Please word there may be graphic imagery on this article.
(RNS) — As Thunderclap Newman would have put it: “There’s one thing within the air.”
For Jews, that “one thing” is the pandemic of antisemitism — a pandemic that has gotten so palpable that it earned itself a frontpage article within the Sunday New York Instances.
Antisemitism has a starring function in two sizzling Broadway performs — “Leopoldstadt,” by Tom Stoppard, and the revival of the musical “Parade,” with a dramatization by Alfred Uhry and music by Jason Robert Brown, starring Ben Platt.
“Parade” is a tragedy — the story of Leo Frank, the primary American Jew to die in antisemitic violence and the one white particular person in America to be the sufferer of lynching.
A number of years in the past, I spent a night with a gaggle of Jews in Atlanta, Georgia. I raised the subject of the homicide of Leo Frank.
There was an ungainly silence. I had unwittingly dedicated a fake pas. My buddies instructed me that generations of Atlanta Jews had merely not talked about Leo Frank. In Atlanta-style Yiddish, the whole subject was “shushkied.”
“It’s too uncooked. It’s too contemporary,” one in every of them stated.
That was 90 years after it occurred.
Probably the most authoritative e-book on the Leo Frank case is Steve Oney’s “And the Useless Shall Rise.” Leo Frank grew up in Brooklyn and attended Pratt Institute and Cornell College. His uncle, Moses Frank, invited him to handle the Nationwide Pencil Firm in Atlanta. In 1910, he married Lucille, who got here from a outstanding Atlanta Jewish household, and two years later he turned president of the B’nai B’rith Gate Metropolis Lodge. Their dwelling was in the midst of what’s now Turner Discipline.
In August 1913, a 13-year-old employee, Mary Phagan from Marietta, Georgia, was discovered murdered within the Nationwide Pencil Firm’s manufacturing unit. As a Northerner and a Jew, Frank was robotically, and doubly, the Different and robotically the suspect.
Frank was arrested for the crime and delivered to trial. As with the Dreyfus trial in France 20 years earlier than, the mob on the street screamed: “The Jew is the synagogue of Devil!” “Crack that Jew’s neck!” “Hold that damned sheeny!’” Their essential inspiration was the well-known Georgia politician, Tom Watson, a populist who known as for Frank’s lynching — writing, as Mark Twain sardonically put it, “with a pen warmed in hell.”
The jury wanted lower than 4 hours to convict Frank. He was sentenced to dying. A spherical of appeals lasted practically two years. The case turned a trigger celebre. It concerned a variety of nationwide Jewish organizations, in addition to public figures like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford (earlier than he turned to his personal type of Jew-baiting), and New York Instances writer Adolph Ochs, himself a Southern Jew. Ochs had been cautious of constructing the Frank case right into a particularly “Jewish” case, however finally the Instances turned the usual bearer within the press, even to the purpose of being construed as one-sided.
When Frank lastly misplaced the enchantment, Georgia Governor Frank Slaton commuted his dying sentence to life imprisonment. In the end, Slaton needed to flee Georgia due to the various dying threats in opposition to him. He had at all times believed the reality would come to gentle and that Leo Frank could be vindicated and launched.
It was to not be. Leo Frank was transferred to the state jail farm at Milledgeville, southeast of Atlanta.
On the afternoon of August 16, 1915, a gaggle of 25 males drove from Marietta, northwest of Atlanta, to Milledgeville. It was to be an extended trip over coarse roads. They did a number of trial runs.
They broke into the jail farm. They kidnapped Frank, kidnapping him — the one time this ever occurred within the historical past of the American penal system.
Early the following morning, they hanged Leo Frank from an enormous oak tree in Marietta, Georgia, which is now an upscale suburb of Atlanta.
It took Leo Frank practically 10 minutes to die. The murderers posed proudly with the corpse, nonetheless hanging from the tree.
These images turned postcards. They have been bought as souvenirs. So have been items of the rope they used within the lynching.
Frank was buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery in Queens, New York.
Within the wake of the lynching, there was a wave of anti-Jewish violence in Atlanta and Marietta. Jewish retailers have been expelled from Marietta. Many Jews fled Atlanta, by no means to return.
