Government Relations in the 1980s: the Archival Arrangement

The American Jewish Historical Society’s HIAS project team recently completed processing on records of the Administration and Government Relations Department of the 1980s. The records cover the years 1982-1990. This post will take a look at how the records are organized.

But first, what was the Administration and Government Relations Department? You wouldn’t be alone if you assumed the two parts of the name must have had something to do with each other—some of us did too. But looking at the records, we found that the “Administration” part actually referred to the administrative functions of the entire agency. Yes, we’re talking about dealing with switchboard problems, setting policy, ordering computers, managing office renovations, evaluating workflow in the mailroom, etc.

The Government Relations part is a bit more interesting, and thankfully represents the bulk of the materials. The federal government was involved in every step in the process of refugee migration to the United States, from the moment a person applied for refugee status, to the time they stepped off the plane. Because of this, HIAS’ relationship with the government agencies responsible for oversight and implementation of the US refugee program was an essential one. The Government Relations department’s role was to establish and maintain a system of frequent and extensive contact with a wide range of entities in Washington, D.C. More on this in a future blog post.

As with other departments, Administration and Government Relations maintained their records alphabetically by subject file, in one to two year chunks. Here is how the records are arranged:

1982 The first set of folders belonged to Karl Zukerman, who at this time served as Assistant Executive Vice President. They are from 1982 and are labeled A-I . So the first folder in this group contains materials related to the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (predecessor to InterAction), while the last relates to Indochinese Refugees. Folders for J-Z subjects are not present unfortunately.

1982-1983 The next set of Zukerman’s files is for a two year chunk, 1982-1983. For this group we have letters A-U, which is likely the full set of folders, since there weren’t many subjects beginning with letters V-Z. Yay! But you might be wondering, why is there an 82-83 set of folders, and a set of 82 folders by themselves? The reason is that the two sets had two different owners, or “creators” as archival science refers to them. For example, the set of A-I folders from 1982 could have been inherited by Zukerman from the prior staffer in that role. Alternatively, they could have been maintained by Zukerman’s assistant, while the 82-83 set belonged to him. Or, one set could have been what we might consider “general department files” to which multiple staffers contributed materials. It all depends on how the department was organized and what sort of filing scheme met the needs of that group of people.

A two year chunk makes sense because it means keeping recent documents close for when they are needed, while still being a manageable amount of stuff to keep right in the office. At the end of the two years, the files were probably boxed up and brought to the Central Files department. At that point, they were not as close as before, but close enough that one could still retrieve items as needed, probably with the assistance of a staff member in Files. After some period of time in Central Files, records were boxed up again and sent to warehouse storage.

1984 Here again we have one year of files. And again, only folders A-I are present! We do not have an explanation for this. In these materials we see Phillip A. Saperia come on as Director of Planning and Government Relations in June of 1984. He appears to have inherited the files previously kept by Zukerman. So memos, correspondence, notes, etc. addressed to or from both men are present here.

1985-1986 For this period, subjects A-U are covered, just like 82-83. During this time, HIAS reorganized the administrative functions of the agency. In these materials we see that in February or 1986, Saperia’s title changes from Director of Planning and Government Relations to Director of Administration and Government Relations.

1986 This next set is a small group of only administrative files, all pertaining to personnel policy. It is slightly curious that these files were maintained apart from the rest of the 1985-1986 materials, which contained Administrative files mixed in with the Government Relations material, including those related to personnel policy. Perhaps this set originally contained documents of a sensitive nature?

1987 The 1987 files are well represented, running from A-U.

1988-1990 This is the last set of files for this period, and they appear to be complete, ranging from A-W. Yes, this time the subjects went beyond U and into W: Washington Processing Center, and World Refugee Survey. This group appears to have been kept around for some of the next director’s tenure, because Saperia left in 1990 or 91, but there are a few things in here from 92 and 93.

 

Parting question: Do you know why the archivists didn’t just combine the files when there was more than one set? For example, the 1982 group of folders, and the 82-83 group. Leave your thoughts below, and we’ll discuss this topic in a future post.

 

 

 

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HIAS helps rescue David Ben-Gurion from Ellis Island, 1940

I spent a few minutes this week looking for information on the Jewish community in Bogota, Colombia in the 1950s for friends whose family migrated from Poland to Paris to Bogota to New York before, during and after WWII. The earliest groups of files in the HIAS collection include some of the surviving files of Dr. Henry Shoskes. Dr. Shoskes was based at the New York office of HIAS in the 1940s and 1950s, but spent months at a time traveling between overseas offices of HIAS. Previous posts on Dr. Shoskes can be found here:

Dr. Henry Shoskes in Latin America, 1947

The Jewish Problem and the Catholic Point of View, Quito, 1946

Your Representatives Just Disappeared from Sao Paolo

When in Shoskes’ folder titled, “Latin America – Memoranda and Reports, 1947-1956”, searching for information on Bogota, a 2-page memorandum caught my attention.

