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"Three Personal Letters Concerning the Sale of German Goods by Department Stores in the United States"

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. Many American businesses chose to observe the boycott, but some continued to stock their shelves with German-made items. For some companies in the United States—including those owned or operated by Jewish Americans—the decision to remove all German goods from their shelves was not simple or straightforward.2

The featured letters were published in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on October 2, 1933—more than six months after the boycott had first begun. An unnamed Macy's customer wrote to the company's president, Percy S. Straus, to inform him that he would no longer shop at Macy's "until you have entirely eliminated all goods made in Germany from your store." In the letter, the author expresses his belief that selling goods made in Nazi Germany supported the economy of a country "ruled by a bloody gang of maniacs who are a menace to civilization and who are seriously threatening our own American constitution."

In his response, Straus suggests that no customer "need buy" clearly labeled German goods. He also reasons that carrying a small selection of German goods—which he claimed were impossible to obtain from other countries—was necessary to support German Jewish companies.3 Straus' reply suggests that if American companies boycotted all German-made goods—including products made by German Jewish companies—"their [German Jews'] plight will be harder than it is now." As a "loyal Jew" himself, Straus was outraged at the persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany, but he disagreed that a total boycott was the most effective way to respond. 

Nazi propaganda tried to convince Germans that these economic boycotts against the Nazi regime for its discriminatory anti-Jewish policies were actually unprovoked Jewish conspiracies against the German state. The Nazi regime's campaign to boycott Jewish businesses in Germany began on April 1st, 1933—a response in part to the American boycott of German goods.4 The April boycotts represent the first nationwide anti-Jewish campaign of the Nazi regime. 

For more details on the boycott, see the related Experiencing History item, Photo of 1937 Boycott March. For more on Straus, see Barry Trachtenberg, The United States and the Nazi Holocaust: Race, Refuge, and Remembrance (New York: Bloomsbury: 2018), 26–28.

 

In the 1930s, the American and German economies had many close ties. Several major American corporations such as Coca-Cola, IBM, the Ford Motor Company, and General Motors had deep connections to the German economy. See Bradley W. Hart, Hitler's American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018), 116–139. 

In 1933, the Nazi regime's seizure of Jewish assets and businesses—a policy known as "Aryanization"—had only recently been introduced. German Jewish business owners still retained control of their enterprises. 

German officials closely observed anti-Nazi activism by Americans—especially Jewish Americans. The Nazi regime responded to the March 1933 New York City rally against the Nazi regime's treatment of German Jews with a fresh wave of anti-Jewish propaganda and persecution in Germany. To learn more about anti-Jewish boycotts in Nazi Germany, see the related Experiencing History item, Film of Jewish Boycott in Austria.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Date Created
October 2, 1933
Page(s) 4
Language(s)
English
Location
New York, USA
Document Type Newspaper Article
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