The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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If a hate speaker were to come to your campus or organization, what would
you do? There was a time when this question would have been largely
theoretical; but now the problem of how to deal with hate speech affects
everyone at every of our society. The First Amendment protects the rights of
all of us to state our opinion. We think it is important for all of us to be
as well-informed as possible about the issues, and to confront racist speech
not with violence or unreasoning hostility but with information.

Our focus here is one group, among a range of groups, that has been targeted
for attack. In recent years, campus speakers have made new and astounding
accusations against Jews, specifically in relation to the history of
Africans and African Americans. Many of these charges concern events about
which most people have little detailed knowledge. In this Fact Sheet we try
to show why these accusations are wrong, and to suggest resource materials
for anyone who wants to study the issues in detail. We hope that you will
read these materials with an open mind, and judge the issues for yourself.

                             FACTS VS. FICTIONS

1. Did Jews "Dominate" the Slave Trade in Medieval Europe?

Jewish traders dealt in pagan white slaves from Slavic areas, but never
played a predominant role and virtually ceased to be involved around A.D.
1000, 500 years before the first enslaved Africans were carried to the New

Professor David Brion Davis of Yale University in Slavery and Human Progress
(New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1984), p. 89:

"Medieval Christians greatly exaggerated the supposed Jewish control over
trade and finance and also became obsessed with alleged Jewish plots to
enslave, convert, or sell non-Jews....Most European Jews lived in poor
communities on the margins of Christian society; they continued to suffer
most of the legal disabilities associated with slavery."

2. Did Jews "Dominate" the Slave Trade Within Africa?

Between the years 1650 and 1900, ten million or more Black Africans were
carried by slavers either north across the Sahara or east over the Red
Sea/Indian Ocean route. This trade was under the control not of Jews but of
Muslim merchants who also helped supply the Atlantic slave trade.

Professor Orlando Patterson of Harvard University in Roots and Branches:
Current Directions in Slave Studies, ed. Michael Catron (New York: Pergamon
Press, 1979), p. 287:

"The kind of structure which Islamic imperialists imposed on that part of
Africa over the centuries . . . [created] a structural pattern that was
highly predatory . . . which, in the long term, distorted, even prevented,
regional development. One might even go a step further, and say that the
resistance to European penetration might have been much stronger had it not
been for the underdevelopment of Africa, due to that earlier slavery."

3. Did Jews "Dominate" the Atlantic Slave Trade?

Jews were barred from the New World colonies of Spain, Portugal, and France.
The British and Dutch generally allowed them to settle, but limited their
participation in the international slave trade. "New Christians" of Jewish
descent were more involved until they were persecuted and driven to the
sidelines by the Spanish Inquisition. Overall, the role of slave traders of
Jewish faith or family origin was minor.

Professor David Brion Davis of Yale University in Slavery and Human Progress
(New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1984), p. 89:

"Whatever Jewish refugees from Brazil may have contributed to the
northwestward expansion of sugar and slaves, it is clear that Jews had no
major or continuing impact on the history of New World slavery."

4. Did Jews "Dominate" the Slave Trade from British North America?

A handful of Jewish merchants engaged in the "triangular trade" in rum,
slaves, and molasses between the present-day U.S., Africa, and the West
Indies. They tended to be more interested in international commerce not
involving Africa or slave importation. For example, of 200 voyages
commissioned by Aaron Lopez of Newport, fourteen were slaving ventures
carrying 1,165 slaves or one percent of those imported into the Rhode Island
port during its heyday.

Professor Jacob R. Marcus of Hebrew Union College in The Colonial American
Jew (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1970), Vol. 2, pp. 702-03:

"The Jews of Newport seem not to have pursued the [slave trading] business
consistently . . .[When] we compare the number of vessels employed in the
traffic by all merchants with the number sent to the African coast by Jewish
traders . . . we can see that the Jewish participation was minimal. It may
be safely assumed that over a period of years American Jewish businessmen
were accountable for considerably less than two percent of the slave imports
into the West Indies"

5. Were Jews Major Slave Traders in the Old South?

Jews were never prominent in the domestic slave trade within the American
South from states like Virginia to the fields of the Cotton Kingdom. For
example, the Davis brothers -- small-scale operators -- were one of three
Jewish-owned firms among seventy in Richmond.

Rabbi Bertram W. Korn, "Jews and Negro Slavery in the Old South, 1789-1865,"
in The Jewish Experience in America, ed. Abraham J. Karp (Waltham, MA:
American Jewish Historical Society, 1969), Vol. 3, pp. 197-98:

"None of the major slavetraders was Jewish, nor did Jews constitute a large
proportion in any particular community. . . . Probably all of the Jewish
slavetraders in all of the Southern cities and towns combined did not buy
and sell as many slaves as did the firm of Franklin and Armfield, the
largest Negro traders in the South."

6. Were Jews Prominent Among the Major Slaveholders in the Old South?

Only ten percent of the 150,000 American Jews at the time of the Civil War
lived in the South. Southern Jews who owned slaves were overwhelmingly
"smallholders" concentrated in cities, not in the plantation districts
containing ninety percent of the enslaved population. For example, there
were only four Jews -- less than one-tenth of one percent -- among the
11,000 Southerners who in 1830 owned fifty or more slaves.

Rabbi Bertram W. Korn, "Jews and Negro Slavery in the Old South, 1789-1865,"
in The Jewish Experience in America, ed. Abraham J. Karp (Waltham, MA:
American Jewish Historical Society, 1969), Vol. 3, p. 180:

"[There were] Jewish owners of plantations, but altogether they constituted
only a tiny proportion of the Southerners whose habits, opinions, and status
were to become decisive for the entire section, and eventually for the
entire country. . . . [Only one Jew] tried his hand as a plantation overseer
even if only for a brief time."

7. Did Jews Shun the Antislavery Movement?

Prominent Jews joined the manumission societies that gradually ended slavery
in the North in the generation after the American Revolution. The militant
abolitionist movement of the 1830s -- led by "born again" Protestants --
frightened off some Jewish support. But by the 1850s, German Jewish
immigrants were flocking to the antislavery Republican Party at the same
time as other immigrants became firmly wedded to the anti-abolition

Maxwell Whiteman, "Jews in the Antislavery Movement," Introduction to The
Kidnapped and the Ransomed: The Narrative of Peter and Vina Still
(Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1970), pp. 28, 42:

"Antislavery strongly appealed to the Jewish concept of the universal
freedom of man. Hence, the hundreds of


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