Hitler Annexes Austria, Midterm Elections Stateside In November ‘38
the Long Island Star- Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper’s name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal- -The Flushing Journal (1841).
Welcome to November 1938!
By November of 1938, what historian William Manchester described as “a shadow of primitive terror” had begun to descend upon the world. In July of the previous year the Japanese launched an all out attack on China occupying most of the coastal region of the country with little effective resistance from the Chinese, who were comparatively weak and divided into Communist, Nationalist and independent warlord army factions that had been fighting among themselves since the late 1920s.
In Europe, in March of 1938, the German Army entered Austria to affect an “anschluss” (political union) with Hitler’s Third Reich. The move met with no opposition. Most Austrians (the von Trapp family of Sound of Music fame was a rare exception) were overjoyed to be united with their fellow Germans. They justified the union as being an example of “national self-determination”, a principle first promoted by American President Woodrow Wilson after World War I. As a result Britain, France and the U.S. felt they had little justification in opposing the action.
But in September Hitler went even further by demanding that the ethnic Germans of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland region be allowed to unite with Germany as well. In response the Czechs went on a war footing and mobilized their large, well-equipped army. At the eleventh hour British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain pleaded for a conference of the “great powers” to resolve the issue. Without it even being represented at the conference, Britain, France, Germany and Italy authorized the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. When Chamberlain’s plane reached England he disembarked waving the text of the agreement in jubilation, claiming that it had achieved “peace for our time”.
Finally, in early November, in response to the assassination in Paris of a German diplomat by a German-born Polish Jew, the Nazis unleashed two nights of savagery against innocent German Jews, known to history as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), an event that provoked shock and outrage all over the world.
On Tuesday, November 15, the Star Journal reported that North Queens clergy of all denominations were hailing the New York City Board of Estimate’s [the governing body responsible for budget and land-use issues until 1990] resolution in condemnation of the “barbarism” in Germany and calling upon President Franklin D. Roosevelt to officially denounce the actions of the Nazis on behalf of the nation as a whole.
The Reverend George Drew Egbert, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Flushing declared that he was “fully in sympathy” with their actions. Egbert was joined by other Protestant clergy as well as by Catholics and Jews. The Star Journal noted that the Board of Estimate was asking President Franklin D. Roosevelt to condemn “barbarous acts” in the same spirit as his distant cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt had condemned the pogroms (state sanctioned attacks on Jews) carried out by Tsarist Russia in the early 1900s. Egbert also declared that the attacks in Germany had spread to “all religions” and on that basis an official pronouncement from the President would be “extremely influential” in halting the Nazi terrorism (while it is certainly true that the Nazis would attack anyone who opposed them, regardless of religion, the overwhelming majority of the violence of Kristallnacht was specifically directed against German Jews).
Rabbi Joshua Goldberg of the Astoria Center of Israel made the following comment: “The City of New York, where race, creed and color mix in unison under the aegis of democracy has spoken magnificently through the resolution of the Board of Estimate.” The very next day the Star Journal reported that Roosevelt had not only denounced the persecution of German Jews but had also called for improved defense measures in both North and South America against any threat of aggression from Germany.
November 1938 was also a midterm election year in the United States. Despite the continuing pain of the Great Depression, now in its eighth year, the Democratic Party or “Democracy” as it was often more colloquially known was still dominant though the republicans would show more resilience than they had in years.
In particular, Republicans in New York found a young, energetic and attractive candidate for governor in Manhattan District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey who had made a name for himself by successfully prosecuting major organized crime figures like Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Nicknamed “the Gangbuster” by the press, Dewey became a national celebrity with a radio serial and several Hollywood movies based on his exploits.
But Dewey’s enormous popularity was not enough to overcome the strength of the Democratic machine in Queens where the Star Journal reported on November 9 that incumbent Governor Herbert H. Lehman had won an unprecedented fourth term by an extremely narrow countywide plurality of just 6,650 votes. Democrats also prevailed in the races for city comptroller, Queens District Attorney and other local offices. The Republicans, however, scored a major victory of their own in gaining majorities in the New York state legislature for the first time since 1932. Dewey would go on to challenge Roosevelt for the presidency in 1944 and Harry S. Truman in 1948.
In a scene reminiscent of our own time, the November 16 edition of the Star Journal reported that local groups were protesting the financial sector’s squeeze on homeowners. Civic leaders charged that banks were sending letters to residential mortgage holders demanding principal payments. This was a clear violation of a law that was on the books until 1940: as long as homeowners made payments on interest and property taxes they were protected from foreclosure.
Some homeowners, unaware of their rights, were borrowing beyond their means to meet the banks’ demands. The Journal went on to note that several civic associations, as the Astoria Community Council, were urging members who were able to meet their principal payments to withhold them until the banks discontinued taking advantage of those who could not.
As the month drew to a close, on Wednesday, November 23, the Star Journal noted that the long effort by Whitestone residents to recognize Francis Lewis finally began to bear fruit. Lewis was a community resident who signed the Declaration of Independence during the American Revolution. City Councilman James A. Burke had placed a resolution before the Council to name the park at the Queens approach to the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, Francis Lewis Park.
Mrs. Charles B. Williams, honorary deputy commissioner of public works and chief of Borough President George Harvey’s neighborhood beautification program, raised funds to install a bronze memorial marker for Francis Lewis on the park’s planned flagstaff.
And with the Thanksgiving Day holiday approaching, the Star Journal also reported that the day would be marked by religious services, dances, family gatherings and ragamuffin parades throughout Queens.
And that’s the way
it was November 1938!
The Greater Astoria Historical Society, located in the Quinn Gallery, 4th Floor, 35-20 Broadway, Long Island City, is open to the public on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. Pick up our new book, Long Island City Then and Now – the perfect gift for that ‘Astorian’ in the family! For more information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or, visit www.astorialic.org.