My Arrest as an Anti-Fascist Protester in Orange County, Calif.

Southern Californians Counter-Protest against the so-called “Alt-Right”

Shmuel Gonzales, activist historian, arrested at Counter-Protest of Alt-Right in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Shmuel Gonzales, activist historian, arrested at Counter-Protest of Alt-Right in Laguna Beach, Calif. Being extracted military-style by five police officers in riot gear after he was himself attacked by fascists.

My name is Samuel “Shmuel” Gonzales, I am an activist historian and community organizer from Southern California; many of you might know me as the author of the Barrio Boychik blog, which is dedicated to presenting our local heritage of civil rights activism, with special focus on the historical and present inter-section of Jewish and Latino civil rights organizing. As a Mexican American of the Jewish faith, I also proudly serve as teacher of Jewish education and leader in sacred Hebrew ritual, serving Southeast Los Angeles and North Orange County.

Today I will be presenting to you some unique archival footage I took at a counter-protest of the America First Rally – an anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rally organized by the so-called “alt-Right” – at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, California on Sunday, August 20, 2017.

Where I was ultimately arrested.

On this day I was in attendance to stand with local friends and business people as they stand against hate. Among them my good friend and a father figure to me, Irv Weiser; whose family came to this country as refugees following the holocaust. I came to stand shoulder to shoulder with him as he protested against this nationalist hate rhetoric.

There were just a few dozen anti-immigrant/refugee protesters that day, a mixed race group of far right extremists that noticeably even had neo-Nazis and white supremacists participating in the event; while there were several hundred counter-protesters in attendance.

After the right-wing protesters group dwindled they started making incursions into the counter-protest, to get in people’s’ face and to agitate the crowd; they caused some minor scuffles and were shooed back by the police.

While documenting the event on video, I followed the right-wing group back. By this time the right-wing protesters on the other end were encircled and engaging a crowd.

I engaged the right-wing protesters in their rhetoric angering them several times with just verbal rebuttals, while also taking video of the protest.

In this video you will see the presentation in which they call illegal immigrants and refugees drug dealers, rapists and murderers. I will be present standing with Irv Weiser behind me, and to my right shoulder would be the local news media; including Fox and Latino news outlet Estrella TV.

After the further dwindled group begins to repeat their presentation, I again begin to engage their rhetoric. Speaking truth in to hate. Engaging these extremists to the point of agitation.

As I was still documenting this event on video with the camera running, I went in for a close-up shot as we argued, and one of them quickly approached and hit my hand, sending my camera flying.

At that point I was immediately arrested by five officers in riot gear from the Laguna Beach Police department. I was arrested, instead of these nationalist extremists who wanted to assault me.

And that was just the begin of a long ordeal. I would be arrested, taken to central jail – where I would be subjected to racist and anti-semitic treatment by the jailer. We are going to talk more after presenting the video from the protest.

What is most important to note is that I have an upcoming court date set for next week: Monday, September 18, 2017 at 8:30am, at Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach, California.

At that time I will be arraigned for the false charges of resisting arrest.

For these reason, I am now releasing this video at this time.

First, in order to prove my innocence.

Second, to start an honest conversation about the realities being faced today by progressives in the front lines of our current anti-fascist resistance.

So without further ado…. The protest video….

[Video Notes: Protest Footage, begins at 4:05. Arrest takes place at 35:00. ]

Afterwards:

So now we’re back to talk about what transpired from the moment my video footage ends.

As you can see from video and pictures presented from media sources, I was taken into custody by five Laguna Beach Police officers in riot gear. It is immediately after my camera is struck – even before I have a chance to respond or react – that I am taken into custody by these officers.

Me, the Mexican American kid in the yarmulke that got attacked, was arrested by the police and was sent to jail instead of my attacker.

Now, before we go on I want to make this point clear. These so-called “alt-right” Trump supporters are confederates of white supremacists and fascist; period.

These people’s goal is incitement, under the guise of legitimate political protest and the protection that is granted.

Oh yeah, they were there to just engage is healthy political discourse, so that why they just brought out these fine gentlemen they know from their local white supremacist prison gangs!

Look how they love to push forward their token minorities, like this wannabe white supremacist here; Colombian born fascist Juan Cadavid – who goes by the fake name Johnny Benitez, who organized these protests.

