The Records of HIAS (I-363) are officially live!

 

We are happy to announce that the finding aid for the records of HIAS (I-363) is finally online and ready to use! After three years of surveying, organizing, rehousing, and encoding, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Center for Jewish History are proud to present a processed collection of documents, photographs, and audio/visual materials representing nearly 100 years of exceptional HIAS service.

The HIAS records are split up into nine series, each representing a facet of HIAS’ administrative work in rescuing, resettling, and caring for refugees from all over the globe.

Series I: Executive
Series II: Programs
Series III: Communications
Series IV: Development
Series V: Government Relations
Series VI: Finance
Series VII: Administration
Series VIII: Artifacts, Audiovisual Materials and Photographs
Series IX: HIAS Photograph Collection

Using the Finding Aid
Just as a book jacket summarizes the key parts of the story inside, a finding aid illuminates the personalities, themes, historical significance, and file types within an archival collection. The HIAS finding aid in particular contains pertinent histories of the organization, notes on how the archivists organized the materials, and how those materials relate to the overall successes of the organization.

The finding aid for the HIAS collection is available to view online HERE.

Requesting Materials for Research
Due to the size of the collection (over 700 linear feet), the majority of the HIAS Records are stored off-site. After requesting materials through the finding aid, please allow at least 2 business days for us to arrange a delivery.

All research is done on-site in the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History.

If you have any questions about how to use the finding aid or how to request materials, please contact the AJHS Reference Archivist by emailing reference@ajhs.org.

HIAS Photograph Collection
The HIAS Photograph Collection documents the history of HIAS’ promotional, administrative, and community work, primarily from the 1940s to the 1990s. Many of these photographs were used in HIAS publications such as annual reports, project pamphlets, and general newsletters to promote the work of the organization. Along with the organization’s official photographs are images of HIAS’ collaboration with various affiliate organizations, including HIAS-ICE Emigration Association (HICEM), National Refugee Service (NRS), and United Service for New Americans (USNA), among others.

The HIAS Photograph Collection has been digitized and can be found HERE.

HIAS Client Database
HIAS maintains an extensive archive of client file cards. As part of this processing project, AJHS created a searchable database for viewing select information from the cards of individuals that were helped by HIAS between 1955 and 2000. Because of privacy issues, access to the entirety of these cards is carefully restricted.

If you would like to see a specific file card or specific card data not included in the AJHS search, please contact the Location Department at HIAS for their policies on complete client file access.

The AJHS HIAS Client Database can be found HERE.

 

ADDITIONAL LINKS
The American Jewish Historical Society is dedicated to preserving the archival history of the American Jewish experience. Please use these links below to become better acquainted with HIAS, our AJHS archivists, and to learn more about the publications and collections related to Jewish immigration.

HIAS, their history, and their mission: 
HIAS’ organizational website
AJHS HIAS Timeline

The process of bringing the HIAS records to life: 
Day 1 of OntheRescueFront

Additional Readings and Archival Collections
AJHS HIAS Bibliography and Related Collections list

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A Written History of HIAS

It all started with a HIAS Board meeting resolution in 1983 that deemed a written history of HIAS and its involvement in the history of Jewish migration ‘appropriate’ and by all means necessary.

By 1984, the Executive Committee approved several thousand dollars in funds from the Liskin Family Foundation and the Samuel Bronfman Foundation in order to fund the project.

“Such a volume would,” according to HIAS President Emeritus Edwin Shapiro in a letter to the Board, “by virtue of HIAS’ historic and integral role in aiding Jewish migrants, highlight the work of our organization.” Mr. Shapiro goes on to applaud the Liskin family’s generosity by noting “and the fact that HIAS was the organization closest to Ida Liskin’s heart, stems to a great extent, from the fact that Mrs. Liskin never forgot that it was a HIAS representative who met her at the docks when she arrived in the U.S. as a bewildered, 18-year-old girl.”

Ida Liskin, that very same bewildered girl, later went on to become a notable member of the HIAS Women’s Division and remained a close and long-term friend of HIAS. She made sure to bequeath money to HIAS in her will.

Soon after funding was legally secured, HIAS organized a Book Committee to coordinate the publication details and chose Ronald Sanders, noted Jewish history author and historian as the author of the forthcoming tome.

The Book Committee unanimously agreed that “The purpose of the book would be to educate, promote HIAS’ identity, attract membership, attract potential leadership, attract bequests. The book should primarily be addressed to the Jewish community, students, (high-school, undergraduate, post-graduate), as well as to the general public, scholars, and practitioners.”

What a wish list!

