Blood Libel in an American Town
by Edward Berenson
Pub Date 10 Sep 2019
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A fascinating investigation of America’s only alleged case of blood libel, and what it reveals about anti-Semitism in the United States and Europe.
On Saturday, September 22, 1928, Barbara Griffith, age 4, strayed into the woods surrounding the upstate village of Massena, New York. Hundreds of people looked everywhere for the child but could not find her; several hours into the search, someone suggested that Barbara had been kidnapped and killed by Jews. The mayor and local police believed the rumor, and suddenly the allegation of ritual murder, known to Jews as “blood libel,” took hold.
Rational people in government and Jewish leaders had to intervene to restore calm once Barbara was found safe and sound. That so many embraced the accusation seems bizarre at first glance— blood libel was essentially unknown in the United States— but a great many of Massena’s inhabitants, Christians and Jews alike, had emigrated recently from Central and Eastern Europe, where it was all too common.
The Accusation is a shocking and perceptive cross- cultural exploration of American and European responses to anti- Semitism.
About the Author: Edward Berenson is a professor of history at New York University. In addition to The Accusation, he is the author of Europe in the Modern World and The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story. He lives in Tarrytown, New York.