Citizenship, Then and Now

An article this week in The New York Times discussed a recent Supreme Court decision, that of children born overseas when one parent is a United States citizen and one is not. For a number of years the rules governing the children’s citizenship when the parents are not married have been different for children depending on whether their mother or father was the US citizen.

The specifics are different, but the general issue of citizenship for children born overseas is one that I recently came across in the European Personnel files from the 1960s.

Nearly 100 small boxes labeled as “European Personnel” files were sent from the HIAS European headquarters, then in Geneva, in 1995. These files were included with the other administrative files that became part of our HIAS archives project last year. The files range in date from about 1954, the year HIAS merged with United Service for New Americans (USNA) and with the Migration Department of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to the mid-1980s.

Many are personnel files for staff from HIAS and JDC offices in Europe and North Africa which will not become part of the archives. The remaining files are predominantly those of Irving Haber, the Director of Administration and Finance in the Geneva office which had moved from Paris during his tenure. Haber’s files contain three kinds of records: general administrative matters including policies, manuals and correspondence; files of correspondence and administrative documents relating to senior professional staff in all of the European and North African offices, titled by employee name; and country files containing general business issues in specific countries and cities.

At different times the HIAS offices supervised through headquarters in Paris and, by 1962 Geneva, included Munich, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Vienna, Paris, Tunis, Casablanca, Algiers and others. As the number of emigrants and refugees grew and shrank in specific locations, HIAS opened and closed offices, and dealt with administrative issues to be expected in the European headquarters of an immigration organization. Sprinkled through the files are documents that give a brief look at the actual migration work that the staff was doing; because few other files from the European offices are specifically those of the people actually doing migration work, these files should prove of great interest to researchers.

One of the many issues HIAS helped its overseas personnel deal with was the status of the United States citizenship of children born to staff while stationed overseas – in many cases for their entire lives until leaving for college. Irving Haber was worried in 1971, for example, about a recent Supreme Court ruling that might affect his children if they weren’t able to live in the United States for 5 consecutive years before they were 28.

Concern about residence requirement for US Citizens board abroad, 1971

Other documents discuss possible outcomes to the 1971 ruling, including bills pending in Congress with shorter lengths of time to live in the United States, and involve not only leadership from the HIAS office in New York but other HIAS and JDC staff living overseas with the same worries about their children’s citizenship status.

Clearly this is a situation that has existed for decades and that is still being clarified and adjusted based on changing global situations. It is startling to learn that children of a US citizen devoted to aiding those in need of resettlement might find themselves without the option of inheriting the citizenship of their parent.

Rescue from a Displaced Persons Camp, 1950

The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany was liberated by the British Army on April 15, 1945. After medical treatment in an emergency hospital the British set up nearby in a school built for Panzer Division troops, the concentration camp survivors became the first residents of the Displaced Persons (DP) camp of the same name. The Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp was established in July 1945 by turning the hospital wards into living quarters. Nearly half of the 29,000 survivors of the camp died “despite the best efforts of the British Army, the British Red Cross”, and other groups and nationalities.

Large numbers of DPs began leaving the camp in 1947 as opportunities for emigration improved. “The British government allocated 300 certificates a month to Jews in the British occupation zone, allowing legal emigration to Palestine.” By March 1949, the population was down to 4,500. The DP camp at Belsen was closed in September 1950 and the remaining 1,000 people transferred to Upjever near Wilhelmshaven. A view of this new camp, from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, is here. This camp in turn was closed in August 1951. The majority of former Belsen DPs emigrated to the State of Israel. Many others went to the US (over 2,000) or Canada (close to 800), a minority decided to stay in Germany and helped to rebuild the Jewish communities there.

As we wrote in a previous post, Janet’s part of the HIAS archives project is to make selected non-confidential client data more widely accessible in order to allow the general public to search for family members in the  HIAS database.

