Dan Puckett has compiled information from a host of resources to describe the activities among Alabama’s Jewish communities during the Shoah and World War II. He also approaches the way Alabama’s non–Jewish communities related to their Jewish fellow Americans during the same periods.
The book opens with an account of a Torah scroll recovery from Czechoslovakia by Ahavas Chesed Synagogue in Mobile in 1982. Related to this and equally appropriate is the closing of the book, which deals in part with the growing interest in the Shoah that culminated in the late 1970s. What the author unfolds between these observations are separate chronological accounts of Alabama’s encounter with the Shoah and World War II. Topics covered include Alabama Jews’ responses to Nazi policies; the immigration crisis; perspectives on Zionism in the United States; coverage of anti–Semitism and the Shoah in the Alabama press; Jewish involvement in and reactions to the war; and the climate in the state (as it affected Jewish life) after the war.
Chapters typically begin with a well–chosen expression of national or international events that affect the regional history upon which Puckett concentrates. Puckett reveals a solid academic understanding of European history of the Shoah, specifically of the events in Germany that fueled what American response there was to the threat against Europe’s Jews. Much of the content takes the form of reports on regional activities in Birmingham, Montgomery, or Mobile, along with smaller Jewish enclaves like Anniston and Dothan. An exception to this regional view is the chapter on the war, which deals with support offered to soldiers stationed in wartime troop centers located throughout the state.
Based on the findings of this book, it is clear that southern Jews walked a tightrope, facing the need to respond strongly to Nazi [End Page 371] crimes and their aftereffects, yet also facing regional anti–Semitism that increased as their voices became more prominent. Even at the height of the Shoah in 1944, Gentiles and many Jews refused to support increased immigration out of fear that increased anti–Semitism would result if the United States were flooded with Jewish immigrants. Puckett addresses the effect in succinct fashion: “This sort of antisemitism, by no means uncommon and by no means confined to southern reactionaries, helps to explain why the United States faltered when faced with the greatest moral and humanitarian crisis in modern history” (190).
Puckett claims that a convergence of two events fed pre–war southern anti–Semitism and Jewish citizens’ fears regarding their safety: the Scottsboro case of 1931 and Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Both events received significant statewide press coverage and drew public attention to the status of the country’s Jewish residents. The Scottsboro case fed anti–Semitism because anti–Semitic Alabamians blamed northern Jewish lawyers for outside agitation and exaggerated the links with communism held by the Scottsboro men’s supporters within the state. Conversely, Hitler’s rise to power resulted in public support for the plight of Europe’s Jews. Alabama’s Jewish population responded to the crisis by appealing to state and national political leaders for strong actions against the Nazi threat. At the same time, they feared their protests would exacerbate southern anti–Semitism.
The South, both Jewish and non–Jewish, expressed greater support for the creation of the state of Israel than other regions of the United States. Physical evidence of this finds expression in the Alabama monument on the American Promenade in Jerusalem. Alabama’s monument is the largest of the collection of monuments to America’s states because in 1943 Alabama’s legislature was the first to pass a resolution calling for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine (212). Following earlier responses to the Nuremberg Laws and Kristallnacht covered in the press throughout America, many southern states, including Alabama, persistently directed attention toward the persecution of Jews and their murders in Nazi–occupied [End Page 372] Europe. Remarkably...