Alt-Right leader, Juan Cadavid a.k.a. Johnny Benitez; wanna-be white supremacist

Alt-Right leader, Juan Cadavid a.k.a. Johnny Benitez; wanna-be white supremacist

RELATED ARTICLE: OC GOP Rejects Alt-Right Figure Johnny Benitez Over Alleged Anti-Semitism

These groups scream with indignation at being equated to white supremacists while holding banners alongside people with iron cross tattoos and swastikas. Guys that you can smell the whiskey and the effects of the meth amphetamines on their breath as they spew their vitriol; these are just everyday white thugs.

Like these idiots here… who insist that they aren’t white supremacist, that the racist prison gang created tattoos they are sporting are just symbols of their individualism.

Tweaker Trump Supporters

Trump supporting spewing racial bullshit to the media. Claims he’s not a Nazi – despite the SS tattoo on his face and the Swastika on his neck – he claims that the tattoos are just signs of his individualism.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: “Laguna Beach Anti-Immigrant Rally Turns Into Left/Right Shoutfest, with PD in the Middle.” – Benitez invited the neo-Nazi Hammerskins.

And that is what pisses them off more than anything… not just that I destroy them when it comes to policy. It’s that I destroy their claim that all the drugs, gangs and violence is brought in the neighborhood by immigrants and refugees. Instead I point the finger right back at them.

And that… that is really what set them off the most. I pointed out their dishonesty and hypocrisy, and that is what instigated them to try to shut me up and shut me down.

They hit at my camera… and I was immediately arrested.

Though it should be noted that according to observers, five police officers in riot gear, were already heading my direction in a single line when this incident took place, then extracted me, military style, from the crowd.

I’m still stunned by the pictures of my small little frame being hauled away from the crowd with such overwhelming force. Like I’m somehow such a fierce threat.

As I was being dragged from the crowd, the media began to ask me questions.

Such as Estrella TV who asked me , “We got it on camera! Why did they hit you?”

My response being: “They attacked me for speaking truth to hate. They hit me because they couldn’t handle my responses!”

The media began to ask me more questions about my motivation for counter-protesting. At which time I begin to passionately speak about the history of American Jews fighting fascism here in California; how we have historically had to fight against the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazism and all forms of nationalism… here in our very own communities.

RELATED VIDEO: “See how the rally in Laguna Beach unfolded” (Orange County Register)

Yes, I had a lot of emotions cycling through me in the moments after being arrest. Though as you see, at no time did I ever resist arrest.

protester-is-arrested-after-the-america-first-pro-trump-group-clashed-picture-id836153394

oc-shmuelgonzales-laguna-beach-protests-20170820-photo-gal-002

A group called America First! rallies against illegal immigration and in support of a stronger border as they meet up with counter protesters in downtown Laguna Beach.

The media began to ask me more questions about my motivation for counter-protesting. At which time I begin to passionately speak about the history of American Jews fighting fascism here in California; how we have historically had to fight against the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazism and all forms of nationalism… here in our very own communities.

Laguna-protest-arrest-1024x710

Again, I’m still stunned by the pictures of me being taken away from the protest with such display of force.

 

 

Protest FOX News Arrest Post

For some time no one knew why I was even being arrested. In the end it became clear, I was arrested simply for exercising my First Amendment rights – for speaking truth to hate.

The arresting officer, officer Bammer of the Laguna Beach police department, informed me that I was being cited and released. He said I was being charged with CPC 148(a)(1) / resisting arrest – for not following police instructions. Loosely interpreted to mean that I was doing something he didn’t want me to do. I informed him that I did not hear any order to disperse or receive any verbal instructions. I also insisted that I did not in way threaten anyone but had been struck at, myself, though the officer contended that the right-wing protester had only pointed in my direction when the camera went flying

When I was taken into custody sometime around 7:30 PM I was informed I would be ticketed and released within a couple of hours. I was then taken to another site where I was held for some time.

While in custody, I was repeatedly asked throughout the night whether I was the leader of the counter-protest, to which I responded that I was not.

The police went through my wallet and identified me as a Jewish religious figure – an “assistant rabbi” for my area – and kept asking berating questions about my fitness of character as a religious leader. They also went through my professional business contacts, whose cards were found in my wallet, asking accusatory questions about them.

I was then held in an Orange County Sheriff’s bus – in a small cage and in handcuffs – for the next four to five hours, joined by only one other person after the first few hours. We were ultimately transported sometime after midnight to the Orange County Sheriff’s Central Jail in Santa Ana.

The condition of the jail cells was pretty gross. There were several people passed out on the floor, and there was even bloody gauze left on the floor. There were 8 people, including myself, being kept in the holding cell.

