Listening to Financial Records

I’m processing the Finance Series of the larger HIAS collection. Within that series, the largest subseries is Grant Management.

Grant Management is, well, what it says on the label. HIAS, generally in cooperation with the Department of State and the UJA-Federation of New York, would award grants to Jewish organizations across the country, and those organizations in turn would use the money to resettle refugees. These organizations were typically branches of larger Jewish organizations such as the United Jewish Federation, the United Jewish Fund, the Jewish Family Service, and the Jewish Vocational Service. This pre-existing organizational structure of the US Jewish community allowed for HIAS’ resettlement efforts to be as effective as those of other, larger organizations.


One of the record types to be found in the Grant Management subseries.

The record types in the Grant Management subseries consist of audits, tax forms, check and payment requests, accountant commentary, financial statements, financial status reports, organized by community, and spanning the years from 1990 to 2004.

While these records are overtly dull, taken together they weave a narrative. This narrative tells us where refugees were placed, what they needed, assistance types provided, and how HIAS oversaw and monitored the allocation of these funds.

The history of immigration is fascinating, and it is important to keep in mind that this isn’t just a history of movement and human displacement, but it is a history of the money which made those movements possible.


Belated Rosh Hashanah Greetings

I’ll admit: us HIAS archivists at the AJHS kind of dropped the ball on Rosh Hashanah. Luckily, right before some of our finished boxes were whisked away to our off-site storage facility, I rifled through our Communications boxes and found some lovely HIAS-issued Rosh Hashanah greeting cards.

Here are some of my favorites:

“Understanding U.S. Refugee Policy”: HIAS, the Personal, and the Political

This post originally appeared as a talk presented at the ART Symposium in New York City on October 20.

While HIAS leadership was influential in shaping and advocating for immigration policy reform, HIAS’ Communications Department was busy attending to the personal side of these political machinations.

United States refugee policy is shaped to correspond with U.S. foreign policy interests. This creates a legislative reality in which some refugees are welcomed, while the rest are excluded in all but name. In the case of Soviet Jewish refugees in the late 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. refugee policy worked in their favor.

With restrictions somewhat eased, HIAS created publications specifically to explain U.S. refugee policy to prospective Russian Jewish refugees. One such publication is a 1992 pamphlet titled “Understanding U.S. Refugee policy,” printed in English and Russian.

understanding-us-refugee-policyPamphlet cover in both language editions; Roberta Elliott headed the HIAS Communications department when this pamphlet was released.

The pamphlet clearly outlines the steps necessary to apply to emigrate to the United States as a refugee. Though the restrictions were somewhat relaxed, it was still a complex process. For example, one of the opening paragraphs reads, “Under present guidelines of the U. S. refugee program, certain categories of people within the former Soviet Union (Jews, Evangelical Christians, Ukrainian Catholics and members of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Churches) are identified as likely targets of persecution. If you are a member of one of these designated groups AND if you have a close relative in the U. S., you will be granted priority in the processing of your application for refugee status and in the scheduling of your interview at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.”

It details what, in the eyes of US immigration law, constitutes a “close relative,” and outlines policy exceptions. It explains the two components of the application process–a Preliminary Questionnaire to provide biographical information, and an Affidavit of Relationship to prove relationships between the prospective immigrant and their US relatives–and explains why these steps were put into place.

Through the publication and distribution of this pamphlet, the HIAS Communications Department was able to take its Executives’ lobbying and influence, and bring those politics down to the individual level, empowering those who may have otherwise been shut out.

Institutional Records and Original Order

I recently finished processing the HIAS Communications records. For me, this functioned as a bit of a crash course in the processing of institutional records.

Of course, when processing institutional collections, the processing goal is to arrange the materials in an order which reflects the organizational structure. But what do you do when no original order—let alone structure—is present in the unprocessed boxes? This is the reality I encountered with the first batch of HIAS Communications boxes I had to process.

With no clear structure or order to work with, I instead created a structure, and organized these materials as subject files.

As I got deeper into the Communications boxes, a subtle order became apparent. Most of the records I processed were created between 1970 and 1995. During that time, there were three heads of the Public Relations/Affairs Department: Barbara Wachtel, Brenda Schaefer, and Roberta Elliott. In later boxes, their files were frequently grouped together, and I began to recognize their handwriting, and retroactively identify how each woman marked and organized her own papers.

Upon seeing this emerging order, I realized that arranging the files according to Department Director would have been more faithful to the original order. However, because of the constraints of our project, which has tight deadlines and schedules and is “minimally processed” (MPLP), it was too late to go back and recreate that order. Instead, I represented this order by marking down Barbara Wachtel, Brenda Schaefer, or Roberta Elliott’s name on folders containing their files. This was a way to recapture their files intellectually, even though the folders were physically arranged in A-Z subject order.


Finance boxes just waiting to be surveyed.

With Communications behind me, I am beginning to dig into the unprocessed Finance boxes. This time, I understand much more clearly the importance of the initial, quick survey of the boxes, and will be able to group them intellectually before processing begins. I now know to wait and see what sort of order emerges from these boxes before making the decision to impose one.

We Probably Planted Your Family Tree: a HIAS Awareness Campaign

HIAS’ Campaigns comprise an important part of the HIAS collection, and an important part of the Public Affairs/Relations Department’s work. While, of course, many of HIAS’ campaigns had fund-raising goals, others were put in place in order to raise awareness about HIAS as an organization, to attract volunteers, and to educate the general public about immigration law, and to raise support for HIAS’s legislative goals.

