1943 was a tumultuous year. Germany had invaded the Soviet Union in 1942 and captured large swaths of territory, but the German army was stopped and forced to surrender at Stalingrad in February of 1943. The battle marked a turning point in the war as Russian forces would go on to liberate large portions of Eastern Europe over the next two years.
In the meantime, the Nazis scheduled the removal of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto for the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943. British and American diplomats scheduled the same date to meet in Bermuda to discuss safe zones for Jewish refugees.
The 12-day Bermuda Conference ended in failure, as Britain and the United States refused to increase immigration quotas. Rabbi Jacob Rosenheim, president of the Agudath Israel World Organization, declared: “The Bermuda Conference has crushed any chance of hope for the rescue of our unhappy brethren and sisters doomed to death by Hitler.”
Seething over the disappointment, a group of activists led by Peter Bergson used a full-page advertisement in The New York Times to call the conference’s outcome “a cruel mockery” for the “wretched doomed victims of Hitler’s tyranny.”
An ardent Zionist, Bergson had come to America three years earlier to lobby for a Jewish army to fight Hitler. But when he heard about Nazi atrocities against the Jews, Bergson shifted his focus. Soliciting the aid of celebrities, Bergson and his group brought attention to the plight of Europe’s Jews via advertisements as well as stage performances in major locations. A young Marlon Brando joined his Jewish friends and lent his talents onstage.
The war affected America’s national pastime in several ways. Rubber was in short supply, so games in the 1943 season used a baseball with less rubber. The new ball resulted in low-scoring games: not a single home run was hit in the season’s first 11 games, and 11 of the first 29 games ended in shutouts. Because of the lack of scoring, leftover balls from the previous year were put back into use until a livelier ball could be devised.
The need to conserve energy that year led to restrictions against overuse of lighting, which meant a season-long blackout of night games. To accommodate the changing shifts at defense plants, many teams scheduled late-afternoon games.
Travel and gasoline were also restricted, so major league baseball teams underwent spring training close to home. The Brooklyn Dodgers trained in Bar Mountain while the Yankees and Giants opted for New Jersey. The Yankees used Asbury Park and the New York Giants set up baseball shop 17 miles away in Lakewood – a small town known for its summer resort hotels catering to a mostly Jewish clientele – at the grounds of the old John D. Rockefeller estate.
1943 was Sid Gordon’s first full season in the major leagues. He stayed with the New York Giants all the way from spring training in Lakewood through the team’s last-place finish with a poor 55-98 record. Gordon only batted .251, but would become a star after the war.
In another 1943 change, New York Giants Jewish catcher Harry Danning opted to switch to a military uniform. It turned out to be a career-ending decision, as an arthritic knee condition precluded resuming his career after the war. In his 10 big league seasons, though, the 31-year-old Danning compiled a respectable .285 career average.
The end of the 1943 baseball season coincided with some big events related to the war. Three days before Yom Kippur, on October 6, 1943, 400 Orthodox rabbis gathered at Washington’s Union Station and marched solemnly to the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Their purpose was to enlist the help of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in helping stop the around-the-clock killing of Jews under Nazi domination.
FDR claimed he was too busy to meet the rabbis, although it is clear from the president’s appointment book that he was indeed available that day. The rabbis were received by Vice President Wallace and leaders of Congress, and a message from the rabbinical delegation was given to the president’s secretary.
On the third day of November in 1943, Madeleine Levy, the granddaughter of Alfred Dreyfus, was arrested by the Gestapo in France. Controlled by the Vichy regime with its long-held anti-Jewish attitudes, France looked the other way as she was deported to Auschwitz, where she would be murdered.