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Sunday, October 20, 2013

“Raise My Voice Against Intolerance.”
The Anti-Nazi Rally in Madison Square Garden, March 27, 1933,
and the American Public’s Outrage over the Nazi Persecution of Jews

by Dr. Robert G. Waite
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved by the author.

“I have come to Madison Square Garden many times, mostly to speak on behalf of the political party to which I belong,” explained Alfred E. Smith, former governor of New York State and 1928 presidential candidate, to the 23,000 plus listeners crowded into the arena on the evening of March 27, 1933. Another 35,000 had massed on the streets outside, listening to the words of Governor Smith and each of the other speakers broadcast over a public address system. “But I don’t believe I ever came into it with greater satisfactions than I feel tonight to raise my voice against intolerance, bigotry and against the suppression of freedom of speech and the press and the abridgement of the right of public assembly.”1 Governor Smith was joined on the podium by a group of prominent figures, including New York City mayor James P. O’Brien, president of the American Federation of Labor William Green, Senator Robert Wagner, distinguished members of the clergy, and Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the American Jewish Congress and the organizer of this mass protest against recent measures taken by the Hitler regime in Germany against its Jewish citizens. “This protest is not against the German people whom we love and revere,” Rabbi Wise assured the audience when he came to the podium. “It is not against the political program for Germany is master within its own household, but solely against the present anti-Jewish policy of the Nazi government.” Similar rallies were held in more than 65 cities in 25 states as a wave of outrage swept across America. An estimated one million were expected to join the protest meetings.

The rally in Madison Square Garden grew out of a far-reaching and deep-seated anxiety in America over the Nazi treatment of the Jews and the regime’s assault on organized labor and political opponents. As reports of mistreatment and discrimination were published in newspapers throughout the nation, Jewish communities, political figures, religious leaders, and rank and file labor became alarmed and they added their voices to the protest which percolated into a steady stream of letters to German consulates in the US and into rallies in cities throughout the nation. The rejection of Nazi policies was widespread, deeply felt, and sincere. The responses showed how much Hitler’s repression had touched a raw-nerve among the American people and not simply its Jewish citizens. Rarely have so many American from such diverse backgrounds, from such differing religious and political beliefs, come together in common cause to voice their outrage over persecution and repressive policies. The rally in Madison Square Garden culminated this spontaneous protest movement and sent a powerful message to political leaders in the United States and in Germany. Its impact was, however, mixed.