The integration of HIAS and USNA files, 1954

In 1954, shortly before the official merger between HIAS and the United Service for New Americans (USNA), Mildred Tuffield, a files consultant, was hired to survey the file systems in use by both agencies.

Cover letter from files consultant Mildred P. Tuffield, August 1954
Cover letter from files consultant Mildred P. Tuffield, August 1954

Tuffield’s general findings included the fact that “each agency [has] a departmentalized structure organized along functional lines”, and then went on to say that the Survey and Report on HIAS/USNA Files Integration,  “had to concern itself with the major problems of the central records used by all departments”.

10 pages of the report deal with the system each agency used to maintain their case files prior to the merger; 5 pages deal with their respective systems for indexing and filing what Tuffield refers to as “General Files” – files that we refer to as “Administrative Files”; these would have been the files maintained by the central filing department, separate (although often duplicative of) individual department files. Subject headings included Executive Overseas Files, US Branch Files, Congregations and Federations.

While there were many specifics in the 15 pages of Tuffield’s report, she advises in her cover letter, above, that a staff committee be appointed immediately, with representation from both agencies, to negotiate a records merger plan.

There are just a few boxes of files from just after the merger in the 1950s that have become part of the HIAS archives project, and these early files, so far, are scattered through the US Operations department in New York, and in some of the files from the Paris office. (Many more of the USNA and HIAS files from this era can be found in the HIAS collections at YIVO.) I recently completed the processing of European Personnel and Administrative files from the HIAS office in Geneva, and many of those files begin at the time of the merger in 1954, so it is not possible to directly compare indexing systems from before and after. I would guess, however, that Tuffield’s recommendations were followed, and ultimately were successful in categorizing at the very least the documents and files created post-merger.

HIAS and the Jewish Agency, 1961-1986

This envelope was rubber-banded to a folder titled, “J.A./HIAS”, from the European Headquarters files. This particular files is part of the subject files of Ernest Berger, Director of the Geneva office, approximately 1982-1995, and incorporates related, earlier correspondence of his predecessor Leonard Seidenman (1967-1981) and Seidenman’s predecessor, Harold Trobe (1957-1961).

What is going on between HIAS and the Jewish Agency?

The documents themselves date from 1961-1986, and the file may have been Berger’s Jewish Agency file from when he was a “Secretary” in the HIAS Paris office. Correspondents include:

  • HIAS Executive Vice-Presidents (based in New York) James P. Rice, Gaynor Jacobson, Leonard Seidenman (in that role after being transferred from his position as Director of the Geneva office), and Karl D. Zukerman
  • Directors of the HIAS office in Tel Aviv Menachem Kraicer (until his death in 1964) and Haim Halachmi.

HIAS and the Jewish Agency worked together very closely throughout the second half of the 20th century, of course, as both organizations were focused on rescuing and resettling Jewish refugees safely. The issue of contention between them as highlighted in this file is regarding Jews desiring to leave their country of birth who are able to get visas only for Israel, but would prefer to permanently settle elsewhere. Once in the transit country – often Vienna or Rome – they manage to get visas for the United States.

The Jewish Agency referred to these refugees as “Drop-outs”. HIAS’ stance was that they were obliged to help refugees with resettlement in the location they preferred, whenever possible; the Jewish Agency wanted as many Jews as possible to make Aliyah and settle in Israel. Faced with a lot of negative press about harming Aliyah to Israel, in 1983, Ernest Berger wrote to Leonard Seidenman, then Executive VP in the NY office, in a memo attached to a report on the situation: “… anyone we don’t take, will find his way to the non-Jewish organizations [aiding refugees alongside HIAS] … and Israel would still be no better off.” (There is mention here of “Rav Tov”; which, according to the New York Times, was in 1982 a Hasidic “anti-Zionist organization in the United States.)

Thoughts on how to encourage greater Aliyah among Soviet refugees, 1983

In his full report to Seidenman, Berger also said, “… if we really want to do the right thing by Israel, and salve our consciences (and reputation) in the process, and even though the results may be negligible, we ought to at least take some steps to try to decrease the rate of Neshira [Drop out], e.g. by

  • refusing to accept people whose only relatives are in Israel
  • refusing to accept people with a first-degree relative in Israel and, say, only a cousin in the West.”

Berger asked for comments and suggestions on his full report from some of the European offices, and received replies from Evi Eller in Rome and from an unnamed correspondent in Paris. The Paris correspondent is not hopeful that anything they do will be helpful in increasing Aliyah to Israel. But he ends with a plea for the dissemination of factual information.

