After World War II, HIAS and other immigration organizations focused on relocating survivors of the war to safe and financially stable towns and cities around the world. There were Jewish communities throughout Latin and South America, and because of existing restrictive immigration laws in the United States, Canada, and much of western Europe, the best option for thousands of Jewish families without friends or family to sponsor them elsewhere (and who did not want to emigrate to Israel), was to relocate to Latin or South America. [HIAS categorized all of these countries as “Latin America” in their filing taxonomy, and I will do the same in this post.]
HIAS set up offices in the cities with the best potential for accommodating new immigrants. Cities for which we have files, from about 1946-1960 include Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; Quito Ecuador and Caracas Venezuela.
These files were created and maintained by two related departments within the Overseas Operations Division. The Latin America desk was managed in those years by Ilja Dijour (in conjunction with an extensive research and reference department), at the HIAS world headquarters in New York City. We have processed about 2 1/2 bankers boxes of Dijour’s files on Latin American cities, which include correspondence and monthly statistical reports from HIAS representatives on changing immigration issues in their respective communities. There are also more general country folders on countries in which HIAS was active as well as other countries around the world.
A smaller group of just 6 thick folders document in part the work of Dr. Henry Shoskes, HIAS overseas representative, who traveled throughout the Latin American region during the decade that his files encompass. Two folders are on Latin America and contain correspondence and reports, mostly from Shoskes to the leadership at HIAS in New York, with information on issues of resettling specific groups of recent arrivals; statistical reports; proposed budgets for the coming year in specific HIAS offices based on the number of immigrants HIAS expected to work with; and issues relating to the local economic conditions and the functioning (or not) of the local Jewish community leadership.
Some of this local leadership had been in Latin America long enough to be fluent in Spanish or Portuguese, but for easier communication with staff from the New York office, including Dijour and Shoskes, many of the documents in these files are in Yiddish or German – more common languages for both Latin American and American Jews in the post-WWII years. In limited instances translations are provided, probably by staff in the New York office.
A document that caught my eye while processing was this cable, in German, sent in March 1954 from Federacao Kahan, the President of the Sao Paolo Jewish federation, about the situation in HIAS’ office there. [From Dijour’s file overseas operations/cities/Sao Paolo correspondence 1954.]
A similar cable was sent to the Joint the same day. The translation from the German is below:
Unfortunately, there is no more information about the situation in the files. A brief report in the JTA from January 31, 1954 supplies some background. And more information on the immigrants from the Foehrenwald camp (mentioned in the JTA report, an important clue) in Germany can be found in these Latin American files.