Marauding Youth and the Christian Front: Antisemitic Violence in Boston and New York during World War II

Article excerpt

In October 1943, the New York newspaper PM declared that bands of Irish Catholic youths, inspired by the Coughlinite Christian Front, had for over a year waged an "organized campaign of terrorism" against Jews in Boston's Dorchester district and in neighboring Roxbury and Mattapan. They had violently assaulted Jews in the streets and parks, often inflicting serious injuries with blackjacks and brass knuckles, and had desecrated synagogues and vandalized Jewish stores and homes. The New York Post stated that the "beatings of Jews" in Boston were "an almost daily occurrence." State Senator Maurice Goldman, representing 100,000 Jews, residing mostly in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, joined by four state representatives from those areas, declared to Governor Leverett Saltonstall that their constituents were living "in mortal fear." Many Jews could not leave their homes, even in daylight, frightened of being beaten by youths from adjacent Irish Catholic neighborhoods like South Boston, Fields Corner, and the Codman Square area, who deliberately entered Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan to go "Jew hunting." The New York Yiddish daily The Day called the antisemitic violence that had occurred in Dorchester during the previous year "a series of small pogroms." (1)

Neither Boston's police nor its Catholic clergy made any serious effort to discourage the antisemitic violence. Jewish victims of the attacks had repeatedly complained about them, "only to be insulted and beaten again by the police themselves." One Jewish leader in Dorchester stated that the Boston police, largely Irish American, not only took no action to prevent antisemitic violence, but "would just as soon encourage it." The Christian Front, during the middle of World War II, distributed inflammatory antisemitic literature throughout Boston, "without the slightest interference by the police." Frances Sweeney, a prominent Boston Irish Catholic anti-fascist, denounced both city and state authorities and Boston's Catholic Church at all levels for their lack of concern about the antisemitic outbreaks: "The attacks on Jew[s] ... are the complete responsibility of Governor Saltonstall, Mayor [Maurice] Tobin, the [Catholic] church, and the clergy-all of whom ... ignored this tragedy. (2)

The PM articles, written by Arnold Beichman, drew on documents supplied by the American Jewish Congress (AJ Congress), the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the Dorchester Record, as well as by Frances Sweeney. Dr. Samuel Margoshes, editor of The Day, declared that he had carefully reviewed the sworn affidavits of fifty Dorchester Jews--men, women, and children--who reported that they had been attacked on the streets. He had also spoken personally to several of the victims. Margoshes concluded that the affidavits, collected by the Boston AJ Congress, verified that PM was "one hundred per cent right." (3) There were far more Jewish victims of beatings and vandalism than these affidavits revealed, but many feared retaliation if they made a public complaint. PM published sixteen of the signed affidavits from Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury over two days, a random sample which revealed that many Jewish children and adults had sustained serious injuries in the attacks. (4)

Arthur Derounian, one of the nation's leading authorities on hate groups, an Armenian American who wrote under the pseudonym John Roy Carlson, reported in the New York Post that he had visited Jewish victims in Boston and received their signed complaints of antisemitic assaults and property damage. He interviewed sixty-nine-year-old Samuel Rudofsky, bed-ridden after youths blackjacked him from behind, and noted his blood-stained garments and numerous head stitches. Rudofsky told Carlson that, in his eighteen years residing in Dorchester, he had never seen anything as frightening as the current antisemitic violence. Many of the affidavits were signed by Jewish teenagers who had been surrounded by gangs of youths, who hurled antisemitic epithets and badly beat them. …