The Establishment of Jewish Businesses in America from 1939-1945

By Laura Fritsche

Despite the entrance of Jews in America, there were strong feelings of uncertainty surrounding the Jewish presence in America and in the economy at the start of the war. In some cases they were described as “materialistic, dishonest, and vulgar.”).[1] It wasn’t until 1948 that congress passed a law allowing Jewish displaced persons to immigrate to the U.S., which Truman said was still “flagrantly discriminatory against Jews.”[2]  Despite these setbacks, the post war years for the Jewish population seemed to flourish economically whereas the situation for Jewish refugees during the war proved trying with many families displaced and broken. However, some Jewish families were able to move to areas in which they could join previously established Jewish populations and therefore they could partake in Jewish religious and cultural practices within their communities. In regards to establishing themselves economically, it seems that for many Jews they were able to achieve greater education and therefore they were able to move to professional careers “at about twice the rate of the preceding generation.”[3] Jews that had come to America previous to the war in prior waves of immigration were able to go into business and some were able to build upon a professional skill such as “watchmaking, tailoring, shoemaking and carpentry.”[4]This shifted in the postwar years with Jews focusing less on skill-oriented jobs to fields such as “management, communications, real estate, entertainment, and academia.”[5] In a way it was apparent that “the Jewish refugees have an almost obsessive desire to live normal lives again. It was as if the survivors were trying to make up all at once for lost time and lost life”.[6] Similar to this idea, I found another source that gave the statistic that “Jews in the 1930s comprised 25 percent of the population of New York City, yet accounted for 65 percent of all lawyers and judges in the city.” [7] In this same source the idea of previously established Jewish communities was illustrated once again in that “The entrepreneurial success of first-generation Jews enabled subsequent generations to move into the professional ranks of society.”[8] Many Jewish immigrants tended to settle in larger centers of economic activity such as New York in the East and Cleveland in the Midwest. It was in these centers that many Jews were able to find professional careers such as doctors, lawyers, and dentists.[9]

One point to note is that in my research I found a divergence of mentality from the perspectives of Americans versus that of the Jewish immigrants themselves. For the Jews, it seemed that they were able to achieve greater education and begin professional careers in the U.S. and there was a rarity of apparent anti-Semitism (at least to the extent that was posed in Europe). On the side of the U.S. it seemed that there was a mentality of uncertainty surrounding immigration in general but particularly that of the Jews. The laws that determined immigration policies were altered over time and did see some restriction at first in letting Jews come over. It appears that there was not a blatant anti-Semitic outcry by the Americans but it seems that there was a fear of the Jews interfering with the economy. This mentality definitely seemed to subside over time as the Jews became more integrated.

 


[1] Dinnerstein, Leonard (1994). Anti-Semitism in America. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 162.

[2] http://www.ushmm.org/. United States Policy Toward Jewish Refugees, 1941–1952.Accessed February 16, 2016.

[3] Kamp, Jim. http://www.everyculture.com. Accessed February 16, 2016.

[4] http://www.yadvashem.org. Survivors of the Holocaust: An Overview. Accessed February 16, 2016.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Golden, Jonathan and Sarna, Jonathan D. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org. Oct. 2000

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

 

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