International Intrigue: HIAS in Morocco

Found in the files of Executive Vice President James Rice are these reports of meetings in late 1961 with Colonel Mohamed Ofkir, a high-ranking official in the government of King Hassan II notorious for his extremely harsh dealings with dissidents and political enemies.

It wasn’t immediately clear to us the author of this report. Most likely it was Gaynor I. Jacobson, then director of operations in Europe and North Africa, though it could have been Rice, himself, but it’s not noted explicitly.

The meetings concern HIAS’s interest in assisting Moroccan Jews who wanted to leave the country, since prohibitions on emigration to Israel had recently been lifted. Ofkir is initially open to the program but becomes critical after the program is underway.


The first page of the report details the day leading up to the meeting with Colonel Ofkir in November at the Sûreté Nationale building in Rabat.

Raphael Spanien (Deputy Director of the HIAS branch in Paris covering Europe and North Africa) and the author arrive around noon. Colonel Ofkir is indisposed, so they meet with his assistant, a “Mr. H.” whose true identity we haven’t been able to confirm. Mr. H. drives Spanien, the author, and Habib Tayeb, Commissaire Adjoint for Tangiers, to lunch in his car. The car had been the favorite car of King Mohammed V and had been given to Mr. H. by King Hassan II after Mohammed V, his father, had died. The author writes that Mr. H. “was one of the late king’s closest collaborators, and in whom he had the utmost confidence,” which seems to suggest that Mr. H. is something more than a mere ‘assistant’ to the colonel.


Mr. H. is described as “keeping the pulse of the country and the throats of his opponents” and “prides himself on having a secret dossier on every important personality which assures their cooperation or forces their silence.”

After lunch, Mr. H refers to an incident that occurred in Casablanca where “Jews were attacked on account of their attire and because they did not demonstrate suitable warmth for their august guest, Colonel [Gamal Abdel] Nasser [President of Egypt],” of which Mohamed V declared his innocence and claimed that “suitable measures had been taken” on those assumed to be responsible.


Finally at 5:00 PM, the HIAS reps meet with Ofkir; the meeting is over by 5:45 PM.


Colonel Ofkir tells the members of HIAS that he is interested in “the successful start and continuation” of HIAS’s work in Morocco, emphasizing the dangers to himself and to HIAS should word get out about his involvement in helping Jews emigrate, which the “internal opposition” would “be inclined to exploit […] to the detriment of his majesty [Hassan II].”


After the meeting, Mr. H. mentioned his children studying in Paris and Switzerland to whom he has trouble sending money, due to Morocco’s currency restrictions. He asks the members of HIAS if they would be willing to exchange his Moroccan currency and deliver the corresponding amount in francs to his son, and Spanien and the author “indicated that [they] would be pleased to be of assistance.”


That December, there was another meeting with Colonel Ofkir in Casablanca, along with the governor of Casablanca, Colonel Driss. Again, it is not clear who the author of this report is, but it seems this time he went alone to the meeting.

In the month and a half since the very cordial and promising meeting with Ofkir in Rabat, HIAS’s work helping Jews exit Morocco apparently didn’t proceed with sufficient discretion. Okfir says that the emigration has taken on the dimension of an “exodus” and calls for an end to the HIAS program.


The HIAS official notes his responses to the Colonels’ list of issues, hoping to come to some further agreement, but there is no more information in the file if such an agreement came to pass.

A decade later, Ofkir, then appointed minister of defense, attempted to assassinate King Hassan II and take control of Morocco. He was most likely executed by royal forces, and his family was sent to a secret detention camp in the desert for twenty years.


Meeting Doodles

Every now and again, we come across some great doodles in the margins of meeting agendas or on the backs of conference programs. They cut the tedium of processing administrative business records as they must have cut the tedium of the meetings in which they were executed. Here are some of our favorites.

From Gaynor I. Jacobson’s Executive Vice President Files.


From the minutes of the Economy and Law Committee.


