Lessons of Leo Frank linger

Leo Franks 035
David Friedman
Photo by Suzanne Pollak

One hundred years after Leo Frank was lynched for a murder he did not commit, Jews are still the target of hatred and anti-Semitism, according to David Friedman, the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington regional director.

Friedman spoke Tuesday afternoon at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington on the state of anti-Semitism, which he ranked at a high of nine on a 10-point scale.

The ADL was formed a few months after Frank’s conviction for the murder of a 13-year-old girl, who was employed at the Atlanta, Ga., pencil factory where he was the superintendent. Although the evidence against Frank was questionable at best, a lynch mob mentality formed against Frank that would not be deterred.

Frank’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison, thanks to legal representation from the American Jewish Committee.


Still, the mob eventually took the law in its own hands and on Aug. 16, 1915, 28 “leading citizens of Marietta, Ga., primarily, and also Atlanta, took eight cars” to the jail, opened the door with a key and led Frank to a tree and hanged him, said Lauren Strauss, director of The Foundation for Jewish Studies, who also spoke at Tuesday’s event.

Because Frank is thought to be the only Jewish person to be lynched by a mob, the ADL’s initial emphasis was to fight stereotyping of Jewish people in popular culture.

Jews living in America in 1915 weren’t worried about lynch mobs.

Fast-forward 100 years. Israel is the subject of vitriol, and Jews are targets of violence throughout the world, Friedman said, pointing to last year’s fatal attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris.

Yet, most Jewish people do not take these threats seriously, Friedman said. American Jews look around and see that African-Americans and transsexuals are treated worse, he said.

Also, he said, “Anti-Semitism is ignored in large part because Jews are not considered to be vulnerable.” Jews are believed to be able to take care of themselves and are too powerful to need protection, Friedman said.

Anti-Semitism didn’t go away after the Holocaust, and it is not going away now, Friedman said. Muslim extremists and hate groups on the Internet will continue to target Jews, he said.

The best ways to fight hatred directed at Israel and the Jewish people are “awareness, education and a willingness to talk about it,” Friedman said.

The Jewish community has always been reluctant to speak about, Friedman said, adding, that now is the time to do so.

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