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Guide to the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee Records ALBA.057

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Alix Ross and Jessica Weglein, 2005; Entered into Toolkit by Ann Christiansen, 2010

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on July 20, 2017
Description is in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical/Biographical Note

The Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee (JAFRC) emerged in 1941superseding several earlier committees and organizations that had been developed to secure humanitarian aid for refugees of the Spanish Civil War. Along with providing humanitarian aid, the JAFRC was “dedicated to the rescue and relief of thousands of anti-fascist fighters trapped in Vichy France, and North Africa so that they [could] return to the active fight against the Axis.” Dr. Edward Barsky, leader of American medical volunteers in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and chairman of the North American Spanish Aid Committee, became the national chairman of the JAFRC. Dorothy Parker was the chairman for the Spanish Refugee Appeal, the fundraising arm of the JAFRC. Prominent religious leaders, artists, musicians, scientists and academics were among the sponsors of the JAFRC, including Leonard Bernstein, Albert Einstein, Lillian Hellman, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson and Orson Welles.

Early in 1946 Barsky, Executive Secretary Helen R. Bryan and Executive Board members of JAFRC were subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), to surrender financial records, and to turn over the names of contributors and recipients of aid. After refusing to comply with HUAC demands, Barsky and the entire board of JAFRC were charged with contempt of Congress and convicted in June 1947.

Three years of appeals that challenged the constitutionality of the HUAC hearings ended in 1950 when the Supreme Court refused to review the convictions. The board members were sentenced to three months in prison, and Barsky, as the JAFRC’s chairman, was sentenced to six months in the Federal Penitentiary in Petersburg, Virginia and fined $500. Barsky resigned from JAFRC and in 1951 Dr. Mark Straus, who had served as a physician and a soldier in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion during the Spanish Civil War, was elected chairman of the organization.

Despite the change in leadership, the JAFRC was unable to avoid the scrutiny of the United States government. In 1952 the JAFRC, whose tax-exempt status had been rescinded by the Bureau of Internal Revenue in 1948, was sued by the United States Department of the Treasury for $307,000 in back taxes. The next two years found the JAFRC attempting to ward off efforts by the United States Congress’s Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB) to force the JAFRC to register as a Communist front organization. In 1955, citing harassment by the HUAC, the SACB and the Treasury Department, the board of JAFRC voted to disband.