HIAS Newsletters and Organizational History

hias bulletin

For the last two weeks, I have been processing a set of HIAS boxes labeled “Communications.”

After weeding the boxes and handing off the stray Executive Vice President files to my coworker Lawrence, only newsletters, press releases, pamphlets, and books remained. Though all were fascinating in their own right, the newsletters were, perhaps, the most revealing materials as, from them, I have been able to infer quite a bit about HIAS as an organization.

The newsletters in question are the “Rescue Information Bulletin,” for which we have copies from 1944 through 1957; the “F.Y.I.,” for which we have copies from 1975 through 1978; the “HIAS Bulletin,” for which we have copies from 1975 through 1979; and the “Inside HIAS” newsletter, for which we have copies from 1981 through 1983.

FYI

The first three HIAS newsletters listed above existed to put out information to those who could make use of HIAS’ services—for example, those looking for lost family members, or those trying to get family members out of hostile countries—to keep members informed, to broadcast HIAS’ achievements, and to keep HIAS’ varied audiences apprised of political developments abroad.

“Inside HIAS,” however, was begun by Executive Vice President Leonard Seidenman in order to improve communication between HIAS departments.

From the fact that “F.Y.I” and the “HIAS Bulletin” existed at the same time, I can infer that some HIAS departments were doing overlapping work, or having overlapping ideas without much awareness of what the other was doing. I can also guess that there was high staff turnover, which is why we see newsletters putting out similar (though not identical) information. Indeed, the very existence of “Inside HIAS” indicates that intra-departmental communication was lacking in the organization.

Inside HIAS

These boxes contained files which had already been removed from their original context (clearly, the Executive Vice President files did not belong with the Communications Department files). This meant that our work on this project required us to let the documents, as opposed to the order and context, teach us about HIAS organizational history.

I hope that more copies of these publications show up as we continue to receive new boxes, and that they continue to give us insight into the organizational history of HIAS.

Brief Chronology of HIAS

As we get started on the HIAS files, we are learning about the organization itself. Knowing the dates of key events in HIAS history helps us figure out what we are looking at, and gives context to poorly labeled folders and documents. One of our goals is to be accurate in dating material, and in attributing it to the correct person and department. Before we know a lot about HIAS and the people who created the files we are starting to make sense of, the work is slow but exciting, as discoveries are made.

We have started various administrative documents to help us remember 50 years of names of both employees and board officers; the names of departments and how they fall hierarchically within the organization; predecessor organizations and organizations that merged together to form what is today known as HIAS.

In addition to culling this information from the files themselves, we are utilizing other archival collections at AJHS; books in the AJHS library as well as the library collections of the other partners in the building where we work, the Center for Jewish History; and from the published finding aids at YIVO, which holds an enormous collection of earlier HIAS material. The press releases of the JTA over many decades are available on line and have information on people and organizations and events not covered by other news sources, and are a wonderful source of concise, accurate information on HIAS as well as other organizations over most of the twentieth century.

The files we are starting with include the earliest Executive Director materials in this collection, beginning in the early 1950s; files from the Communications Department which include Public Relations; and some of the administrative files of Colonel Seymour J. Pomrenze, a consultant to HIAS on records management issues. The Colonel’s name may be familiar to anyone who has looked through the finding aids of other AJHS collections of large communal organizations such as UJA-Federation of NY, or through Colonel Pomrenze’s own collection, P-933.

Our next posts will comment on specific aspects of the files we are currently working with.

Draft of Chronology of 75 Years of UNITED HIAS SERVICE and its predecessors
Draft of “Chronology of 75 Years of UNITED HIAS SERVICE and its Predecessors”