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Coughlin and the Jews

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The following article was written by Ferdinand M. Isserman, rabbi of Temple Israel, who appeared on the platform and delivered an address at the first open meeting of followers of the so-called “radio priest,” held recently in Detroit.

The fact that Father Coughlin invited a rabbi to participate in the first open meeting of the National Union for Social Justice is certainly indicative of his desire publicly to disavow any leanings towards anti-Semitism. It is apparent that it is his conviction that Jew, Catholic and Protestant are to play equal roles in the shaping of the destiny of the American nation. In his address at that huge Detroit meeting, he again stated that the National Union for Social Justice welcomes equally Jewish, Catholic and Protestant members.


While wandering about the magnificent church that Father Coughlin is building at Royal Oak, I noted very carefully the quotations that he selected to be inscribed upon its exterior in order thus to gauge the temper of the man.

It will be interesting to the readers of this column to know that on top of the cross of the tower, there is inscribed “King of the Jews” in Hebrew, as Christian tradition contends it was written on the cross by Roman soldiers. At the base of the tower, there are a series of quotations. The first are the immortal words of Lincoln— “with malice toward none and charity towards all.” The last is a verse from the New Testament, which indicates that in the sight of God, there are to be neither racial, national nor religious distinctions.

When, afterwards, while walking around the building with Father Coughlin, I referred to the Lincoln quotation, his answer was: “I began with the secular, and end with the noblest ideal of religion.” He pointed to the New Testament verse which heralds the belief in the universality of man. Then he added these significant words: “This is the most important ideal of religion. In these critical days of racial hatred and insanity, we must ever keep it before our eyes as the first principle.”


Replying to those who accused him of anti-Semitism, he regretted very much that Jews had interpreted his condemnation of Bernard Baruch and international bankers as an attack upon Jews. He stated that because he had attacked Cardinal William O’Connell and Alfred E. Smith, it does not mean that he is anti-Catholic. He added that wicked men are found among Jews, Catholics and Protestants, and that he intends to denounce them all.

Turning to me, he said: “Why do not some of you rabbis attack Baruch and men like him? You wouldn’t dare to attack a Catholic cardinal, even though he deserved it, but you should attack Jews in high places who menace the welfare of the country.” He added that Jews are too sensitive and too jittery in view of what has happened in Germany.

“Tell them for me,” he said, “not to be so thin-skinned. There is not the slightest danger of any anti-Semitism movement in America. Jews make a mistake about talking about it and putting such ideas in people’s heads. As long as my voice is on the air, I shall fight, with all the power at my command, any attempt to cultivate anti-Semitism among Americans. I would not be a priest if I were not to do so. About this I give you my solemn promise.”


Father Coughlin then asked me if I would like to know what individuals in the opinion of a Christian are doing most to hurt the name of the Jew in America. He then named the following three whom he would list as the first public enemies of the Jews in America:

1.—Bernard Baruch, because of his reactionary views, and because these views influence the government of the United States.

2.—A popular radio comedian, because of his obscenities on the radio.

3.—The moving picture magnates of America, because of their pernicious influence. He added that the moving picture magnates had learned their lesson and were beginning to mend their ways.

He was careful to point out that the fact that individual Jews were bad influences on the nation is not to be construed as an accusation against all Jews, but he added that all members of a minority suffer, though unjustly, because of the conduct of a few individuals.

“If you want to know,” he continued, “who I think are hurting the cause of Catholicism most in the United States, I would mention first two American cardinals, and third, I would mention Jim Farley.”

Father Coughlin emphasized time and time again that he is opposed to Fascism, to Nazism, to dictatorships. He believes in democratic processes. The needed changes in government he hopes to secure through the exercise of the ballot by the American voter. He is opposed to the supremacy of the state over the individual. In my own address, he was the first to applaud all references about the need of maintaining democracy.

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