Herbert H. Lehman medal designed by Jacques Schnier, struck by Medallic Art Company in quantities of 450 bronze, 240 pure silver and about 8 gold-plated pure silver. Obverse: Portrait, HERBERT H. LEHMAN 1878-1963. Reverse: Tzadik (Hebrew: righteous one) within a Star of David, TO DO JUSTLY, LOVE MERCY, AND WALK HUMBLY WITH THY GOD, MIC. 6:8, JS monogram. 47 x 45 mm.
Upon graduation from Williams College in 1899, Herbert Henry Lehman joined his father’s investment banking firm — Lehman Brothers. He began a long career in public service when he was commissioned as a captain in the War Department Ordnance Bureau during World War I, where he eventually rose to the rank of colonel in the War Claims Board. After several visits to devastated Europe, he helped found the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Lehman became active in politics, and was elected as Lieutenant Governor of New York, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt as Governor, in 1928. He was Roosevelt’s right hand man, and was elected Governor in 1932 by an unprecedented plurality of close to a million votes. Lehman fought for a wide range of minimum wage, social security and general welfare bills during and following the Depression — and was reelected four more times. He resigned in 1942 to become head of the newly formed United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, whose task was to minister to the war-torn civilian populations of the former Axis-occupied areas. England’s Noel-Baker gave Lehman the following testimonial: “No tougher assignment was ever faced by any man. He has carried it through. His greatest service has been the moral authority which he has established with the governments and the peoples of the world.”
At the age of 72, Herbert H. Lehman took on another major public service — as New York’s Senator. In Congress, he courageously crusaded against McCarthyism and restrictive immigration quotas. This immigrant’s son eloquently spoke before the President’s Commission on Immigration and Naturalization in 1952, saying: “This [quota] system is based on the same discredited racial theories from which Adolph Hitler developed the infamous Nuremberg Laws. It is the complete denial of Americanism. To defend ourselves against the evil implications of this concept we recently fought a great war … and sacrificed hundreds of thousands of American lives, including untold numbers whose names were not Smith, Brown or Jones.”