Though nothing that night was as grotesque as the racism and antisemitism I was subjected to while in custody at the jail.

After several hours I was taken to be fingerprinted by a middle-aged white jailer, at which time the following verbal incident took place.

OFFICER: “So you are the leader of the protest out there? You fucking minorities, all having a temper tantrum because you can’t have Hillary as president. You guys are just out there to hate at white people.”

ME: “No, I was just in attendance, to stand with some families of holocaust survivors as they protest. Why would I hate white people? Do you believe that Jews somehow hate white people?”

OFFICER: “Oh, I’m sure many do. You minorities hate America so damn much…”

ME: “Why would we hate America? This is the freest country we have ever been in.”

OFFICER: “It’s not free anymore.”

ME: “Really? I don’t know about that. Because my ancestors suffered terribly in so many other places in the world, this is the most free and safe we have ever been. That is why this country and our values are worth defending.”

OFFICER: “So that’s what it comes down to, some white people killed your Jew family members somewhere and now you hate all white people. You are the leader of a hate organization; standing with Antifa and Black Lives Matter. You’re standing and defending cop killers, you’re just as bad as them…”

I declined to engage this officer in unnecessary direct conversation after that.

Though other sheriffs in the jail continued to try to engage me in similar conversation – not always as racially charged, but still accusatory of me being the leader of the protest and of a hate organization, standing shoulder to shoulder with anarchists and “cop killers.”

The other sheriffs in the jail continued to try to engage me in such conversations up until the very last-minute that I was released, some 14 hours after being taken into custody.

After a long night, I was released around 9:30 AM from the Central Jail, without bail.

I was given my citation and a court date scheduled for arraignment at Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach on Monday, September 18, 2017, at 8:30am.

I have retained an attorney who will be defending me in court on that day.

And as so many of you dear friends and allies have asked…. Yes, I would be honored for you to come out to support me on my court date!

It is our hope that the charges will not be pursued by the district attorney, and that charges for resisting arrest be completely dismissed.

Now at this time I want to thank everyone who has been supporting me through this ordeal.

First, Robert Robertson and Irv Weiser, for being there through this all.

I must especially thank my friend David Herrera, who not only was up all night drumming up the “FREE Shmuel Gonzales” campaign online while I was in jail, he has also helped me get the best legal representation in town. You’re a total mensch!

I also want to thank my amazing activist attorney Jaime Gutierrez, El Luchador del Pueblo.

And I also want to thank all of you who have been lending me your strength and inspiration.

Now I want to dedicate my resistance to the inspiration of one of my dearest friends.

As many of you know, I am not only an activist. I am a Los Angeles community historian, dedicated to preserving and maintaining our local social justice tradition and anti-fascist heritage. My inspiration has come from the oral histories of those who have come before me, from much older friends who have handed down their experiences in protest and their know-how in organizing.

Today I want to dedicate my resistance to my 87 tear old friend Don Hodes who grew up in my neighborhood of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who came to the United States as illegal immigrants, by way of Canada before the start of World War II. While much of the rest of his extended family remained stuck behind in Europe.

Anti-Nazi Protest Boyle Heights (original)

The Anti-Nazi Protest of November 22, 1938

On November 22, 1938 – when he was just 8 years old at the time – he marched in the Anti-Nazi Parade in Boyle Heights, protesting the savage treatment of Jews by the Nazi German government, and also the threatening rise of American Nazism that was spreading hate and plotting violence from its downtown Los Angeles headquarters.

Don Hodes marched with candles and signs, demanding the admittance of Jews fleeing the Nazi savagery in Europe, which had been barred entrance to the US and every other country in the world prior to the holocaust. Under the guise of them being racially undesirable, and even dangerous and murderous villains, they were being denied entrance as refugees by our government.

AntiNaziProtestBoyleHeightsPicketting

Residents of Boyle Heights protesting Nazi persecution of Jews of a the plight of the refugees fleeing the Nazis, Nov. 1938,

As he marched with people carrying signs declaring that Nazism and fascism have no place in civilization, he also recalls singing a song: “A tisket, a tasket… we’ll bury Hitler in a basket!”

Yes. That is the type of example I am proud to take after!

I am the person I am today because I was privileged to learn about our local heritage from people like Don Hodes and Irv Weiser, people who are like this who are father figures to me. I am proud to take their charge to hold the line of our local anti-fascist heritage in my generation!