From James P. Rice Executive Vice President Files.


From James P. Rice Executive Vice President Files.

HIAS and the Hart-Celler Act

HIAS is an international aid organization helping to resettle mainly Jewish immigrants and refugees, so what could such an organization have to do with the shift  in immigrant demographics over the past 50 years from mostly white to mostly Asian and Latin American? The answer demonstrates how actions on behalf of an organization’s clientele have effects that ripple outward in surprising ways.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act was to have long-term and far-reaching consequences for the United States, and HIAS stood to benefit from the changes this act introduced into the then-current immigration laws.

Some historians writing about the passage of the Hart-Celler Act have noted the role of NGOs, including HIAS, in shaping the bill.[1][2] And the Jweekly obit for James Rice, who was HIAS’s Executive Director at the time, mentions how he “worked with government officials to codify a new immigration law that eased restrictions for the entry of refugees.[3]

In this letter from James Rice to Philip Hart, one of the bill’s sponsors, Rice responds to Hart’s expressions of thanks for HIAS’s help in getting the act passed.
In this letter from James Rice to Philip Hart, one of the bill’s sponsors, Rice responds to Hart’s expressions of thanks for HIAS’s help in getting the act passed.

To understand the Hart-Celler Act, it’s useful to look at how it amended the McCarren-Walter Act, also known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. The biggest change between the 1952 and the 1965 acts was the end of the National Origins Formula, a system of national quotas designed to maintain 1910 ratios of immigrant nationalities, which in one form or another had been in place since the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921. Its purpose was to reduce the number of immigrants into the U.S. from Southern and Eastern Europe.

The 1952 act upheld the national quota system, basing it on the 1920 census, and though it did away with any explicit barring of Asian immigrants, it instituted a convoluted system of racial identification that severely limited allotment of visas that “ensured that total Asian immigration after 1952 would remain very limited.[4]” In terms of the demographics of immigrants, the 1952 law was identical to the 1924 law—85% of visas after 1952 went to Northern and Western European immigrants.[4]

The main goal of the Hart-Celler Act was to abolish the quota system entirely (Celler had been trying to abolish the quota system since the Immigration Act of 1924). The act also nullified the de facto exclusion of Asian countries.

Letter from Senator Hart to HIAS President Murray Gurfein informing him that HIAS’s resolution supporting the bill would be entered into the official record of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee.

One of the main criticisms of the bill at the time was that it would dramatically alter the ethnic and racial composition of the country. President Johnson dismissed such fears. Signing the bill into law at the base of the Statue of Liberty, Johnson claimed, “This bill that we will sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives.”

Most commentators agree that the opposite was the case. While the bill was expected to reverse the disparity between immigrants from different parts of Europe, 88% of 59 million people who have immigrated to the United States since 1965 are from non-European countries.[5] “By 1975, immigrants from Asia and Latin America accounted for about two thirds of the immigration to the United States.[6]

On the left half of the graph, you can see the shift from a predominantly white immigrant population in 1965 to one that is predominantly Asian and Latino, a change from 19 percent of total immigrants to 73 percent.
On the left half of the graph, you can see the shift from a predominantly white immigrant population in 1965 to one that is predominantly Asian and Latino, a change from 19 percent of total immigrants to 73 percent (from “Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065,”

Additionally, the law capped immigration within the Western hemisphere for the first time in U.S. history, which hindered migration flows developed over the previous decades. Thousands of migrant workers who had freely passed in and out of the US became “illegal immigrants” overnight, many choosing to stay rather than risk an increasingly dangerous border crossing. By eliminating the quota system and regulating Latin American immigration, the bill dramatically affected the ratio of European to non-European immigrants in the US.[7]


Here, documents record lobbying and outreach efforts, and a letter from Hart to HIAS’s president mentions the inclusion of a HIAS resolution on the quota system in the records of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee.