Visas to Freedom by  Mark Wischnitzeranother written history of HIAS, only spanned the organization’s history from its beginning up until 1954. The Book Committee’s official opinion was that although it was a useful reference book, it was “dry and rather uninteresting.” (We are still looking for documentation to see HOW happy HIAS was with Sanders’ final publication…)

Wischnitzer’s book and Sanders’ book Shores of refuge: A hundred years of Jewish emigration, are both available to request and read in the Center for Jewish History’s Lillian Goldman Reading Room.

Let us know which one you enjoy more!

More than just a pretty facade: HIAS at Lafayette Street

The Astor Library in 1854.
Unknown – Harry Miller Lydenberg (July 1916). “History of the New York Public Library”. Bulletin of the New York Public Library 20: 570-571.; first published in Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion

The building that stands at 425 Lafayette Street today was originally built as a home for the East Village’s lavish Astor Library. After more than fifty years of serving the public, the library consolidated with the Lenox Library and the Tilden Foundation to become what we now recognize as the New York Public Library.

But what was to become of this architectural marvel? Enter the up-and-coming organization called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

HIAS hired architect Benjamin Levitan to oversee the necessary alterations to create a suitable New York City headquarters. He was very impressed by the building’s original grand structure, including its southerly double-height spaces, elaborate iron and wood book stacks, columns, skylights, and vaulted ceilings—but knew that the building had to become more than just a place for well-designed silent reflection. Levitan and HIAS wanted to create a place that was welcoming, yet able to provide newly-arrived Jewish immigrants the aid, emergency shelter, and sanctuary for religious practice, they sought and deserved as they began their new lives in New York.

After the final structural reconstruction efforts were finished, a community bazaar was held to furnish the building, it was dedicated by President Warren G. Harding on June 5, 1920. This new HIAS location provided ample space for both the organization’s Executive headquarters and facilities to ease immigrants into many aspects of American life.

The building’s features and services included:

  • Separate dormitories for men and women
  • Two kosher kitchens—one for meat preparation and one for dairy
  • A large dining room for comfortable, communal, social eating
  • An operating synagogue, both for those living within HIAS’ walls and neighborhood residents
  • Holiday celebrations, such as a yearly neighborhood Passover Seder
  • Facilities for children, including donated toys and games, classrooms, and a playground

In addition to providing personal shelter and community interaction, 425 Lafayette Street also became ‘base camp’ for various HIAS-sponsored immigration and community services:

HIAS Immigrant Bank
The bank, which was licensed by NY State, was established in 1923 and limited itself to the receiving and transmitting of money to/from immigrants’ families abroad. For many years, no other U.S. banks would send dollars abroad.

Citizenship Services
The HIAS offices were open every Sunday in order to accommodate those who were not able to apply for citizenship applications during the week. HIAS office staff also prepared Affidavits of Support and led citizenship classes for clients during these extra weekend hours.

Ellis Island Services
HIAS set up satellite offices at Ellis Island in order to offer personal and immediate aid to those arriving in New York, those who were in danger of being deported back home, and those requiring other forms of legal aid. 

In honor of HIAS’ work and how they turned one building into a place of hope for thousands of Jewish migrants, a plaque is affixed to the outside of 425 Lafayette Street (what now is the Public Theater). It reads:

HIAS plaque outside 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY.

This plaque is dedicated to HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which occupied this building from 1921 to 1965. 

As the International Migration Agency of the American Jewish Community, HIAS’ work, providing rescue and refuge for endangered and persecuted people of all faiths and backgrounds around the world, continues to this day. Founded in 1881, HIAS has rescued more than 4,500,000 men, women, and children, including members of almost every Jewish family in America. Tens of thousands of these refugees and migrants were sheltered and fed in this building before they entered the mainstream of life in this great nation. 

HIAS’ current New York City offices are located at 411 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY.

Logos and letterhead

Now that the HIAS Archives processing project is in the home stretch, we have a chance to sit down, go through our notes, and share some gems we’ve found along the way!

We’ve learned a great many things about the inner-workings of non-profit organizations, such as administrative structures, the best ways to increase membership numbers, the right way to write a business letter, and how re-branding your logo can revitalize everything.

Please enjoy this quick post, which highlights several of the more simple, creative, and unique examples of HIAS’ logos and letterhead evolution from one of their first logos in 1914 to their most recent logo from 2018.

 

1914
HICEM letterhead, 1945
HSIAS letterhead, 1952
1953
c1955
75th Anniversary logo, 1959
HIAS House letterhead, 1965
1965
1970
HIAS letterhead, 1976
HIAS letterhead, 1979
HIAS logo, 2001
HIAS’ current logo (as of 2018)

HIAS Women’s Division

Women’s Division—Audio-Visual Mobile Unit, 1950s.

When the Women’s Division came into existence as an auxiliary group to HIAS, their original, main purpose was to raise money for larger-scale international endeavors. In addition to this task, its members also took on more personally-connecting roles with incoming immigrants.

