• U.S.

THE CONGRESS: The Last Gavel

3 minute read

The Speaker’s gavel pounded the desk. Cried the Speaker: “The time of the gentleman from New York has expired!” But thin, grim Representative Mike Edelstein, fighting mad, talked on.

He was replying to Mississippi’s fuzzy-headed Representative John Elliott Rankin, No. 1 Jew-baiter of the House, who has busied himself lately trying to convince the House that the time is ripe for a negotiated peace between Britain and Germany. Rankin had just told a deathly-still House: “Mr. Speaker, Wall Street and a little group of our international Jewish brethren are still attempting to harass the President . . . and the Congress of the United States into plunging us into the European war, unprepared. . . . These international bankers are so afraid that this peace movement . . . might take root . . . before they can get us into it [the war] that on yesterday they held a rally in Wall Street and . . . made a plea to that effect. . . .”

As Mississippi’s Rankin sat down, New York’s Edelstein jumped to his feet. Most popular of the six Jews in the House, esteemed by Democrats and Republicans alike, Mike Edelstein rarely made a speech, yet he was well equipped to answer this slur on his race. Born in Poland 53 years ago, brought to the U.S. when he was three, Mike Edelstein grew up on Manhattan’s East Side, studied law at night. After his good friend Dr. William I. Sirovich died in 1939, Mike Edelstein took his seat in the House. Mild and devout, unmarried, he lived with his 85-year-old mother.

Cried Mike Edelstein: “Hitler started out by speaking about ‘Jewish brethren.’ It is becoming the play and the work of those people who want to demagogue to speak about their ‘Jewish brethren’ and ‘international bankers.’ … I deplore the idea that . . . men in this House . . . attempt to use the Jews as their scapegoat. I say it is unfair and I say it is unAmerican. . . .”

The Speaker’s gavel banged in vain as Mike Edelstein said his say. “All men are created equal, regardless of race, creed or color, and whether a man be Jew or Gentile, he may think what he deems fit.”

Then Mike Edelstein walked down the well of the House, out through the swinging glass doors into the Speaker’s lobby. In a corridor he stopped to speak to his secretary. Suddenly he slumped and fell against a door. From the lobby, Congressmen and attendants came running.

They were too late to help; Michael Edelstein’s heart had stopped. The time of the gentleman from New York had expired.

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