Carrie Chapman Catt

American Hebrew Award Acceptance Speech - 13 February 1934

Carrie Chapman Catt
February 13, 1934
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Speech Feb 13, 1943

at

“American Hebrew” Award for Mrs. Catt’s Petition of Protest against Hitler’s persecution Jews & liberals in Germany

[Letter]

To Jews the world around I extend my sincerest sympathy. It is my earnest hop that Non-Jews, everywhere, will comprehend the significance of the stupendous problem created by the recent happenings in Germany. These things came so unexpectedly that they were received with a degree of mental stupifaction. It took time to bring one’s self to believe the proved accounts of German acts and still more time to recover from the shock the news produced. No later scrutiny of facts, no analysis of events has made understanding easy.

Now, however, two things appear certain.

  1. The problem Germany has foisted upon the nations is everybody’s responsibility.
  2. Christians and Jews should apologize to each other for all misdeeds and misrepresentations of which either is guilty and, together, these two forces should find a place where Jews may live under an assurance of protection and equal opportunity. Any attempted solution of the problem less than this is a challenge to the world’s intelligence. Any problem treated superficially rises again and again to make trouble. No problem is solved until it is solved right. The time to solve this one is now. The solution may prove the greatest and most efficient step toward civilization yet taken by the human race. Are the people of this nation courageous enough to join the undertaking?

Carrie Chapman Catt

February 13, 1934.

[Speech]

1934

A primary qualification for a reformer is to bear hard knocks with fortitude and to accept few medals. I am highly embarrassed to-night because my experience in accepting medals has been very limited. One should do a great deal more than I have to deserve such an award. I am quite sure that no Jew loves a Christian more and no Christian loves a Jew more because of the little I have done. Yet, I accept this honor with true gratitude to the American Hebrew for the gift and to Rabbi Landman for the idea of bringing Jews and Christians, in this way, to a better and more friendly understanding.

I have two justifications for accepting an award I do not deserve.

The first one I glean from the life of a man who was in his prime more than one hundred years ago. William von Humboldt was a delegate from Prussia to the Peace Conference at Vienna at the close of the Napoleonic Wars. His wife wrote him that an honor had been conferred upon him by his hometown and she pled with him to accept it. He replied: “This is unearned praise. I do not deserve it, but I will accept it and set it over against the much unearned blame that has often been put upon me.” I find this a very comfortable rule for adjusting matters. I advise you all to accept all the unearned honors that may be offered to you and to set them against the earned ones that you have never received.

My second justification is that this occasion is a symbol of an ideal which many of us hope will one day become a reality. Rabbi Landman represents the whole Jewish race with its age old history, religion, and traditions. I represent, for the moment, the Christian world, and, together, we express a common hope that universal justice, equality of rights and privileges, will, ere long, become the established custom in every land.

I have never discerned much difference between a good Jew and a good Christian, nor between a mean Jew and a mean Christian. We are all God’s children. As the human race jostles, pushes, knocks, and steps on each other’s toes in the struggle of life of every generation, some Jews and some Christians rise to the top and some Jews and some Christians sink to the bottom. In ever land, when Jew and Christian have committed a similar crime, they are hung upon the same gallows or put away in the same prison with a commendable equality of terms. It follows that the Jew and the Christian at the top must have equal rights to any seat of privilege or honor on bench or bar, in hospital or university. This should be the aim of all progressive nations.

Many books have been put forth to explain why Germany has been moved to “set the clock back.” When the best of them have been read, there remains an inexplicable something which is not explained. Personally, I firmly believe Germany is suffering from that new disease called “psychosis.” You will only find the definition in the newest dictionary. It is “a diseased condition of the mental functions, resulting from the inability of a repressed desire to find an outlet in action and in which the imagined state is identified with or substituted for reality.”

It is a tragedy that the Jews were caught in the paroxysms of this terrible new disease. Is this disease curable or incurable, infectious or contagious. No one knows. Apparently, it is a war psychosis. Probably had there been no great war, there would have been no aftermath, no world-around depression, no psychosis, and German Jews would have been left undisturbed. Had Germany been the victor, some other country might have had the disease. If there should be another great war, which many people in the world now fear, other nations may suffer in a similar psychosis. It is a frightening thought.

The situation in Germany does not call for more cannon, poison gas, and marching men. Prayer, defined as an earnest desire of the soul, alone can save Germany and the world. Together, Jews and Gentiles may well weld their powers in one never ceasing universal prayer for the end of war. If the human race is to survive, it can not afford another war. I have long believed that the Jews, being the only people scattered among all the nations, have a peculiar and distinct call to the leadership against war,

The world waits for leaders, great leaders, unafraid, those who know that in the coming scheme of coming civilization there is no place for war. These leaders must find a way to reach the German soul with their prayers and to direct it along new paths to new ideals.

Both Jew and Gentile are guilty of war destruction. The time has come when Jew and Christian should apologize to each other for all their sins of commission and omission which they have committed against each other in the past. It shall yet be a prouder aim to be a peacemaker and follow the Prophet Micah than the greatest war hero the world has produced.

Let Jew and Christian clasp hands in this new aim and in united effort to bring justice and equality to all.

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