Going through the 1952-1954 Executive Office files of HIAS President Ben Touster, I found a page from a Boston Jewish newspaper from the spring of 1953. A very small news item about Touster was circled; I trimmed it out of the yellowed and brittle newsprint to retain more easily in his files. I noticed that the articles were surrounded by Passover ads for local foods and wines, however, and scanned a few for this post.
Because these ads have nothing to do with HIAS, there is no need to retain them in the HIAS collection. They are however a reminder of Passover throughout the Jewish community, and the wonderful variety of local foods available for Passover in New England in the 1950s – when HIAS had a very active office and a large influx of Jewish immigrants. There is a collection at AJHS Boston, I-96, The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (Boston), which contains information on the activities of that HIAS branch office which opened in 1914.
With the whipped butter from White Creamery, fresh eggs from A&P’s Sunnybrook brand and a turkey from Toy’s, Passover week looks like it would have been filled with good food. Not unlike today. Best wishes for a pleasant Passover.
As we head into the season of Passover, the HIAS archives team would like to share with our readers the following message from Harold Friedman, the president of United HIAS Service in 1971:
“… our thoughts turn to the tragic plight of our brethren in distant lands who today valiantly struggle to cast off the yoke of persecution and degradation … Our hearts … are with our countless less fortunate brethren to whom this festival will have no significance until they, too, are free.”
Consistently through their history, HIAS has focused on refugees, rescue and immigration. Unfortunately there continue to be people to help all over the world. Fortunately, HIAS is there.
At three of HIAS’s annual meetings in the 1960s (when HIAS was known as United HIAS Service), speakers included United States Senators who worked with HIAS to “develop immigration and refugee policies responsive to the demands of our troubled times.” With immigration such an integral part of the work of HIAS over the last century and with its appearance in the current presidential campaign, I thought I’d take a look at what was under discussion 50 years ago.
Senator Philip A. Hart (Democrat of Michigan) was the principal speaker at United HIAS Service’s 78th Annual Meeting at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City on March 11, 1962. At the time, Hart was chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees.
According to a United HIAS Service “News Release”, Hart said, ” ‘ There is no yardstick with which to measure the impact of our immigration policies on our foreign relations’ … suggesting that ‘in the long run, it may equal the impact of our economic aid program.’ ” He added, ” ‘it is important that we bring our present immigration concepts and practices more closely into line with our traditions and ideals.’ ” His speech ended with this: “The most insensitive person must realize that great forces have been unleashed throughout the world. As Barbara Ward puts it so well in her recent book, ‘The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations’, we live in ‘a catastrophically revolutionary age.’
Senator Kenneth B. Keating (Republican, New York) spoke at the 79th Annual Meeting of United HIAS Service on March 11, 1963. At the time he was co-sponsoring the Hart-Keating immigration bill in Congress. Key objectives of the bill, as outlined in his speech, included the “elimination of the outmoded 1920 census as a basis for granting quota visas to nationality groups. Other considerations, such as the importance of uniting broken families and maintaining the flow of skilled labor to our shores are more important guides to a sound immigration program than the population of this country in 1920 … A nation with our traditions and heritage must also continue to do its part in the world-wide effort to resettle homeless refugees and escapees”.
In 1965, Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke at the United HIAS Service’s 81st Annual Meeting on March 14. Also fighting for immigration reform, Senator Kennedy said that the current bill in the Senate “would eliminate from the statute books a form of discrimination totally alien to the spirit of the Constitution.”
Another speaker at the meeting was Abba P. Schwartz, Administrator of the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs at the United States State Department, who said, ” ‘The foundations of this nation were laid by people escaping oppression. Surely our concern is not for the accident of place of birth but for the inherent moral work of the individual who seeks to come to our shores.’ ”
Times change, immigration priorities and public opinion on immigration evolve, and it remains an important and hotly contested plank in the current campaigns. HIAS continues to rescue those in need and resettle them in the United States and elsewhere.
