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Nation Mourns Samuel Untermyer, Noted Attorney, Jewish Leader, Dead at 82

March 18, 1940
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Leaders in all walks of life throughout the nation joined today in mourning the death of Samuel Untermyer, famous lawyer, civic leader, philanthropist and champion of Jewish rights.

Untermyer, who had been in poor health for the past few years, died yesterday afternoon at his winter residence in Palm Springs, Cal., after an acute illness lasting two weeks. He was 82 years old.

Untermyer will be interred beside his wife in the family mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery. According to tentative plans, the body will arrive at his Yonkers home, Greystone, Thursday, and the funeral will be held from there Friday at 11 a.m.

In tribute to Untermyer’s memory, Governor Herbert H. Lehman said in Albany: "I have just learned with deepest regret of the death of Samuel Untermyer, who was my friend ever since I was a boy. He was one of the leading lawyers of our time and a man of unusual forcefulness and of indomitable courage. Always concerned with what he considered the best interests of his State and nation, he was for more than half a century a leader in the business and civic life of New York. Mrs. Lehman and I extend heartfelt sympathy to his family."

Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia said: "The death of Samuel Untermyer is a great loss to our country. An able lawyer who through years of practice had gained great experience, he contributed all his experience to his community, State and country. He was fair and broad minded. On many occasions he had the courage to differ with his associates when it was unpopular to do so. To me his death is a personal loss."

In Washington, U.S. Senator Robert F. Wagner said: "The life of Samuel Untermyer was marked by brilliant achievement in every phase of a varied and remarkable career. As a leader of the bar, patron of the arts and of innumerable charitable endeavors, champion of public causes, and defender of the rights of man in every land, he won the admiration and deep affection of his countrymen in every phase and walk of life. I join in mourning the loss of a dear friend and great American.

As an attorney practicing as a member of the firm of Guggenheimer and Untermyer, which for a time was Guggenheimer, Untermyer and Marshall, Untermyer figured in some of the most notable cases of the past half century. He conducted the investigation into the Pujo Money Trust and, as counsel to the House Committee on Banking and Currency, was instrumental in causing enactment of remedial legislation. His fight against stock exchange abuses played a role in the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Acting for Governor Alfred Smith in the St. Lawrence Water Power controversy, he brought about the defeat of the private power interests. As special counsel to the Transit commission, he formulated plans for unification of New York’s rapid transit lines.

In its obituary article, the N.Y. Herald Tribune described him as "one of the great lawyers and masterful public figures of the last fifty years" and said that few profession men ranked with him "in the extent of his free public service."

When Hitler rose to power in Germany, Untermyer, who had already distinguished himself as a champion of Jewish rights by conducting the case of Herman Bernstein vs. Henry Ford over the spurious "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," threw himself into the struggle against Nazism, taking a preeminent role in the organization of the anti-German boycott and founding in 1933 the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights, of which he was president until his resignation two years ago.

During the five years he served as president of the Anti-Nazi League, Untermyer was tireless in his efforts to prosecute the boycott. He went to London to help organize the World Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi Council, of which he was president. He fought the Nazis on every front, carrying to Washington the battle against trade concessions to the Reich, battling against the holding of the Olympic Games in Berlin, seeking stricter regulations on labelling of foreign goods.

Untermyer retained complete use of his mental powers despite his advanced age. He was born on March 2, 1858 (although it was his custom to celebrate his birthday in June) in Lynchburg, Va., the son of Emanuel Untermyer and the former Julia Michael, both immigrants from Germany. He was educated at the College of the City of New York and Columbia Law School, being admitted to the bar in 1879.

Untermyer’s Jewish activities were not limited to fighting Nazism. He was a vice-president of the American Jewish Congress and was active in many philanthropic movements. He was honorary chairman of the American Committee Appeal for Jews in Poland, to which he contributed substantial sums. Visiting Palestine in 1927, he pledged $100,000 to the Hebrew University, which he called "the great reservoir from which will flow to the corners of the earth contributions from the Jews’ intellectual and spiritual resources for the advancement and welfare of humanity." He was also a supporter of the Jewish homeland in Palestine. Returning from the Holy Land he said that "the men and women who have come to Palestine are the finest specimens of humankind of which any country could be built."

Untermyer is survived by three children, Alvin, Irwin (N.Y. Supreme Court Justice) and Irene (Mrs. Stanley L. Richter); two grandchildren and four great grand children. His wife, the former Minnie Karl, whom he married in 1880, died some years ago.

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