This HIAS registration card (with name redacted) serves to illustrate the work of HIAS in resettling some portion of the survivors of WWII, either at the Bergen-Belsen camp or other camps liberated by the Allies:

HIAS client from Displaced Persons Camp in Germany, 1951

The client registered with HIAS in June 1951 – one of the last residents of the Upjever DP camp to have his resettlement arrangements finalized. From the card we don’t know where he was between the closing of the camp in August and his arrival in the United States in December, but we do know that he was destined for Harrisburg, PA in December 1951, probably under the auspices of a HIAS affiliate in Harrisburg, most likely the local Jewish Federation office. At 38, he would have lost more than 10 years of his life to WWII and its aftermath, and was facing a new life in a new country with a new language to learn. It is possible he had no family in the United States, but one can hope that with support from HIAS and other agencies in operation in Harrisburg and elsewhere he was able to settle into a community and rebuild his life.

Sources:

  1. Much of the historical portion for this post were taken from: Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, Wikipedia article accessed 6/8/17 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergen-Belsen_displaced_persons_camp. See the article for more detail and complete citations.
  2. JTA press release announcing the closing of the Upjever camp: http://www.jta.org/1951/08/22/archive/jewish-dp-camp-closes-in-british-zone-of-germany-last-jews-leave-for-israel
  3. For access to the HIAS client database (with thousands of more recent records to be added this month), see: http://ajhs.org/hias-search

 

Fannie G. Steiner, United HIAS Service Senior Field Representative

We recently received a donation from the grandson of long-time HIAS employee, Fannie G. Steiner: a folder of 1958 correspondence, mostly to and about Fannie and her imminent retirement.

One document that gave us a little background on Fannie was a memo to the Directors of Local Cooperating Agencies dated October 28, 1958, regarding Fannie’s retirement. The memo was signed by Executive Director James P. Rice and Director of US Operations Ann S. Petluck, and it gave a summary of her work with refugees and immigrants beginning years before joining HIAS.

Fannie’s refugee and immigrant aid work “began in the early Hitler period”…. she was hired by the National Refugee Service (NRS) in 1939 as supervisor of Intake and later as supervisor of a unit in the Family Services department. Fannie joined the field staff of United Service for New Americans (USNA) in 1942; In 1956, after the merger between USNA and HIAS, Fannie was appointed senior field representative at United HIAS Service (UHS) in charge of Community Services. This is the position from which she retired at the end of October 1958.

Fannie G. Steiner retirement announced by United HIAS Service, 1958, page 1

Congratulatory letters from those at Federations and Jewish Family and Children’s Services around the country who worked with Fannie in resettlement through the years comprise the bulk of the file. Letters include those from Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Detroit; Albany Jewish Social Service; Jewish Welfare Federation of San Francisco; and the Shreveport Jewish Federation.

 

Response to news of Fannie’s retirement from Jacob C. Guthartz, the Executive Director of Jewish Social Services, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana

Dora Margolis, Executive Director of Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Boston, wrote, “you should have much satisfaction in terms of the excellent work you did during a critical period in the lives of our people. Historically this will always be looked to as a momentous task – this re-settlement of Jews in the United States.”

Albert Comanor, Executive Director of Jewish Family Service (JFS) in Miami, wrote a very personal letter that began, “When I think back over the journeyings, the dramatic peaks, the interludes, the changing faces in the parade, the varying qualities in the interpersonal relationships, the disputes, the charges, the disagreements, the parties and bent elbows, the twitching ambitions, the surges and the uncertainties, the great cloud of alien voices down the gangplank or in the halls — that whole long parade — yes, I think you have earned a retirement.”

From Albert Comaner, then working at Jewish Family Service in Miami.

Comanor had been Fannie’s supervisor when he was assistant executive director at USNA. He doesn’t exactly apologize for having been not “always gracious”, but he clearly thought as  highly of Fannie as all her other 70-some correspondents upon hearing of her retirement.

When we first received this file, not knowing anything about Fannie or her work with HIAS, we googled her name. Fannie G. Steiner is the rare name that, when googled, yields exactly one hit* – a Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) file of news clippings from 1960-1961 on the topic of Cuban refugees.

