The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town

Norton. Sept. 2019. 256p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780393249422. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393249439. HIST
In the 1920s, Massena, NY, may have seemed an unlikely place for an accusation of ritual murder against the town’s numerous Jewish residents. Yet as Berenson (history, New York Univ.; Europe in the Modern World) demonstrates, all the elements were there when a four-year-old girl went missing in the fall of 1928, even though she was found alive a day later. The town, with its many French-Canadian residents, had a deeper cultural memory of European blood libel than was common in the United States, with well-organized anti-Semitism in France and Quebec. The time was right, too, as the bitter rhetoric in the election between Herbert Hoover and Al Smith and the revival of the Ku Klux Klan allowed anti-Catholic prejudice to be transferred to Jews, helped along by Henry Ford’s promulgation of anti-Semitism. That Massena is Berenson’s hometown and this story has connection to his work as a French history scholar makes what could be an overly scholarly account personal.
VERDICT This vignette of American Jewish history will be illuminating to readers of Jewish and regional U.S. history, for the particular factors relevant to upstate New York.

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