Boxes Moving Out, Boxes Moving In

Today we sent 234 completed boxes to off-site storage, about 4 months of work for the HIAS archives project team. Included in this shipment are files from the Executive office, including Executive Vice-President Karl Zukerman; Government Relations files; and files from the Immigration Representation Department. Most of these files are from the 1980s and 1990s.

47 carts of boxes were shrink wrapped before being loaded onto the truck

Now we have room on the shelves to bring in the boxes remaining to be processed. We expect almost all of this last group of files to be from the offices and departments that worked directly to bring refugees to the United States and to ensure they were resettled in welcoming communities that were prepared to provide necessary services as they transitioned to life in America – English classes, citizenship classes, help with apartments and jobs and schools.

Some of the boxes coming in are from the Matching Grant department, arranging for the funding from government grants and distributing it to the communities who took in refugees. Other files we expect will be correspondence between the New York office and the overseas offices, arranging documents and visas and transportation for new HIAS clients.

We’ll be sharing what we find in these new boxes as we uncover more treasures from HIAS’ history.

Loading the rest of boxes onto the truck

More on Government Relations – Staff Files Reveal a lot about HIAS and a lot about US Immigration Policy

Rachel posted recently on the official beginning of the HIAS Government Relations Department in the 1980s, which she uncovered during the processing of Philip Saperia’s files. She focused on the how and why of the chronological arrangement of the files.

I recently completed the processing of other professionals in the Government Relations Department, including Deborah Mark, who took over as Saperia left HIAS in the late 1980s.

Deborah Mark was initially hired by HIAS in 1989 for a very specific project within the Executive Vice-President’s office, as Special Assistant to the EVP, Karl Zukerman. Mark’s role as “Appeals Coordinator” was to coordinate appeals processing between the HIAS office in Rome and communities throughout the US from which information for the appeals was gathered.

In September 1989, amid Glasnost and evolving Russian emigration policies, the need for Mark’s position ended when the US government changed its practice of denying refugee status to large numbers of Soviet Jews in Rome and appeals were much less necessary.

Most Soviet Jews leaving the USSR since the 1960s had traveled first to Europe for document and interview processing; from there they mainly went to either Israel or to the US. The US government had offices at various times in Rome and Vienna, and HIAS and other immigrant aid organizations set up offices there as well. After September 1989 Mark became responsible for “implementing the plan for working with Jews inside the Soviet Union”, according to an interview with Deborah Mark in Soviet Changes are ‘welcome challenge’ to Jewish aid agencies by Rita Gillmon in the San Diego Union, November 17, 1990.

Deborah Mark interview, 1990

After six months at HIAS Mark’s position became permanent. In 1991 Mark became the Director of Planning and Government Relations, 1991-1994, and from 1995-1997 the Director of Government Relations and Public Policy. Her voluminous files – 35 boxes – cover the 8 years of her involvement with HIAS, and document HIAS’ broad reach in many areas:

  • Working with legislators to affect positive change in the field of immigration and refugee resettlement in US communities and ensure adequate funding for government programs
  • Teaming with colleagues in other immigrant aid organizations and umbrella organizations such as InterAction, the National Immigration Forum and the Council of Jewish Federations
  • Establishing working relationships with governmental departments such as the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Immigration & Naturalization Service
  • Understanding the finer points of the continually evolving legislation on immigration, naturalization, citizenship and the asylum process
  • Reacting to global events and the need for immigrant and refugee assistance in Haiti, Cuba, Bosnia, former Soviet countries, African countries, Mexico and elsewhere.

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



Wilhelm Weinberg Collection Rededicated, 1989

In a previous post we wrote about the dedication of the Wilhelm Weinberg Hall of Records at the HIAS headquarters on Lafayette Street, in December 1958.

A press release from 1989, found in Executive Vice-President Karl Zukerman’s files during a survey of files from the 1980s before they were processed, indicates that HIAS sought in 1989 to make amends with Wilhelm Weinberg’s family for having dismantled the Hall of Records when HIAS moved to new headquarters on Park Avenue in 1965.

Rededication of Wilhelm Weinberg Collection, now at YIVO, 1989

YIVO received many of the HIAS files in 1965 when HIAS moved to a new office without room for the voluminous administrative and client files they had accumulated over 40 years on Lafayette Street.

