The Great Depression
This film provides a glimpse of what the United States was like in 1933. It is mainly silent, but includes a small audio portion of President Roosevelt's inaugural address.
- On his first day as president, Franklin D. Roosevelt told Americans: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
- In the fourth year of the Great Depression, 25 percent of US workers were unemployed.
- Public facilities, churches, and schools were racially segregated.
- The United States continued to limit immigration, especially by people of “undesirable” national origin, including eastern European Jews.
- Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler was appointed to lead Germany’s government.
NAZISM IN THE NEWS
American newspapers reported frequently on Hitler and Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s. At least 2,000 daily newspapers were printed in the United States in 1933, and most American households received one. US press coverage included reports on the Nazis’ persecution of Jews, Communists, and other political opponents.
Yet American readers could not imagine that this persecution would lead to Germany’s mass murder of Jews and other civilians by 1941.
THE REFUGEE CRISIS
Germany’s sudden annexation of Austria (Anschluss) in March 1938 brought approximately 200,000 additional Jews under Nazi rule.
President Roosevelt called for an international conference on the refugee crisis. Delegates from 32 countries gathered in Evian, France, in July 1938, but most countries refused to change their laws to assist Jewish refugees.
In mid-1938, nearly 140,000 Germans and Austrians, most of whom were Jews, had applied for US visas. Within a year, that number had increased to more than 300,000, creating an 11-year waiting list.
This two-minute film shows American newsreels depicting Germany’s annexation of Austria and the Evian Conference.
NOT A GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIR
"It has been a favorite pastime of the SA men to attack the Jews and one cannot avoid the plain language of stating that they do not like to be deprived of their prey."
—George Messersmith, US Consul General, Berlin, July 26, 1933
American diplomats in Germany were well aware of the Nazi persecution of Jews and political opponents. Yet the US government respected Germany’s right to govern its own citizens and was hesitant to aid those being targeted.
Throughout spring 1933, tens of thousands of Americans signed petitions protesting the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. Hundreds of petitions were sent to the State Department, but the US government made no official statement against the German regime.
ATTACKS ON AMERICANS
But when members of the Nazi Party’s SA militia physically assaulted Americans in Germany—as happened at least 35 times during 1933 alone—US diplomats did protest. During their first meeting, Hitler assured US Ambassador William Dodd that attacks on Americans in Germany would end, and many fewer occurred after 1933.
BOYCOTT THE OLYMPICS?
VIOLATING OLYMPIC RULES?
As the 1936 Olympics in Berlin neared, Americans debated whether to boycott the Games as a protest against Nazism, with 43 percent of Americans supporting a boycott. Jeremiah Mahoney, the president of the Amateur Athletic Union, contended that Germany violated Olympic rules by denying equal training and competition opportunities to Jewish and other minority athletes. US Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage argued that boycott advocates were injecting political concerns where they did not belong and suggested that the boycott movement was orchestrated by a Jewish-led conspiracy of “radicals and Communists.” In December 1935, the Amateur Athletic Union narrowly voted to participate in the Olympics.
During the boycott debate, African-American and Jewish athletes faced pressure from within their respective communities to take a moral stand against Nazism. Some resented being asked to protest the discrimination against Jewish athletes in Germany while America had its own pervasive and segregationist Jim Crow laws. Eighteen African-American athletes participated in the Games and dominated the track and field events. Their victories abroad, however, did little to diminish racial discrimination and segregation at home.
During the 1930s, 80 million Americans—nearly two-thirds of the country’s population—went to the movies each week. Newsreels shown before the feature film, along with radio broadcasts, newspapers, and magazines, shaped how Americans understood the world in the era before television.
The newsreel clips in this six-minute compilation, depicting both national and international events, were shown in American theaters between 1934 and 1938.
NAZIS IN AMERICA
The German American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization for Americans of German descent, demonized Jews and Communists and dreamed of a fascist America. Fritz Kuhn, the Bund’s leader, tried to portray himself as the “American führer,” though he never received the support from the Nazi Party in Germany that he desired.
The Bund’s membership probably never exceeded 25,000, yet its pro-Nazi propaganda and mass demonstrations sometimes reached large crowds. At one Bund rally at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1939, more than 20,000 attendees booed any mention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and cheered “Heil Hitler!” Thousands of anti-Nazi protesters filled the streets outside the arena.
The Bund established more than a dozen summer camps around the United States to indoctrinate German American children. Campers wore uniforms of the Hitler Youth and carried Nazi banners.