Herbert H. Lehman Dies in New York; Mourned by Jewry; Funeral Sunday
Menu JTA Search

Herbert H. Lehman Dies in New York; Mourned by Jewry; Funeral Sunday

Download PDF for this date

Herbert H. Lehman, twice elected to the United States Senate, Governor of New York State for 10 years, first director-general of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, and one of the foremost active leaders in many Jewish causes for many years, died suddenly here today. He was 85.

Funeral services will be held Sunday at 1. p.m., at Temple Emanu-El, and interment will be private. Mr. Lehman’s remains will lie at the Universal Chapel, 52nd. St. and Lexington Avenue, tomorrow from 1. p. m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Messages of condolence and grief, from every major Jewish organization, secular, religious and philanthropic, poured into the Lehman home and office here as soon as his death was announced. (See Page 5 for statements of condolence.)

The former Senator was universally acclaimed as the “elder statesman” of American Jewry, as well as one of the most outstanding Americans remaining in public life carrying on the traditions of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Throughout his long career in public office and in leadership of the affairs of the Democratic Party, Mr. Lehman never divorced himself from Jewish affairs and from activities supporting Israel. He affirmed many times the principle that he must be as free to participate in social welfare and other affairs affecting Jews as he was free to serve the general community on all levels–statewide, nationally and internationally.

Herbert Lehman was born in New York City in 1878, the scion of a German family that had immigrated to the United States in 1848, engaging in the textile business. He studied at Williams College, graduating in 1899, entered the cotton goods business, later became a partner in the banking firm of Lehman Brothers. He severed his connection with that company when he began his first term as New York State Governor in 1933.

WAS RE-ELECTED THREE TIMES AS GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK STATE

In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, young Lehman went to Washington and became an aide to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later, he was commissioned a captain in the U.S. Army. For his outstanding work, he was given the U.S. Distinguished Service Award. He retired from active army service in 1919, as a colonel on the General Staff.

In 1920, Mr. Lehman became known as one of the most active supporters of Alfred E. Smith. When Mr. Smith was elected Governor he appointed Mr. Lehman as mediator of industrial disputes in the garment industry, a trade in which Jewish workers as well as Jewish industrialists figured most prominently. In 1926, Mayor James J. Walker, of New York, commissioned Mr. Lehman to make a study of the city’s finances.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated for Governor of New York in 1928, Mr. Lehman became Mr. Roosevelt’s running partner in that campaign, as candidate for Lieutenant Governor. They were elected. When Governor Roosevelt was absent from the State, Mr. Lehman was Acting Governor. Roosevelt and Lehman ran together again, being elected by overwhelming votes. When Mr. Roosevelt ran for his first term for the Presidency in 1932, the reigns of the State were handed over to Mr. Lehman. He was re-elected three times, serving three terms of two years and one term of four years.

WAS FOUNDER OF J. D. C.; ACTIVE IN WORK FOR JEWS IN PALESTINE

From 1949 to 1957, Mr. Lehman served two terms as United States Senator, continuing in Washington his espousal of the New Deal policies which he had helped President Roosevelt develop.

Mr. Lehman entered social welfare work early in life, shortly after graduating from college, becoming an advisor to a boys’ club at the Henry Street Settlement, one of the country’s earliest institutions of the kind, operating chiefly on New York’s lower East Side. He was one of the founders of the Joint Distribution Committee, and after the end of World War I, he became chairman of the Reconstruction Committee of the JDC. He also became a trustee of the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society, and of the Bureau of Jewish Social Research.

He displayed his interest in the Jewish settlement in Palestine early in his career, becoming vice-chairman of the Palestine Economic Corporation. When Israel became a State in 1948, Mr. Lehman continued to support the Jewish State. In 1958, he was general chairman of the United States Committee for the celebration of Israel’s tenth anniversary. At his death, he was honorary general chairman of the National United Jewish Appeal; honorary chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee; and one of the topmost leaders of the Greater New York UJA. He was active for many years in the leadership of the American Jewish Committee, and was honorary vice-president of the AJC. He was also, for 15 years, honorary president of the American Friends of the Alliance Israelite Universelle.

DIRECTED AID TO MILLIONS OF REFUGEES AFTER WORLD WAR II

As first director-general of UNRRA, he established that United Nations Agency’s successful activities toward aiding many millions of displaced persons, refugees, and others who suffered from the adverse social, economic and humanitarian consequences resulting from the broad devastations caused during World War II. He had acquired much of his experience aiding his work as head of UNRRA both through his welfare work in Jewish organizations and through his office as the U.S. State Department’s director of foreign relief and rehabilitation operations in 1942.

In more recent years, although showing his advanced age, Mr. Lehman continued his activities both in Jewish causes and in general politics. Until a year ago, Mr. Lehman frequently appeared at New York street corners, during hot political campaigns, speaking vigorously on behalf of the election of reform candidates. Mrs. Lehman nearly always accompanied him in all of his public appearances, even standing behind him on shaky street-corner stands as he delivered political speeches.

WAS DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE

Among his many interests was an undeviating one in freedom and equality for Negroes in the United States. He was a member of the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He had been scheduled to receive honors tonight at a dinner planned by the National Committee Against Discrimination, where A. Philip Randolph, one of the country’s outstanding Negro leaders, was to have shared in those honors.

Mr. Lehman was also among the topmost, active lay leaders in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America; the New York Foundation; Visiting Nurse Service; Institute for Advanced Study; Surprise Lake Camp; Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Foundation; the National Conference of Christians and Jews; the Jewish Child Care Association. He was honorary president of the World ORT Union; a member of the Council of the New York University School of Law; a national board member of the American Association for the United Nations; a member of the national council of the Boy Scouts of America.

For many years, Mr. Lehman was the recipient of many outstanding awards, citations and honorary degrees from many sources and institutions of higher learning. In 1941, he received the honorary degree of doctor of laws from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He was the recipient of at least 15 other honorary degrees from many colleges and universities, ranging from Yeshiva College to Fordham University (Catholic).

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund