HIAS Council of Organizations

The HIAS collection contains a limited number of files from the Fundraising Department. These files are being processed now, and as we learn more about fundraising techniques in the second half of the 20th century we will write about it in a blog post and in the finding aid that will be available at the end of the project.

One small group of files, photographs and printed material is from the HIAS Council of Organizations, which seems to have been successful in the post-World War II years in New York. The Council apparently thrived in a number of Jewish organizations in the 1950s-1970s. I first learned about the Council of Organizations while processing the UJA-Federation of New York collection; the following is from the historical note from that finding aid:

The Council of Organizations, a department within the Fundraising and Campaigns division of UJA of Greater New York, organized Yiddish-speaking community-based councils (similar to Landsmanschaften) into fundraising groups. These groups raised money for specific UJA projects in Israel. Many of the projects included funding the building of new schools, medical facilities, libraries, playgrounds, community centers and other public buildings. Joseph Masliansky was the Director of the Council of Organizations in approximately the 1970s through 1982.

The Council of Organizations files from HIAS are not yet refoldered and arranged, but a 4-page history of the Council at HIAS from 1954 provides a snapshot view of its size and involvements at mid-century, which was probably written by the longtime head of the Council, Louis Gallack:

History and Description of HIAS' Council of Organizations, 1954
History of HIAS Council of             Organizations, 1954, page 1
History, page 2
History, page 3
History, page 4
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When in New York…

On October 30, 1988, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry held its annual Leadership Assembly at the Vista International Hotel in New York. The annual event brought together leaders from the NCSJ’s 50 national constituent agencies, 300 local federations and community councils, as well as Soviet Jewry activists from around the country to deliberate on the issues facing the Soviet Jewry Movement at home and abroad as the USSR went through great change.

Themed “Visions for the Future,” the assembly provided panels on not just cultural topics such as Jewish identity, but provided a forum for practical problem solving like coordinating travel programs, developing effective advocacy, and organizing productive activism.

While processing several folders of handouts, correspondence, publicity for the Assembly, I found this handy list of Kosher restaurants and delis for those attending the assembly that had both dietary restrictions AND a desire to explore the gastronomic gifts of New York City:

For more information on the American Soviet Jewry movement, please visit ajhs.org/aasjm. For more information on AJHS’ Records of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, please view their finding aid here: http://digifindingaids.cjh.org/?pID=338009#a2.

“Where fine dining is never trivial”
“Revolutionary for young people”
Hickory smoked goose!

With restaurant names such as ‘Edible Pursuits,’ ‘Avi’s Elegant Restaurant,’ and ‘Someplace Special,’ who wouldn’t want to jump in a cab and attempt a culinary adventure?

 

Have you eaten at any of these restaurants?
Let us know in the comments below!

Building Committee, 1920-1921

The HIAS Building Committee minutes from 1920 to 1921 are among the earliest committee materials in the HIAS archives at the American Jewish Historical Society. The committee was in existence during the purchase and dedication of the building they bought in 1920-1921, 425 Lafayette Street, described in the minutes as the “old library” building – in fact, built in 1854 as the Astor Library, by the Astor family. The building was purchased in 1965 by the Public Theater which continues to occupy it. (More on the Astor Library building in a future post.)

HIAS Building Committee minute book, 1920-1921

One of our earlier posts includes a photograph of the plaque on the building today that acknowledges the work of HIAS during the 40  years they occupied the building.

The building became available after the Astor Library merged with the Lenox Library and the Tilden Trust in 1895 to form the New York Public Library. According to Wikipedia, the New York Public Library vacated the building in 1911, and it appears to have been underutilized until HIAS bought it in 1920.

According to the minutes of the Building Committee on May 4th 1920, “The Chairman stated that the Government which is occupying the New Building of the Society as a Retail Food Store will vacate on May 16th.” No other information about the building’s use between 1911 and 1920 appears to be in these minutes.

The Building Committee minutes initially show that the Board focused on the costs of purchasing and renovating the building. Title would be transferred to HIAS on payment in March 1920 of $100,000. Loans were arranged, and a campaign plan put together to pay off those loans.