Don Hodes and Shmuel Gonzales

Don Hodes (left) and myself Shmuel Gonzales (right): This is my friend Don, he marched in the Anti-Nazi Parade of 1938 here in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. He was about 8 or 9 years old when he marched with his family carrying a picket sign. He remembers singing protest songs like, “A-tisket, a-tasket… we’ll bury Hitler in a basket!”

In closing, I want to give a word of warning to my fellow activists, be careful out there. It is very important that people make sure to be careful to not be targeted to become the victim of protest related violence. The sad reality is this, that when push comes to shove, the authorities are prone to seeing the liberals and the minorities as the aggressor, as my arrest so sadly demonstrates.

We will talk more about this in the near future.

For now, most of my energies are focused on my upcoming court date.

See you all on September 18.

Until then…. Shalom chaverim!

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The Anti-Nazi Parade, Boyle Heights (1938)

How Our Multi-Ethnic Community Responded to the Jewish Refugee Crisis

lawnazis-in-la

“It should not surprise us that in these pictures capturing the Anti-Nazi protest of November 1938, we also see the faces of black and brown people protesting alongside their Jewish eastside neighbors.”

On the night of Tuesday, November 22nd, 1938 the Jewish public was backed by their multi-ethnic community in Boyle Heights in protesting the Nazi savagery being inflicted on the Jews of Germany and Austria in the days following the eruptions of Kristallnacht.

The protest parade was backed by the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC). and organized by a more diverse coalition known as the United Anti-Nazi Conference (UANC). Also supporting this event, was the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League (HANL) and the Los Angeles Jewish Community Relations Committee. (CRC).

The history surrounding this notorious night is best described by historical scholar Caroline Elizabeth Luce:

“The collaboration between the UANC and the JLC in their fight against fascism reached its peak in November 1938 when members of both organizations staged a massive protest in Boyle Heights to honor of the victims of Kristallnacht. Under the aegis of the UANC, some 10,000 to 15,000 people marched down Brooklyn Avenue, gathering on the steps of the Breed Street Shul for a massive rally, at which both Rabbi Osher Silberstein and Chaim Shapiro denounced the “savage terrorism,” “inhuman atrocities,” and “massacres of the Nazis.” The crowd primarily consisted of the neighborhood’s Jewish residents, who carried signs with Yiddish slogans and performed skits in Yiddish and English reenacting acts of Nazi persecution. But non- Jews, or “sympathizers” as the Los Angeles Times described them, joined the protest as well and both Rev. Floyd J. Seaman and Democratic Congressman Charles Kramer spoke about the threat Nazism posed to American peace and democracy at the rally. The attendees signed a pledge calling on President Roosevelt to sever all economic and political relations with Germany, and vowed not only to work to fight the “horrible savagery against the Jews in Nazi Germany” but also to work to create a “secure haven” for refugees in America.”

“Footnote by Luce: ‘The details on the protest come primarily from two sources: a front page article in the Los Angeles Times from Nov. 23rd, 1938, who characterized the attendants as “Jewish citizens and sympathizers” and these photographs of the event that appear in the Collection of Los Angeles Daily News Negatives, UCLA Library Department of Special Collections’”

Source: “Visions of a Jewish Future: the Jewish Bakers Union and Yiddish Culture in East Los Angeles, 1908-1942.” Caroline Elizabeth Luce, UCLA 2013.

The Los Angeles public in Boyle Heights was on that night responding to the wave of anti-Jewish violence in Germany which had begun less than two-weeks before on the night of November 9th, 1938. And which for two days ripped through the entire German Reich with brutal, coordinated attacks against its Jewish population.

The event became known as Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass, so named because every Jewish community in the German territories were left covered in shards of broken glass in the end. The shattered remains of the countries synagogues which were damaged, and in many cases destroyed. And the broken storefronts and display cases of Jewish businesses, which were also smashed and looted.

During this wave of violence some Jews were beaten to death by Nazi brown-shirts and police, while others were sadistically forced to watch. Even a few non-Jewish Germans – who were mistaken for Jews – were beaten to death. The violence of this pogrom directly resulted in the deaths of 91. Though hundreds more were believed to have also died as a result of panicked suicide amidst the violence.

Also during this operation the world would get a startling preview of the holocaust, as more than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps; primarily Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen. The treatment of prisoners in these camps was brutal, resulting in the deaths of some 2,000 to 2,500 men. Though, most would eventually be released during the following three months, on the condition that they leave Germany.

