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In Memory of Frank Lautenberg
by David P. Rosenberg, M.P.A., Reference Services Research Coordinator, Center for Jewish History

Frank Lautenberg, the last World War II veteran in the United States Senate (he served from 1982-2001 and 2003-his death, today June 3, 2013), played an important role in allowing many Soviet Jews to come to America. His “Lautenberg Amendment” in 1990 relaxed certain standards for “refugee status” so that many Jews were able to immigrate to the US. He was also the Chairmen of the UJA in 1972 and the executive commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. 

He is represented in at least three American Jewish Historical Society collections and a book from the AJHS library here at the Center. 


The book Living UJA history: an oral history anthology gives a personal insight into the moment when he accepted the chairmanship of the UJA in 1972. It describes how Irving Bernstein spent two hours in Lautenberg’s study trying to convince him to accept the leadership position to no avail. Then the next day Pinhas Sapir, finance commissioner of the state of Israel, “pointed his finger at Frank, looked him directly in the eye, and in his distinctive accent emphasizing each word, said, ‘Lautenberg, you must be the UJA chairmen.’ “ Later, Bernstein inquiries what made him change his mind.

“ ‘How could I say no to a man who wears high-button shoes?’ [Lautenberg said]. It was then I learned that Lautenberg’s father had worn high-button shoes." (p.64)

The work also contains a portion of a New York Times supplement the UJA published in 1977:

“The challenge is to know that we are links in the chain of generations; that we transcend geography in expressing our unity with the people of Israel – and that we have the ability to make impossible dreams come true…if we act together in strength, and truly believe that Jewish destiny is in Jewish hands.” (p.71)

The AJHS houses the Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement, the preeminent source for information on the movement. Click here to explore this resource.

Image c/o United States Congress.

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