Response from Paris, page 2
Response from Paris, page 1

Telex

Telex technology allowed organizations like HIAS, with far-flung offices and correspondents, to communicate for the first time among offices and affiliates around the world,.inexpensively, on a daily basis. The difference in the speed of communication changed the course of international business enormously.

I’ve been working with the office files of Irving Haber, the Director of Administration and Finance at HIAS’ European headquarters in Paris and later Geneva, from about 1954 to 1979, when he was transferred to the New York office.

In Haber’s files throughout the 1970s, the prevalence of printed telexes shows how content and clarity could be considered secondary to speed when communicating with the New York office, or the various HIAS offices in Vienna, Belgrade, Rome, Wellington (NZ), Tel Aviv, Tunis and elsewhere.

1971 Telex regarding situation in Egypt

The telex above was written by Ernest Berger, from the Geneva office, to Executive VP Gaynor Jacobson in New York. They must not have considered a telex to be a secure communication, because Berger does not mention the cities or the country he is writing about.

Because telexes were charged by time, much like a phone call, correspondence by telex took on the abbreviations and no-nonsense business-only exchange of information we know today from texting. Reports, forms, and the occasional handwritten correspondence continued by postal service, and was never entirely replaced with telexing – fortunately for us, because so much can be read into even business correspondence that is addressed to “My Dear Jean”,

1971 letter beginning, “My dear Jean”

or that has a hastily handwritten note below the typed letter.

1975 memo from the HIAS office in Paris to Jean Goldsmith in the Geneva office

Also lost when sending and receiving by telex is letterhead information, and signatures. And size and quality of stationery – remember airmail onionskin paper? Aerograms? Both exist in Haber’s files.

By the early 1980s, of course, faxing took over for telexing when speed was a priority, presenting other issues of content, form and preservation to the researcher and to archivists. And yet more issues have arisen with long-term archival access to e-mail – something we are still working to gain control over in the archives profession.

The ability to have written text delivered nearly instantaneously to an associate’s office half-way around the world became the default for nearly all communication for obvious reasons. As archivists we continue to marvel at the fast changes in technology as we work through decades of files, and we continue to work to preserve physical records in any format and make them accessible.

 

Vienna, 1968

Lottie Levinson was a Canadian who moved to Germany at the end of WWII to work for UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) in Germany. Lottie is pictured in this photograph, visiting a DP camp in 1948 with other Canadians. From about 1946 to 1954 Lottie worked for the Joint Distribution Committee, when her department merged with HIAS; she worked in the Paris office of United HIAS Service (UHS) from 1954 to 1958 when she became director of the HIAS office in Vienna, and was replaced in Paris by Ivor Svarc who moved from the HIAS office in Tunis.

In 1968 Lottie was the Director of the Vienna office for UHS, in charge of the UHS work in Germany and Austria. On November 22, 1968 she wrote a letter to the Executive Vice-President of HIAS in New York, Gaynor Israel Jacobson, relaying the details of a meeting she had had the day before. She had met with two women who were apparently involved with UJA of Greater New York, Elaine Siris (later Winik) and Patricia Gantz.

Lottie Levinson 1968 letter to Gaynor Jacobson page 1

Lottie told them about the HIAS program in Vienna at that time, including the number of Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia and Poland leaving through the HIAS office, and whether the emigrants preferred to resettle in the United States or in Israel. The two visitors from New York were also interested in how involved HIAS was with potential emigrants, in terms of counselling and what Lottie referred to as “interventions”. I understand this term refers to an intervention with another agency on the applicant’s behalf – all in addition to the “technical” work of obtaining visas and permissions and transit details.

Most fascinating was Lottie’s description to Mrs. Gantz of HIAS’ particular interest in working with as many of the Jewish refugees as they could:

Lottie Levinson 1968 letter to Gaynor Jacobson page 2

“… we preferred registration to be made with our agency, where Jewish refugees were concerned, as in this way we had some control and there was identification with a Jewish agency and that this identification would continue in an overseas country through our introduction of the cases concerned to our cooperating committees overseas.” (“Cooperating committees” refers to the local community Federations and other Jewish councils who assisted immigrants in every aspect of settling in their community.)

Lottie continues, “In this way many of the refugees who had little Jewish identification in their countries of origin would tend to become part of the Jewish communities in their countries of emigration.

Lottie Levinson 1968 letter to Gaynor Jacobson page 3

The alternative is that the process of assimilation, which had begun in their countries of origin, would be continued overseas.”

Today HIAS works with mostly non-Jewish immigrants and refugees, and it remains important that whoever they are helping find a welcoming community that will respect their customs, culture and religion, whatever it may be.

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.