The problem was, there was no place for these people to go. In nearly every place in the world the conditions were such were Jews were being expelled from their home countries, while other countries restricted immigration to the resulting unwanted refugees.

It needs to be stressed to this generations – which is so far removed from the realities and the context of the humanitarian crisis of the time – that this event was not the start of the refugee crisis. It was the mid-stream result of one!

And it also needs to recognized that while these pictures here may arouse a communal sense of pride – in that the diverse people of our local community responded to such violence and inhumanity by loudly demonstrating for the United States government to accept more refugees – we ought to soberly reflect upon the fact that the American public did not want these refugees.

Looking back at this event, I am struck by the realization that these protesters were here pleading the case of Jewish refugees a year prior the start of World War II (three years before the US would enter the war) and before start of the holocaust. In these photos we are looking upon a pivotal moment prior to these tragedies, when many more Jews could have still been saved from the coming calamity.

I cannot help but be grieved by this realization, that our community’s activism and protest which we see in these pictures went largely unheeded. That these cries to save our Jewish brothers from one of the most brutal regimes in history, fell on the deaf ears of an isolationist and racist American public of that era.

However, we will see that these early organizing efforts to unify the community for civil rights gains were not entirely fruitless!

 

As we further delve into this history we will explore the nature of the refugee crisis of their day, as well as the prejudices which caused and further enabled it all. Prejudices which were not only present in Germany, but also in our own county.

And we will lastly explore how alliances between Jews and our multi-ethnic neighbors were forged in order to fight such prejudices through joint activism. As these collaborations would actually live on past this crisis, directly inspiring continued cooperation between our minority communities in civil rights activism for decades to come.

The Pre-War Jewish Refugee Crisis (1933-1941)

When the Nazi party came to power in 1933, their well-announced aim was to make Germany judenrein – cleansed of Jews, who were being scapegoated for the societal and economic issues of the country. This they tried to achieve by making life so difficult for Jews that they would be forced to leave the country. Including baring them from most trades, professions and educational institutions; as well as limiting their rights of full-citizenship.

Then in 1935 with the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws, the Nazi Germans government began stripping the citizenship and residency of Jewish people of foreign ancestry; including persons who themselves were actually born in Germany. This resulted in leaving many Jewish people not just jobless, but also stateless.

By the start of 1938, a quarter of the German Jewish population – some 150,000 people – had already left the country. Though this crisis went from bad to worse when Germany invaded and annexed Austria in March 1938, bringing another 185,000 Jews under Nazi rule. This left hundreds of thousands of Jews waiting in desperation for any country in the world to open their gates to them.

As described by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

“Many German and Austrian Jews tried to go to the United States but could not obtain the visas needed to enter… Americans remained reluctant to welcome Jewish refugees. In the midst of the Great Depression, many Americans believed that refugees would compete with them for jobs and overburden social programs set up to assist the needy.

“Congress had set up immigration quotas in 1924 that limited the number of immigrants and discriminated against groups considered racially and ethnically undesirable…. Widespread racial prejudices among Americans – including antisemitic attitudes held by the US State Department officials – played a part in the failure to admit more refugees.”

As we see, even in the United States the feeling was that we did not have the resources to help these people. And even in this country, there was still the widely held sentiment at the time that Jews were racially undesirable as well.

With nowhere to go, the Jewish refugees of Germany and Austria were being pushed from one place to another. Which was an issue of great concern to the world powers.

Under great political pressure, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had called for an international conference which took place in Paris in July of 1938, to address the refugee crisis.

Again citing the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

“In the summer of 1938, delegates from thirty-two countries met at the French resort of Evian. Roosevelt chose not to send a high-level official, such as the secretary of state, to Evian; instead, Myron C. Taylor, a businessman and close friend of Roosevelt’s, represented the US at the conference. During the nine-day meeting, delegate after delegate rose to express sympathy for the refugees. But most countries, including the United States and Britain, offered excuses for not letting in more refugees.

“Responding to Evian, the German government was able to state with great pleasure how ‘astounding’ it was that foreign countries criticized Germany for their treatment of the Jews, but none of them wanted to open the doors to them when ‘the opportunity offer[ed].’”

Despite the international community recognizing the reality of the crisis at hand and the tragedy unfolding, they collectively choose to do nothing. The only country willing to open their doors to these Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, would be the small island nation of La República Dominicana.

It is my strong belief that this disregardance given by the international community to the plight of these Jewish refugees emboldened these next and further sufferings to be inflicted upon Jews.

