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

 

 

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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.

 

HIAS is here to assist you!

Moving to a new neighborhood where you don’t know many people? Often difficult.
Moving to a new country where you don’t know anyone? Always overwhelming.

In an effort to make the immigrant transition into the US more seamless, HIAS printed many pieces of literature over the years* to provide easy-to-use checklists for efficiently tackling various legal processes. The existence of these pamphlets might seem standard, but having accessible, concise steps to immigration success means fewer mistranslated notes, awareness of deadlines, and a better understanding of the help that’s available.

Refugee Policy

Inside, HIAS outlines the official Application Process and the steps that the Washington Processing Center takes when reviewing applications, including lengthy, detailed information on:

  • What’s included on the Preliminary Questionnaire
  • What’s included when asked to fill out an Affidavit of Relationship

What happens after your INS interview

So now that someone has had their INS interview and has been granted either refugee or parole status, HIAS is here to make sure that all the proper steps are taken BEFORE immigrating to the US.

This includes:

  • Completing your first appointment wiht IOM/MPC staff
  • Arranging for a medical examination
  • Obtaining sponsorship (refugees only) and exit permissions from OVIR
  • Making travel arrangements and organizing with your US relatives (if any) to notify the US of your arrival
  • Making a second appointment with IOM/MPC once you are ready to travel

You’ve made it! Here’s how HIAS can help!

HIAS’ help didn’t end with immigrants finding sanctuary on US soil, and didn’t end with immigrants, either! Help was available for both travelers and their US relatives and included:

  • General advice and counsel to both immigrants and their US family members
  • Help with making document corrections, alterations, and replacements (if originals are lost)
  • VISA petition assistance
  • Expediting VISA applications for relatives left in your home country
  • Green card, citizenship, and asylum applications
  • Taking photographs and fingerprints for legal documentation
  • Translation services
  • Specialized legal representation at no cost/minimal cost
  • Scholarship programs (for HIAS-assisted refugees who migrated to the US after 1977)
  • And a handy wallet guide!

*All pamphlets in this post were included in a packet designed for the attendants of the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, 1992.

 

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 file 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

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.”

Listening to Financial Records

I’m processing the Finance Series of the larger HIAS collection. Within that series, the largest subseries is Grant Management.

Grant Management is, well, what it says on the label. HIAS, generally in cooperation with the Department of State and the UJA-Federation of New York, would award grants to Jewish organizations across the country, and those organizations in turn would use the money to resettle refugees. These organizations were typically branches of larger Jewish organizations such as the United Jewish Federation, the United Jewish Fund, the Jewish Family Service, and the Jewish Vocational Service. This pre-existing organizational structure of the US Jewish community allowed for HIAS’ resettlement efforts to be as effective as those of other, larger organizations.

hias184

One of the record types to be found in the Grant Management subseries.

The record types in the Grant Management subseries consist of audits, tax forms, check and payment requests, accountant commentary, financial statements, financial status reports, organized by community, and spanning the years from 1990 to 2004.

While these records are overtly dull, taken together they weave a narrative. This narrative tells us where refugees were placed, what they needed, assistance types provided, and how HIAS oversaw and monitored the allocation of these funds.

The history of immigration is fascinating, and it is important to keep in mind that this isn’t just a history of movement and human displacement, but it is a history of the money which made those movements possible.

“Understanding U.S. Refugee Policy”: HIAS, the Personal, and the Political

This post originally appeared as a talk presented at the ART Symposium in New York City on October 20.

While HIAS leadership was influential in shaping and advocating for immigration policy reform, HIAS’ Communications Department was busy attending to the personal side of these political machinations.

United States refugee policy is shaped to correspond with U.S. foreign policy interests. This creates a legislative reality in which some refugees are welcomed, while the rest are excluded in all but name. In the case of Soviet Jewish refugees in the late 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. refugee policy worked in their favor.

With restrictions somewhat eased, HIAS created publications specifically to explain U.S. refugee policy to prospective Russian Jewish refugees. One such publication is a 1992 pamphlet titled “Understanding U.S. Refugee policy,” printed in English and Russian.

understanding-us-refugee-policyPamphlet cover in both language editions; Roberta Elliott headed the HIAS Communications department when this pamphlet was released.

The pamphlet clearly outlines the steps necessary to apply to emigrate to the United States as a refugee. Though the restrictions were somewhat relaxed, it was still a complex process. For example, one of the opening paragraphs reads, “Under present guidelines of the U. S. refugee program, certain categories of people within the former Soviet Union (Jews, Evangelical Christians, Ukrainian Catholics and members of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Churches) are identified as likely targets of persecution. If you are a member of one of these designated groups AND if you have a close relative in the U. S., you will be granted priority in the processing of your application for refugee status and in the scheduling of your interview at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.”

It details what, in the eyes of US immigration law, constitutes a “close relative,” and outlines policy exceptions. It explains the two components of the application process–a Preliminary Questionnaire to provide biographical information, and an Affidavit of Relationship to prove relationships between the prospective immigrant and their US relatives–and explains why these steps were put into place.

Through the publication and distribution of this pamphlet, the HIAS Communications Department was able to take its Executives’ lobbying and influence, and bring those politics down to the individual level, empowering those who may have otherwise been shut out.