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.