Winds of War

As events in Europe worsened, Washington Jews responded in many ways. Some organized rallies, wrote telegrams, and helped German Jewish refugees.

Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 (the Anschluss) heightened the fears of world Jewry. Many believed Palestine was the only refuge for European Jews. In D.C., the Jewish community organized an interdenominational meeting and sent thousands of telegrams to President Franklin Roosevelt urging that the doors of Palestine be kept open.

Nevertheless, a year later, Great Britain issued the “White Paper” severely restricting immigration to Palestine. Shortly after, World War II began. Washington Jews raised funds, petitioned the government for visas for those abroad, and helped newly arrived refugees find jobs.

We, the undersigned, respectfully petition you, Mr. President…to intercede with the British government to keep open the gates of the Holy Land.

Telegram sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, October 1938

War Bond rally

1942: War Bond rally

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Scrap metal drive

1942: Scrap metal drive

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Photo of Hugo Schiff

1939: Alexandria’s Beth El Hebrew Congregation obtained a visa for Rabbi Hugo Schiff of Karlsruhe, Germany, who had been imprisoned in Dachau. Schiff brought with him a Torah scroll saved from the Nazis. Rabbi Schiff and his wife became naturalized citizens on D-Day, 1944.

Courtesy of Beth El Hebrew Congregation.

Photo of Rabbi Bogner

1938: Arthur Bogner, a rabbi and psychiatrist who studied under Sigmund Freud, fled from Vienna to Washington. Prohibited from bringing his wife and children to the U.S. until he had a job, he was quickly employed by Ezras Israel Congregation, where he served as rabbi for the next 40 years.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Nathan Bogner, 2004.32

Argo Lodge event with E. Roosevelt

1939: The Women’s Auxiliary of B’nai B’rith Argo Lodge raised money on behalf of Jewish refugees in Europe. Shown here is founder Frances Gewirz (seated at left) looking on as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt addresses an Argo Lodge anniversary luncheon.

Harris & Ewing Photographs, Courtesy of Carl Gewirz.

flyer for mass meeting

October 23, 1938: 4,000 Washingtonians packed Constitution Hall in 1938 to pressure the British government not to restrict Jewish immigration to Palestine. Organizers called the gathering a “mass meeting” rather than a “protest” because of sensitivity to the British government.

Courtesy of American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY and Newton Centre, MA.

War Bond rally
Scrap metal drive
Photo of Hugo Schiff
Photo of Rabbi Bogner
Argo Lodge event with E. Roosevelt
flyer for mass meeting