From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: the JCRC and Gun Control

History News

In the late 1960s, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia (JCRC) saw it a priority to take a public stance regarding gun control legislation. While cases of local antisemitic incidents often included violence, they did not generally include firearms. However, in June 1968, gun control legislation was on the JCRC Board of Directors meeting agenda resulting in the board adopting a policy in support of stricter gun control legislation. The primary motivating factors appear to have been two-fold. First, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy had just occurred. And second, there was concern for Jewish merchants and surrounding neighborhoods due to an increase in violent crimes in historically Jewish neighborhoods.  This had produced increased fear and a call for action from the community. The JCRC argued the solution was to address wider, systemic problems and that an escalation of violence and vigilantism could only beget more violence. In a statement by Executive Director Albert Chernin:

Remarks on Jewish Self Defense presented by Albert D. Chernin, Executive Director,” Annual Dinner Meeting, October 27, 1969

Remarks on Jewish Self Defense presented by Albert D. Chernin, Executive Director,” Annual Dinner Meeting, October 27, 1969

“[W]hat we must do is to forge with others a national consensus to persuade the federal government to carry out that massive program that we have postponed for more than 25 years to deal with our massive social, political, and economic problems….That, my friends, is Jewish self-defense. Jewish self-defense is better schools…full and fair employment…full and fair housing….In short, Jewish self-defense is a dynamic, thriving democracy.”

Between 1968 and 1971, the JCRC did very little beyond releasing public statements. Their involvement in the gun control debate began again in earnest in 1972. Motivated by a desire to reduce violence in their community, the Old York Road Suburban Division of the JCRC reminded the board of their 1968 opinion and called on them to renew their public stance advocating gun control. While reassessing their position, the JCRC solicited advice from the Philadelphia Crime Commission, the criminal justice expert at the American Jewish Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Executive Director of the National Council of Responsible Firearms Policy on the question of the constitutionality of private hand gun ownership. JCRC counsel concluded that, “The United States Supreme Courts and lower courts have consistently interpreted the Second Amendment as a prohibition against federal interference with the state militia and not a guarantee of an individual’s rights to bear arms.”

Stanley Tauber to Wilmot Fleming, Board of Directors records, Officers Files, November 26, 1973

Stanley Tauber to Wilmot Fleming, Board of Directors records, Officers Files, November 26, 1973

The board then sanctioned the petitioning of elected officials and public advocacy groups, supported most notably by the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission. Though they received positive responses from the community, the responses from elected officials were tepid. For instance, in response to the JCRC’s suggestion that gun control legislation be advanced at a federal level, the Pennsylvania Senate’s minority caucus chairman Wilmot Fleming called the JCRC’s petitioning of Congress “somewhat meaningless.” The JCRC continued to lobby Fleming to push a total ban on handgun ownership, but he remained unmoved, citing the belief that, “The problem with any gun control measures, either state or federal, is the fact that a criminal who wishes to obtain a firearm of any kind to be used in the commission of a drime [sic] will get it regardless of any law on the statute books.”

In 1975, after failing to make any headway, the JCRC’s focus on gun control legislation began to wane. A change in the executive directorship brought a reassessment of priorities and a focus on Soviet Jewry and the defense of Israel.

Casey Babcock, Project Archivist, SCRC

This is the fourth post of an occasional series highlighting the work of Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The records of the JCRC, housed in Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, are currently being processed and will be available for research in late summer 2018.


From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: Investigating the Crucifixion of Uncle Sam

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The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia (JCRC) was established by B’nai B’rith in January 1939, but was originally known as the Philadelphia Anti-Defamation Council (PADC). The organization changed its name in May 1944, to better reflect its dual mission to fight anti-Semitism and organized bigotry, as well as to promote intergroup understanding and cooperation. Although the JCRC developed into an organization that worked to advance both of these goals, the earliest records show their focusfrom 1939 through the end of the Second World War was on investigating and combatting anti-Semitism.

Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, conspiratorial ideas regarding Jews increasingly became intermixed with an isolationist and nativist sentiment that hoped to keep

Uncle Sam Crucifixion circular, April 1941

Uncle Sam Crucifixion circular, April 1941

America strictly neutral in the growing conflict in Europe and Asia. A graphic example of this came to the attention of the PADC on April 17, 1941.

Initially referred to as the “new pro-Nazi circular,” correspondence shows that Maurice Fagan, executive director of the PADC, was in contact with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other groups who were investigating its appearance in Philadelphia. An ADL contact revealed that a large number of these circulars were sent to “H. L. Smith” of 2218 Pine Street by “M. Slauter” of 715 Aldine Ave., Chicago. A few days later, Fagan learned that the “Uncle Sam crucifixion circular” was the “brain child” of Newton Jenkins of Chicago and that there were reports of the circular appearing in Oregon and New York. A memorandum from April 24, described 715 Aldine Ave. as a “clearinghouse for anti-Semitic material” and connected Newton Jenkins with Elizabeth Dilling, a right-wing activist and supporter of isolationism.

American Jewish Committee report, April 27, 1941

American Jewish Committee report, April 27, 1941

An April 27 American Jewish Committee report, orchestrated by George Mintzer, details an investigation of the 715 Aldine address and the individuals associated with the case. While the address turned out to be a boarding house and M. Slauter to be a fictitious name, the investigator discovered the circular was printed by John Winter, co-owner of a Chicago printing company that had previously been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for connections with the German American Bund, the National German-American Alliance, and other “front organizations associated with the Nazi movement.”

A second circular began appearing in May that shared the same artistic and thematic style as the first. A May 15 letter from Joseph Roos to Maurice Fagan and others, states that Gustav A. Brand was very likely the artist behind both circulars. Roos states that he knew Brand well and that Brand was a former Chicago City Treasurer who “has constantly been under fire because of his strong Nazi language.”

On May 29, Maurice Fagan sent a letter to the Philadelphia office of the F.B.I. with an update on the investigation into the circulars. This letter appears to be the last action taken on this case, but the records of the JCRC contain many other examples of PADC investigating and exposing cases of anti-Semitism in the Greater Philadelphia region.

The Answer to the Betrayal circular, May 1941

The Answer to the Betrayal circular, May 1941

–Kenneth Cleary, Project Archivist, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Collection, SCRC

This is the third post of an occasional series highlighting the work of Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The records of the JCRC, housed in Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, are currently being processed and will be available for research in 2018.