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.

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Committee on Work in Foreign Countries, 1924

Abraham Herman, chairman of the HIAS Committee on Work in Foreign Countries, led a discussion at a committee meeting on May 19, 1924 on the resolution recently adopted by the Board of Directors to aid refugees and immigrants stranded while in transit as immigration laws were changed in the United States.

The discussion centered on “how HIAS could begin its work in behalf of Jewish immigrants and refugees, originally destined to the United States and other countries, who, because of new restrictive immigration laws, could not complete their journey, and are now stranded at the European ports of embarkation and in foreign countries.”

To perfect a plan of how HIAS could begin to work with new restrictive immigration laws, 1924
HIAS’ plan to work with new restrictive immigration laws, 1924

At the next meeting of this committee, June 5, 1924, representatives of other Jewish organizations were present, including leaders from the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress, the Council of Jewish Women (CJW), and the Jewish Daily Forward and other Jewish newspapers. The resolution adopted by HIAS’ Board of Directors to “undertake the necessary work in behalf of the immigrants and refugees wherever they may be …” was presented:

"HIAS, alone or in cooperation with other organizations, undertake the necessary work in behalf of the immigrants and refugees wherever they may be"
“HIAS, alone or in cooperation with other organizations, [shall] undertake the necessary work in behalf of the immigrants and refugees wherever they may be”
Further discussion included “the entire question of Jewish immigration …”. It was decided that representatives of HIAS, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and “some of the labor organizations” would arrange for a conference of “all Jewish National Organizations, with the object of considering and acting upon a plan for solving the problem of Jewish immigration.”

Of course the world¬†still struggles to solve the “problem” of immigration for large groups of economic, political and religious refugees continually seeking a better life.