Jewish Labor Committee Records, Part I
Language of Materials
The Jewish Labor Committee, an umbrella group of Jewish or Jewish-led trade unions and fraternal organizations, was founded in New York City in 1934. Its primary purposes were to organize anti-Nazi and anti-fascist activity and to provide assistance to European Jews and others persecuted by these movements. During World War II, it maintained close ties with European resistance movements and was able to effect the rescue of hundreds of labor and socialist activists and their families. After the War, it helped to reunite families and resettle survivors. The original donation of JLC records to NYU included more than 800 linear feet of material. This guide describes the first portion of the JLC records; included are general administrative records for the Committee's earliest years as well as files documenting anti-Nazi activity (including relations with other Jewish organizations), rescue and aid activities, and overseas work in general. Most documentation of the JLC's domestic anti-discrimination work, which increased in intensity in the post-war years, is included in later series.
The Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) was founded to provide a presence for Jewish labor in the councils of the American trade-union movement and in the Jewish "establishment," and to mobilize labor in the struggle against fascism. Its founding meeting, at Central Plaza on New York's Lower East Side, on February 25th 1934, brought together more than a thousand delegates representing the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), Amalgamated Clothing Workers, United Hebrew Trades, Workmen's Circle, Jewish Daily Forward Association, and a number of smaller groups. Baruch Charney Vladeck, general manager of the Forward, was chosen president, David Dubinsky of the ILGWU, treasurer; Joseph Baskin of the Workmen's Circle, secretary; and Benjamin Gebiner, also of the Workmen's Circle, executive secretary. Holding that only a broad-based workers' movement could overthrow Hitlerism, the JLC emphasized its labor orientation and nonsectarian philosophy. Its immediate aims were to support Jewish civil and human rights everywhere, to support progressive and democratic anti-fascist groups, to aid refugees, and to educate the American labor movement (and the general public) about the Nazi threat.
The JLC was the brainchild of B. C. Vladeck, a writer and organizer known for the elegance of his Yiddish oratory and adept at navigating the perilous waters of New York immigrant politics. Vladeck, like many of the early generation of Jewish-American labor and socialist leaders, had served his political apprenticeship in the famous "Bund" or General Jewish Workers' Union of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia. In many respects, the founders of the JLC were translating and adapting lessons learned in the ranks of the Bund for use in the very different social milieu of America.
As JLC president, Vladeck gave a stirring anti-Nazi speech at the 1934 convention of the American Federation of Labor. In response the AFL created a Labor Chest to aid the victims of fascism; in coming years, the Chest funded a number of JLC-inspired educational and aid projects. The JLC handled much of the editorial work for the Labor Chest News Service and produced many Labor Chest pamphlets. The Committee also organized a mass meetings in New York City under Labor Chest auspices.
The JLC worked with other national and local Jewish organizations engaged in anti-Nazi work. One of the its early concerns was to build support for a boycott of Nazi goods, both in the labor movement and among the general public; with the American Jewish Congress it participated in the Joint Boycott Council from 1938 to 1941. When the American Olympics Committee declined to heed widespread protests against United States participation in the Berlin Olympics of 1936, the JLC, with the Workmen's Circle and the ILGWU, staged a World Labor Athletic Carnival, also known as the Counter-Olympics, in New York City in August 1936.
Another urgent concern was the fate of refugees. Neither the U.S. government nor the AFL was open to proposals for relaxing immigration controls, so the JLC had to press for special ad hoc measures. In 1939-1940, after the Nazi invasion of Poland and the fall of France, immediate action was needed to save European socialist and labor leaders, who would be prime targets of the Gestapo. The JLC compiled a list that included Jewish and non-Jewish labor leaders and socialists, as well as Yiddish writers and other activists deemed to be immediate danger. Through a network of courageous Underground couriers money was smuggled into Nazi-occupied territory to sustain the scattered remnants of East European Jewry in hiding. The JLC also supported exiled representatives of European unions and socialist parties, who took refuge in New York and made plan for the political future of their respective countries. During these years it became a conduit of U.S. government financial support for some of these groups, as well.