The next month in August 1938 the German government began the process of canceling and demanding renewal of all residency permits for Jews of foreign origins. This included German-born Jews of Polish descent. While at the same time, Poland began announcing that it would not accept any more migrant Jews of Polish origins past October 1938.

A group of 7,000 Jewish people expelled from Germany by the German Nazi authorities and living in Zbaszyn on the Polish-German border, 3rd November 1938. More than a thousand are staying in a stable and others are in huts provided by the authorities. The German action is in response to the Polish government�s removal of the Polish citizenship of Jews living outside the country. A total of 17,000 German Jews were expelled from Germany over this issue. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“A group of Jewish people expelled from Germany by the German Nazi authorities and living in Zbaszyn on the Polish-German border, 3rd November 1938. More than a thousand are staying in a stable and others are in huts provided by the authorities. The German action is in response to the Polish government’s removal of the Polish citizenship of Jews living outside the country. A total of 17,000 German Jews were expelled from Germany over this issue.” (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

So on October 28, 1938 the Germans acted on Hitler’s order to round-up some 12,000 Polish Jews for “repatriation” and forcibly sent them over the Polish border, over 8,000 of which were immediately refused entry. Leaving thousands of refugees trapped without entrance to Germany or Poland, in the most dire of straights.

Among the refugees was the family of one Herschel Grynszpan, who himself was born in Germany but was illegally living in France at the time. Who upon receiving news of his family’s suffering at the German-Polish border he worked himself up into such a frenzy that he decided to buy a handgun and in protest assassinate a Nazi diplomat in Paris, ultimately mortally wounding a third-level embassy secretary.

It would be the news of the killing of a low ranking Nazi diplomatic staffer in Paris by a Jewish refugee on November 9th, 1938 which would be eagerly seized upon by the Nazis in order to erupt into and justify a much expected, large-scale attack against all Jews under the shadow of the German Reich.

Indeed, there is evidence which suggests that the Nazis began planning for such a coordinated attack already a year prior. [Friedländer, Saul. Nazi Germany and The Jews, volume 1: The Years of Persecution 1933–1939, London: Phoenix, 1997, p. 270]

The Nazis were not really able to use this assassination as an example of an international Jewish conspiracy in the end, as they had hoped for in a potential catalyst. As Grynszpan clearly acted alone and could not be tied to a larger plot, furthermore his act was loudly decried by the Jewish establishment.

Though this act did tragically present itself as the provocation needed in order to hold all Jews responsible for the crime of one desperate Jewish refugee, and to somehow vilify all Jews as dangerous illegal aliens as well.

It was just the incident needed to seemingly justify the brutality and terrors of Kristallnacht, and to turn the corner towards a more intense form of violence against Jews under the German Reich.

Considering all this, when we look back at the Anti-Nazi parade of 1938 we can now understand what these people were protesting against. Now we can appreciate the peril of the people they were demonstrating for. They were organizing to try to help unwanted Jewish refugees, whose lives desperately hung in the balance.

Local Civil Rights Activism born out of the Jewish Refugee Crisis

The persecutions and difficulties of the Jews in Europe had not gone unnoticed by the American Jewish public and their allies here in the United States. As they had actually begun to organize protest against the Nazi fascists soon after they came to power and began enacting discriminatory laws against Jews.

The Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) was formed in 1934, in response to the rise of Nazi persecution in Europe. Bringing together several Jewish labor factions for their cause. Fighting for better treatment of laborers, and raising awareness regarding the dangers of European fascism.

And then in 1935 the United Anti-Nazi Conference (UANC) was formed, bringing together a much more ethnically diverse coalition for a broader cause. Luce wrote of them:

“The UANC defined their fight against fascism on much broader terms than the JLC. Their goal was not simply to raise awareness about the Nazi threat in Europe but to encourage the public to see that the same fascist attitudes that propelled Hitler to power in Germany also maintained the Jim Crow system and perpetuated racial and economic inequality in America.

“The UANC’s understanding of fascism was best articulated in the pamphlet, ‘It Can Happen Here,’ that the UANC commissioned local lawyer, writer and activist Carey McWilliams to write in 1935. In it, McWilliams described how fascist leaders like Hitler, Mussolini and their American supporters used ‘demagogic slogans and fancy proclamations’ to convince the public that prosperity could be achieved by ‘eliminating’ political, racial and social minorities. Rather than enact real changes, these leaders simply fulfilled the ‘will of monopoly capitalism,’ ginning up hate and fear ‘to conceal its ghastly failures.’

