Audrey S. Garon and Richard B. Primack
The period before and during World War II was a perilous time for Jews in Boston. According to the new book, “Nazis of Copley Square,” by Charles R. Gallagher, the ongoing violence peaked in 1943 when Irish-American Catholic gangs attacked hundreds of Jews in the city and businesses and Jewish synagogues were vandalized.
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“I feel a moral imperative to make amends for what I saw happen during World War II in relation to my own church’s involvement in anti-Semitic activities,” said Gallagher, a British Columbia history teacher. and Jesuit priest, explaining why he felt compelled to research and write the book.
In the 1930s, prominent Catholic priest Charles Edward Coughlin broadcast weekly anti-Semitic speeches on the radio. The Christian Front, a far-right group of predominantly Irish-American Catholics, claimed Coughlin as their inspiration, according to the book.
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The group’s stated goal was to “defend” Christianity against what it saw as the combined threats posed by Russian Communism and the Jewish community. To this end, the Christian Front supported the Nazis.
Boston chapter leader Francis Moran gave speeches in Boston, New York, and elsewhere in the United States to large crowds about the supposed “dangers” to the American way of life and Christianity: Communists and Jews.
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German and British spies in Boston
A startling revelation from the book is that Moran and the Christian Front were guided by Herbert Wilhelm Scholz, German consul in Boston, who was also a Nazi spy.
Moran and Scholz worked together to advance the Christian Front’s anti-Semitic agenda and to sway American public opinion in favor of Germany. The book stated that before the start of World War II, a Nazi flag even hung at the German consulate in Beacon Hill.
Alarmed by the activities of the Christian Front, British intelligence agents launched a covert operation in Boston that helped create the Irish American Defense Association (IADA), according to the book. Due to IADA’s efforts to show the Christian Front’s pro-German ties and under pressure from the state and city government, Moran was forced to officially disband the organization.
Based on records from the time, Gallagher said Jewish leaders were afraid to report violent crime to authorities because many members of the Boston Police Department were sympathetic to the Front, the book says. Jewish leaders also feared that reporting the incidents would cause some people to view them as un-American.
According to the book, Irish-American Catholic gangs influenced by the Christian Front did not end their attacks on Boston’s Jewish community until late 1943. The cessation followed high-profile articles in the PM Magazine of New York describing the grim situation. Following the publicity, the governor of Massachusetts forced the Boston police commissioner to stop the attacks.
Forget the past
The Catholic reform movement eventually led to the official repudiation of anti-Semitism in 1965.
Gallagher said that after the horrors of World War II, Jews and Catholics wanted to focus on a “positive trajectory” moving forward after the turbulent 1930s and 1940s.
“There wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm to bring up the old stories of these wartime anxieties,” Gallagher said during the interview. “Jews and Catholics were enthusiastic about integrating into the country and into the economy and working together.”
Audrey S. Garon is a junior at Brookline High School.
Richard B. Primack is a professor of plant ecology at Boston University and a permanent resident of Newton.