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Nathan Perlmutter (1923-1987) Papers

Identifier: P-1012

Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of the papers of Nathan Perlmutter, mainly concerning his career with the Anti-Defamation League, both in regional positions and on the national scale. It contains newspaper clippings and subject files relating to topics Perlmutter was interested in and that he wrote about as well as reviews of his writings and of his professional activities. The correspondence in the collection contains letters of appreciation, invitations, a few out-going ADL mailings, and numerous condolence cards and letters sent to his family after his death. There are also manuscripts and drafts of Perlmutter’s two books related to Jewish topics, A Bias of Reflections and The Real Anti-Semitism in America, and of articles he wrote for various publications. In addition, there are obituaries, certificates from various awards and honors that Perlmutter received, printed materials, and a few programs.


  • 1934-1989
  • Majority of material found within 1949-1987


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

For reference questions, please email:

Historical Note

Nathan Perlmutter was born March 2, 1923 in New York City to Hyman and Bella (Finkelstein) Perlmutter, who were both immigrants from Poland. His father was a tailor and worked as a laborer for the Work Projects Administration during the Depression. His mother sold ices from a pushcart and sewed leather purses in a sweatshop. His father left the family when Nathan and his younger brother, Philip, were 16 and 13, respectively. After graduating from Eastern District High School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Perlmutter took the civil service exam at age 19. This allowed him to find a job as a clerk-typist at the War Department in the Pentagon while also enrolled at Georgetown University School of Diplomatic and Consular Practice, which he attended from 1942-1943. He also studied at Villanova College from 1943-1944. He volunteered for the Marine Corps and served in Guam and China from 1945-1946. After the war, he attended New York University School of Law and received a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1949.

Following law school, Perlmutter joined the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith in 1949. The ADL was founded in 1913 in order to "end defamation of Jews and secure justice and fair treatment for all citizens alike." He was assigned to a post as the ADL’s assistant executive director of civil rights and community relations in Denver, where he moved along with his wife, Ruth Ann (Osofsky), whom he had married April 2, 1943, and their daughter Nina. Their son, Dean, was born in Denver. From Denver, Perlmutter and his family moved to Detroit in 1952, where Perlmutter was the director of the ADL’s Michigan and Toledo, Ohio region. In 1953, he was once again promoted, this time to assistant director of community service for the ADL’s national office in New York. The family then moved to Miami in 1956, where Perlmutter was the director of the Florida region for eight years before returning to New York in 1964, where he was the regional director until 1965. In 1963, he was invited with 11 other ADL leaders to the Federal Republic of Germany to conduct a month-long study of democracy, human relations and the government’s program combating anti-Semitism in the schools and military.

In March 1965, Perlmutter became the assistant director of domestic affairs of the American Jewish Committee, where he ultimately rose to the position of associate national director. He left the American Jewish Committee in 1969 and moved to a position as the vice president of development at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA until 1973. He returned to the ADL in 1973 as the assistant national director and was promoted to national director in 1979. As the director, Perlmuter was responsible for overseeing the ADL's national headquarters in Manhattan, its 31 regional offices in the United States, its overseas offices in Jerusalem, Rome and Paris, and its liaison offices in Latin America.

Throughout his career with the ADL, as well as with the American Jewish Committee, Perlmutter was a strong advocate for American Jews and their interests and worked to promote justice, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. He was often outspoken and did not shy away from controversy, as is evidenced by his interactions with Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson and his positions on topics such as Israel and the Middle East, affirmative action, anti-Semitism, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, and American politics. He published articles in Commentary, New Leader, The Nation, Present Tense, Moment, and The National Review. He was the author of How to Win at the Races (1964), inspired by his and his wife’s love of horse racing. Their horse, Ruthie's Native, won the Florida Derby in 1977. Perlmutter also wrote A Bias of Reflections: Confessions of an Incipient Old Jew (1972). He and his wife, Ruth Ann, co-authored The Real Anti-Semitism in America (1982), in which they argued that anti-Zionism and political isolation of Israel were bigger threats to American Jews than the renewal of activities by overtly anti-Semitic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

Perlmutter received numerous awards for his work combating racism, bigotry, discrimination, intolerance, and anti-Semitism. These include the B'nai B'rith International Presidential Gold Medallion for Humanitarianism in January 1987; an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York in March 1987; the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in May 1987, from Mayor Edward Koch of New York; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian award, in June 1987 from President Reagan.

Perlmutter was diagnosed with lung cancer in June 1985. He kept a journal for a few weeks after the diagnosis, which was published in the November 24, 1985 New York Times Magazine as "Diary of a Cancer Patient." He continued his work as the director of the ADL, first from his office and then from his home until he entered the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on July 8, 1987. He died Sunday, July 12, 1987 at age 64.


7.5 Linear Feet (15 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials





Spanish; Castilian



This collection consists of the papers of Nathan Perlmutter, a lawyer, lecturer, author, political activist, and a long-time leader of the American Jewish community. It contains certificates, newspaper clippings, correspondence — including numerous condolence cards and letters sent to his family after his death — manuscripts and drafts of Perlmutter’s writings, obituaries, printed materials, programs, and subject files relating to topics he was interested in and that he wrote about.


The correspondence and clippings have been arranged chronologically while the drafts, subject files, and obituaries and condolences have been arranged alphabetically. Materials that were originally found in organized folders have been left together and these folder titles have been maintained. The collection has been arranged in five series.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

Donated by Ruth Ann Perlmutter in 2000.

Related Material

The Center’s reading room has numerous books, pamphlets and archival collections related to the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith, anti-Semitism, and civil rights. The American Jewish Historical Society library has copies of A Bias of Reflections and The Real Anti-Semitism in America, as well as "Not the Work of a Day": Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith Oral Memoirs, which contains an oral history by Perlmutter. The YIVO library has a copy of The Negro Revolution and the Jewish Community: An Address, by Leonard J. Fein, which contains remarks by Perlmutter and which can also be found in the collection.

Separated Material

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

Processing information

Processed by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation. Items were removed from binders and the entire collection was transferred into acid-free folders and boxes. Loose clippings have been integrated into folders by date. Several books, including bound copies of selected ADL Bulletins, were deaccessioned.

Guide to the Nathan Perlmutter (1923-1987) Papers, 1934-1989 P-1012
Processed by Rachel S. Harrison
© 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Processed as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation
Edition statement
[This version was derived from Perlmutter_P-1012.xml]

Revision Statements

  • November 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States