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Labor and the Holocaust:
An Introduction to the Jewish LaborCommitteeA History, and Resources for Researchers
Prepared by AriehLebowitz
IN RESPONSE TO THE RISE OF NAZISM IN GERMANY, the JewishLabor Committee (JLC) was founded in February 1934 on New York’s Lower East Sideby leaders of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, the AmalgamatedClothing Workers of America, the Workmen’s Circle, the Jewish Daily ForwardAssociation, the Jewish Socialist Verband and other kindred groups. Before andduring America’s entry into World War II, the JLC worked to publicize within thelabor movement, the Jewish community and the general public the growing plightof European Jewry, raised emergency funds for partisan forces and ghettofighters, rescued over a thousand political and cultural leaders — Jews andnon-Jews — and organized an American coordinating committee of leaders in exileof European trade – union and social – democratic movements.
Much of the anti-Nazi work done by the American labor movement (most notablythe work of the ILGWU and its leader, David Dubinsky), was either initiated orcoordinated by the JLC. In 1941, the JLC was instrumental in arranging forAmerican Federation of Labor President William Green to secure emergencytemporary visas from the U.S. State Department; these were ultimately used torescue over 1,000 individuals, including dozens of German and Austriananti-Nazis and their families.
After the war, the Jewish Labor Committee was actively involved in reliefand rehabilitation work for the survivors. A special program entailed so-calledadoptions, wherein American groups such as the ILGWU, other unions, and branchesof the the Workmen’s Circle, a social democratic Jewish fraternal organization,sponsored the cost of sustaining child survivors in the aftermath of the war. The JLC also helped found and support children’s homes, libraries and otherinstitutions in postwar Europe. Many of the non-Jewish leaders who were rescuedby the JLC returned to Europe, and established democratic institutions, partiesand trade union movements in their native lands. This is particularly trueregarding labor and social – democratic activists from the Federal Republic ofGermany, with whom the JLC maintained close and cordial relations for manyyears.
In the 1950s, the Jewish Labor Committee’s focus changed to working tocombat prejudice and discrimination among American workers. The JLC establishedover two dozen local committees to combat intolerance across the United Statesand Canada. These became the foundation for the AFL-CIO’s Civil RightsDepartment, formed after the merger of the AFL and the CIO in 1955. A similarprocess occurred in Canada.
Since that time, the JLC has continued to evolve, and it is now one amongthe network of permanently established Jewish community relations agencies,drawing upon its mandate to build on its historically strong ties with bothAmerican labor and the Jewish community.
The JLC Collection at the Wagner LaborArchives
In early 1985, the non-current records of the JLC were transferred to theRobert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University in New York City. Thisvast collection, comprising some 800 boxes of material covering the period1934-1980, includes manuscript and printed documents in English, Yiddish, Polishand other languages, as well as photographs, scrapbooks, posters, and films. Here researchers can find the whole story of the JLC, from its earlieststruggles against the rise of Nazism to its post-war activities in the fields ofcivil rights, labor justice, and human dignity everywhere.
The Holocaust-period files of the JLC, comprising about 100 linear feet ofdocuments, have been archivally processed and microfilmed, and are availablethrough inter-library loan or purchase. These files may be of special interestto scholars and others researching:
- Anti-Nazi rescue, and relief activity in the1930s and 1940s;
- Jewish underground movements and resistance inwartime Europe;
- the JLC’s interaction with other Jewishorganizations, such as the Jewish Labor Bund, Labor Zionists, the AmericanJewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, theAmerican Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, theJewish Socialist Verband, and many others, in the anti-Nazi effort;
- Jewish immigration and family history; biographical data on Holocaustsurvivors and other refugees;
- the history of efforts to preserveYiddish culture after the War;
- American labor’s dealings withthe socialdemocratic and labor movements of Western Europe.
Geographically arranged sections of the JLC Collection include files on allmajor [and many minor] U.S. and Canadian cities, and files on other countries -most extensive for Poland, Sweden, France, Austria, Mexico and China.
Researchers are cordially invited to make use of and publicize theaccessibility of this rich resource on the response of a segment of AmericanJewry to the rise of Nazism in Germany, as well as the broader topics of modernJewish and labor history. The Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, which specializein the history of labor in the New York metropolitan area, are open to thegeneral public.To contact the Archives directly, writeto:Dr. Gail Malmgreen, JLC ArchivistRobert F. Wagner Labor ArchivesNew York University Library70 Washington Square South — 10th FloorNew York, NY 10012 Telephone: (212) 998-2636FAX: (212) 995-4070
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