| For the Record |

The American “Adventures” of Ahlwardt the Amalekite

In 1895 Ahlwardt arrived in America on a speaking tour, hoping to exploit free speech laws to inflame anti-Semitic sentiment
Title: The American “Adventures” of Ahlwardt the Amalekite
Location: Hoboken, New Jersey
Document: The Chicago Chronicle
Time: April 1896

Medieval anti-Semitism against the Jewish religion was supplanted in the 19th century by modern anti-Semitism against the Jewish People. Emancipation brought equal rights to Western European Jewry, but the rise of romantic nationalism, combined with modern media propaganda and political parties, led to a manifestation of a new and ugly form of Jew hatred. Though it was particularly insidious in late 19th-century France, culminating in the Dreyfus affair, and in Czarist Russia, culminating in the May Laws, pogroms, and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgery, it was in Germany that the term anti-Semitism was brought into wide use by Wilhelm Marr in 1879.

Marr published a pamphlet describing the threat that Jews posed to the future of Germany, and to advance his ideas, he founded the League of Anti-Semites. Anti-Semitic expression wasn’t limited to the fringes of society; German statesman Heinrich von Treitschke coined the phrase “Die Juden sind unser Unglück” (the Jews are our misfortune), adumbrating its daily use by the Nazi Der Stürmer a half century later. Anti-Semitic candidate Hermann Ahlwardt was elected to a seat in the Reichstag by running on a platform that Jews were at fault for the recent decreases in agriculture revenue, openly describing Jews as “predators” and “cholera bacilli” that should be exterminated.

In 1895 Ahlwardt arrived in America on a speaking tour, hoping to exploit free speech laws to inflame anti-Semitic sentiment. While his hateful messages were largely scorned by the American people, he found an ally in the nascent Anti-Semitic Society of America, which hosted several speaking engagements. He also utilized the freedom of the press to found a short-lived newspaper called the Gentile News.

Future American president Theodore Roosevelt was serving a brief stint as New York City’s police commissioner at the time. He hit upon a creative solution to allow Ahlwardt to exercise his free speech rights while making him a laughingstock. Roosevelt recorded in his autobiography how he was approached by concerned Jewish citizens of New York regarding the anti-Semitic agitator:

“While I was Police Commissioner of New York City, an anti-Semitic preacher from Berlin, Rector Ahlwardt, came to New York to preach a crusade against the Jews. Many Jews were much excited and asked me to prevent him from speaking and not to give him police protection. This, I told them, was impossible; and, if possible, would have been undesirable, because it would make him a martyr. The proper thing to do was to make him ridiculous. Accordingly, I sent a detail of police under a Jewish sergeant, and the Jew-baiter made his harangue under the active protection of some 40 police, every one of them a Jew.”

As a result, his US tour wasn’t overly successful, and the American press was full of derision for his stated mission. When he arrived in Hoboken to deliver an address at the local anti-Semitic society, he was berated and beaten by the young Jewish crowd, causing him to draw his (illegally obtained) pistol and wave it at the crowd. This act landed him in prison for disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon. Borrowing a page from Commissioner Roosevelt’s playbook, the authorities in Hoboken placed him in a cell together with his assailants — who surely didn’t file a complaint about overcrowding.

Though Ahlwardt died in a traffic accident in 1914, anti-Semitism in Europe and especially in Germany only increased during the 20th century. Nationalist sentiment ultimately evolved into racial anti-Semitism with catastrophic results for European Jewry.

An old newspaper photograph shows the Jewish policemen in New York City assigned to protect Hermann Ahlwardt

Rotten To The Core

Prior to Ahlwardt’s speech at Cooper Union on Manhattan’s East Side, an ad ran in local newspapers that read:

Wanted —Enlightened men, who deprecate the attempt to raise the race prejudice by Ahlwardt, to welcome the fanatic with ancient eggs. Address, by mail, Arthur Goldsmith, 81 and 83 Wall Street.

Several locals took up Goldsmith’s offer, and as Ahlwardt reached the crux of his diatribe, he was pelted with rotten eggs by one Louis Silverman (an assistant city marshal), who was taken into custody by the police and eventually fined $25.

He’s the Mayor

Continuing the precedent set by Teddy Roosevelt, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia had a detachment composed entirely of Jewish NYPD officers assigned to guard the German consulate in 1938, allegedly under the command of one Captain Finkelstein. La Guardia also sustained a personal loss in the Holocaust. His mother was from the Jewish Italian Luzzatto family, and his sister Gemma resided in Budapest with her husband, a Hungarian Jew named Herman Gluck. Following the Nazi invasion in 1944, they were deported to Mauthausen, where her husband perished. She was soon transferred to the Ravensbruck concentration camp and survived the war.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 934)

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