“Eight times a week, I watch a Jewish man get lynched on Broadway” – Parade actress Micaela Diamond
Two antisemitism-themed Broadway plays, Parade and Leopoldstadt, both recently won several Tony Awards. They portray how deep-seated anti-Jewish hostility combined with disinformation led to tragic results. Heinous historic acts against Jews serve as powerful reminders of what happens when hatred against Jews is allowed to fester.
Parade portrays the true story of American Jew, Leo Frank, and the consequences of unchecked hatred and discrimination. He was a factory manager accused of murdering a 13-year-old Christian girl in Atlanta in 1913. The case received sensationalized national media attention. His trial was marred by a biased investigation, a prejudiced jury and a hostile public sentiment fueled by anti-Jewish propaganda. Despite inconsistencies in the evidence against him, Frank was convicted and sentenced to death.
There was public outrage after his sentence to death was reduced to life in prison. Enraged residents believed that “lynch law is a good sign because it shows that a sense of justice lives among the people.” They formed a “Vigilance Committee,” culminating in the abduction and hanging of Frank in 1915. The ringleaders included the former Georgia governor and the current mayor of Marietta. In 1986 he was pardoned after a witness came forward and testified to seeing the victim’s body being carried to the basement by an employee.
During the early 1900s, discrimination against American Jews was endemic across society, reflecting a broader climate of bigotry, racism and intolerance. Jews faced various forms of discrimination, including social exclusion, limited employment opportunities and harmful stereotypes.
While the overt antisemitism of 1913 has somewhat diminished, it is resurgent across America. It was on display in 2023 when a small group of neo-Nazis staged a rally outside the Broadway theater showing Parade, an ironic display of hate underscoring the importance of these portrayals. Ben Platt – the Jewish actor playing Leo Frank – described the scene as “definitely very ugly and scary, but a wonderful reminder of why we’re telling this particular story, and how special and powerful art and particularly theater can be.”
In a somber tribute, Parade cast members gather before almost every performance, stand in a circle and say the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. “It is an expression of community as we tell this hard story,” wrote Diamond, who plays Lucille Frank, the wife of Jewish lynching victim Leo Frank.
Leopoldstadt reveals the devastating consequences of anti-Jewish hatred against individuals and communities. The play by Tom Stoppard is based in part on the experience of his own family. It portrays the lives of a prosperous Jewish family in Vienna, Austria, and spans the late 19th century to the aftermath of the Holocaust.
The extended family fled pogroms in eastern Europe and largely assimilated into the local culture; two of them served in World War I against the Allies. None of this mattered when the Nazis took control of Austria to implement Hitler’s Final Solution. Many Austrians enthusiastically supported Nazi Germany and cheered its annexation of Austria.
In the mid-1600s, Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann – the rabbi of Vienna – obtained the right for Jews to create a central Jewish community in a Vienna suburb. One hundred years later, the Jews living there were forced to live in a ghetto. Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, forcefully expelled the Jews and destroyed their community, much to the delight of the locals. The remaining residents thanked the emperor by renaming the area Leopoldstadt, ‘Leopold’s City.’ A century later, Jews returned to the area, before – once again – the Jewish community was destroyed.
Events in Jewish history are paralleling today’s events. The Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh was the deadliest attack against Jews in American history. The shooter is a white supremacist who believes in deeply anti-Jewish myths and conspiracy theories. He regularly shared social media posts from Jew-hating bigots and Holocaust deniers.
The trial for the 2018 Pittsburgh terrorist attack began on May 30. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers testified that a prayer book with a bullet hole in it is a powerful “witness to the horror of the day. One day when I’m not there, this book tells a story that needs to be told.”