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.