Vienna, 1968

Lottie Levinson was a Canadian who moved to Germany at the end of WWII to work for UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) in Germany. Lottie is pictured in this photograph, visiting a DP camp in 1948 with other Canadians. From about 1946 to 1954 Lottie worked for the Joint Distribution Committee, when her department merged with HIAS; she worked in the Paris office of United HIAS Service (UHS) from 1954 to 1958 when she became director of the HIAS office in Vienna, and was replaced in Paris by Ivor Svarc who moved from the HIAS office in Tunis.

In 1968 Lottie was the Director of the Vienna office for UHS, in charge of the UHS work in Germany and Austria. On November 22, 1968 she wrote a letter to the Executive Vice-President of HIAS in New York, Gaynor Israel Jacobson, relaying the details of a meeting she had had the day before. She had met with two women who were apparently involved with UJA of Greater New York, Elaine Siris (later Winik) and Patricia Gantz.

Lottie Levinson 1968 letter to Gaynor Jacobson page 1

Lottie told them about the HIAS program in Vienna at that time, including the number of Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia and Poland leaving through the HIAS office, and whether the emigrants preferred to resettle in the United States or in Israel. The two visitors from New York were also interested in how involved HIAS was with potential emigrants, in terms of counselling and what Lottie referred to as “interventions”. I understand this term refers to an intervention with another agency on the applicant’s behalf – all in addition to the “technical” work of obtaining visas and permissions and transit details.

Most fascinating was Lottie’s description to Mrs. Gantz of HIAS’ particular interest in working with as many of the Jewish refugees as they could:

Lottie Levinson 1968 letter to Gaynor Jacobson page 2

“… we preferred registration to be made with our agency, where Jewish refugees were concerned, as in this way we had some control and there was identification with a Jewish agency and that this identification would continue in an overseas country through our introduction of the cases concerned to our cooperating committees overseas.” (“Cooperating committees” refers to the local community Federations and other Jewish councils who assisted immigrants in every aspect of settling in their community.)

Lottie continues, “In this way many of the refugees who had little Jewish identification in their countries of origin would tend to become part of the Jewish communities in their countries of emigration.

Lottie Levinson 1968 letter to Gaynor Jacobson page 3

The alternative is that the process of assimilation, which had begun in their countries of origin, would be continued overseas.”

Today HIAS works with mostly non-Jewish immigrants and refugees, and it remains important that whoever they are helping find a welcoming community that will respect their customs, culture and religion, whatever it may be.

Citizenship, Then and Now

An article this week in The New York Times discussed a recent Supreme Court decision, that of children born overseas when one parent is a United States citizen and one is not. For a number of years the rules governing the children’s citizenship when the parents are not married have been different for children depending on whether their mother or father was the US citizen.

The specifics are different, but the general issue of citizenship for children born overseas is one that I recently came across in the European Personnel files from the 1960s.

Nearly 100 small boxes labeled as “European Personnel” files were sent from the HIAS European headquarters, then in Geneva, in 1995. These files were included with the other administrative files that became part of our HIAS archives project last year. The files range in date from about 1954, the year HIAS merged with United Service for New Americans (USNA) and with the Migration Department of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to the mid-1980s.

Many are personnel files for staff from HIAS and JDC offices in Europe and North Africa which will not become part of the archives. The remaining files are predominantly those of Irving Haber, the Director of Administration and Finance in the Geneva office which had moved from Paris during his tenure. Haber’s files contain three kinds of records: general administrative matters including policies, manuals and correspondence; files of correspondence and administrative documents relating to senior professional staff in all of the European and North African offices, titled by employee name; and country files containing general business issues in specific countries and cities.

At different times the HIAS offices supervised through headquarters in Paris and, by 1962 Geneva, included Munich, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Vienna, Paris, Tunis, Casablanca, Algiers and others. As the number of emigrants and refugees grew and shrank in specific locations, HIAS opened and closed offices, and dealt with administrative issues to be expected in the European headquarters of an immigration organization. Sprinkled through the files are documents that give a brief look at the actual migration work that the staff was doing; because few other files from the European offices are specifically those of the people actually doing migration work, these files should prove of great interest to researchers.

One of the many issues HIAS helped its overseas personnel deal with was the status of the United States citizenship of children born to staff while stationed overseas – in many cases for their entire lives until leaving for college. Irving Haber was worried in 1971, for example, about a recent Supreme Court ruling that might affect his children if they weren’t able to live in the United States for 5 consecutive years before they were 28.

Concern about residence requirement for US Citizens board abroad, 1971

Other documents discuss possible outcomes to the 1971 ruling, including bills pending in Congress with shorter lengths of time to live in the United States, and involve not only leadership from the HIAS office in New York but other HIAS and JDC staff living overseas with the same worries about their children’s citizenship status.

Clearly this is a situation that has existed for decades and that is still being clarified and adjusted based on changing global situations. It is startling to learn that children of a US citizen devoted to aiding those in need of resettlement might find themselves without the option of inheriting the citizenship of their parent.

