In the 1930s, as the Nazi Party strengthened anti-Jewish measures in Germany, many Jews in the United States looked for ways to weaken the Third Reich from across the ocean. Among those efforts was the boycott of Nazi goods, led by Jewish civil rights organizations and labor groups. Founded in 1933 by doctor, author, and activist Joseph Tenenbaum, the Joint Boycott Council of the American Jewish Congress called upon consumers and businesses to refuse to buy German-made goods.1 This campaign emerged in April 1933, months after Hitler's appointment as German Chancellor in January.
Although it promoted a nationwide rejection of German-made goods, the Joint Boycott Council often focused attention on Jewish-owned enterprises that did business with Germany.2 The organization even distributed a list of Jewish-owned businesses in the New York area that "violated" the boycott. The demonstration depicted in this photo 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). Customers and passersby encounter these activists on the sidewalk, 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 to Protestant and Catholic Americans,3 not only Jews. Other placards 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."