As the Nazi Party strengthened anti-Jewish measures in Germany during the 1930s, many Jews in the United States looked for ways to weaken the Third Reich from abroad. One strategy was a boycott of Nazi goods, led by Jewish civil rights organizations and labor groups. The Joint Boycott Council of the American Jewish Congress was founded in 1933 by a Jewish doctor, author, and activist named Joseph Tenenbaum. The boycott called upon consumers and businesses to refuse to buy German-made goods in order to weaken the economy of Nazi Germany.1 This campaign emerged within months of the Nazi rise to power in early 1933.
Although it promoted a nationwide rejection of German-made goods, the Joint Boycott Council often focused attention on Jewish-owned American enterprises that did business with Germany.2 The organization even distributed a list of Jewish-owned businesses in the New York area that were not respecting the boycott. The featured photograph shows the demonstration outside the Mills Sales Company in New York City on August 27, 1937. As the demonstrators' signs show, this wholesale department store—which sold everything from razors to blankets—was owned by a D. Jacoby (a common Jewish surname). In the photgraph, customers and passersby encounter activists wearing or carrying signs denouncing the Third Reich and the US businesses selling its exports. At the left of the photo, curious faces peer out as they exit the store.
In the photo, demonstrators' signs emphasize that the Nazi regime represented a threat not just to Jews, but also to Protestant and Catholic Americans.3 Other signs point to Germany's ban against trade unions and the Nazi persecution of labor activists. The common link between the signs is the image of a swastika made out of snakes and a call to join the boycott.
The Joint Council believed that Americans who knowingly bought German-made goods were complicit in Nazi crimes. In their moral appeal, boycotters insisted that economic backing could not be separated from ideological approval. "Nazi Goods," one sign in the photo reads, "are soaked in human blood."