If you read the letter from Ilja Dijour (in the link at the beginning of this post) to James P. Rice written soon after the 1958 dedication, it is clear that in fact the “meticulous evaluation and cataloguing [sic] of records” described in 1989 had been a problem since long before 1958. In fact, according to the excerpt from the 1918 survey (in the same link to the earlier post), even in 1918 the files were disorganized and difficult to access when needed.

Many of the HIAS files that were sent to YIVO throughout the 20th century, including many World War II-era case files, have been microfilmed and cataloged or listed. The files that form the HIAS collection at AJHS will be arranged and accessible at the end of 2018.

We have created a database to many of the post-World War II case files, which will indicate whether a file exists; because of privacy issues physical access to the files depends on parameters set by HIAS. The many thousands of case files that remain physically with HIAS are in need of weeding, rearranging and eventually digitization to create easier access, and HIAS is well aware of the importance of their continuing stewardship of this valuable family history.

It’s a costly project, and after all, records management is not specifically part of the HIAS mission. It is of course not a part of any not-for-profit’s mission. Records that are not legally or fiscally required to be retained become a huge financial burden. We hope in the near future it will be possible to further organize and make accessible the remaining HIAS files, allowing for privacy restrictions as necessary.

And then the challenge is the long-term preservation of their electronic records – something we all have to think about, professionally and personally … but not today.


When “E” Mail was New

I’ve been working on the Government Relations Department Files for the past 6 weeks. There are about 120 bankers boxes of files, which break down into two subseries and three  subsubseries. At this point in processing I can only say “about” 120 boxes for a number of reasons:

  1.  The labeling of the boxes is a best guess, based on the inventory we have of what is off-site. After a quick survey of boxes in order to group them into the series and subseries that make themselves known once we can peak inside the boxes, the actual processing  reveals evidence of whose files they actually are.
  2. About 75 boxes were labeled as coming from the office of Deborah Mark, the Director of Government Relations from 1991 to about 1998, although her files include earlier work from her 3 years working on legislative-related special projects under Executive VP Karl Zukerman; in fact some boxes were from the office of her predecessor, Phillip Saperia, and many files contained the work of a colleague, Michael Gendel. One box contains Gendel files from his years in US Operations, a separate division from Government Relations.
  3. Ultimately the Deborah Mark files turned out to encompass 69 boxes; after processing was completed last week, largely because most of these 69 were only partially full when received, the final count is 35 boxes.

The two subseries are determined by the fact that there are files from both the New York office’s Government Relations Department (Deborah Mark and Phillip Saperia, predominantly), and the D.C. office.

Many interesting subjects are covered in these files, and I plan to write more about the content in future posts. For now, I just want to mention the first use/reference to e-mail I’ve noticed in these files. Below is a memoranda from 1990, on which Deborah Mark handwrote that she had commented on the memo to RH (Roberta Herch, then Assistant Director of U.S. Operations.) by “E” Mail.

Internal HIAS memo re IOM (International Organization for Migration) in 1990 mentions “E” Mail in a handwritten note

Later in the 1990s e-mails were printed out and filed; if these messages had NOT been printed out and filed with the rest of Deborah’s subject files, they may very likely have been lost – who can access e-mail from the mid-1990s now? That’s a subject of its own, that archivists everywhere are still dealing with.

Schindelman Flying Mendonza on Nineteenth

The most fruitful subsubseries in the HIAS archives may be the files of the Executive Vice-Presidents (EVP). Not only is the heart of the work HIAS was doing in the 1960s and 1970s contained in the EVP files; in addition, these files are exceptionally easy to access, at least until the early 1980s, because of the detailed and remarkably consistent subject headings and arrangement of the folders.

Our EVP files begin in earnest with James P. Rice, 1956-1965. In 1966 Gaynor Jacobson became EVP, and his files continue through 1979. This telegram from 1970 turned up during processing and caught our attention because of the doodling on the front and the back.

