A heated debate on the House floor over charges by Rep. John A. Rankin that the Jews were seeking to drag the United States into war had a tragic climax early this afternoon when Rep. M. Michael Edelstein died of a heart attack a few minutes after giving a fervent reply to the accusation.
The debate began when Rankin (Dem. No.) loudly charged that "Wall Street bankers and international Jews" were dragging the country into war. The speech threw the House into turmoil. Edelstein (Den., N.Y.) who was 55 years old and had been suffering from an ailing heart for some time, managed to get the floor and received unanimous consent to answer Rankin. When Edelstein finished speaking, he was cheered. He left the House Chamber, collapsed in a chair in the Speaker’s lobby and died.
The New York Congressmen’s last words in the House were: "Mr. Speaker–Hitler started out by speaking about ‘Jewish brethren.’ It is becoming the play and work of those people who want to demagogues to speak about their ‘Jewish brethren’ and ‘international bankers’
"The last speaker (Rankin), speaking about international bankers, coupled them with ‘their Jewish brethren.’ The fact of the matter is that the number of Jewish bankers in the United States is infinitesimal. It is also a fact that the meeting which took place yesterday on the steps of the Sub-Treasury was entirely controlled by persons other than Jewish bankers.
"I deplore the idea that any time anything happens, whether it be for a war policy or against a war policy, men in this House and outside this House attempt to use the Jews as their scapegoat. I say it is unfair and I say it is un-American. As a member of this House I deplore the allegations because we are living in a democracy. All men are created equal regardless of race, creed or color. Whether a man be a Jew or a Gentile he may think what he deems fit."
Edelstein’s speech was in reply to the following statement by Rankin, who obtained permission to "revise and extend" his remarks just after the House had convened:
"Mr. Speaker–Wall Street and a little group of our international Jewish brethren are still attempting to harass the President of the United States into plunging us into the European war, and at the same time Communistic elements throughout the country are fomenting strikes, harassing industry and blowing down the defense program.
"The international bankers are so afraid of this peace movement now going on in England–This peace movement now going on behind the lines might take root and this catastrophe brought to a close before they can get us into it–that on yesterday they held a rally in Wall Street and Wall Street bankers made a plea to that effect.
"If Great Britain gets terms of peace that will leave her empire and navy intact, we ought not to stand in her way. We ought to let the world know now, we ought to let the British people know now that we are not going to plunge into this war and send an army to fight on European soil."
Rankin refused to release the stenographer’s text of his remarks for use by the press until after he had "revised" it. He did not give any outward evidence of being perturbed by Edelstein’s death.
The House adjourned a few minutes after Edelstein’s death.
Edelstein was elected to the 76th Congress to fill the unexpired term of the late William I. Sirovich, his lifelong friend, and was reelected ## 77th Congress last November. He was a bachelor and resided with his mother in Washington.
Born in New York, he attended the public schools and Cooper Union College and received a law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1909. He was admitted to the bar in 1910 and was subsequently admitted to practice in all New York courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a member of various social, religious and fraternal organizations.
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.