HIAS, Refugees and Immigration: The Hard Work of Humantarianism

For over 100 years, HIAS has worked to rescue those whose best hope for survival was a visa to the United States. There has been a lot of news about immigration and refugees in the past week, and the past few years with the growing numbers of people around the world running from unsafe situations because of war, drought, disease and poverty. HIAS works every day to safely resettle in welcoming communities those they are able to bring to the United States.

Here are three links to recent news about HIAS and President/CEO Mark Hetfield:  JTA article from shortly after the election; follow Hetfield on Twitter; see what HIAS has been working on in the past week.

Of course, what the HIAS archives project team is working on relates to HIAS’ work in past decades. Virtually every document we touch from the 1500 or so boxes that are part of this project relates to one aspect or another of the rescue or resettlement process – raising money through grants and direct solicitation, lobbying for more inclusive and welcoming immigration legislation, walking families through the application process for visas, working with representatives of communities committed to welcoming immigrants to their cities and towns. As the flow of Jewish immigrants slowed after WWII, HIAS began aiding immigrants of all religions, wherever the need was greatest. Below are three documents from the different series we are currently working with:

  1. 1951 – “Nominal Rolls” – These lists of passengers arriving by ship range in date from 1947 to 1963, with the bulk of the lists from the early 1950s towards the end of the huge influx of post-World War II immigrants. Data for each immigrant in the lists includes name, religion, country of birth, marital status and age, occupation and sponsor. The page below is from the list of passengers on the May 1951 ocean crossing of the General Sturgis. The cable that accompanied the 79 page list indicated that there were 1310 passengers on the ship, that 80 were Jewish and that 15 of those were sponsored by HIAS.

    Weber family from Hungary, includes parents and 4 children

      Page 77, lines 1334-1339, lists the Weber family from Hungary and Germany, including parents and 4 children
  2. This 1997 Grant Payment Voucher demonstrates the practicalities of HIAS’ vital refugee rescue and resettlement work.matching-grant-payment-vouchersIn cooperation with the Department of State, national UJA and local Jewish federations, HIAS awarded grants to Jewish organizations across the country. Those organizations would then use the grant money to resettle refugees in their communities.In this document, from the Finance series of the HIAS collection, HIAS is sending the Greater Miami Jewish Federation a portion of the total grant money allocated to that organization.

    These costs would go towards job training, housing, language lessons, health care, child care, counseling if needed. It was also used for job preparedness workshops, and educational materials aimed to help refugees acclimate to life in America.

    While these particular records don’t detail how the organizations used the grant money, they do demonstrate a piece of the HIAS infrastructure in place to resettle refugees.

  3. In 1974, HIAS Executive Vice President Gaynor Jacobson was serving as chair of the Migration and Refugee Affairs Committee of the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (ACVA), of which HIAS was a member group, when he received this photograph of a refugee camp in Tư Cung, Vietnam. The huts pictured were said to have been burned down by the Viet Cong a month after the picture was taken.

At this time, HIAS was itself involved in resettling Vietnamese refugees in the U.S., operating out of Fort Chaffee and Camp Pendleton. Soon after, the State Department would enlist the help of HIAS, along with the other Volags, in resettling the Vietnamese boat people.

Tư Cung, which is actually a hamlet in the village of Sơn Mỹ, along with Mỹ Lai and My Khe, is home to a memorial for the Sơn Mỹ massacre, what we in America call the “Mỹ Lai massacre.”

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