World War II Advertisements in the American Israelite

Friday, January 6, 2023

In a blog post last year, a foundation was established for Historical Jewish Advertisements in the American Israelite. This post will be dedicated to further exploring vintage advertisements, but as January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the topic will be centered on advertisements—and often propaganda—published about the war effort from an American perspective. Please click on any images within the article to enlarge them for ease of viewing.

The Holocaust is generally considered to have occurred in the years between 1941 and 1945, while the Holocaust Era begins as early as 1935 with the Nazi rise to power. The Second World War subsequently lasted from 1939 to 1945, with America’s direct involvement beginning after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on December 7th, 1941. The American Israelite issues beginning in 1939 are of particular interest to this discussion, since even before the Holocaust, American Jewish organizations made efforts to aid European Jewry with fundraising and criticized the growing anti-Semitism in Germany.

Years later, anti-Semitism had not abated, as a Jewish Welfare Drive and Fund began an initiative in 1941 to aid in getting more European Jews immigrated into the US to build new lives in America. A four-page spread ran in the October 2nd, 1941 issue of the American Israelite to detail the work necessary, along with photos to appeal towards the generosity of the reader and more easily evoke pathos.

The war, even after the attack on Pearl Harbor, did not only exist outside of American borders. There was a campaign set up to support volunteer efforts on the home front including donating to and working for the Red Cross Services and assisting The National Refugee Service. The Cincinnati Gas & Electric company and the Cincinnati & Suburban Bell Telephone Company published advertisements requesting the rationing and preservation of limited resources. They often presented caricatures of American women using stereotypical imagery to enforce societal gender norms of the time.

Especially as the war progressed, the U.S. government advertised war bonds to help finance national defense through aggressive marketing campaigns. The war bond advertisements of the 1944 issues of the American Israelite often displayed nationalist ideals and sometimes gruesome images, hoping to capitalize on the readers’ patriotism as the war progressed into its final year. Note that many of them contain disclaimers in the fine print stating their origins from the U.S. Treasury Department and War Advertising Council.

The war in Europe ended formally on May 8th in 1945, with the establishment of Victory in Europe (V-E) Day to commemorate. Subsequent advertisements would draw connection to the event, but also continue to solicit aid for the ravaged Jewish population freed from concentration camps. Some of these were published by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a Jewish relief organization established in 1914 that grew to become an international relief organization that still operates today.

These advertisements and pages of the American Israelite are just one example of the numerous titles found within the Lucille Klau Carothers American Jewish Periodical Center (AJPC) located at the Cincinnati campus’ Klau Library of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The AJPC houses a microform collection of thousands of Northern and Southern American Jewish newspapers, journals, and magazines published in eight languages. The Center also houses the library’s collection of microform materials with tens of thousands of microfilm reels and microfiche cards. They are available for all your research and reference needs.


Contributed by Joshua Fischer, Assistant Judaica Librarian, Cincinnati