The Leo Frank case had its afterwaves. It immediately turned a part of Southern people tradition. Fiddlin’ John Carson, the primary commercially profitable hillbilly recording artist, composed and recorded a whole style of Mary Phagan-themed songs: “The Ballad of Mary Phagan,” “Little Mary Phagan,” “The Grave of Little Mary Phagan,” and “Pricey Outdated Oak in Georgia.” These have been hit songs; their audiences always heard the story, which strengthened their antisemitic views.
The Leo Frank case spawned the creation of two diametrically opposed organizations. It helped create the Anti-Defamation League, America’s foremost civil rights group. Virtually concurrently, a gaggle that fancied itself the Knights of Mary Phagan gathered at Stone Mountain in Georgia — the “Mount Rushmore of the Confederacy” — and there they revived the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1983, 85-year-old Alonzo Mann, who had been Frank’s workplace boy, lastly admitted a 70-year-old secret: Frank had not killed Mary Phagan.
Why is that this story nonetheless so necessary? As a result of it’s a primer on antisemitism.
The Leo Frank case has all of it.
- The Leo Frank case was a style of medieval antisemitism. It conjures up recollections of the blood libel and different anxieties about Jews.
- It was a style of early trendy antisemitism. Leo Frank was an city Jew; Mary Phagan was a farm lady. The story introduced the Jew because the image of industrialization and of uncontrolled financial change.
- It was a premonition of the Shoah. Males in fits each deliberate and did the killing, and so they stood proudly earlier than their demonic handiwork. Leo Frank’s murderers weren’t stereotypical ignorant hillbillies. They have been neighborhood leaders — amongst them, a decide. They have been from outstanding households. As Chris Browning made clear in his research of the Shoah, “atypical males” are able to perpetuating nice horrors.
- It was a foretaste of recent American Jew-hatred. There’s a straight trajectory from the mob calling for Frank’s dying to the gang in Charlottesville chanting, “The Jews is not going to change us!” and to QAnon — and sure, to J.D. Vance and Doug Mastriano’s vile antisemitism, and to the Proud Boys and to Jan. 6.
It’s all there. And it’s all actual.
There may be now a monument close to the within entrance of the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Queens, close to the place Leo Frank is buried.
As for his widow, Lucille Frank, she lived to a ripe previous age. She is buried in a cemetery in Atlanta. The marker on her grave is small and unobtrusive. For years, nobody needed to publicize its presence, for worry that it could flip right into a rallying place for the KKK.
In his essay “Vanadium,” the late Italian-Jewish Holocaust survivor and chemist, Primo Levi, wrote of an issue that he encountered in his work — a varnish that might not dry as a result of it lacked a sure aspect. (The essay seems within the assortment “The Periodic Desk.”)
After a protracted search, Levi obtained a letter from a Dr. Muller, informing him he labored for a sure German chemical firm, and so they may provide the lacking aspect.
The title “Dr. Muller” woke up one thing in Levi’s reminiscence — a reminiscence that, just like the varnish, couldn’t dry. “Dr. Muller” had been the title of the overseer who had been in command of the Buna manufacturing unit close to Auschwitz, the place Levi had been interned in the course of the warfare.
This discovery prompted a correspondence between the 2 males — as soon as enemies, now colleagues. The correspondence, although considerably stilted, was cordial. Muller instructed Levi he had at all times preferred him and was happy to know he had survived.
For Levi, the varnish that might not dry was not merely varnish. It’s a metaphor for the reminiscence of the Shoah — a reminiscence that merely is not going to go away.
For American Jews, antisemitism is the varnish that won’t dry. It’s perpetually on the partitions of our recollections and experiences, and it’s perpetually sticky.
Years in the past, I knew a person in Atlanta who had an fascinating private customized.
Yearly on the anniversary of Leo Frank’s dying, he lights a yahrzeit candle for him — as if Frank had been a member of his circle of relatives.
When he attends yizkor providers on Yom Kippur, he says kaddish for Leo and Lucille Frank, together with the names of his dad and mom and different departed relations.
“Leo and Lucille by no means had youngsters. So I assume that I adopted them. Their reminiscence is my accountability now.”
And ours, as nicely.