As I was processing HIAS’ Campaign materials, I came upon a 1990 advertising campaign developed by the Korey Kay and Partners advertising agency.  The purpose of this campaign was to raise awareness of immigration issues, to boost HIAS’ name recognition, and to raise support for the organization’s legislative goals.

In our collections is Korey Kay and Partner’s creative presentation of the ads created for this campaign, along with copies of a few others not included in the presentation.

Below are four of my favorite ads developed for this campaign.

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Soviet Jewry, Noshrim, and Yordim

The HIAS Public Affairs/Relations (it went by each of these names at various points through its history) kept a wide variety of record types. These include organizational policy statements, board materials, correspondence documenting work with various museums, conference seating plans, and news clippings.

Beginning in the early 1970s, more and more of these documents centered on the burgeoning issue of Soviet Jewish refugees. While processing these materials, I noticed to recurring terms researchers should be aware of when working with these materials: noshrim and yordim.


A small sample of the HIAS Communications materials utilizing these terms.

In 1968, the USSR began granting Jews visas allowing them to emigrate to Israel. In 1970, international condemnations led the USSR to increase its immigration quotas. However, many of the emigrants chose not to stay in Israel, but to instead proceed to transit centers–such as the HIAS offices in Rome, Geneva, and Vienna–to apply for US refugee visas. By 1976, over 50% of Soviet Jews granted permission to leave the USSR for Israel instead proceeded into Europe in the hopes of getting to the United States. In political dialogues, these people were referred to as “dropouts,” or noshrim.

The other term, yordim, refers to the emigration of Israeli Jews from Israel, primarily to the United States and Canada.

Noshrim and Yordim were of great concern to the State of Israel, as well as to the ideological branch of the Zionist movement. This placed HIAS at an awkward crossroads in which the aid of Soviet Jewish refugees stranded in Europe brought into question their commitment to their place within the international Jewish community, their commitment to the freedom of all people to determine their own destination, and their relationship with Israel.

The Infographics of Rescue

In 1943, HIAS published the booklet “A Decade of HIAS Rescue Work: 1933-1943.” This packet touted the accomplishments of HIAS and HICEM during the Hitler years. It emphasizes the non-intervention policies of the democracies of the world during Hitler’s rise to power, and places itself as one of the few beacons of hope and rescue.

Now, HIAS wasn’t being overly hyperbolic in its self-assessment; no nation in the world was exactly dedicated to Jewish rescue.

In the early 1930s, as Hitler seized power in Germany, many German Jews fled to Western European nations, which liberalized their immigration policies out of the belief that the Nazi regime would soon fall and the refugees would return home. However, they lost hope that such would be the case after the Anschluss (the 1938 annexation of Austria by the Nazi regime). As a result, German-speaking Jewry began to look overseas rather than next-door.

This was a complex process. The United States government accepted a quarter million refugees between 1933 and 1945, including 150,000 between 1938 and 1941. However, the United States had the capacity to accept far greater numbers of refugees than it did. The primary reason the United States could not live up to its potential was the quota system, created in 1924. Had the quotas been completely filled between 1938 and 1941, 206,000 German refugees could have entered the US.


Britain accepted approximately 70,000 refugees through its regular admittance system, 10,000 German Jewish children via the Kindertransports (a series of rescue efforts which brought Jewish children to Britain from Germany between 1938 and 1940). It also allowed a large number of Jews in on visitor’s visas. In 1939 the British government passed the White Paper, which stipulated that Jewish immigration to Palestine was to be limited to 15,000 per year until 1944, letting in approximately 75,000 Jewish refugees. The British Commonwealth admitted only a combined total of some 413,000.

Latin American Republics changed their policies to effectively bar Jewish emigration after 1938. Brazil did so by requiring baptismal certificates for all emigres, and Bolivia simply made anyone of Jewish blood ineligible for entrance into the country. In all, approximately 17,500 were able to emigrate to Central and South America.


As implied by the above infographic, the Holocaust would have claimed far more Jewish lives without the work of Jewish aid societies like HIAS. Though this pamphlet, like all of HIAS’ publications and pamphlets (to be made available to researchers in 2018) exists to keep members and donors apprised, and to impress potential new members and donors, it does not over-exaggerate the political and financial roadblocks to rescue.


In all, this pamphlet is a wonderful example of how promotional materials need not always be approached as pure slanted advertising. This pamphlet accurately, if not dramatically, conveys historical realities in a simple, accessible manner which remains in use by the advocacy organizations and think tanks of today.

Works Cited:

Abella, Irving and Harold Troper. None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948. 3rd ed. Toronto: Key Porter Books Limited, 1983.

Dwork, Debórah and Robert Jan Van Pelt. Flight from the Reich: Refugee Jews, 1933- 1946. New York, NY: Norton, 2009.

Feingold, Henry L. The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1970.

Laqueur, Walter. Generation Exodus: the Fate of Yong Jewish Refugees from Nazi Germany. Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 2001.

Wyman, David. Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis 1938-1941. 1968, Reprint, New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.

Sakamoto, Pamela Rotner. Japanese Diplomats and Jewish Refugees: A World War II Dilemma. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998.