In the ghastly scrapbook of tragedy, this will be the one where the victims were older. At Sandy Hook, they were first-graders. At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, they were teens. At Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday morning, they were grandparents, their average age 74.
None had seen more than 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, whose 61-year-old daughter (injured but expected to recover) brought her to worship every Shabbat. Described as a “petite” and “vivacious”, “spry” and “vibrant”, “she had a lot of years left,” said a woman who had been a student when Mallinger worked in the school office long ago.
And a lot of years lived — years filled with warnings of preamble and prologue to this massacre. For while the slaughter of 11 worshippers by a white supremacist carrying an assault rifle and three handguns was the deadliest attack on American Jews, it was not the first.
When Mallinger was born nearly a century ago, the welcome door to the United States was closing. Until the start of the 20th century, the millions who arrived at ports were called newcomers not foreigners, and — with the conspicuous exception of Chinese people, who were banned completely after 1882 — all it took to enter the country was the price of steerage passage and the name of someone — anyone — who was already here. More than 20 million immigrants did just that between 1881 and 1914, including 1.5 million Jews from Eastern Europe. The Tree of Life synagogue was given roots by these immigrants. Founded in 1865, it took its current name in 1883.
When Rose Mallinger was born in 1921 — census records appear to show she was the fourth of six children of Yiddish-speaking parents who had themselves arrived in the U.S. from Lithuania as children — nativism and isolationism were already taking hold. Most notably, there were the Palmer raids in 1920, when the U.S. Department of Justice arrested as many as 10,000 people in 30 cities and deported many of them as radicals and anarchists. The targets were of Italian and Eastern European descent — Catholics and Jews who were “other” in a nation that was mostly Protestant.
The admission of Jews had been reduced to a trickle by the time Rose was born — just 20,000 immigrated between 1918 and 1921. Three years later, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924, which established the first quotas. Its stated purpose was to preserve American “homogeneity.”
During the 1930s, the anti-Semitic fever that was sweeping Germany affected America as well. A 1939 Roper poll found 60 percent of Americans considered Jews to be “greedy” “dishonest” and “pushy”, and 53 percent believed “Jews are different and should be restricted.” The “radio priest”, Father Charles Coughlin, told his millions of listeners that the Great Depression was caused by Jewish bankers. The aviator Charles Lindbergh, the most famous American civilian of his generation, accused Jews of “pressing this country toward war” against fascism. Lindbergh was a prominent spokesman for the non-interventionist America First Committee, an organization (which disbanded within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor) whose name has been invoked by latter-day self-proclaimed “nationalists,” including President Trump.
Later in the decade, Nazi supporters held parades in Manhattan and the German American Bund gathered 20,000 at a rally at Madison Square Garden, where its leader denounced President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal as the “Jew Deal.” European Jews fleeing Hitler, if they weren’t Albert Einstein, were turned away by the U.S. One government report later found that up to 200,000 people could have been saved had Roosevelt expanded immigration quotas still in effect from 1924. READ MORE