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Jews of Massena, NY Accused of Blood Libel (1928)

On This Day in Jewish History: September 23, 1928


On this day, 1928, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the tiny Jewish population of rural Massena, NY was accused of the age-old insidious charge of murdering a Christian girl to harvest her blood for ritual means.

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Commonly known as a blood libel, these have been a part of Jewish history since at least 1144 when English Jews were accused of the same ridiculous charge - within a century, Jews would be wholly expelled from England until the 1600's.

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Four year old Barbara Griffiths had disappeared and within a day, the town was blaming the Jews of Massena of kidnapping, murdering, and using her blood for the Jewish high holidays.

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NY State Police questioned Rabbi Berel Brennglass of the Adath Israel congregation for about an hour - seriously interrogating him about Jewish practices with regards to human sacrifice and use of blood in food (something that is strictly prohibited according to Kosher laws)

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During the interrogation itself, little Barbara emerged from the woods where she had spent the night after getting lost. Her reappearance led the townspeople to declare that the Jews actually released her when the town had "discovered their plot". Mayor Gilbert Hawes believed this sentiment and called for a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. Dismayed community leaders sought help from the American Jewish Congress who spoke with NY Governor Al Smith.

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Within 2-3 weeks the incident was over following aid from Governor Smith in investigating gross police misconduct. NY Times picked up the story - allowing the national attention to apply pressure. Mayor Hawes issued a public apology and was re-elected.

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That the blood libel charge could arise in the US in the 20th century should give pause to all readers.

By the middle of the 1920's, Henry Ford would be responsible for the publication and distribution of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to thousands of American readers. By 1939, a mass Nazi rally would convene at Madison Square Garden in NYC. Consider that this occurred just 5 years before Hitler's rise to power in Europe and a little over a decade before the horrors of the Holocaust. When people ask, "why didn't anybody stop them?" - remember these early 20th century events were evident and backwards Jew-hatred rooted in irrational fear took hold of the most "moral and just societies."


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