One of the most fun parts of my job involves delving into the museum’s archives to research topics related to our exhibitions and publications. Right now, I’m deep into research for a new book on the history of the Baltimore Jewish community, which allows me to pretty much look in any direction I want to. I enjoy uncovering examples of “bad behavior”—let’s face it, it’s just more interesting, especially when the behavior goes against stereotypes of Jews or the official, rather staid version of history that is usually promoted by a community’s leaders (of course, this applies to any community, anywhere). I thought I’d share an interesting story line I came across recently.
It’s well known that Jews were not big fans of Prohibition in the 1920s, but I was still a bit surprised to come across incidents of Jews engaging in spontaneous acts of violence against prohibition agents—in fact, at least twice in a single year. In January 1922, according to the Baltimore Sun, “An attack was made upon the agents and police at the place of Abraham Levine, 140 North Exeter Street.” As the police uncovered “a quart bottle of whisky and 25 barrels of fruit wine,” a sergeant “was struck over the head by an alarm clock thrown by a woman supposed to be Mrs. Levine.” The couple’s twelve-year-old son, “in a towering rage,” told the officers that “if he had a pistol he would shoot him.” More than 1,000 people gathered to witness the raid in the Jewish immigrant neighborhood of East Baltimore, and their sympathies were not with the police.
The following June, in an article headlined “Crowd Threatens To Beat ‘Dry’ Agent,” the Sun reported what happened when the car of a prohibition agent named Barton collided with a truck operated by Abraham Lazarowitz of East Fayette Street. “Lazarowitz, it is alleged, jumped from the truck and struck Barton in the face. Barton drew a blackjack.” When bystanders learned that Barton was a prohibition agent, some of them “offered to help beat him.” The arrival of reinforcements saved Barton from the angry mob, and Lazarowitz was arrested. When his lawyer asked the judge to reduce his bail, the judge refused. “I am going to do my duty in stopping unprovoked attacks against Government officers, even if they are prohibition agents.”
Apparently prohibition agents were universally unpopular, and Jews were far from the only ones spoiling for a fight. The Lazarowitz incident was only the “latest in a series of attacks” against agents, the first occurring during the raid of an Irish saloon.
Next month… Baltimore Jewish juvenile delinquents, perhaps, or champion golfers…
A blog post by Research Historian Deb Weiner.