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Simon H. Rifkind Papers

Identifier: P-1049

Content Description

The Simon H. Rifkind Papers document seventy-four years of Rifkind’s career as a lawyer, judge, and humanitarian. The collection spans the years 1921 to 1995 and is composed primarily of paper-based materials, including correspondence, reports, court documents, newspaper clippings, notes, personal and professional writings, publications, and ephemera. A few instances of audiovisual material and realia are recorded throughout the six individual series.


  • undated, 1921-1995
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1945-1995


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:

Biographical / Historical

Simon H. (Hirsch) Rifkind was born on June 5, 1901, in Meretz, Russia to Jacob Rifkind and Celia Bluestone. The couple and their five children immigrated to New York in 1910, where they eventually settled on the Lower East Side. Simon graduated from The City College of New York in 1922, received his LL.B. degree from Columbia Law School in 1925, and was admitted to the Bar Association in 1926. He married his wife Adele Singer in 1927, the same year that he began his career as Legislative Secretary to Senator Robert F. Wagner. Three years into his tenure, Simon joined the law firm of Wagner, Quillinan & Rifkind while retaining his position in Wagner’s office until 1933. He remained a partner at the law firm until 1941, at which time he was appointed a United States District Judge by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

September 1945 marked a major turning point in Simon Rifkind’s career. He was appointed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower as Advisor on Jewish Affairs to the Commanding General of the Theatre of Operations in Frankfurt, Germany. This was the beginning of Simon’s lifelong commitment to the advocacy of Holocaust survivors and would influence him to champion the establishment of the state of Israel. In his capacity as Advisor, Simon’s primary focus was on the transportation of displaced persons to the United States. He worked collaboratively with nonprofit organizations including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), while publishing a slew of articles alerting the public to the conditions within displaced persons camps and the mishandling of war refugees. For his efforts, Simon was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1946.

After the war, Simon joined the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. From 1951 onward, he led what would be an illustrious career punctuated with multiple federal appointments and a continuum of headline-grabbing courtroom successes. Simon was revered for his versatility as a “general practitioner” lawyer, which led to a roster of clientele ranging in variety from General Motors to the Municipal Assistance Corporation and (perhaps most famously) Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Notable among his earliest accomplishments is a 1953 case in which Simon represented James Wechsler, Editor of the New York Post, in a libel suit against commentator Walter Winchell. The lawsuit was settled in 1955 when Winchell retracted his statements accusing Wechsler of being a communist and discontinued his countersuit against The Post. In 1960, Simon was appointed Special Master in the latest case concerning the sixty-year long Colorado River suit. Here was an opportunity for Simon to demonstrate his ability to synthesize massive amounts of information into a simplified argument before a national audience. Justice Hugo L. Black wrote to Simon after the case was settled, stating “the court’s job in deciding those issues [was] made far easier because of your clear discussion of those issues, which you reduced to a minimum.” One of his last great successes came in 1986, when Simon argued on behalf of Pennzoil in their $11-billion legal battle with Texaco.

A prolific writer and public speaker, Simon supported numerous causes over his seven-decade career and chaired several committees and organizations. The writings contained in this collection are a testament to his unbiased range of interests, which is in part what led to his designation as Special Referee in multiple high-profile legal disputes. Within his community, Simon served as a member of the New York City Board of Higher Education from 1954 to 1966, as chairman of both the administrative and executive board of the American Jewish Committee, and as chairman of the board of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In his later years, Simon shifted focus from litigation to advising the approximately 300 lawyers employed by his firm.

Simon H. Rifkind died on November 14, 1995, at the age of 94. He left behind two sons, Dr. Richard A. Rifkind and Robert S. Rifkind.


25 Linear Feet (50 manuscript boxes, one oversized box)

Language of Materials



Physical Location

The collection is located at the American Jewish Historical Society at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was donated by Robert Rifkind.

Existence and Location of Originals

Audiovisual materials have been removed from their respective series and consolidated into one box (Box 50).

Guide to the Simon H. Rifkind Papers
Ruby Johnstone
© 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States