In a Miami Herald article titled, “Top Jewish Agency Opens Office Here For Cuba Refugees”, Fannie is identified as “an experienced resettlement worker” from New York, who in December 1960 took over the management of the HIAS office at the Cuban Emergency Center in Miami from Frederick Fried, head of HIAS’ Community Service Department in New York.

One mystery that remains are the details of Fannie coming out of retirement two years later to take over this work in Miami. Perhaps she maintained a relationship with HIAS as a consultant after her retirement, because the work of aiding refugees and immigrants never ends.

* Her name received one hit on google in March 2017; this week it received at least two.

Passover Greetings

The staff of the HIAS archives project would like to wish everyone a “happy and joyful Passover”. In fact, an egg-cellent holiday.

Greetings for Passover – eggs “rushed from nearby farms”

From Elizabeth, Susan, Patricia and Rachel

Edward M. Benton, HIAS attorney

Edward M. Benton was born into HIAS royalty – his father was John L. Bernstein, a founder in 1902 of the what we on the HIAS archives project understand to have been the first real predecessor organization of today’s Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. * John L. Bernstein remained on the HIAS board until his death in 1952. He was a lawyer, and provided pro bono legal services to HIAS for half a century.

Edward’s uncle was James Bernstein, a doctor in Brooklyn connected with Zion Hospital. He was director of HIAS activities in Europe approximately 1924-1947, having replaced E.W. Lewin-Epstein in the HIAS Warsaw office. (Followers of this blog may recall a previous post on E.W. Lewin Epstein.)

Edward M. Benton
Edward M. Benton

John’s son Edward was an attorney like his father, and seems to have officially become counsel to HIAS in 1952. Edward’s biographical form submitted as a member of the HIAS board of directors is below:

Board of Directors Biographical Form, Edward M. Benton, circa 1954
Board of Directors Biographical Form, Edward M. Benton, circa 1954

And in his biographical statement from the 1980s, he lists his various positions and accomplishments in connection with his long-time involvement with HIAS:

Edward M. Benton biography, page 3 - his long involvement with HIAS
Edward M. Benton biography, page 3 – his long involvement with HIAS

We have processed a small collection of Edward Benton’s files in the HIAS collection (Executive series/Executive Office/Other Executive Staff/Legal – Edward M. Benton), about one linear foot of files. There are a few files related to his father John’s work with HIAS (in HIAS president Ben Touster’s files and Executive Vice-President Isaac Asofsky’s files), and two files on John’s brother James (Program series/U.S. Operations/Location and Family History Service). Researchers will be able to locate these files on members of the Bernstein/Benton family when the completed finding aid is posted online at the end of 2018. Until then, contact the HIAS team through this blog if you are interested in seeing the files or browsing the related folder lists.

* Some credible sources give the history this way: the Hebrew Sheltering House Association (formed 1889) merged with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (1902) in 1909 to form the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). More detail will be available on the HIAS timeline, soon to be live on the HIAS archives project webpage.

Correspondence with AJHS

HIAS published a history of HIAS, “Visas to Freedom”, by Mark Wischnitzer in 1956. We recently found a 1957 letter from from Rabbi Isidore S. Meyer in the HIAS files we are processing, Meyer was at the time the Librarian-Archivist-Editor of the American Jewish Historical Society, and he was asking HIAS for a copy of the book for the Society’s library collection and a second copy for review in their quarterly publication.

Correspondence from AJHS to HIAS regarding the history of HIAS, "Visas to Freedom", 1957
Correspondence from AJHS to HIAS regarding the newly published history of HIAS, “Visas to Freedom”, 1957

Although there appears to be an “OK” written on the letter, it is unclear whether or not HIAS ever sent a review copy or a copy for the library to Rabbi Meyer as he requested. There is currently no copy in the AJHS library; there are copies of the book in our building, however, if a researcher is on-site and is looking for a book-length historical summary of HIAS’ work through the mid-1950s.