As the War drew to a close the immediate needs of survivors became the JLC's prime concern. By 1944 it was spending close to $1,000,000 a year, mostly on European relief. But the rescue and relief work of the JLC was not measured in dollars alone. Intangibles were just as important: knowledge of conditions in Europe; links to the underground; the ability to find jobs, homes, and care for emigres; the mobilizing of union locals to solicit large quantities of free clothing, toys, and other goods from employers; and the thousands of hours of donated labor to anti-Nazi efforts by JLC supporters.
In the spring of 1945 the JLC presented an exhibition entitled "Heroes and Martyrs of the Ghettos" at the Vanderbilt Gallery in New York. It opened on April 19, 1945, the second anniversary of the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto and was the first exhibit dealing with the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance to be seen in New York - perhaps the first in America. Beginning in 1945 JLC officers and trade-union leaders, among them Nathan Chanin, David Dubinsky, Charles Zimmerman, Jacob Pat, Paul Goldman, visited European communities and DP camps and sent back searing accounts of the condition of Jewish survivors and the destruction of Jewish life. By 1947 there were still an estimated 850,000 people living in DP camps, and it was obvious that few Jewish survivors would return to their former homes. Bella Meiksin and Nathan Gierowitz, were assigned as full-time JLC representatives working in the camps of the U.S. Zone of Germany. JLC offices in Brussels and Stockholm served thousands of refugees waiting to be permanently resettled. Across Europe soup kitchens, cooperative workshops, Yiddish schools and libraries, day nurseries, and clinics were supported by JLC funds.
In New York, the JLC helped prepare lists of those who perished and those who survived and established elaborately cross-referenced card files on people seeking loved ones. Making ample use of the columns of the Forwardand of Yiddish-language radio station WEVD, the JLC tried to reunite families and publicized the needs of victims of Nazism and anti-Jewish persecution around the world. The JLC also organized a so-called "Child Adoption" Program. Its aim was not adoption in the usual sense, but rather to provide a mechanism by which Americans could contribute to the care of destitute children (mostly Jewish non-Jewish Italians)living in Europe or Palestine. At a cost of $300 per year, a union shop or local, fraternal society, Workmen's Circle branch, women's club, or any other group or individual could "adopt" a child. The money was used to supply clothes, school supplies, toys and gifts, and special food parcels. Donors received a photo of "their" adoptee(s), a biography, progress reports, and sometimes letters from the children.
In the years immediately following the War, and in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the JLC's priorities shifted in response to changing conditions in the U.S. and worldwide. While continuing its overseas programs, the Committee turned its attention more and more to anti-discrimination efforts and other work within the American trade-union movement and in the American Jewish community. That history is documented in Parts 2 and 3 of the JLC Records.
