Exhibition examines an early national advertising campaign that fought against antisemitism

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Exhibition examines an early national advertising campaign that fought against antisemitism
Association Press of the YMCA. Author: Kenneth Gould. Illustrator: Jacob Landau. The Got the Blame: The Story of Scapegoats in History, 1942. Printed paper. American Jewish Committee.

NEW YORK, NY.- This summer, the New-York Historical Society presents Confronting Hate 1937–1952, a timely exhibition that explores the groundbreaking campaign launched by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in 1937 to combat increasing antisemitism in the United States during the interwar period. On view July 29, 2022 – January 1, 2023, the exhibition examines the history of the campaign through vibrant posters, engaging comic books, newspaper advertisements, radio spots, and television cartoons that have never before been exhibited to the public.

“Confronting Hate is an insightful exhibition that demonstrates the power of advertising and public service campaigns and how they can be used as weapons for good,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “With hate crimes and violent rhetoric once again on the rise in our nation, it’s important to remember the various ways Americans have faced bigotry in the past. We hope visitors will come away with a better understanding of how the monumental changes to the media industry were used to educate the public at the time and continue to influence us today.”

“The ability of a Jewish advocacy organization, on the eve of World War II, to conceptualize and implement a national media campaign against antisemitism and other forms of hate, is a testament to the vision of creative individuals committed to preserving and strengthening our pluralistic democracy,” said American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris. “The valuable collection of media materials, uncovered by AJC Archives Director Charlotte Bonelli, is more than a glimpse at a period of American history that continued through the late 1940s. It is strikingly relevant now amidst the surging antisemitism and other forms of hate that illustrate the dictum ‘what begins with Jews doesn’t end with Jews,’ and ultimately threatens the values that underpin our democratic society.”

In 1937, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) launched an unprecedented media campaign to combat the increase of antisemitism then gripping the United States. Under the leadership of advertising executive Richard Rothschild, a trailblazing multimedia advertising campaign was organized to combat “all forms of bigotry.” Rothschild, along with AJC radio director Milton Krents and AJC public information officer Ethel Phillips, partnered with dozens of “allies”—artists, writers, political leaders, women’s and church groups, politicians, magazine and newspaper editors, public figures, and celebrities—to spread anti-hate messages across the United States. What began as a campaign against antisemitism evolved into a robust campaign to combat all forms of bigotry.

Writers such as Pulitzer-prize winning author Stephen Vincent Benét and New York cartoonists Eric Godal, Carl Rose, and Bernard Seaman were among those enlisted to create radio scripts, pamphlets and brochures, posters, comic books, magazine and newspaper articles, and cartoons that graphically confronted racism, Nativism, and antisemitism and championed democratic values and understanding. Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra were among the celebrities who mobilized to spread the campaign’s messages.

Highlights include the first poster created for the National Labor Service campaign after World War II as a response to perceived antisemitism among within labor unions. “Swat Them All!” by Eric Godal, who himself had fled from Nazi Germany, depicts a typical American labor worker swatting flies representing various forms of discrimination. Many of the campaign’s cartoons, inserts, and public service announcements were conceived by Bernard Seaman, a longtime art director for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and editorial cartoonist for the AFL-CIO News. “Spring Cleaning” depicts Uncle Sam and a man symbolizing American labor throwing a figure symbolizing race hate into the garbage. Comic books such as They Got the Blame, which chronicles the history of the scapegoat, and Nuestro Futuro: Hombres Libres o Esclavos, created for distribution in Central and South America, show how the AJC, working with the U.S. Government, used this popular media form to combat the spread of Nazi propaganda in this area of the world.

The exhibition also chronicles the rise of mass media. AJC Radio—a division that produced broadcasts in cooperation with NBC and WOR to inform Americans about the dangers of Nazi antisemitism and the progress of the Allies during World War II—followed by AJC Television during the late 1940s and early 1950s also joined the fight against American hatred. The exhibition includes the first radio broadcast of a Jewish religious service from Nazi Germany conducted by Jewish American GIs in 1944. The historic broadcast is punctuated by the staccato of booming cannon and gunfire as Chaplain Sidney Lefkowitz led a religious service for 51 American GIs with PFC Max Fuchs, a native of New York City who served as acting cantor.

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