Illustration by Art Seiden

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

1900 to World War II:

Herbert H. Lehman: A Soldier, Banker And Statesman

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Herbert Henry Lehman served in World War 1, volunteering as a textile procurement specialist with the Navy Department, where he developed a close friendship with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In September, 1917, he was commissioned a captain in the Army and left the service two years later with the rank of full colonel.

Lehman was born on March 28, 1878, in New York City, the son of Barbara and Mayer Lehman, who were German Reform Jews. After graduating from college, he entered the business community and joined Lehman Brothers, an investment banking house that had been trans- formed from a cotton brokerage firm by his brother, Arthur. In 1910, Herbert Lehman married Edith Louise Altschul, the daughter of the head of the New York branch of Lazard Freres, a respected Paris-based banking house.

Lehman's oldest son, Peter, was killed in World War II after flying 57 combat missions in Europe. Prior to serving in the U.S. Air Force, he was on active dutv with the Canadian Air Force because the United States was not in the war and he felt very strongly about defeating Hitler. Peter Lehman received the U.S. Air Force Niedal with three clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to him posthumously.

Lehman's daughter and other son also served overseas in the armed forces. His son, Captain John Lehman, served with the 20th Armored Force, and his daughter, Hilda Lehman de Vadetzky, served with the Women's Army Corps in Algiers.

Herbert Lehman became active in politics in 1920 and supported Alfred E. Smith. When Smith won the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1928, Lehman became chairman of the finance committee of the Democratic National Committee. It was in that year that he was elected lieutenant governor of New York on a ticket headed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Lehman became Governor of New York in 1932, the year that Roosevelt became a candidate for president. Lehman served four terms.

In 1940. his brother, Irving, was elected chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, the first time in the history of New York that brothers headed the executive and judicial branches of government.

Herbert Lehman ran twice for the U.S. Senate, losing the first time to Irving M. Ives and winning the second time against John Foster Dulles, in a special election to fill the unexpired term of Senator Wagner. In 1950, he was elected to a full term in the Senate.

Lehman was one of the earliest politicians to refute Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and his witch-hunts. He died on December 5, 1963, after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.

Return to Table of Contents