In the early years, Women’s Division members volunteered at the Lafayette street shelter, ran a thrift shop whose proceeds went to HIAS, and began personally meeting incoming planes carrying refugees at JFK airport.

Although membership and volunteer activity with the Women’s Division surged after WWII, by the 1980s and 1990s, initiative and group attendance was waning. Many of the previously active members had grown too old for volunteering and changes needed to be made in order to maintain the solvency of the Division as a whole. With work, HIAS sparked interest in a large contingent of Russian women in particular, displaced from the Soviet Union and searching for supportive communities in the city. They found solace in the Women’s Division, providing boosting membership numbers, much-needed clerical help, and translation services. These women found for themselves a sense of purpose and strength with others in similarly isolating circumstances.

At the Women’s Division Board meeting on April 8 [1991] it became even more apparent that we will need to infuse new blood into the Division if it is to survive at all…It seems clear that developing [new] chapters of Russian women is the way to breathe new life into the WD and at the same time increase HIAS membership.  –Carolyn Agress to Roberta Elliott, April 10, 1991

There were several Division chapters in NYC, scattered around the different neighborhoods, all with their own unique roster of leadership, meeting schedules, and fundraising techniques. A representative from each of these chapters was elected to be part of the larger Women’s Division Board, and the president of this board represented everyone at the general HIAS Executive Committee meetings.

At the time of the resignation of Women’s Division President Arline Bronzaft in 1994, only two chapters were still functioning in NYC. By 1998, we know that the auxiliary group had been dissolved (or at the very least was soon to be), due to this template draft written on behalf of HIAS President Norman D. Tilles and Executive VP Martin A. Wenick:

DRAFT-Letter re Women’s Division, undated. I-363, Executive Office Subject Files, HIAS—Women’s Division.

 

 

Always Factual, Often Dazzling: HIAS Annual Reports

Each year, HIAS Executive Board members as well as members of various Committees and Sub-Committees convene to discuss the year’s financial status, track contributions to their cultural missions, resolve issues, and plan for the year(s) ahead in the form of Annual Meetings. Although these meetings may not seem that exciting from the outside, they serve as valuable roundtables for discussion, decision-making, and organizational networking.

Every year, just in time of the Annual Meeting, HIAS releases their Annual Report. These publications serve as handy take-aways, highlighting many of the topics discussed at the Annual Meeting as well as other entertaining articles and interviews.

Throughout our processing, we’ve had the pleasure of coming across many of HIAS’ Annual Reports and marveled at the impressive, creative art styles that were chosen to represent one year or another.

Below, we’ve selected some of our favorites. Please enjoy the artistic inventiveness of HIAS throughout the years!

Which year is your favorite? Let us know in the Comments section below!
Images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

HIAS is here to assist you!

Moving to a new neighborhood where you don’t know many people? Often difficult.
Moving to a new country where you don’t know anyone? Always overwhelming.

In an effort to make the immigrant transition into the US more seamless, HIAS printed many pieces of literature over the years* to provide easy-to-use checklists for efficiently tackling various legal processes. The existence of these pamphlets might seem standard, but having accessible, concise steps to immigration success means fewer mistranslated notes, awareness of deadlines, and a better understanding of the help that’s available.

Refugee Policy

Inside, HIAS outlines the official Application Process and the steps that the Washington Processing Center takes when reviewing applications, including lengthy, detailed information on:

  • What’s included on the Preliminary Questionnaire
  • What’s included when asked to fill out an Affidavit of Relationship

What happens after your INS interview

So now that someone has had their INS interview and has been granted either refugee or parole status, HIAS is here to make sure that all the proper steps are taken BEFORE immigrating to the US.

This includes:

  • Completing your first appointment wiht IOM/MPC staff
  • Arranging for a medical examination
  • Obtaining sponsorship (refugees only) and exit permissions from OVIR
  • Making travel arrangements and organizing with your US relatives (if any) to notify the US of your arrival
  • Making a second appointment with IOM/MPC once you are ready to travel

You’ve made it! Here’s how HIAS can help!

HIAS’ help didn’t end with immigrants finding sanctuary on US soil, and didn’t end with immigrants, either! Help was available for both travelers and their US relatives and included:

  • General advice and counsel to both immigrants and their US family members
  • Help with making document corrections, alterations, and replacements (if originals are lost)
  • VISA petition assistance
  • Expediting VISA applications for relatives left in your home country
  • Green card, citizenship, and asylum applications
  • Taking photographs and fingerprints for legal documentation
  • Translation services
  • Specialized legal representation at no cost/minimal cost
  • Scholarship programs (for HIAS-assisted refugees who migrated to the US after 1977)
  • And a handy wallet guide!

*All pamphlets in this post were included in a packet designed for the attendants of the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, 1992.