Telex to Gaynor Jacobson from “Fred”, September 18, 1970

The content of the telex itself is normal HIAS business – refugees arriving in Latin America, poor communications, help is needed – sent and received as a telex. Mendonza (spelled elsewhere as Mendoza), a city in Argentina, is mentioned. Also mentioned is DAIA – Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations). I have found no other references to Schindelman; he may have been engaged by HIAS to help settle refugees arriving from Eastern Europe, North Africa, or possibly the Soviet Union. Jacobson’s files from 1970-1971 include Overseas Country Files for 55 countries of emigration and immigration, from Algeria to Yugoslavia, where HIAS was involved during those two years.

The “Fred” who signed the telex is Fred (Ephraim) Weinstein, Director for Latin American Affairs and Operations and based in Rio de Janeiro for about 30 years, 1958-1988. We’ve spotted him in correspondence in the archives referred to as both Fred E. Weinstein and Ephraim F. Weinstein. After retiring in 1988 and moving back to New York, he was the Latin America consultant in the New York office of HIAS from 1990 to 1993; he died in 1996.


Interesting are the handwritten notes – “Joel Saible” is written across the top and bottom of the telex. (We cannot locate any information about him – please comment if you know who he was.) At the bottom of the page, 3 points are also handwritten, not all of which are legible in the scan above:




He sounds to me like a good hire, if that is the meaning of Jacobson’s notes.

But the main reason for posting about this telex is for the doodle on the back, which can be seen through the thin paper of the telex in the scan above. Below is the doodle itself, quite a lovely portrait. Of Saible? Weinstein? Jacobson? Drawn by Jacobson? We’ll never know.

Verso, with portrait


Soundex and Family History Records

Soundex – it hardly exists anymore. But if you are interested in family history, and plan on using census records, or HIAS client files (among other Soundex-coded collections), it can either be annoying or a real time saver.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which holds the census records, created the Soundex system beginning with the 1880 census. Many of the 1890 census records were destroyed in a fire in 1921 when they were being held by the Department of Commerce; a “small percentage” of some the 1890 records survives in an alphabetical index which does not use Soundex. 1900 and 1920 records are completely searchable using Soundex; 1910 has a Soundex index for about half the states.

NARA observes a 72-year delay in the release of census records (the 72-year rule was mandated by Congress in 1978); by the time the 1930 census was ready for release, in 2002, database software had made Soundex obsolete – except for conducting research with records from 1880 to 1920.

A pamphlet found in the HIAS collection (Administration series, Heather Halliday archivist files, box 121), from NARA, “Census Soundex”, gives the above history and then has several pages on how to use Soundex, pictured below.

National Archives and Records Administration Soundex Coding System – looks pretty complicated

What is Soundex and how does it work? The simple explanation is that “Soundex is a coded surname (last name) index based on the way a surname sounds rather than the way it is spelled. Surnames that sound the same, but are spelled differently, like SMITH and SMYTH, have the same code and are filed together … you can find a surname even though it may have been recorded under various spellings.”

Anyone who has done much family history research can tell you that the variant spellings as names originating in other countries changed once in the United States, and is a common problem when hunting down relatives. Soundex is even more helpful when the various spellings of a last name include examples that are spelled with different first letters. Because census records were searched for many years using microfilm, searching throughout the alphabet was incredibly time-consuming.

HIAS developed their own version of the NARA Soundex system, because so many names were Eastern European and there was a need to accommodate certain letters. According to Appendix A in “Genealogical Resources in New York”, edited by Estelle Guzik, the NYC Health Department for the most part used the NARA system.The HIAS Soundex Filing System differs from the NARA system in small ways that have proved helpful to the staff in HIAS’ Location Department. With thousands and thousands of client files, filed by last name and created over decades, being able to locate all the versions of a particular surname in one place was helpful – both in the paper files in their vast Hall of Records, and later (even now) on microfilm.

HIAS Case Name Indexing System, page 1. Not easier than the NARA system, but it works well
HIAS Case Name Indexing System, page 2

Some of the HIAS Arrival Cards were scanned from the microfilm to provide the 1955-1980 data for the database created as part of this archives project, which we’ve mentioned before. (Another post here) If you haven’t had a chance to search for family members who were brought to the United States by HIAS from about 1955 to 2000, please try a search. Because ultimately, the goal of all these systems is to find what you’re looking for.