Return to Education…A Legacy Forum
An Introduction to the Jewish Labor Committee
A History, and Resources for Researchers
Prepared by Arieh Lebowitz
IN RESPONSE TO THE RISE OF NAZISM IN GERMANY, the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) was founded in February 1934 on New York’s Lower East Side by leaders of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the Workmen’s Circle, the Jewish Daily Forward Association, the Jewish Socialist Verband and other kindred groups. Before and during America’s entry into World War II, the JLC worked to publicize within the labor movement, the Jewish community and the general public the growing plight of European Jewry, raised emergency funds for partisan forces and ghetto fighters, rescued over a thousand political and cultural leaders — Jews and non-Jews — and organized an American coordinating committee of leaders in exile of European trade – union and social – democratic movements.
Much of the anti-Nazi work done by the American labor movement (most notably the work of the ILGWU and its leader, David Dubinsky), was either initiated or coordinated by the JLC. In 1941, the JLC was instrumental in arranging for American Federation of Labor President William Green to secure emergency temporary visas from the U.S. State Department; these were ultimately used to rescue over 1,000 individuals, including dozens of German and Austrian anti-Nazis and their families.
After the war, the Jewish Labor Committee was actively involved in relief and rehabilitation work for the survivors. A special program entailed so-called adoptions, wherein American groups such as the ILGWU, other unions, and branches of 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 other institutions in postwar Europe. Many of the non-Jewish leaders who were rescued by the JLC returned to Europe, and established democratic institutions, parties and trade union movements in their native lands. This is particularly true regarding labor and social – democratic activists from the Federal Republic of Germany, with whom the JLC maintained close and cordial relations for many years.
In the 1950s, the Jewish Labor Committee’s focus changed to working to combat prejudice and discrimination among American workers. The JLC established over two dozen local committees to combat intolerance across the United States and Canada. These became the foundation for the AFL-CIO’s Civil Rights Department, formed after the merger of the AFL and the CIO in 1955. A similar process occurred in Canada.
Since that time, the JLC has continued to evolve, and it is now one among the network of permanently established Jewish community relations agencies,drawing upon its mandate to build on its historically strong ties with both American labor and the Jewish community.
The JLC Collection at the Wagner Labor Archives
New York University
In early 1985, the non-current records of the JLC were transferred to the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University in New York City. This vast collection, comprising some 800 boxes of material covering the period 1934-1980, includes manuscript and printed documents in English, Yiddish, Polish and other languages, as well as photographs, scrapbooks, posters, and films. Here researchers can find the whole story of the JLC, from its earliest struggles against the rise of Nazism to its post-war activities in the fields of civil rights, labor justice, and human dignity everywhere.
The Holocaust-period files of the JLC, comprising about 100 linear feet of documents, have been archivally processed and microfilmed, and are available through inter-library loan or purchase. These files may be of special interest to 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 Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Labor Bund, Labor Zionists, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Socialist Verband, and many others, in the anti-Nazi effort;
- Jewish immigration and family history; biographical data on Holocaust survivors and other refugees;
- the history of efforts to preserve Yiddish culture after the War;
- American labor’s dealings with the social democratic and labor movements of Western Europe.
Geographically arranged sections of the JLC Collection include files on all major [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 the accessibility of this rich resource on the response of a segment of American Jewry to the rise of Nazism in Germany, as well as the broader topics of modern Jewish and labor history. The Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, which specialize in the history of labor in the New York metropolitan area, are open to the general public.
To contact the Archives directly, write to:
Dr. Gail Malmgreen, JLC
Archivist Robert F. Wagner
Labor Archives New York University Library 70 Washington Square South
10th Floor New York, NY 10012
Telephone: (212) 998-2636FAX: (212) 995-4070