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General Jewish Council Records

 Collection
Identifier: I-170

Scope and Content Note

This collection documents the successes and failures of the General Jewish Council’s constituents’ cooperative endeavors between 1938 and 1944. The collection most comprehensively covers the domestic legislative and topical research conducted by the Council and the resulting public statements the Council issued (Series IV and V). Major subjects researched include immigration law, Charles Coughlin, the American League to Combat Antisemitism, and group libel. There is some documentation of the Council’s relief efforts on behalf of European Jews (see the minutes in Series I and III; “Subcommittee on Food to Poland” and “Emergency Committee” folders in Series III; “Immigration – Polish Rabbis,” “Post-War Adjustment,” “Refugees,” and “Relief” folders in Series V).

Materials include correspondence, minutes, memoranda, reports, financial records, and a small amount of clippings and printed ephemera. The work and correspondence of the following individuals are notably present: Carl Austrian, Maurice Bisgyer, Ambrose Doskow, Edgar Kaufmann, Louis Lipsky, Arthur Meyer, Jerome Michael, Isaiah Minkoff, Henry Monsky, William F. Rosenblum, Ilse Schrier, David Sher, Sidney Wallach, and Stephen Wise.

Items that postdate the Council may have been generated or collected in connection with the National Community Relations Advisory Council.

Dates

  • 1934-1947

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, except for a few items in Yiddish and Russian.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:

American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

email: reference@ajhs.org

Historical Note

In an effort to coordinate their minority rights defense activities, the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith and Jewish Labor Committee founded the General Jewish Council at a June 13, 1938 conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While spearheading the formation of the General Jewish Council, which was known as the General Council for Jewish Rights in its early days, Edgar J. Kaufmann called on national and local Jewish defense and communal agency leaders to endorse the move, citing the following impetus: “The tragic plight of millions of Jews throughout Europe, -- concentration camps, public degradations, mass disenfranchisements, confiscations, ruthless expulsion of our people, -- the spectre of increasing race prejudice, intolerance and insecurity, -- these terrible forces of evil demand the most effective union possible of American Jewry at once.”1 For Kaufmann and the leaders of the four organizations, this “most effective union” meant the development of a common voice on the subject of rights protection for the Jewish community. In August 1938, eight representatives from the organizations met in New York City, which would be home to the General Jewish Council, and agreed on a constitution. The aim of the Council, as the constitution defined it, was to “consider and act upon proposals and plans for safeguarding the equal rights of Jews here and abroad.”2

The initial goal to address both domestic and international concerns shifted slightly in practice. There was often a lack of consensus between the four organizations on an approach to Jewish rights abroad. While the Council did issue public statements on behalf of European Jews and studied efforts at rescue and relief, the Council’s attention largely focused on the U.S.

On the domestic front, the Council investigated and evaluated state and federal legislative policy affecting rights, group libel cases and organizations of interest, such as the American League to Combat Antisemitism and various American Jewish press organizations. On the basis of that research the Council issued statements and recommendations to and on behalf of its constituent organizations, thereby streamlining the four organizations’ defense reactions.

There was frequent internal debate over the effectiveness and aims of the Council. In April 1941, the possibility of terminating the Council was floated, and the American Jewish Congress withdrew. The three remaining constituent organizations continued with the Council until 1944, when the Council was formally dissolved and the Council’s leaders and four founding organizations joined with the Council of Jewish Federations to form a new umbrella organization, the National Community Relations Advisory Council.

Footnotes

  1. 1Letter from Edgar Kaufmann to Henry Weinemann, June 4, 1938; Box 1; Folder 1.
  2. 2Constitution, August 15, 1938; Box 2; Folder 6.

Extent

8 Linear Feet (16 manuscript boxes)

Overview

The General Jewish Council was an umbrella organization founded by the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith and Jewish Labor Committee in order to coordinate their rights defense activities. The bulk of the records in this collection date between 1938 and 1944, the active years of the Council. Materials consist primarily of correspondence, minutes, memoranda, and reports.

Arrangement

This collection was arranged by a previous archivist, and it’s not known to what extent the below arrangement reflects the original filing system(s) of the collection creators.

Acquisition Information

AJHS most likely acquired these records prior to the 1970s or 1980s. It is not known who donated the records.

Related Material

AJHS Archives

National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council Records (I-172)

American League to Combat Antisemitism Records (I-263)

Louis Lipsky Papers (P-672)

American Jewish Congress Records (I-77)

Community Relations Conference Records (I-171)

YIVO Archives

American Jewish Committee. Executive Office. Morris Waldman Files (RG 347.1.29)

Other Archives

Isaiah M. Minkoff Papers; WAG 086; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives; New York University Libraries.

Jewish Labor Committee Records, Part I: Holocaust Era Files; WAG 025.1; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives; New York University Libraries.

Processing Information

A previous archivist arranged the collection and created a box list. In 2012, Rachel Miller added dates and collection- , series- and subseries-level description, rehoused the collection, and encoded the finding aid in EAD 2002. The folder titles assigned by the previous archivist and/or the records creators have largely been maintained and occasionally enhanced. For the most part the previous archivist's physical arrangement has not been changed, with the exception of adjusting a few locations in order to maintain alphabetical order and shifting the contents of “General Correspondence” folders (which were originally in Box 2 and in what is now known as Series I), which consisted of Public Relations Committee and Policy and Program Committee correspondence, into “Public Relations Committee – Correspondence” folders and “Policy and Program Committee – Correspondence” folders in boxes 7 and 8 in Series III.
Title
Guide to the General Jewish Council Records, 1934-1947   I-170
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by Rachel Miller
Date
© 2011
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
Described and encoded as part of the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative, made possible by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States