Committee on Work in Foreign Countries, 1924

Abraham Herman, chairman of the HIAS Committee on Work in Foreign Countries, led a discussion at a committee meeting on May 19, 1924 on the resolution recently adopted by the Board of Directors to aid refugees and immigrants stranded while in transit as immigration laws were changed in the United States.

The discussion centered on “how HIAS could begin its work in behalf of Jewish immigrants and refugees, originally destined to the United States and other countries, who, because of new restrictive immigration laws, could not complete their journey, and are now stranded at the European ports of embarkation and in foreign countries.”

To perfect a plan of how HIAS could begin to work with new restrictive immigration laws, 1924
HIAS’ plan to work with new restrictive immigration laws, 1924

At the next meeting of this committee, June 5, 1924, representatives of other Jewish organizations were present, including leaders from the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress, the Council of Jewish Women (CJW), and the Jewish Daily Forward and other Jewish newspapers. The resolution adopted by HIAS’ Board of Directors to “undertake the necessary work in behalf of the immigrants and refugees wherever they may be …” was presented:

"HIAS, alone or in cooperation with other organizations, undertake the necessary work in behalf of the immigrants and refugees wherever they may be"
“HIAS, alone or in cooperation with other organizations, [shall] undertake the necessary work in behalf of the immigrants and refugees wherever they may be”
Further discussion included “the entire question of Jewish immigration …”. It was decided that representatives of HIAS, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and “some of the labor organizations” would arrange for a conference of “all Jewish National Organizations, with the object of considering and acting upon a plan for solving the problem of Jewish immigration.”

Of course the world still struggles to solve the “problem” of immigration for large groups of economic, political and religious refugees continually seeking a better life.

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The Infographics of Rescue

In 1943, HIAS published the booklet “A Decade of HIAS Rescue Work: 1933-1943.” This packet touted the accomplishments of HIAS and HICEM during the Hitler years. It emphasizes the non-intervention policies of the democracies of the world during Hitler’s rise to power, and places itself as one of the few beacons of hope and rescue.

Now, HIAS wasn’t being overly hyperbolic in its self-assessment; no nation in the world was exactly dedicated to Jewish rescue.

In the early 1930s, as Hitler seized power in Germany, many German Jews fled to Western European nations, which liberalized their immigration policies out of the belief that the Nazi regime would soon fall and the refugees would return home. However, they lost hope that such would be the case after the Anschluss (the 1938 annexation of Austria by the Nazi regime). As a result, German-speaking Jewry began to look overseas rather than next-door.

This was a complex process. The United States government accepted a quarter million refugees between 1933 and 1945, including 150,000 between 1938 and 1941. However, the United States had the capacity to accept far greater numbers of refugees than it did. The primary reason the United States could not live up to its potential was the quota system, created in 1924. Had the quotas been completely filled between 1938 and 1941, 206,000 German refugees could have entered the US.

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Britain accepted approximately 70,000 refugees through its regular admittance system, 10,000 German Jewish children via the Kindertransports (a series of rescue efforts which brought Jewish children to Britain from Germany between 1938 and 1940). It also allowed a large number of Jews in on visitor’s visas. In 1939 the British government passed the White Paper, which stipulated that Jewish immigration to Palestine was to be limited to 15,000 per year until 1944, letting in approximately 75,000 Jewish refugees. The British Commonwealth admitted only a combined total of some 413,000.

Latin American Republics changed their policies to effectively bar Jewish emigration after 1938. Brazil did so by requiring baptismal certificates for all emigres, and Bolivia simply made anyone of Jewish blood ineligible for entrance into the country. In all, approximately 17,500 were able to emigrate to Central and South America.

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As implied by the above infographic, the Holocaust would have claimed far more Jewish lives without the work of Jewish aid societies like HIAS. Though this pamphlet, like all of HIAS’ publications and pamphlets (to be made available to researchers in 2018) exists to keep members and donors apprised, and to impress potential new members and donors, it does not over-exaggerate the political and financial roadblocks to rescue.

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In all, this pamphlet is a wonderful example of how promotional materials need not always be approached as pure slanted advertising. This pamphlet accurately, if not dramatically, conveys historical realities in a simple, accessible manner which remains in use by the advocacy organizations and think tanks of today.

Works Cited:

Abella, Irving and Harold Troper. None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948. 3rd ed. Toronto: Key Porter Books Limited, 1983.

Dwork, Debórah and Robert Jan Van Pelt. Flight from the Reich: Refugee Jews, 1933- 1946. New York, NY: Norton, 2009.

Feingold, Henry L. The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1970.

Laqueur, Walter. Generation Exodus: the Fate of Yong Jewish Refugees from Nazi Germany. Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 2001.

Wyman, David. Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis 1938-1941. 1968, Reprint, New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.

Sakamoto, Pamela Rotner. Japanese Diplomats and Jewish Refugees: A World War II Dilemma. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998.

Doodle

At the HIAS board meeting on Tuesday, February 9, 1965, President Murray I. Gurfein gave a report on a recent LCBC meeting – a meeting of the Large City Budget Committee, part of the hierarchy of budgetary meetings arranged by the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) and held during their annual GA (General Assembly). It was an opportunity for representatives from Federations in large cities to discuss local budgets collectively. Because HIAS was considered a “national” organization, they would have had the opportunity to give a report to the Federation representatives, making their goals for the coming year known to fundraisers and people with financial responsibility from cities with large Jewish populations – and fundraising – around the country.

Very large doodle on Murray I. Gurfein's notes for the Board of Directors Meeting, February 9, 1965 on the January LCBC Meeting
Very large doodle on Murray I. Gurfein’s notes for the Board of Directors Meeting, February 9, 1965 on the January LCBC Meeting

Notes for the report Gurfein gave at the HIAS board meeting on the recent LCBC presentation appear to have been distributed to the attendees. At least one unknown board member left a lasting, very dense and detailed doodle on his set of notes.