How Minnesota’s Goyish Governor Passed for Jewish


Could there be a more goyishe name than Floyd Bjørnstjerne Olson? Believe it or not, the 22nd governor of Minnesota, born of Scandinavian parents, was so steeped in Yiddishkeit that he often passed for Jewish.

Olson served as governor from 1931 to 1936. A self-described radical who represented the Farmer-Labor Party, he used the powers of his office to help pull his state through the Great Depression, proposing progressive taxes and unemployment insurance.

To Jewish constituents, Olsen was practically an honorary member of the tribe. More than once, his knowledge of Yiddish—which  he learned from close Jewish friends and neighbors—fooled some Jews into thinking he was one of them.

After Olson died in office in 1936, The Jewish Criterion, a weekly newspaper in Pittsburgh, remembered the governor as “intimately associated with Jews”: a young man who worked as a Shabbos goy, attended friends’ bar mitzvahs and even cheder. He appointed many Jews to state office and fought the KKK as a prosecutor.

Dozens of statues throughout Minnesota honor Olson, although some are in notable disrepair. Olson, no doubt, would call it a shonda.

See one Olsen monument in disrepair:

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