Large Collections and Aberrations in the Finding Aid

The HIAS collection consisted of over 1500 unprocessed boxes as of January 2016. Labels at the box level were, at times, neither accurate nor consistent among boxes of related files. As a result, the first Communications boxes I received were very disorganized, to the point that they lacked a discernible, original order.

For this reason, I had to impose an order on them; I processed them as Subject Files, with Subject Headings such as “Campaigns,” “Media Placement,” and “Publications.” While this order, admittedly, will make it easier for researchers to search by subject, it is not in keeping with best scenario, accepted archival practice, which is to maintain the original order at all costs.

As a result, it wasn’t until about ten boxes in that a discernible, original order began to emerge, and by that point I had already done too much work to go back and re-do everything.

This order resided not in file type, but in file creator. The vast majority of the Communications materials were created at the behest of, or belonged to two Heads of the Public Relations/Public Affairs/Communications Department: Brenda Schaefer, Head of Public Relations/Affairs between 1983 and 1989; and Roberta Elliott, Director of Public Affairs/Communications between 1989 and 1993, returning once more in 2011.

With no time to go back and redo all the processing, I simply made sure to note Brenda Schaefer and Roberta Elliott’s names on any files belonging to them. That, at least, would retain the original order in an intellectual sense.

After completing the Communications boxes, I moved on to process the Finance boxes, and made sure not to repeat this mistake.

In between completing my processing of the Communications boxes and the Finance boxes, my coworkers discovered at least ten additional boxes of Communications files erroneously labeled as “Overseas Operations,” or “Executive Files.”

For the sake of consistency, I continued to process the materials from these “stray” Communications boxes as Subject Files. However, these boxes contained files belonging to two different Directors of PR/Public/Affairs/Communications: Hyman Brickman, Director of Fundraising and Public Relations between 1974 and 1983; and Morris Ardoin, Director of Communications between 2000 and 2005.

With these two “new” staff members, I could finally arrange some of the Communications files by creator instead of type. And that is why, in the Communications Folder List, Hyman Brickman randomly (in the eyes of the researcher, accustomed to the subject-based imposed order) appears in the hierarchy in between “Biographies” and “Campaigns,” and why Morris Ardoin does the same in between “Administration” and “Biographies.”

Folder List
Circled in red, this image demonstrates how the sections of the folder list where department head, as opposed to subject type, is the primary element of the hierarchy appear.

Thanks to the wonder of searching a folder list electronically, as our completed folder list will at the end of our projects of the Ctrl + F function, it will still be easy for researchers to locate a particular file no matter where it appears in the folder list!

Rescue from a Displaced Persons Camp, 1950

The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany was liberated by the British Army on April 15, 1945. After medical treatment in an emergency hospital the British set up nearby in a school built for Panzer Division troops, the concentration camp survivors became the first residents of the Displaced Persons (DP) camp of the same name. The Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp was established in July 1945 by turning the hospital wards into living quarters. Nearly half of the 29,000 survivors of the camp died “despite the best efforts of the British Army, the British Red Cross”, and other groups and nationalities.

Large numbers of DPs began leaving the camp in 1947 as opportunities for emigration improved. “The British government allocated 300 certificates a month to Jews in the British occupation zone, allowing legal emigration to Palestine.” By March 1949, the population was down to 4,500. The DP camp at Belsen was closed in September 1950 and the remaining 1,000 people transferred to Upjever near Wilhelmshaven. A view of this new camp, from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, is here. This camp in turn was closed in August 1951. The majority of former Belsen DPs emigrated to the State of Israel. Many others went to the US (over 2,000) or Canada (close to 800), a minority decided to stay in Germany and helped to rebuild the Jewish communities there.

As we wrote in a previous post, Janet’s part of the HIAS archives project is to make selected non-confidential client data more widely accessible in order to allow the general public to search for family members in the  HIAS database.

This HIAS registration card (with name redacted) serves to illustrate the work of HIAS in resettling some portion of the survivors of WWII, either at the Bergen-Belsen camp or other camps liberated by the Allies:

HIAS client from Displaced Persons Camp in Germany, 1951

The client registered with HIAS in June 1951 – one of the last residents of the Upjever DP camp to have his resettlement arrangements finalized. From the card we don’t know where he was between the closing of the camp in August and his arrival in the United States in December, but we do know that he was destined for Harrisburg, PA in December 1951, probably under the auspices of a HIAS affiliate in Harrisburg, most likely the local Jewish Federation office. At 38, he would have lost more than 10 years of his life to WWII and its aftermath, and was facing a new life in a new country with a new language to learn. It is possible he had no family in the United States, but one can hope that with support from HIAS and other agencies in operation in Harrisburg and elsewhere he was able to settle into a community and rebuild his life.

Sources:

  1. Much of the historical portion for this post were taken from: Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, Wikipedia article accessed 6/8/17 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergen-Belsen_displaced_persons_camp. See the article for more detail and complete citations.
  2. JTA press release announcing the closing of the Upjever camp: http://www.jta.org/1951/08/22/archive/jewish-dp-camp-closes-in-british-zone-of-germany-last-jews-leave-for-israel
  3. For access to the HIAS client database (with thousands of more recent records to be added this month), see: http://ajhs.org/hias-search