United Anti-Nazi Conference protesting, with the police restraining them.

United Anti-Nazi Conference protesting, with the police restraining them.

“Los Angeles was particularly susceptible to fascist influence because of its tradition of ‘fascist jurisprudence’ – the LAPD’s arrests of those seeking to distribute literature, protest or otherwise exercise their first amendment rights – and because Hollywood was a ‘fertile field’ for anti-Semitism because of Jewish executives’ ‘ruthless management’ of their studios.

“The only way to resist the insidious influence of fascism in the city and in America at large was to unite in common struggle against all ‘phobias,’ including anti-Semitism and racism and defend the civil rights of all Americans.”

To this end the UANC was organized and began addressing the underlying causes of fascism – manifest in racism, segregation, persecution of immigrants, and antisemitism – which was also present in our own society. And to counter the demagoguery which was seen not just in Nazi Germany, but also mirrored in our own country.

Though I believe one of the most important characteristics of the UANC was that they understood the need for addressing the very real issues which were being seized upon by anti-Semites and racists in our very own city of Los Angeles. Instead of dismissing and deflecting, they engaged both the rhetoric and also the uncomfortable truths head-on. They took much more than a nuanced approach, they fiercely took-up addressing the fears and phobias; even when this came with harsh criticism of the Jewish establishment in Hollywood.

Yet while Jews had a presence in the Hollywood film industry, we need to understand that they were still outsiders in much of the larger society. And even Hollywood itself was no haven from antisemitism. This is actually most horrifically displayed in the bigoted reactions which were already elicited to the protest against Nazism and fascism in America.

As described by Thomas Doherty, professor of American studies at Brandeis University, in this article here:

“On October 1, 1938, ‘Box Office,’ a glossy trade weekly, reprinted a crude antisemitic leaflet circulating around theaters in the Midwest and, closer to home, along the streets of downtown Los Angeles. ‘Hollywood is the Sodom and Gomorrah where International Jewry controls Vice-Dope-Gambling,’ the leaflets read. ‘Where Young Gentile Girls are raped by Jewish producers, directors and casting directors who go unpunished.’ A caricature depicted a hook-nosed Jew despoiling a vessel of lily-white Aryan womanhood.”

 On October 1, 1938, ‘Box Office,’ a glossy trade weekly, reprinted a crude antisemitic leaflet circulating around theaters in the Midwest and, closer to home, along the streets of downtown Los Angeles.

On October 1, 1938, ‘Box Office,’ a glossy trade weekly, reprinted a crude antisemitic leaflet circulating around theaters in the Midwest and, closer to home, along the streets of downtown Los Angeles.

This was how antisemites responded to the public rallying calls against fascism by the studio funded Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. (HANL) Similar antisemitic leaflets would also be inserted into 50,000 copies of the Los Angeles Times by antisemitic employees.

What we do need to remember is that in those days Jews in America were still considered a form of ethnic minority in many ways; othered in society, and even at times racialized. And therefore were still subjected to many of the harsh realities of discrimination and segregation.

In fact the prejudices against Jews seemed to be peaking at this time, as some Jewish families were actually starting to successfully assimilate into middle-America; which came with alarm and repulse for many white Americans. As they saw some Jews begin to make inroads to where they were traditionally not welcomed.

When we look at this era we see that the Jewish people were actually facing much discrimination on both ends of our society. Jews as a people were being vilified as Hollywood moguls, while also being despised as needy immigrants. They were being hated for being ruthless capitalists, while also being demonized as communists. They were scorned for wanting to be like white Americans, and detested for being too foreign.

And during this point in history antisemitism had a particular appeal to many people, amid the Great Depression. In some of the same ways as how Jews were being scapegoated for the depression in Germany, antisemitism also surfaced here. Though what is also important to understand about this moment in history is that the Jewish people were not just fighting ambient racism.

As in fact over in downtown Los Angeles on Broadway was located the western headquarters for the German American Bund, founded in 1933 as the “Friends of New Germany” – the American manifestation of the Nazi party and a pro-Nazi Germany advocacy group.

Los Angeles and Hollywood itself was particular susceptible to this type of fascists ideology, in an atmosphere in which nationalism was still fashionable and Nazism was even romanticized. And in an age when it was common for people of society to attend controversial political meetings, national socialism was also to be found in the mix.