The maintenance of original order—the organization and ordering of records as established by the records creator—is a fundamental archival principle. It allows archivists to preserve record contexts and relationships within the collection and guides the archivist as they provide access to the records.
I am processing the records of HIAS’ Communications/Public Affairs Department (this department changed names several times), and many boxes arrived to my processing table in no discernible order.
HIAS Communications files pre-processing
There are many possible reasons for this, including that the records may have long been out of active use and were shifted around too much in agency storage, the order may have been displaced when a new employee took over the position entailing responsibility for the records, or because of shifting organizational priorities. It is probable that several of these factors are responsible for the lack of original order.
Without clear sense of original order, I am often in the position of having to impose order on and rebuild the context of HIAS’ Communications and Public Affairs records. This process is a bit like doing a puzzle—there are a lot of small pieces of information I need to put together in order to determine an appropriate intellectual order for these materials.
The records I’m working with generally span from the 1940s through the 1990s. Thus, it is imperative that I have a strong understanding of twentieth-century Jewish and humanitarian history. Because these records served as HIAS’ mouthpiece, I must also understand the changing needs and priorities of HIAS as an organization, needs which typically shifted along with the aforementioned histories. These two pieces of information allow me to make educated guesses about the provenance—within the Communications/Public Affairs Department—of a record or record group sans additional information. For example, a pamphlet published in Cyrillic with no other information is most likely related to the crisis of Soviet Jewry, which dominated much of HIAS’ work in the last 40 years of the twentieth century.
The last piece of information necessary to making sense of unorganized boxes is the history of the Communications/Public Affairs Department. For example, Brenda Schaefer and Roberta Elliott were heads of the Department in the 1980s and 1990s. Thus, a box of seemingly disconnected files can suddenly make sense if one or both of those names show up in the majority of the folders or documents. This indicates that these documents came from the files of those employees and can thus be placed together in the absence of other linking characteristics.
HIAS Communications files post-processing
Imposing order is not a simple process, but with the right background knowledge and pieces of information, it is possible to tame the most chaotic of collections.
James P. Rice began his tenure with HIAS in 1955 to assist in the merger of HIAS, the United Service for New Americans, and the Migration Department of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee into the new United HIAS Service. Rice had worked for the Joint over the previous 10 years, most of which he spent in Europe helping to resettle Jews displaced during the war. Towards the end of his time at the Joint, Rice was assigned to Switzerland as the liaison to the International Refugee Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration.
The consolidation of the three organizations into United HIAS Service marks a turning point in European migration following the war. Under Rice’s leadership, HIAS closed many of its European field offices and began shifting its resources to North Africa, opening branch offices in Tangier and Casablanca. HIAS House in the Negev opened in Beersheba in August of 1955, around the same time Rice was brought on board, to serve as a hostel for new immigrants to Israel, especially scientific and technical workers who could help develop Israel’s southern region.
Born in 1913 and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Rice attended the nearby Western Reserve University, where he is said to have been a “star medium-distance runner and competed in the 1932 Olympic Trials” (Tribune). He graduated in 1934 and continued at Western Reserve to receive his masters in Social Administration in 1936.
Major migration events during Rice’s time as Executive Director include the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, independence in Morocco and Egypt, the Cuban revolution, the revolution in Belgian Congo, and increasing anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish sentiment Communist Romania and in Syria and Lebanon.
Rice left HIAS in 1966 and moved to Chicago to become executive vice president of the Jewish Federation, overseeing its merger with the Jewish Welfare Fund. According to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, “he represented the federation at the White House during the signing of the 1978 Camp David peace accord between Egypt and Israel.” Rice retired in 1979, but he continued to work as a consultant for organizations such as the United Jewish Appeal and Chicago’s Council for Jewish Elderly. He died in in 1997. He was 84.
I-363, Records of HIAS, unprocessed, American Jewish Historical Society.