Though it’s difficult to say to what extent HIAS helped get the Hart-Celler Act passed, records in the collection demonstrate that HIAS was actively engaged in promoting the bill. HIAS’s support of the Hart-Celler Act, mobilizing its base and coordinating its efforts with other immigrant and refugee organizations, is not insignificant, and it demonstrates how a collection about a Jewish immigrant refugee organization concerned mainly with Eastern Europeans and North Africans, can contribute to the history of Asian American and Latin American immigration in the U.S. and the militarization of our Southern border.



[1] Lazin, Fred A. (2005). The Struggle for Soviet Jewry in American Politics: Israel versus the American Jewish Establishment. Oxford: Lexington Books.

[2] Reimers, David. (1992). Still the Golden Door: The Third World Comes to America, 2nd ed. New York City: Columbia University Press.




[6] Law, Anna O. “The Diversity Visa Lottery: A Cycle of Unintended Consequences in United States Immigration Policy.” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 21, No. 4.


HIAS’s Unfounded Foundings

The most interesting document with information on the history of HIAS is a 1918 report by the Field Bureau of the National Conference of Jewish Charities.

1918_report001 1918_report002 1918_report003 1918_report004 1918_report005

According to the report,  an group organized a Jewish immigrant aid society in 1889 under the name itself Achnosis Orchim (in other places, styled Hachnosas Orchim, denoting the Jewish concept of “hospitality”), later changing its name to the Hebrew Sheltering House and Home for the Aged. The organization was an aid organization helping Jewish Immigrants. In 1907, it again changed its name, this time to the Hebrew Sheltering House Association.

A little over a decade after Achnosis Orchim was founded, the report states that the Voliner-Zhitomer Aid Society was organized in the store of Max Meyerson (which was somewhere on Stanton Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan) and gives the exact date of its founding as December 3, 1902. Not long after that, the society changed its name to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, eventually absorbing another society, called Kamenetzer Society, and the congregation Nusach Haari.

In 1909, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society merged with the Hebrew Sheltering House Association, calling itself the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society though often going simply by HIAS.

The only official-looking document we’ve found so far related to the founding of HIAS is a Certificate of Incorporation from  1911.


The certificate isn’t specific about dates beyond the date it was filed, so it’s not immediately apparent how the two societies that merged in 1909 were previously incorporated. The annual report from 1911 (found in YIVO’s HIAS collection) gives 1888 for the founding of the organization, clearly referring to the founding of the Hebrew Sheltering House Association in 1889.

The annual report from 1914 calls it the sixth annual report, giving it a 1908-1909 founding, meaning that at this point HIAS considered its founding as the merger of the original HIAS with the Hebrew Sheltering House Association.


This date is corroborated in many primary and secondary sources. In fact, it turns out to be the only date we feel certain about.

You’ll see that in the 1948 annual report, HIAS’s founding date is given as 1884:


This 1884 date is mentioned many places in the files, including a draft chronology from 1959, which states, “1884: The Hebrew Shelter, formed by Immigrant Jews, is established on the lower East Side of NYC for the reception of Jewish immigrants.” The date of 1884 is also assumed in 1964, when HIAS celebrates its 80th anniversary.


Suddenly, though, in 1980, the founding date is given as 1880. What’s strange is that in all of our research in the secondary literature and in the files themselves, neither 1880 nor 1884 seem to be significant years for HIAS or for Hebrew Sheltering House Association. As far as we can tell, neither of these organizations existed at that time.

These early dates may have to do with the existence of an organization called the Hebrew Emigrant Auxiliary Society, which some writers have called “the nearest approach to a parent organization of HIAS” and “the true grandparent of today’s HIAS,” but there is no information that this organization had any official connection with HIAS or with the Hebrew Sheltering House Association. In fact, most information on the Hebrew Emigrant Auxiliary Society places the dissolution of the organization before 1889, when the Hebrew Sheltering House Association was founded. In the 2001 annual report, this reference to the Hebrew Emigrant Auxiliary Society is made explicit.


