Do readers know the meaning of these disparaging words used in the 1940s to insult Jewish people: “Bagel Bender,” “Jewish Lumberjack” or “Spaniard”?
Naturally, I consulted with some rabbis. Rabbi Les Gutterman is glad that these insults lost their meaning and sting over time. Rabbi Sarah Mack referred me to the American Jewish Archives; but a librarian there came up empty-handed.
Why? I am working on a book, compiling hundreds of love letters written in the World War II era between a Jewish soldier who proposes to marry his non-Jewish love. She looks forward to joining his Jewish world up north. Yet, those in her hometown near Richmond [Virginia] warn her to be wary and not trust him.
I had never heard the scornful names. For a “Jewish Lumberjack” there is a YouTube of Old Jews Telling Jokes. A Jew claimed to have been a lumberjack in the Sahara Forest, which is now the Sahara Desert. Perhaps the implication is that Jews exaggerate ridiculously.
I found nothing about the “Spaniard” slur.
“Bagel Bender” appears in a few places as derogatory slang for a Jew. UrbanDictionary.com says it is someone who may “cheap” out or cheat somebody. Definithing.com clarifies that to “jew” someone is to rip them off.
More background about the uses of “Bagel Bender,” “Jewish Lumberjack” or “Spaniard” will help with this project. The letters were written by my 19-year-old mother to my father. She struggles to learn what it means to be Jewish, asking “Honey, what will it be like when I meet your folks? Will I have to eat gefilte fish?”
The slurs did not deter her. She converted to Judaism, married him and hosted many seders featuring her delicious gefilte fish.
Barbara B. Schoenfeld
If you have information on these slurs or would like to share your experiences, please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.