Documenting The St. Louis Jewish Community’s Response To Extremism After World War II | St. Louis Public Radio

Documenting The St. Louis Jewish Community’s Response To Extremism After World War II

Feb 6, 2014

A new display in the atrium of the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building may be small in size, but it packs punch with its disturbing news clippings and artifacts detailing the response of the St. Louis Jewish community to extremism and discrimination of all types after World War II.

While the photographs of local neo-Nazis and examples of anti-Semitic hate mail are shocking, they are tempered by the underlying message of how St. Louisans stood together through tumultuous times. The display is titled “Standing for Justice II, 1950-1980.’’ It is an addition to a 2012 exhibit  focusing on the years 1930 to 1950 that can be viewed in the theater of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.

The photos, documents and artifacts are from the St. Louis Jewish Community Archives at the Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library.

Archivist Diane Everman said many of the items were found by volunteers who were helping to catalog materials that have been collected and preserved by members of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The artifacts document the council’s carefully measured responses to discrimination and local extremism, including the flurry in the late 1960s of neo-Nazism, when swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti were found on synagogues, homes, lawns and schools.

“We were amazed by the diligence, perseverance and the activities of the community at large and the JCRC, in particular, about tracking these individuals and the movements. They kept track of both the good guys and not-so-good guys,’’ Everman said. “They collectively asked, ‘What are we going to do? How are we going to deal with this?’ If it was housing discrimination, they actually called the people and talked to them and had a meeting and tried to resolve the issues. If someone said, ‘I tried to apply for this job, and I was denied because they said they don’t hire Jews or don’t hire blacks,’ they would investigate. Sometimes, their recommendation was that the organization or the individual, especially the extremists, were after attention. They want the press. So let’s not give it to them.’’

Younger viewers might be surprised to see pictures of Nazi supporters marching in Forest Park in 1937 or to learn that anti-Semite Gerald L. K. Smith and the political party he founded -- the Christian Nationalist Crusade -- operated from St. Louis.

Daniel Reich and Diane Everman, curators of "Standing for Justice."
Credit Mary Delach Leonard|St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon

Everman said she was particularly struck by the examples of hate mail sent to individuals by complete strangers.

“All they knew was that this person had a Jewish name. And they would send threats, stickers, hate mail,’’ she said. “I remember thinking, ‘Why would you do that? Why would you target someone you don’t even know? What do you get out of that?’ ”

The second installment of “Standing for Justice” also speaks to the Jewish community’s support of the civil rights movement. A newspaper article portrays Sam Klein, who in the 1940s employed Ruth Seals, an African American, as his secretary. Klein made headlines both locally and statewide.

Everman said that support of the civil rights movement illustrated the extent to which people were starting to question long-standing prejudice and discrimination.

“When the civil rights movement took flight, the Jewish community was in support. They had experienced much of the same thing. There were meetings. There were joint efforts. When the marches happened in Selma and Montgomery, and the March on Washington, large numbers from St. Louis and the St. Louis Jewish community participated. St. Louis rabbis were involved in all of them,’’ she said.

As part of the official opening on Sunday afternoon, Retired Rep. William L. Clay Sr., Missouri’s first African-American member of Congress, will reflect on the civil rights movement in St. Louis.

“Standing for Justice,’’ also provides an important addendum to the exhibits in the holocaust museum located just steps away, said Daniel Reich, the museum’s curator and director of education.

Reich, who is also co-curator of “Standing for Justice,” said the artifacts can be shocking to viewers, but they illustrate the fact that discrimination and prejudice didn’t end in 1945 -- and they weren’t limited to faraway places.

“These Nazis were not marching in Berlin, they were in Forest Park,’’ he said. “And these shocking images aren’t in Nazi propaganda. These were being circulated in our neighborhoods.’’

From his perspective as a Holocaust educator, Reich said it is important for people to reflect on history -- what can happen when hate is allowed to grow unquestioned.

“Obviously, it did not end in 1945,’’ he said. “We see genocide going on in the world today. There are more safeguards. But it still starts with prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping -- the considering of people as being ‘other’ than your group.’’

"Standing for Justice II, 1950-1980"

What: A display of historic photographs, news clippings, correspondence and other materials documenting the St. Louis Jewish community’s response to discrimination, anti-Semitism and extremism.

When: 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, F eb. 9. At 1:30 p.m., Retired U.S. Rep. William L. Clay Sr. will reflect on the civil rights movement in St. Louis.  A reception will follow. The display will run through April 3.

Where: Lobby of the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis. The display “Standing for Justice: 1930-1950,” the first installment of the exhibit, is on view in the theater of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.