Dated May 9, 1951, the memorandum is from Bernard Kornblith, Supervisor, Pier Service Department, to Dr. Henry Shoskes, HIAS Overseas Representative. The subject is: “Ben Gurion’s arrival in the United States in 1940”. There is no context about why Kornblith chose this moment in 1951 to write to Shoskes about this episode from 11 years earlier. The copy in the file is a carbon copy, which you can see in the lack of crispness in the text.

Note that the ship Ben-Gurion arrived on was the S.S. Scythia – misspelled  in the memo – which itself has an interesting history. Below is the memorandum:

David Ben Gurion’s Arrival in the United States, page 1
Kornblith memo, page 2

Kornblith must have repeated this story many times; a very similar retelling  appears in a new book by Rick Richman, and in his article in Mosaic magazine (January 2018).

It may seem that Kornblith’s responsibilities as the supervisor of HIAS’ pier services on Ellis Island, while offering much-needed assistance to immigrants, most days involved routine paperwork. How surprising therefore, on a Rosh Hashanah morning, to find himself pulling Rabbi Stephen Wise out of High Holiday services. Through Wise’s intervention, the future first prime minister of Israel avoided an uncomfortable couple of days and nights on Ellis Island.

I hope Kornblith was aware of the thousands of new immigrants he helped ease into new lives in the United States in the decades he worked for HIAS, down at the piers.

David Ben-Gurion on another pre-state visit to New York. Most likely seeking funding, he is pictured here with Hadassah leaders Rose Halprin (left) and Etta Rosensohn, 1946

 

 

Brothers Reunited After a Lifetime Apart

On Sunday, February 6, 1983, brothers Zyama Volfson (80) and Samuel Wolfe (somewhere between 86 and 88) were reunited at Miami International Airport for the first time in over 70 years. They had not seen each other since Samuel Wolfe had left Bobruisk, Russia (now in Belarus) at the age of 16, when his brother was still a young child. This was in either 1911 or 1913, according to different sources. When he arrived in the United States, Samuel “Americanized” his name to Wolfe. He worked in various construction jobs, at breweries, restaurants, stockyards, factories, coal mines, and as a door-to-door salesman all around the eastern and mid-western parts of the country before settling in Chicago as a taxi driver in the 1920’s.

 

 

Zyama stayed in Russia, through World Wars I and II, the Russian Revolution, and the rise of Communism, until his wife died in 1980. He then decided to emigrate to the United States with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. After settling in Brooklyn in 1981, Volfson decided to seek out his brother, knowing only that he lived near Chicago. He sought help from the New York office of HIAS, which helped put Volfson in touch with the Chicago office of HIAS. The Chicago office placed an ad in the Sentinel, an English-language Jewish newspaper in Chicago, in December 1982.

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Wolfe’s daughter, Hodele Markowitz, saw the ad and contacted her father, who by then was spending most of his time in Miami Beach, Florida. Markowitz set up a brief telephone call between the brothers, after which she planned an in-person reunion. Zyama Volfson flew to Miami with his daughter-in-law, Lyudmila, to meet his brother, with whom he had lost touch 70 years before.

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Photo from the Chicago Sun-Times, February 7, 1983. Samuel Wolfe is holding red carnations from his brother.

The charming story caught the attention of various newspapers in New York and Chicago, as well as several local morning television news programs. HIAS’ Chicago and New York offices also received their share of publicity, particularly from individuals looking to make their own family connections.

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A Factory and a Find

Some time ago, we were working with the HIAS Photo Collection when we came across a photo of two men in a matzoh factory. We jotted down a little note to ourselves so we could post it in a few months for Passover.

There is no caption unfortunately, but wouldn’t it be great if this turned into one of those stories where just the right person happened to see the photo on the internet, and could tell us something about it? Maybe someone with a detailed knowledge of the history of commercial matzoh production equipment? An archivist can dream.

When we went to pull the print, we noticed in the same folder a number of adorable photos of children playing and having fun. They don’t have anything to do with Passover, but they were too cute to keep to ourselves. Most are unlabeled, but the few captions that do appear cite Iran and Morocco in the mid 1960s. For more on HIAS in those countries, please see these earlier On the Rescue Front blog posts:

James P. Rice, Executive Director, 1955-1966

International Intrigue: HIAS in Morocco

Here are the kids. Enjoy!

 

 

 

The photo below is labeled “Morocco” on the back in penciled script.

Jews have a long history in Morocco.

 

This last photo is one of the few in the folder with a caption. It reads:

IRAN. A GIFT FROM U.S. During the first six months of 1964 the Joint Distribution Committee distributed to needy Jews in Iran 280,000 pounds of Food-For-Peace supplies donated by the United States Government. These supplies, which included milk, flour, oil, beans and wheat, supplemented JDC’s feeding program which provides food for 8,500 Jews per month, 7,250 of them in school canteens. JDC receives funds for its welfare programs in 30 countries around the world mainly from the campaigns of the United Jewish Appeal. 1/1965.

Jewish child in Iran, 1965.