and Samuel H. Weisman, secretary of the League for Defense of Jewish Rights.

Dr. Wittenberg is of the opinion that American Jewry “owes it to its own self-respect to show that we are capable of fighting back when abused.”

Declaring that “we must not acquiesce in our degradation,” Rabbi Fram advises Jews not to be content with the “silent” boycott. He expresses the view that “if we organize the boycott of trade with Germany openly and systematically, then all who are friends of justice in America will rally about us and join us.”

Mr. Alexander is even more emphatic in his view of the existing situation. Stating that “this is war,” he declares: “Those who are not with us are against us. The boycott in its fullest implications must be pushed with all the power at our command. We must close down not only on buying German products and from patronizing those who sell such products, but we must also refuse to sell to Germany, in the realization that in whatever measure we help or nurture the enemy we weaken ourselves.” Mr. Alexander adds that it is the business of Jewish statesmen in every land “to make constant and vigorous representation to their respective governments. What we need is to have the enlightened nations of the world, for whom we have lived and worked, now do something for us !”


Dr. Leo M. Franklin, rabbi of Temple Beth El, on the other hand, opposes the boycott, and declares: “The proposed organized boycott is suggested neither by sound ethics nor by wise statesmanship. If carried out it would inevitably react unfavorably upon the very people whom we seek to help.” Urging contributions to the Joint Distribution Committee for the relief of the stricken German Jews, Dr. Franklin states in reply to the third portion of the question addressed to him:

“Every effort to facilitate the emigration of German Jews to Palestine or to other lands ready to receive them should be made. Perhaps Palestine should, as you suggest, be made a ‘primary objective’. But no sacrifice on our part should be over-great that promises life and opportunity to the German Jews and their children in any land whose gates stand open to them.”

Fred M. Butzel, Detroit’s outstanding Jewish social worker and communal leader, also opposes an organized boycott, declaring that it “is a dangerous weapon, and is frequently a boomerang.” He states that “if Jews or Liberals attempt a boycott on stores which persist in carrying certain German goods for which there is a recognized demand so that the proprietor is caught between two fires, such a proprietor is eventually turned from a Jewish sympathizer into an anti-Semite. If the public merely refrains from buying German goods. ultimately they will not be carried in stock. The objection to the organized boycott is the fact that it is so difficult to control, and may run into absurdities.”


Mr. Butzel proposes two major methods to be used by Jews in the present crisis: “We should continue to obtain adequate publicity for all that is going on in Germany and to refrain, if possible, from too much interpretation and from all exaggeration. Secondly, we would do well to support the various well-developed movements in this country which do not play up the Aryan aspects of the situation, but do show the suppression of all liberty, the reactionary philosophy and the militaristic tendencies of the Nazi government.”

Kurt Peiser, executive director of the Jewish Welfare Federation of Detroit, favors the combined action of a boycott as well as relief and the facilitation of emigration of German Jewry. Admitting that a boycott “may prove to be a boomerang,” he declares that “if a large organization has determined upon an organized boycott it seems to me wiser to have such action fully in control and in mature hands. I believe that we as Jews must unite in carrying out a uniform, dignified program, which may be called, for want of a better term, an organized boycott.”


Rabbi {SPAN}#oshua{/SPAN} S. Sperka believes that emphasis should be placed upon the need for the emigration of German Jews, and he declares: “Why should we plead, and pay with money and pride for the privilege of remaining uninvited guests in an insane asylum?”

James I. Ellman, former justice of Highland Park, who was appointed assistant attorney general of Michigan last week. also opposes a boycott. and believes that emphasis should be placed upon arousing the opinion of the nations of the world. He states: “Let this opinion be molded and distributed by an adequate publicity agency. For it was such moral pressure, far more than the non-purchase of British goods, which caused England to relax her attitude toward India. The pen is still mightier than the sword; a policy of publicity better than a boycott of blindness.”

William B. Isenberg, president of the Zionist Organization of Detroit, believes that an organized boycott is not the solution, and declares that the greatest possible number of Jews must be taken out of Germany for settlement in Palestine.

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