A Goodbye from HIAS

As of Monday, August 17, I will no longer be working on the HIAS Archives Project—I’m moving horizontally into the position of the Photo & Reference Archivist and Social Media Manager here at the American Jewish Historical society.

Since my last post, I have begun to process boxes from the Development department. The set of boxes I’m currently working with contains records regarding HIAS membership campaigns run by HIAS Board members in their local synagogues and organizations. While processing these materials, I came upon a folder labeled “#125 – Greenburgh Hebrew Center.”

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It seems fitting that I should find that folder during my last week on the HIAS project; the Greenburgh Hebrew Center was my first Synagogue, and where I first attended preschool in the early 1990s.

Signing off,
Elizabeth

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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!

HIAS President Meets HRH Princess Anne

Founded in 1933 after a meeting between UK Jewish community leaders and Members of Parliament, the The Central British Fund for German Jewry came into existence in order to aid German Jewry as Hitler came to power in Germany. In the years after its founding, the Central British Fund (or CBF) functioned as almost a British parallel to HIAS.

For examples, the CBF was instrumental in lobbying for the Kindertransport, and helped to resettle thousands of Jewish refugees after World War II. During the Cold War, the CBF assisted Jews evacuating Czechoslovakia in 1968 Soviet invasion, and provided food and medical assistance to Ethiopian Jews during Operation Moses. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CBF extended aid to over two million Jews.

As the nature of humanitarian crises shifted in the post-Cold War era, the CBF, like HIAS, re-branded and changed its name to the “World Jewish Relief” in 1995 in recognition of the global nature of its work. Since then it has provided tsunami relief to Sri Lanka, was one of the first responders to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and is presently providing aid to refugees fleeing the Middle East.

Princess Anne

Due to the similarity of their missions, HIAS and the CBF shared a close working relationship. In 1986, HIAS President Robert Israeloff attended the CBF Annual Meeting in London. There, Israeloff and his wife, Bonnie Israeloff, had the occasion to meet Her Royal Highness Princess Anne. Anne’s brother Charles, the Prince of Wales, is the official patron of the organization. Pictured above.

On Indochina

Come 2018, the HIAS Collection will be available to researchers. And some of those researchers may be surprised to come upon the term “Indochina” while perusing our folder titles.

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“Indochina” is a historically complex term for the region of Southeast Asia comprising modern-day Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and parts of Myanmar.

Western intervention in the region began with the establishment of Jesuit missions in the early 17th century. This gradually evolved into more direct secular involvement, to pure imperialism under Napoleon III. French Indochina, or Indochine, reached its fullest extent in 1907.

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Indochina circa 1910, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1946, the Viet Minh began a war of independence against the French. As the conflict continued, and with Communist China at the northern border beginning in 1949, the United States became concerned with the outcome of the conflict.

In 1954, an international conference, called the Geneva Conference, was held to settle outstanding issues from the Korean War, and to restore peace to Indochina. In attendance were representatives of Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China, France, Laos, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, the Viet Minh (the North Vietnamese, allied with the Viet Cong), and the State of Vietnam (the South Vietnamese).

The Conference provided that a cease-fire line be drawn along the 17th parallel, giving the belligerents time to withdraw and evacuate from Laos and Cambodia. A provision known as the Final Declaration stipulated that elections be held in July, 1956 to reunify the country. The United States and the State of Vietnam rejected these proceedings in opposition to the Communist government in the North, and its relations with China.

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Indochina circa 1952, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1955, the United States, following its Cold War policy of containment, marched into Vietnam and began working on building an anti-communist state in South Vietnam. Thus began the conflict known in the West as the Vietnam War. This iteration of Western engagement and Cold War proxy fighting in Indochina came to an end in 1975 with the Fall of Saigon, which united the country.

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The region circa 1985, courtesy of the Library of Congress

However, the fact that the country was united did not mean that all Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians wanted to live under the post-1975 Communist governments–which entailed such threats as Vietnamese “reeducation camps” and the violent Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.

In the following years, over 3 million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians would flee the region. Today, this is known as the Indochina Refugee Crisis. And that is where HIAS stepped in. Seeing the humanitarian crisis taking place in Southeast Asia, HIAS got to work rescuing and resettling refugees fleeing Southeast Asia.

And that is how several folders in the HIAS collection over a variety of Series came to include the term “Indochina” and “Indochinese” in their titles.

Today, the term “Indochina” is understood as an imperialist, Orientalist one. However, at the peak year of the refugee crisis, this was the term used in international parlance.

The HIAS archives team took the implications of the term under serious consideration while processing materials related to this refugee crisis, and we decided to maintain its usage.

It is not our job to impose our own order, naming preferences, and political considerations onto the collections, but to best capture the context under which the records were created, and to describe and arrange it as best reflects the organization and its goals. Thus, in the interest in preserving the historical record and HIAS’ contextual understanding of its work, we retained use of the term, “Indochina.”

A HIAS Staffer in the Archives

The HIAS archive project is twofold in nature. The first part–the part this blog is concerned with–relates to the processing of HIAS’ last 40-50 years of administrative files. The second part has to do with improving access to case files regarding those assisted by HIAS between the Second World War and the turn of the twenty-first century.

To handle the second part of this project we hired a database manager, Janet Yerokhina. Her job is to determine how to pull a massive amount of data stored in multiple formats into one database. Janet has been extracting and cleaning data, and creating a search screen for the public-facing interface. When completed the database will include fields of information about tens of thousands of HIAS clients.

ID card

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This HIAS client registration card is one of the many formats Janet worked with in creating the the database.