As early as 1933 Los Angeles Jewish leaders responded to this threat by founding the Community Relations Committee (CRC) – initially created to monitor groups and report activities which were seen as a threat to Jews and to democracy in general. Monitoring groups such as the Bund, the Friends of New Germany, the Silver Shirts, as well as other antisemitic and racist groups like the Klu Klux Klan (KKK).

Adolf Hitler Geburtstagfeier (birthday celebration), being celebrated in Los Angeles, April 20, 1935. Deutsches Haus Auditorium.

The CRC was quite successful in infiltrating these organizations and exposing their realm of influence within the city. Which resulted in a dramatic decrease in the membership of the Friends of New Germany.

Lesser know is the fact that they were also successful in uncovering and preventing a terrorist plot planned by the Bund from their downtown Deutsche Haus, to execute Jewish Hollywood studio heads and to murder Jews at random in the densely Jewish populated neighborhood of Boyle Heights. (Professor Steven Ross, of University of Southern California; this topic be featured in his upcoming book “Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America.“)

Their successes in their fight against organized racism and in preventing violence positioned them as the leading organization within the Jewish community for years to come.

As described by historian Shana Bernstein:

“The CRC became a main organization occupied with the defense, protection and civil rights of the Los Angeles Jewish community in the 1930s.

“During the 1930s, through the first decades of its existence the CRC spoke for the many constituent organizations in the greater Jewish community of Los Angeles, which all represented a relatively small but growing community.”

The CRC would eventually change their name, later becoming known as the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.

As a small minority, the Los Angeles Jewish community at this time came to recognize that they had to partner with other minority groups in order for their voice to be heard. And their draw needed to be broad, as Los Angeles was such an ethnically diverse city that there was not any one nationality with which they could secure a powerful alliance.

Organizations such as the CRC were among the first to realized that their goals were best achieved through broader partnerships with their non-Jewish fellows. For in practice they found that their fight for civil rights as Jews was very much similar to the civil right struggle of various ethnic minorities and immigrants, including African-Americans and Mexican-Americans.

When Kristallnacht erupted in November of 1938, the Los Angeles Jewish community and their allies organizing the Anti-Nazi parade did not even attempt to hold the event in Hollywood or even downtown, but rather in Boyle Heights. And this was for a couple of reasons.

First, because the Jewish public knew that they did not have the backing and clout to really hold a successfully anti-Nazi protest in Hollywood itself – let alone one which would attract broad and diverse support they were seeking.

Which leads to the most importantly reason yet, to remind the public of the fact that what Jews were experiencing both in Europe and America was a struggle against racism. Holding the protest here in Boyle Heights reinforced the reality of this, tying this event to the struggle they were facing alongside their various immigrant neighbors and with people of color in this very community as well.

For this reason, it should not surprise us that in these pictures capturing the Anti-Nazi protest of November 1938, we also see the faces of black, brown and Asian people protesting alongside their Jewish eastside neighbors.

Don Hodes and Shmuel Gonzales

Don Hodes (left) and myself Shmuel Gonzales (right): This is my friend Don, he marched in the Anti-Nazi Parade of 1938 here in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. He was about 8 or 9 years old when he marched with his family carrying a picket sign. He remembers singing protest songs like, “A-tisket, a-tasket… we’ll bury Hitler in a basket!”

This partnership between Jews and with other minority groups beginning with their fight against fascism and their public education campaigns against racist ideologies in those pre-war years constituted one of the first major joint effort in civil rights activism between the communities. And the lessons learned at that time would provide a working model for inter-racial cooperation which would be followed for years to come.

After the US entered World War II – when it was no longer necessary to convince the American public of the Nazi threat – the focus of Jewish organized civil rights clearinghouses such as the CRC would be redirected to the then most poignant issues at hand. While still maintaining their founding principles to addressing the causes of antisemitism and race related violence, as the nature of ethnic tensions would shift.

And in the post-war years the CRC would continue to back and support civil rights work, with specific focus on the Los Angeles eastside. When after the war it seemed that Jews and the local ethnic minorities appeared to have less in common with each other, revealing many fears and racial tensions which then needed to be addressed. At a time when antisemitism and race-based scapegoating came with different challenges for the community.

In our continued exploration of this history, we will later see how in the post-war years the CRC addressed inter-community tensions and racial inequality, though supporting the empowerment of our local ethnic minorities. Ultimately providing essential backing and funding for groups such as the Community Service Organization (CSO); which would become our first major Mexican-American civil rights training ground in the area, out of which leaders such as Cesar Chavez would eventually emerge.

To be continued….

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