Minkoff, Isaiah M.

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Isaiah Minkoff (1901-1983) was born in Warsaw in 1901 and was raised and educated in Moscow. As a teenager he became involved in World War I relief work and also became active in a number of Jewish and socialist organizations. After the Revolution of 1917 he continued his political activity as a member of the Russian Social Democratic movement and served a one-year term in Soviet prisons. He attended the University of Moscow, 1918-1920. He fled the Soviet Union, and in 1922 arrived in California, where he completed his B.A., in Slavonic languages, at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1926.

In June 1926 he married Dussia Samson, daughter of Russian Jews who had emigrated to the United States after a long residence in Harbin, China, and settled in San Francisco. The Minkoffs soon resettled in New York, where he soon became active in Jewish communal affairs. In New York be became reacquainted with a large circle of Russian Social-Democratic (Menshevik) exiles who had fled from the Soviet Union after the consolidation of Bolshevik power.

From 1936 to 1941 he served as Executive Secretary of the Jewish Labor Committee, and in that capacity played a central role in the JLC'santi-Nazi and rescue activities. For example, Minkoff was one of the chief organizers of the labor-sponsored Counter Olympics held on Randall's Island in New York City in the summer of 1936 (and repeated in the summer of 1937). He also served as the JLC's representative to the Joint Boycott Council, in which the JLC cooperated with Rabbi Stephen Wise's American Jewish Congress to coordinate the consumer boycott of German goods and services. In 1940-41 he was a key figure in the successful effort by the JLC to secure temporary visitors' visas for a list of European labor and socialist activists who were in immediate danger of arrest by the Nazi authorities in France and Eastern Europe. He met with officials of the American Federation of Labor and of the Roosevelt Administration, assisted in the compilation of the visa lists, arranged for transportation of refugees, and on many occasions welcomed the rescued families as they stepped off the boats in New York, Los Angeles or Seattle.

In 1941 he left the Jewish Labor Committee to become Executive Director of the General Jewish Council, a confederation of Jewish defense organizations whose aim was to hammer out joint policies, wherever possible on issues of critical importance during the warsyears, and to make plans for post-war rehabilitation and reconstruction. In 1944 he became the Executive Director of the newly founded Jewish community relations agency, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC -- later NCRAC). He was to hold this position from 1944 until his retirement in 1975, building NCRAC from an umbrella groups of four national agencies and fourteen local communal bodies into a major agency comprised of eleven national and 111 local groups.

NCRAC under Minkoff's leadership became a prime force for Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement, and also fostered a concerted Jewish community response on other issues, such as the reform of U.S. immigrations law, the publicizing of and protest against the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, support for the state of Israel, and efforts to combat anti-semitism and other forms of bigotry and discrimination in this country and abroad. In addition to his primary responsibilities in NCRAC Minkoff served as a Board member of the Jewish Labor Committee, the Atran Foundation, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, and the Jewish Daily Forward Association. He was also an active supporter of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the Congress for Jewish Culture and the Workmen's Circle.

In addition to his extensive responsibilities in organizational work, Minkoff kept in touch with a wide circle of friends and comrades around the world -- many of whom he had assisted in the Holocaust and postwar years. He took a deep interest in the fate of Yiddish culture and never lost touch with the Russian-speaking socialists who had been the inspiration of his youth. In his later years he traveled widely in Europe and Israel, and served as a delegate to several international meetings concerned with Jewish communal affairs and the issue of reparations to Holocaust survivors.

Minkoff died of cancer in New York City on May 10, 1983.

From the guide to the Isaiah Minkoff Papers and Photographs, Bulk, 1960-1984, 1914-1984, (Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Training Bureau for Jewish Communal Service (New York, N.Y.). Records, 1946-1951. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Isaiah Minkoff Papers and Photographs, Bulk, 1960-1984, 1914-1984 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council Records, undated, 1940-1994 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn General Jewish Council Records, 1934-1947 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) Records, Part I: Holocaust Era Files, 1934-1947 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Federation of Labor. corporateBody
associatedWith Atran Foundation. corporateBody
associatedWith Forward Association. corporateBody
associatedWith General Jewish Council person
associatedWith General Jewish Council (U.S.). corporateBody
associatedWith Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.). corporateBody
associatedWith Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. corporateBody
associatedWith National Community Relations Advisory Council (U.S.). corporateBody
associatedWith National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council corporateBody
associatedWith Training Bureau for Jewish Communal Service (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring. corporateBody
associatedWith Yivo Institute for Jewish Research. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Labor leaders
Labor leaders



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