As Janet went through the thousands of client files recovered from an old, out of date HIAS database, she would sometimes check for familiar last names. For, Janet and her family were HIAS clients themselves in the 1990s as they emigrated from Russia to the United States. One day, Janet came upon her mother’s fairly unique first name, followed by their surname, their first address in New York City, and information regarding other family members.

Part of the American Jewish story is one of immigration, so how fitting it is that a staff member of the American Jewish Historical Society should find her own story in our holdings.

Janet is still perfecting the database, but you can check it out here.

As a note, because much of this data is confidential and restricted, only certain pieces of information will be publicly available.

HIAS and the Floating Department

One of the complexities of processing an institutional collection is that the institutions themselves do not function with the intent of making life easy for future archivists (shockingly enough). While the goal of the archivists processing this type of collection is to represent the internal organization of the institution as clearly as possible, sometimes organizations can become so complex that archivists must make difficult editorial choices in the name of accessibility and ease of use.

As I have previously discussed on this blog, HIAS—typically in cooperation with the Department of State and the UJA-Federation of New York—awarded grants to Jewish organizations across the country, which in turn used the money to resettle refugees. It was the Matching Grants Department which handled and kept careful record of that money.

Matching Grants comes across as a department that rather intentionally made itself difficult to trace. It would be reasonable to assume that Matching Grants existed within the Grant Management Department, which itself was situated within the Finance Department. However, that assumption would be incorrect.

Before 1993, Matching Grants was handled by an organization outside of HIAS; between 1993 and 2000, Matching Grants existed as its own department, separate from both Grant Management and US Operations; after the year 2000, Matching Grants existed under the umbrella of US Operations, a department which handles refugee resettlement. Complicating the picture is the fact that the staff names and handwritings attached to Matching Grants papers remained stable, even as the department floated around the HIAS organizational structure.

To represent this movement in the collection and finding aid, while aligned with the goals and practices of processing a large institutional collection, would prove confusing and unintuitive for future researchers. Therefore, we made the decision to organize Matching Grants into the Finance Series, as the vast majority of materials from Matching Grants are financial in nature.

Crafting a HIAS Bibliography

The HIAS team is busy assembling a website to accompany the HIAS Collection. This website will include access to a client database, a finding aid, a timeline, links to digital objects, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, selected to contextualize the HIAS Collection for researchers.

I spent the last couple of days selecting sources to be included in this bibliography, and then listing them in proper Chicago Style citations. There are three main types of citation formats: APA, MLA, and Chicago/Turabian. APA (American Psychological Association) Style is used in the fields of Education, Psychology, and the Sciences; MLA (Modern Language Association) style is used in the Humanities fields; and Chicago/Turabian is typically used in the fields of Business, History, and the Fine Arts. Archival repositories tend to prefer the Chicago/Turabian Style, though many—including the Center for Jewish History–will provide citations in all three styles.

Listing books in Chicago Style is fairly easy—even with multiple authors or editors or editions, books retain the same general components. Archival collections, however, are much more complex.

The Chicago Manual of Style notes that:

“It is impossible to formulate specific rules applicable to all bibliography listings of manuscript materials because methods of arranging and cataloging differ from one depository to another, and kinds of material differ as well. Librarians and archivists are usually willing and able to explain to an author what is required in citations to the documents in their collections. A publisher’s editor may add or delete or rearrange items in listings only with the consent of the author.”

And indeed, the Manual provides two distinct bibliographic citation formats for archival collections:

“The bibliographic sequence most useful for all collections of correspondence and other personal papers named for an individual or group begins with the name of the author of the collected manuscripts of the title of the collection of items being cited and ends with the depository  and, where desirable, its location.

…….

A second possible sequence begins with the depository (or its location) and ends with the collection or part of the collection being cited. This sequence is useful when a number of collections from the same depository are cited and it is desirable to list them together in the bibliography reference list.”

Making the situation even murkier is that the American Jewish Historical Society and the Center for Jewish History (of which the AJHS is a partner agency) present two different ways of citing collections in Chicago Style.

In building the primary source portion of the bibliography, I first consulted the finding aids of the collections in question. The AJHS finding aids contained the following preferred citation format: “Identification of item, date (if known); Creator; Collection Call Number; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.”

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But the plot thickens; because the collections were cataloged and assigned metadata by the Center for Jewish History staff, the citation provided in the Center-generated record details page provides the following citation format: “Contributor Name (Last, First) [First, Last for additional contributors], Contributor Organization(s).Collection title, creation date.”

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So, for collection I-93, the records of the United Service for the New Americans, the AJHS preferred citation would look like “Item, date (if known); United Service for New Americans Records; I-93; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.” While the Center generated citation would look like “Dewey, Thomas E, Truman, Harry S President, U.S, European Jewish Children’s Aid, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, New York Association for New Americans, and National Coordinating Committee. United Service for New Americans Records undated, 1946-1954, 1945.”

With all of these divergent formats, none of which quite worked for the bibliography, I had to construct a unique citation format which was in keeping with the Chicago Style, but which spoke to the specific purpose of the bibliography.

As the purpose of this bibliography is to refer researcher to resources, I discounted the need to include box and folder number. Further, the center-generated format was too specific—researchers need to know the collection name and call number, not the full provenance.

Thus, the completed, customized citation took the form of “Depository, depository location. Collection Name; Call Number,” and the completed citation in the bibliography for I-93 looks like “American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA. Records of the United Service for New Americans, undated, 1946-1954; I-93.”

Note: This post refers to information contained within the 14th Edition Chicago Manual of Style.