George Berlin, "The Anti-Nazi Activities of the Jewish Labor Committee in the 1930s," MA thesis, Columbia University, 1966.--, "The Jewish Labor Committee and American Immigration Policy in the 1930s," Studies in Jewish Bibliography, History and Literature in Honor of I. Edward Kiev(New York, 1971).Catherine Collomp, "La Solidarite ethnique et politique dans l'exil: le Jewish Labor committee et les Refugies anti-nazis et anti-fascistes, 1934-1941." Materiaux pour l'Histoire de Notre Temps, No. 60 (October-December 2000), pp.23-33.Melech Epstein, Jewish Labor in the United States of America(New York: Ktav, 1969), vol. 2, pp. 384-88.Moshe R. Gottlieb, American Anti-Nazi Resistance, 1933-1941: An Historical Analysis(New York: Ktav, 1982).Samuel Halperin, The Political World of American Zionism(Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1961), pp. 162-69.Katy Hazan, Les Orphelins de la Shoah: Les Maisons de l'Espoir (1944-1960)(Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2000).Will Herberg, "The Jewish Labor Movement in the United States," American Jewish Yearbook(1952): 3-74.John Herling, "Baruch Charney Vladeck," American Jewish Yearbook, (1939- 1940): 79-93. The Jewish People Past and Present, 4 vols. (New York, 1946- 1955), vol. 2, pp. 399-430.Jack Jacobs, "A Friend in Need: The Jewish Labor Committee and Refugees from the German-Speaking Lands, 1933-1945," YIVO Annual, Vol. 23 (1996), pp. 391-417.Sidney Kelman, "Limits of Consensus: Unions and the Holocaust," American Jewish History79 (Spring 1990): 336-57.David Kranzler, "The Role of Relief and Rescue during the Holocaust by the Jewish Labor Committee," in Seymour Maxwell Finger, American Jewry during the Holocaust(New York: Holmes and Meier, 1984), Appendix 4-2.Arieh Lebowitz and Gail Malmgreen, eds., Archives of the Holocaust, Volume 14: Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University – Records of the Jewish Labor Committee (New York: Garland Publishers, 1993).Gail Malmgreen, "Comrades and Kinsmen: The Jewish Labor Committee and Anti-Nazi Activity, 1934-41," in Jews, Labor and the Left, 1918-48, ed. Christine Collette and Stephen Bird (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000), pp. 4-20.Gail Malmgreen, "Labor and the Holocaust: The Jewish Labor Committee and the Anti-Nazi Struggle," Labor's Heritage, Vol. 3, no. 4 (October 1991).Monty Noam Penkower, The Jews Were Expendable: Free World Diplomacy and the Holocaust(Urbana, IL: Illinois University Press, 1983), pp. 68-69.Edward S. Shapiro, "The World Labor Athletic Carnival of 1936: An American Anti-Nazi Protest," American Jewish History 59(March 1985): 255-73.Kenneth Waltzer, "American Jewish Labor and Aid to Polish Jews during the Holocaust," unpublished paper presented at a conference of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Washington, DC, March 1987 (on file at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives).
This portion of the Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) collection is organized in five series:
Series I: Administrative and Organizational Records
Series II: American Cities
Series III: Foreign Countries
Series IV: Rescue and Relief
Series V: Supplement
All series are arranged alphabetically by topic, by title or by place-name, except for Subseries I:A, I:B, I:D, and I:F which are arranged chronologically; and Subseries V:A (JLC Publications) which is arranged chronologically within each title or group.
All series are arranged alphabetically by topic, by title or by place-name, except for Series I, Subseries A, B, D and F (Constitution, Minutes, Reports; Convention Records; Meetings, Conferences, Events; and Scrapbooks), which are arranged chronologically; and Supplement, Series I (JLC Publications) which is arranged chronologically within each title or group.
This portion of the Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) collection is organized in five series:
- I. Administrative and Organizational Records
- II. American Cities
- III. Foreign Countries
- IV. Rescue and Relief
- V. Supplement
Scope and Content Note
The Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) Records as a whole have been divided into three parts, each of which has been processed separately: Part I: Holocaust-Era Files, 1934-1947 (microfilmed); Part II: Holocaust-Era Files, 1948-1956, mostly documenting rescue and relief work and overseas political contacts (microfilmed); and Part III: Administrative Files, 1957-1990s, and Anti-Discrimination Department Files, 1943-1960s (not microfilmed), documenting organizational activities in general from the late 1950s to the 1990s, and domestic anti-discrimination activities from the mid-1940s through the 1990s.
This guide describes the Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) Records, Part I only. Part I is divided into five series, with a number of sub-series. A considerable amount of correspondence and many reports, flyers, clippings and other documents are in Yiddish.
