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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, 1938-1944.

The collection most comprehensively covers the domestic, legislative, and topical research conducted by the Council, and the Council's resulting public statements. Major research topics include: include immigration law, Charles Coughlin, the American League to Combat Antisemitism, and group libel; and there is some documentation of the Council’s relief efforts on behalf of European Jewry.

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.

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, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at mmeyers@ajhs.org.

For reference questions, please email: inquiries@cjh.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 the Jewish Labor Committee founded the General Jewish Council on June 13, 1938, at a conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

While founding the General Jewish Council, 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 its creation and foundation, sayng that “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."

For Kaufmann and other communal leaders, 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, and agreed on a constitution for the nascent organization. The aim of the Council, as per the constitution, was to "consider and act upon proposals and plans for safeguarding the equal rights of Jews here and abroad."

The Council's initial goal to address both domestic and international concerns, however, there was a lack of consensus between the four organizations regarding hpw to approach Jewish rights abroad. While the Council did issue public statements on behalf of European Jewry, and looked into rescue and relief options, the Council’s attention was largely focused on the U.S.

On that 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.

There was frequent internal debate over the effectiveness and aims of the Council. In April 1941, the American Jewish Congress withdrew from the Council. The three remaining member organizations continued with the Council until 1944, at which point it was formally dissolvers, and the four founding organizations joined with the Council of Jewish Federations to form a new umbrella organization, the National Community Relations Advisory Council.

Extent

8 Linear Feet (16 manuscript boxes)

Abstract

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 from 1938-1944, the active years of the Council. Materials consist primarily of correspondence, minutes, memoranda, and reports.

Arrangement

  1. Series I: General, 1934-1944
  2. Series II: Correspondence, 1937-1947
  3. Subseries 1: Individuals and National Organizations, 1937-1944
  4. Subseries 2: Local Communal Organizations, 1938-1947
  5. Series III: Committees, 1938-1944
  6. Series IV: Legislation and Litigation, 1938-1944
  7. Series V: Topics, 1938-1945

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
Completed
Author
Processed by Rachel Miller
Date
© 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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

Revision Statements

  • April 2021: EHyman: post-ASpace migration cleanup

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

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