I was however able to locate a review of the book in the AJHS quarterly publication that Rabbi Meyer refers to, “Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society”, volume 48 number 2, December 1958. The review by Barbara M. Solomon at Wheelock College in Boston, is mixed. “The value of Visas to Freedom” is evident on the commemorative level … its thoroughness will make it a reference book within the narrow context of its subject … Despite a superficial attempt to describe the story of HIAS in its historical context, the book never presents a clear and cohesive account, one which might have human interest for readers unfamiliar with HIAS’ interesting and significant social contributions.”

The challenge remains to pull together the long story of HIAS in its historical context, not as a marketing tool for HIAS, but through scholarly research in the HIAS archives. The goal of our project is to make that research possible.

HIAS, Refugees and Immigration: The Hard Work of Humantarianism

For over 100 years, HIAS has worked to rescue those whose best hope for survival was a visa to the United States. There has been a lot of news about immigration and refugees in the past week, and the past few years with the growing numbers of people around the world running from unsafe situations because of war, drought, disease and poverty. HIAS works every day to safely resettle in welcoming communities those they are able to bring to the United States.

Here are three links to recent news about HIAS and President/CEO Mark Hetfield:  JTA article from shortly after the election; follow Hetfield on Twitter; see what HIAS has been working on in the past week.

Of course, what the HIAS archives project team is working on relates to HIAS’ work in past decades. Virtually every document we touch from the 1500 or so boxes that are part of this project relates to one aspect or another of the rescue or resettlement process – raising money through grants and direct solicitation, lobbying for more inclusive and welcoming immigration legislation, walking families through the application process for visas, working with representatives of communities committed to welcoming immigrants to their cities and towns. As the flow of Jewish immigrants slowed after WWII, HIAS began aiding immigrants of all religions, wherever the need was greatest. Below are three documents from the different series we are currently working with:

  1. 1951 – “Nominal Rolls” – These lists of passengers arriving by ship range in date from 1947 to 1963, with the bulk of the lists from the early 1950s towards the end of the huge influx of post-World War II immigrants. Data for each immigrant in the lists includes name, religion, country of birth, marital status and age, occupation and sponsor. The page below is from the list of passengers on the May 1951 ocean crossing of the General Sturgis. The cable that accompanied the 79 page list indicated that there were 1310 passengers on the ship, that 80 were Jewish and that 15 of those were sponsored by HIAS.

    Weber family from Hungary, includes parents and 4 children

      Page 77, lines 1334-1339, lists the Weber family from Hungary and Germany, including parents and 4 children
  2. This 1997 Grant Payment Voucher demonstrates the practicalities of HIAS’ vital refugee rescue and resettlement work.matching-grant-payment-vouchersIn cooperation with the Department of State, national UJA and local Jewish federations, HIAS awarded grants to Jewish organizations across the country. Those organizations would then use the grant money to resettle refugees in their communities.In this document, from the Finance series of the HIAS collection, HIAS is sending the Greater Miami Jewish Federation a portion of the total grant money allocated to that organization.

    These costs would go towards job training, housing, language lessons, health care, child care, counseling if needed. It was also used for job preparedness workshops, and educational materials aimed to help refugees acclimate to life in America.

    While these particular records don’t detail how the organizations used the grant money, they do demonstrate a piece of the HIAS infrastructure in place to resettle refugees.

  3. In 1974, HIAS Executive Vice President Gaynor Jacobson was serving as chair of the Migration and Refugee Affairs Committee of the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (ACVA), of which HIAS was a member group, when he received this photograph of a refugee camp in Tư Cung, Vietnam. The huts pictured were said to have been burned down by the Viet Cong a month after the picture was taken.

At this time, HIAS was itself involved in resettling Vietnamese refugees in the U.S., operating out of Fort Chaffee and Camp Pendleton. Soon after, the State Department would enlist the help of HIAS, along with the other Volags, in resettling the Vietnamese boat people.

Tư Cung, which is actually a hamlet in the village of Sơn Mỹ, along with Mỹ Lai and My Khe, is home to a memorial for the Sơn Mỹ massacre, what we in America call the “Mỹ Lai massacre.”