Isaiah Minkoff Papers and Photographs
Language of Materials
Isaiah Minkoff served as Executive Secretary of the Jewish Labor Committee, Executive Director of the General Jewish Council, and the Executive Director of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC -- later NCRAC).. In addition to his responsibilities in organizational work, Minkoff continued contact with people around the world, many of whom he had assisted in the Holocaust and postwar years, and Russian-speaking socialists who had been the inspiration of his youth. While they are very incomplete, and mostly date from Minkoff's last three decades of public life, the papers include material that spans the whole range of his interests and accomplishments.
Isaiah Minkoff (1901-1983) was born in Warsaw in 1901 and was raised and educated in Moscow. As a teenager he became involved in World War I relief work and also became active in a number of Jewish and socialist organizations. After the Revolution of 1917 he continued his political activity as a member of the Russian Social Democratic movement and served a one-year term in Soviet prisons. He attended the University of Moscow, 1918-1920. He fled the Soviet Union, and in 1922 arrived in California, where he completed his B.A., in Slavonic languages, at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1926.
In June 1926 he married Dussia Samson, daughter of Russian Jews who had emigrated to the United States after a long residence in Harbin, China, and settled in San Francisco. The Minkoffs soon resettled in New York, where he soon became active in Jewish communal affairs. In New York be became reacquainted with a large circle of Russian Social-Democratic (Menshevik) exiles who had fled from the Soviet Union after the consolidation of Bolshevik power.
From 1936 to 1941 he served as Executive Secretary of the Jewish Labor Committee, and in that capacity played a central role in the JLC'santi-Nazi and rescue activities. For example, Minkoff was one of the chief organizers of the labor-sponsored Counter Olympics held on Randall's Island in New York City in the summer of 1936 (and repeated in the summer of 1937). He also served as the JLC's representative to the Joint Boycott Council, in which the JLC cooperated with Rabbi Stephen Wise's American Jewish Congressto coordinate the consumer boycott of German goods and services. In 1940-41 he was a key figure in the successful effort by the JLC to secure temporary visitors' visas for a list of European labor and socialist activists who were in immediate danger of arrest by the Nazi authorities in France and Eastern Europe. He met with officials of the American Federation of Laborand of the Roosevelt Administration, assisted in the compilation of the visa lists, arranged for transportation of refugees, and on many occasions welcomed the rescued families as they stepped off the boats in New York, Los Angeles or Seattle.
In 1941 he left the Jewish Labor Committee to become Executive Director of the General Jewish Council, a confederation of Jewish defense organizations whose aim was to hammer out joint policies, wherever possible on issues of critical importance during the warsyears, and to make plans for post-war rehabilitation and reconstruction. In 1944 he became the Executive Director of the newly founded Jewish community relations agency, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council(NJCRAC -- later NCRAC). He was to hold this position from 1944 until his retirement in 1975, building NCRAC from an umbrella groups of four national agencies and fourteen local communal bodies into a major agency comprised of eleven national and 111 local groups.
NCRAC under Minkoff's leadership became a prime force for Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement, and also fostered a concerted Jewish community response on other issues, such as the reform of U.S. immigrations law, the publicizing of and protest against the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, support for the state of Israel, and efforts to combat anti-semitism and other forms of bigotry and discrimination in this country and abroad. In addition to his primary responsibilities in NCRAC Minkoff served as a Board member of the Jewish Labor Committee, the Atran Foundation, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, and the Jewish Daily Forward Association. He was also an active supporter of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the Congress for Jewish Culture and the Workmen's Circle.
In addition to his extensive responsibilities in organizational work, Minkoff kept in touch with a wide circle of friends and comrades around the world -- many of whom he had assisted in the Holocaust and postwar years. He took a deep interest in the fate of Yiddish culture and never lost touch with the Russian-speaking socialists who had been the inspiration of his youth. In his later years he traveled widely in Europe and Israel, and served as a delegate to several international meetings concerned with Jewish communal affairs and the issue of reparations to Holocaust survivors.
Minkoff died of cancer in New York City on May 10, 1983.
The papers are comprised of four series: I. Correspondence, II. Subject Files, and III. Speeches, and IV. Photographs
Scope and Content Note
While they are very incomplete, and mostly date from Minkoff's last three decades of public life, the papers include material that spans the whole range of his interests and accomplishments. The correspondence series includes a mix of material, incoming and outgoing letters -- both professional and personal, in English, Yiddish and Russian. Included are letters from rabbis and lay Jewish communal leaders, U.S. and Israeli government officials, labor leaders, European socialist politicians, Bundists such as Benjamin Tabachinsky, Left Zionists such as Paul Goldman, and veteran Mensheviks (for example, Boris Sapir, Leo Lande, Gregory Aronson -- and their families). In the subject files are additional groupings of material on individuals with whom Minkoff was especially close; the file on Menshevik leader Raphael Abramovitch, for example, includes correspondence, clippings, Minkoff's memorial tribute, and financial documents relating to Abramovitch's family. The Speeches series includes both notes and full texts, many of them relating to Minkoff's professional duties, but others recounting episodes from his personal and family history, or paying final tribute to departed colleagues, political allies and friends. The photographs series contains images of meetings and conventions that Minkoff attended.
Of particular note is a file of condolence letters written in 1958 on the occasion of the death of Minkoff's brother, the Yiddish writer Nochum Minkoff; letters written on the occasion of Isaiah Minkoff's retirement in 1975 and his serious illness in 1977; correspondence with Kurt Grossman, Fritz Heine, Rudolf Katz and other socialists active in the German resistance to Nazism; long series of grant proposals addressed to the Atran Foundation and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture; financial and other data relating to the Special Labor Aid Project (later the Labor Aid Project) -- a JLC initiative to help support aged and needy veterans of the anti-Nazi and socialist movements of Europe; and files of material on the JLC's rescue and aid activities during and immediately after World War II; and many publications and reports of NCRAC and the Jewish Labor Committee.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by Isaiah Minkoff were transferred to New York University in 1998 by Paul Minkoff. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives. Please contact email@example.com, (212) 998-2630.
Identification of item, date; Isaiah M. Minkoff Papers and Photographs; WAG 086; 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
Donated by Isaiah Minkoff's widow, Dussia Samson Minkoff, in 1992 and 1993. An additional donation was made by Isaiah Minkoff's son, Paul Minkoff, in 1998. The accession numbers associated with these gifts are 1992.007 and 1992.014.
About this Guide
Photographs were separated from this collection during initial processing and were established as a separate collection, the Isaiah Minkoff Photographs (PHOTOS 164). In 2013, the photograph collection was reincorporated into the Isaiah Minkoff Papers and Photographs (WAG 086).