In the 1920 Annual Report, Treasurer Harry Fischel made a plea for funds to finance the new building (“the National Home for Jewish immigrant aid work in America”): “the Society is practically leading a hand to mouth existence. It has no funds to draw upon. For the Building Fund, generous as the contributions have been, another $150,000 will have to be required.”

HIAS 12th Annual Report, 1920. At this time, HIAS considered their 1909 merger to be the beginning of the modern HIAS.

The chairman of the Building Committee was Harry Fischel; members include Morris Asofsky (brother of long time HIAS General Manager/ Executive Director Isaac Asofsky, 1924-1952), and early HIAS presidents Max Meyerson (1902-1909), Judge Leon Sanders (1909-1916), John L. Bernstein (1917-1925) and Abraham Herman (1926-1947). Harry Fischel was the Treasurer of HIAS (then the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society) from 1890 to at least 1921. He was a “real estate dealer“, philanthropic in many Jewish causes, and died in Jerusalem in 1948.

The minutes contain detailed descriptions of the interior renovation of the building, including voting on placements of water fountains and the colors of the floors, and the committee’s problems after hiring the wrong supervisor for the project.

The dedication was set for June 5, 1921, plans were finalized for suitable donor plaques, and President Harding agreed to speak by telephone to the assembled audience. Unfortunately, because “it would be impossible to make arrangements for the amplifiers … his speech [was] read to the audience.”

By 1965 HIAS had moved to more modern headquarters at 200 Park Avenue. Another blog post will follow in a few weeks with more detail on the Astor Library building.

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

 

HIAS President Meets HRH Princess Anne

Founded in 1933 after a meeting between UK Jewish community leaders and Members of Parliament, the The Central British Fund for German Jewry came into existence in order to aid German Jewry as Hitler came to power in Germany. In the years after its founding, the Central British Fund (or CBF) functioned as almost a British parallel to HIAS.

For examples, the CBF was instrumental in lobbying for the Kindertransport, and helped to resettle thousands of Jewish refugees after World War II. During the Cold War, the CBF assisted Jews evacuating Czechoslovakia in 1968 Soviet invasion, and provided food and medical assistance to Ethiopian Jews during Operation Moses. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CBF extended aid to over two million Jews.

As the nature of humanitarian crises shifted in the post-Cold War era, the CBF, like HIAS, re-branded and changed its name to the “World Jewish Relief” in 1995 in recognition of the global nature of its work. Since then it has provided tsunami relief to Sri Lanka, was one of the first responders to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and is presently providing aid to refugees fleeing the Middle East.

Princess Anne

Due to the similarity of their missions, HIAS and the CBF shared a close working relationship. In 1986, HIAS President Robert Israeloff attended the CBF Annual Meeting in London. There, Israeloff and his wife, Bonnie Israeloff, had the occasion to meet Her Royal Highness Princess Anne. Anne’s brother Charles, the Prince of Wales, is the official patron of the organization. Pictured above.

A HIAS Staffer in the Archives

The HIAS archive project is twofold in nature. The first part–the part this blog is concerned with–relates to the processing of HIAS’ last 40-50 years of administrative files. The second part has to do with improving access to case files regarding those assisted by HIAS between the Second World War and the turn of the twenty-first century.

To handle the second part of this project we hired a database manager, Janet Yerokhina. Her job is to determine how to pull a massive amount of data stored in multiple formats into one database. Janet has been extracting and cleaning data, and creating a search screen for the public-facing interface. When completed the database will include fields of information about tens of thousands of HIAS clients.

ID card

ID card 2
This HIAS client registration card is one of the many formats Janet worked with in creating the the database.

As Janet went through the thousands of client files recovered from an old, out of date HIAS database, she would sometimes check for familiar last names. For, Janet and her family were HIAS clients themselves in the 1990s as they emigrated from Russia to the United States. One day, Janet came upon her mother’s fairly unique first name, followed by their surname, their first address in New York City, and information regarding other family members.

Part of the American Jewish story is one of immigration, so how fitting it is that a staff member of the American Jewish Historical Society should find her own story in our holdings.

Janet is still perfecting the database, but you can check it out here.

As a note, because much of this data is confidential and restricted, only certain pieces of information will be publicly available.

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.