The mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in the Pacific West is one of the most shameful episodes in our nation’s history. As the United...

The mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in the Pacific West is one of the most shameful episodes in our nation’s history. As the United States waged war against fascism, it removed tens of thousands of American citizens and their families from their homes. The First to Cry Down Injustice?: Western Jews and Japanese Removal during WWII (Lexington Books, 2008) invites us into a community in the middle of that contradiction. American Jews knew too well the dangers of prejudice but remained firmly committed to the fight against Nazism, at any cost.

Professor Ellen Eisenberg invites us into the complexity of Jewish response to Japanese incarceration. In doing so, she parses the tense and near universal silence that Jewish institutions kept as their Japanese neighbor disappeared. This silence, she proposes, reflected not indifference but a struggle to reconcile opposition to bigotry with an unwillingness to risk speaking out. But she also tells other stories at the margins of that silence. Jewish civic leaders, academics, and Rabbis who raised their voices in resistance. And one Jewish institution that chose a different path, and in doing so providing the federal administration propaganda to support the incarceration policy.

Professor Eisenberg paints in great detail the larger context of the Western ethnic landscape and argues that Jewish responses to Japanese incarceration were linked to, and help to illuminate the identity of western Jews both as Westerners and as Jews.


Jeremy Wood is a Seattle attorney. Much of his legal and scholarly work has concerned Native American interests. He also serves as Co-Chair for the Seattle City Human Rights Commission and teaches Jewish literature to high school students after school. You can learn more about his work by visiting https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremyfwood. He can be reach at [email protected]

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