The burning of the ten cottages, owned by Samuel Meltzer, in Pewaukee, a little lake summer resort 18 miles from Milwaukee, has caused a tremendous furore hereabouts. First to take up the issue was “The Milwaukee Leader,” Victor L. Berger’s Socialist newspaper, which in an editorial under the hearing “No Room in Wisconsin for Race Hatred,” says:
“Incendiary burning of cottages at Pewaukee Lake would be a disgrace to the state of Wisconsin even if there were no race hatred involved, but if it was done, as seems evident, because of venom against the Jews, that makes it worse.
“There was shameful race hatred against Germans in this state during the war, resulting in much injustice and in mob demonstrations, but fortunately few lynchings. Those days of ferocious emotionalism being over, an an outbreak of race discrimination such as that at Pewaukee Lake ought to be impossible.
“Our state is more enlightened than most states. It stands at the top. But it won’t stand there long if things like this can happen, for residents of other states, when they read the news, will ask what sort of yeller dogs’ infected with the virus of anti-Semitic rabies live here. And why are they not treated-as dogs infected with rabies should be treated?
“Wisconsin also has a good reputation for the arrest and conviction of the guilty. May it maintain that reputation.”
Next came the Ha-Kodimo Club of Milwaukee, of which Ben Fairman is president. At a meeting, the club adopted a set of resolutions, a copy of which was sent to every newspaper in the city. The resolutions say:
“Whereas, newspapers in and about the county of Milwaukee report the destruction by fire of ten summer homes at Pewaukee Lake, and where as, it appears that such destruction was accomplished by an organized conspiracy of anti-Semites, and whereas, it further appears that the criminal act intended was aimed not only at the ruin of private property but at the desire to instiil fear in, and hatred towards members of a particular race, and whereas, to permit such personal violence to go unpunished would tend to encourage race prejudice, shake the confidence and faith of all law-abiding citizens, and bring our fair state in disrepute, now therefore, be it resolved by the executive committee of the Ha-Kodimo Club that the governor of the state of Wisconsin conduct a thorough investigation into the facts and conduct of those guilty so that these culprits may be brought to justice immediately and without delay; be it furth- (Continued on Page 4)
Behind the fire that destroyed the ten summer cottages was seen a flare-up of race prejudice. The cottages were destroyed in a fire that was said to have all the ear-marks of incendiarism. Oil soaked rags, it is believed, were planted in each of the cottages, which are divided in two groups, one group 75 feet from the other. The cottages were burned to the ground. This happened during the night. The next morning a letter was received by the owner of the cottages, Samuel Meltzer, which began: “Listen Jew,” and contained derogatory expressions applied to Jews and carried a threat against Mr. Meltzer’s life should the cottages be rented out to Jews.
Mr. Meltzer turned the letter over to the local police department, but was told that since the cottages were located in another county, he will have to take the matter up with the police there.
This is the second case of fire in the colony. Two cottages were burned to the ground last summer. Mr. Meltzer has made a practice of renting his cottages to Jews only. One family had notified Mr. Meltzer that it wanted to take possession of one of the cottages next week. This led Mr. Meltzer to drive out to the colony to arrange for putting it in shape for occupancy. It is believed he was seen by some nearby cottages, and that the fire and threatening letter were decided upon.
An investigation showed that each of the cottages was set fire to separately. The loss was estimated at $23,000.
Mr. Meltzer is active in Jewish circles in Milwaukee. He is president of the Men’s Club of the Congregation Beth El.
This is the second flare-up of race prejudice that Milwaukee and vicinity have experienced in in recent months. A year ago, the Michiwaukee Golf Club, founded and largely patronized by Jews, decided to rid itself of its Jewish members. The decision apparently was reached at a board meeting to which the assent of the entire membership was never asked. A curt note then followed to Jewish members saying that the officers had decided to ask the resignation of those particular members for the good of the organization.
The Jews brought the matter to court, but lost. The court held that a club has a right to choose its membership. Additional litigation involving property rights in the grounds in which the Jews had invested heavily, only served to bring additional publicity to the situation. Nevertheless, Wisconsin was never a stronghold of the now almost defunct Ku Klux Klan. On the contrary the press and public here seemed to oppose the organization in its very first attempt to get a foothold in the state.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.