Even with access to the records of the organization itself, it is not easy to figure out dates. Most likely, the beginning of these organizations were informal, occurring over a span of time, and they may not have been thinking they would last all that long, and certainly, the founders of these organizations had more pressing matters to attend to, providing legal aid, employment, housing, and food to the droves of immigrants fleeing Czarist Russia.


P.S. 137 John L. Bernstein

John L. Bernstein was a New York City lawyer originally from the town of Nizhyn, Ukraine. He came to the United States as a boy, growing up, as did many Eastern European Jewish immigrants, on the Lower East Side in New York City. In 1902, he helped found HIAS, was President from 1917 to 1926, and continued to serve on the board until his death in 1952.

In the early 1960s, the city decided to name New York Public School 137, a K–5 school, after Bernstein to honor his achievements, specifically his role in founding and leading HIAS. The school, originally located at Cherry and Montgomery Streets in Manhattan, was dedicated on October 28, 1966.

Here are some items from the dedication ceremony,


which includes a program with a crayon cover


(here’s the inside of the program).


At some point, the school moved to East Broadway near Grand Street, where it shared a building with P.S. 134 Henrietta Szold. Earlier this year, P.S. 134 absorbed the students of John L. Bernstein, and the school named for one of HIAS’s founding members ceased to exist.

From Tunisia, with Love

HIAS was truly an “international organization” in the sense of intrigue that the phrase suggests. Well…not really…but working in foreign countries with their particular laws and customs could put an international aid worker in a compromising position.

Such was the position in which Al Goldstein, director of operations in Tunisia, found himself when he tried to do a friend a favor. We came across records of his plight in the files of James P. Rice, Executive Vice President of United HIAS Service from 1956 to 1966.

The Jewish population in Tunisia had been in a steady decline since the events leading up to independence from France in 1954, and by 1964, the Jewish population of Tunisia had declined by 92%.[1]

Mostly this decline was caused by unemployment, but by the time of the Bizerte Crisis, in 1961, President Bourguiba’s increasing rapprochement with the Arab League nations and burgeoning anti-Israel sentiment caused many Tunisian Jews to worry about their future in Tunisia. Antisemitism, which had been largely absent in Tunisia (especially in government), became a more frequent occurrence.[2]

But the biggest threat to Jewish life in Tunisia was the economy. The lingering economic toll of the struggle for independence, the departure of many middle-class French Tunisians after independence, along with increasing government regulation and control of the economy threatened the stability of the merchant class of Tunisia, “in which Jews were heavily represented.”[3,4]

It was in such a context that Alphonse Fall, a Tunisian publisher and printer, decided to sell his business at a great loss and expatriate to Marseilles. But in order to get his money out of the country, his brother, Joseph Fall, head of the Caisse Israélite de Relèvement Economique loan kassa[5] in Tunisia, needed someone with access to foreign accounts to, in a sense, ‘launder’ 3,000 dinars (about $7,500).

Enter Albert Goldstein, colleague of Joseph Fall. As can be seen from the timeline below, Goldstein agreed to the transaction, which he said was pretty routine among Tunisians for getting money past the tight restrictions on currency exchange.

Goldstein had returned from Marseille, where he had made the transaction with Alphonse Fall, when he was arrested on December 19th, 1963, by a “special brigade of the economic police.”

Goldstein was released on January 17, 1964, and had to pay a fine in the amount he transferred and repay HIAS for the legal fees incurred. Needless to say, Goldstein was fired soon after.

It’s not clear from the records what became of Joseph Fall. We know that he was treated much worse by the customs authorities than Goldstein. But the date of his release, his punishment, and what he went on to do is still a mystery.

It’s no Midnight Express, but the travails of Al Goldstein are a reminder of the precarious position of HIAS officers in North Africa at a time of shifting identities and loyalties.

Finally, in the spirit of fairness, we give Goldstein the last word. Here is his own narrative of the events and motivations that got him incarcerated.


[5] Loan kassas are free loan societies created by the Joint Distribution Committee.