Massena blood libel

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The Massena blood libel was an instance of blood libel against Jews in which the Jews of Massena, New York, were falsely accused of the kidnapping and ritual murder of a Christian girl in September 1928.[1]

On September 22, 1928, two days before Yom Kippur, four-year-old Barbara Griffiths went for a walk and did not come back home.[2] After a long search by townspeople and state police, a rumor began to circulate that the girl had been kidnapped and killed by the town's Jews for a religious ritual associated with the impending holiday.[3]

The following day, the state police questioned Morris Goldberg, a Jew with little knowledge of Jewish tradition. Goldberg left police with the impression that there might be some truth to the rumors that Jews engaged in ritual murder.[4]

At that point, the state police sought to interrogate Rabbi Berel Brennglass, leader of the town's Adath Israel synagogue.[1] When asked about the allegations of ritual murder, Brennglass told the police and the town's mayor, who was present, that they should be ashamed for asking such questions. He expressed outrage that people believed such lies in the United States in the 20th century.[4]

Barbara Griffiths was found in the woods later that afternoon roughly a mile from her home. She told authorities she had become lost during her walk and slept in the forest.[2] Nevertheless, some citizens of Massena continued to believe that Griffiths had been kidnapped by the Jews. They attributed her safe return to the discovery of the Jews' plot.[1] The mayor may have led a boycott of businesses owned by Jews.[1][5]

The Massena blood libel drew national attention.[6] Through the efforts of Rabbi Brennglass, the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress denounced the town's leaders, prompting apologies from the mayor and the state police to the rabbi, the town's Jews, and all Jews of the United States.[2] In his apology, the mayor wrote:

In light of the solemn protest of my Jewish neighbors, I feel I ought to express clearly and unequivocally ... my sincere regret that by any act of commission or omission, I should have seemed to lend countenance ... to what I should have known to be a cruel libel imputing human sacrifice as a practice now or at any time in the history of the Jewish people.[1]

The Blood Lie, a novel about the incident by Shirley Reva Vernick, was published in 2011 by Cinco Puntos Press.[7][8]


  1. ^ a b c d e Feldberg, Michael (ed.) (2002). "The Massena Blood Libel". Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History. New York: American Jewish Historical Society. ISBN 0-88125-756-7. Archived from the original on September 17, 2010. Retrieved December 3, 2008.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b c Landman, Isaac (ed.) (1929). Christian and Jew: A Symposium for Better Understanding. New York: Horace Liveright. pp. 371–372. OCLC 415207.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Dinnerstein, Leonard (1994). Antisemitism in America. Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 0-19-510112-X. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Levine, Yitzchok (October 7, 2008). "An American Blood Libel — It Did Happen!" (PDF). Hamodia. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  5. ^ Croyle, Johnathan (October 16, 2018). "'The Massena Incident' of 1928: Rumors of a child sacrifice split Upstate NY town". Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  6. ^ Blakeslee, Spencer (2000). The Death of American Antisemitism. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 98. ISBN 0-275-96508-2. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  7. ^ Grant, Julie (February 14, 2012). "Massena's history still tied to 1928 'blood libel' incident". North Country Public Radio. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  8. ^ Zeveloff, Naomi (October 18, 2012). "Decades-Old Blood Libel Case Roils Town". The Forward. Retrieved May 25, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Berenson, Edward (2019). The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393249422.
  • Friedman, Saul S. (1978). The Incident at Massena: The Blood Libel in America. New York: Stein and Day. ISBN 0-8128-2526-8.
  • Friedman, Saul S.; Lawrence Baron; Eleanor Dumas; Samuel Jacobs (July 1979). "The Incident at Massena". St. Lawrence County Historical Association Quarterly. XXIV (3): 3–8.
  • Jacobs, Samuel J. (Fall 1979). "The Blood Libel Case at Massena — A Reminiscence and a Review". Judaism. New York: American Jewish Congress. 28 (4): 465–474.

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