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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: May 29: Two ‘Scenes from the Great Depression’

May 29, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

As last week’s pictures showed, a lot of people were “Having Fun” back in the late ’30s. But, literally at the same time, the country was in the midst of a decidedly not fun economic disaster. I call this week’s photos “Scenes from the Great Depression.”

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These are not just sights of misery or reminders of very difficult times. As always, the intent is to offer images that are interesting, informative and often beautifully done. A few display the overtly painful sights of the period, but most show people trying to do something about it, being as constructive as they can in the face of a grim reality. You might not smile as much as you did with last week’s collection, but I hope these photos allow you to find new perspectives and inspiration.

Today’s photos:

Historians generally agree that the Depression didn’t fully end until the United States became gradually involved in international affairs and eventually the Second World War. U.S. military preparedness provided an increasingly great boost to the economy. But that international involvement was a source of great controversy in the U.S. from the end of the 30s, until the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, united the country. These two pictures illustrate a conflict over one of the lesser known episodes in that gradual transition.

Finnish relief advocates, winter 1939-40

In August of 1939, Hitler and Stalin agreed to a mutual non-aggression pact. This freed the two dictators to divide eastern Europe between them. Stalin absorbed Estonia, Latvia and part of Lithuania without a fight. But Finland resisted and Stalin’s armies invaded at the end of November. The Finnish ambassador to the U.S. appealed for non-military aid: medical supplies, clothing and food. A “Finnish Relief Fund” was established, led by ex-president Herbert Hoover. Aid was provided, with Congress allocating $30,000,000 and Hoover’s committee raising another $3.5 million. But the resistance and the aid didn’t last long. The Finnish people had no choice but to surrender in March of 1940.

Shown here is a fundraising luncheon, hosted by Mr. Hoover (arms folded), with Mayor LaGuardia (leaning) and other prominent New Yorkers in attendance.


Finnish relief protesters, winter 1939-40

Meanwhile, outside the hotel, a small group of protesters had a different point of view. One sign is a reminder that the Depression was still very much a factor in the lives of millions of Americans. Another challenges Hoover, and by extension the U.S. government, for not showing the same support for the Spanish republican government in its resistance against General Francisco Franco’s military coup. The Spanish Civil War, after nearly three years, had only recently ended with Franco’s victory in April, 1939.

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 4: ‘Scenes from the Great Depression’

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