Series I: Administrative and Organizational Records, 1934-1947, includes the JLC's constitution; Minutes of the Executive Committee, the Office Committee, the Administrative Committee and other committees and meetings; annual and other reports; convention files, general correspondence (incoming and outgoing); correspondence files of officers and staff; correspondence with other organizations (including the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the American Red Cross, the Council of Jewish Federations, the General Jewish Council, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the National Refugee Service, the Roumanian Labor League, and a number of U.S. trade unions); records of mass meetings, conferences, memorials and other gatherings (including a discussion on the future Palestine with Chaim Weitzman and David Ben Gurion in 1942; and the JLC's exhibit "Heroes and Martyrs of the Ghettos" in 1945); subject files; and clippings scrapbooks, 1936-1947, covering JLC activities and issues of concern to the Committee as covered in the New York Yiddish press and the English-language press nationwide.
Series II: American Cities, 1934-1947, is comprised of the JLC's correspondence (incoming and outgoing) with cities and towns across the country, arranged alphabetically by state, and alphabetically by town/city within each state.
Series III: Foreign Countries, 1934-1947, is comprised of the JLC's correspondence (incoming and outgoing) with individuals (including JLC representatives, political contacts and refugees) in foreign countries. Files for Canada are arranged in general files and alphabetically by major city.
Series IV: Rescue and Relief, 1934-1947, contains documentation of JLC material aid to refugees, both before and after the War; extensive files on JLC work in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany (through representatives Nathan Gierowitz and Bella Meiksin); lists and other documentation relating to the JLC's campaign to secure temporary visas for labor, socialist and Jewish cultural leaders stranded in southern France or Vilna, Lithuania in 1940-41; individual files on refugees seeking assistance in Europe and Japan, 1940-41; records of the JLC's efforts to reunite relatives, through the columns of the Jewish Daily Forwardand announcements on radio station WEVD; and records of individuals who perished at Dachau compiled by Joel Zak and others and later published by the JLC.
Series V: Supplement, includes complete runs of the JLC's Yiddish-language publication, Facts and Opinions (1941-1962) and its English-language newsletter, Voice of the Unconquered (1943-1949). It also includes important pamphlets published by the JLC, JLC-Sponsored Research Papers, and an addendum made up of materials transferred to the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives after filing of the main body of Part I was completed.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by the Jewish Labor Committee was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date; Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) Records, Part I: Holocaust Era Files; WAG 025.001; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The first shipment of records was donated by the Jewish Labor Committee in 1984. The accession numbers associated with these donations are 1984.002 and 1984.006. A number of addition donations to the collection have been made by the JLC and its individual members over the years.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Due to the fragile nature of the original materials, researchers must use the microfilmed version; microfilm call number is R-7015.
During the processing work that occurred after 1985 through 2012, some materials from the Jewish Labor Committee Records were separated to other Tamiment Library collections. Photographs and other graphic material were separated to the partially processed Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) Photographs (PHOTOS 048). Posters, artwork, artifacts, and other ephemera were separated to the unprocessed Jewish Labor Committee Ephemera (EPHEMERA 003) collection.
Also during this period, certain materials were separated to external institutions. A portion of materials from the JLC Records at the Tamiment Library were donated to the Center for Jewish History's American Jewish Historical Society in 1997. Throughout the 1990s, Tamiment donated approximately 300 audio tapes, mostly recordings of the JLC's radio broadcasts or of various JLC events, to the Center for Jewish History's YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. In 2009, Tamiment also donated to YIVO approximately 4 linear feet of Yiddish transcripts of the JLC's radio program, as well as family photographs of Martin Lapan, former Executive Director of the JLC. Eight volumes of Holocaust survivor lists, which were duplicated in the JLC records at Tamiment, were donated to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in 1990.
During the processing work that occurred in 2013 and 2014, significant runs of the JLC's publications and the publications of other organizations collected by the JLC were separated for library cataloging. These publications are accessible via NYU's online catalog, BobCat.