The JLC steadfastly believed that the key to defeating Nazism was self-defense by a broad front of European labor and progressive forces, Jewish and non-Jewish, supported by material aid from abroad. As Vladeck often expressed it, "The Jewish question must be solved in the countries where the Jews live." In the mid-thirties in Germany anti-Jewish legislation and physical persecution intensified, and Jews and other anti-fascists began to flee, seeking asylum wherever they could find it.The prospect of mass Jewish emigration turned attention to existing United States immigration quotas.

With many thousands of American workers on Depression bread lines, the American Federation of Labor would not relax its traditional support for strict immigration quotas. The organized Jewish community, too, hesitated to call for the lifting of quotas. As they listened to the xenophobic and anti-New Deal radio broadcasts of Father Charles Coughlin and his ilk, Jewish leaders could imagine anti-immigrant hostility touching off a paroxysm of racial hatred. What was happening in Europe might also happen here. Some, such as Rabbi Wise, feared that a declaration of support for Jewish emigration could be seen as a license for Jews to be driven from their homelands. The Jewish-led garment unions did speak out publicly, calling for the U.S. to open its doors to refugees -- but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

In its leadership the JLC had a uniquely rich resource to draw on in bringing American labor to an understanding of the European catastrophe. Vladeck's untimely death at age fifty-two in October 1938 was a heavy blow, but the JLC staff was steadily enriched by the arrival of new emigres, each with a special expertise.

Polish Bundists Jacob Pat and Benjamin Tabachinsky became, respectively, JLC executive secretary and national fund-raising director. Dr. Joseph Kissman came to America in 1937 to plead for financial assistance for the Roumanian Labor League; he stayed on to become JLC research director and liaison with hundreds of Roumanian Jewish refugees, scattered from Casablanca to Buenos Aires. Lasar Epstein, who had served for twenty years before the war as a Bundist representative in Tientsin, China, coordinated aid to the swelling East European Jewish refugee population of Shanghai.