I’ve taken a brief step back from the 1950s records I’ve been processing to work on the files of the National Refugee Service (NRS). The NRS was formed in 1939 for the purpose of helping refugees from Europe escape Nazi persecution. It was the successor organization to the National Coordinating Committee, formed in 1934, to coordinate the immigrant aid work undertaken on by various affiliated agencies.
In 1946, at the end of WWII, the NRS merged with the Service to Foreign Born department of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) to form United Service for New Americans (USNA). Eight years later, in 1954, USNA merged with HIAS to form United HIAS Service. Because the work of the NRS was ultimately absorbed by HIAS, some of the NRS documentation from its 7 years of existence were retained by HIAS and will become part of the HIAS archives collection at the American Jewish Historical Society.
The Executive Director of the NRS reported monthly to the Executive Committee in a written report, and many of these reports survive. An item in the August 20, 1943 report caught my attention:
“Relief Allowances for Food: Relief clients are finding it increasingly difficult to get along on our food allowances, because of high prices. This is illustrated by our figures based on actual retail prices collected by the Agency. The following tables show the comparison between weekly market basket costs for maintaining the minimum adequate standard for families of five persons as of January 15 and June 15 .”
“Our present allowances are based on retail food prices as of January 15; e.g., the non-kosher allowance for a family of five is $12.56, and the kosher allowance is $13.06.
This falls 91 cents a week short of meeting the minimum adequate standard for a non-kosher family, and 73 cents short for a kosher family … An early meeting of the Family Service Committee will be called to consider action to deal with this situation.”
No matter what the economy, it was hard to put together a healthy diet for a family as an immigrant family worked to get settled in a new country. NRS, as well as HIAS and other organizations offering aid to immigrants in these years made the job a little easier.