More on Government Relations – Staff Files Reveal a lot about HIAS and a lot about US Immigration Policy

Rachel posted recently on the official beginning of the HIAS Government Relations Department in the 1980s, which she uncovered during the processing of Philip Saperia’s files. She focused on the how and why of the chronological arrangement of the files.

I recently completed the processing of other professionals in the Government Relations Department, including Deborah Mark, who took over as Saperia left HIAS in the late 1980s.

Deborah Mark was initially hired by HIAS in 1989 for a very specific project within the Executive Vice-President’s office, as Special Assistant to the EVP, Karl Zukerman. Mark’s role as “Appeals Coordinator” was to coordinate appeals processing between the HIAS office in Rome and communities throughout the US from which information for the appeals was gathered.

In September 1989, amid Glasnost and evolving Russian emigration policies, the need for Mark’s position ended when the US government changed its practice of denying refugee status to large numbers of Soviet Jews in Rome and appeals were much less necessary.

Most Soviet Jews leaving the USSR since the 1960s had traveled first to Europe for document and interview processing; from there they mainly went to either Israel or to the US. The US government had offices at various times in Rome and Vienna, and HIAS and other immigrant aid organizations set up offices there as well. After September 1989 Mark became responsible for “implementing the plan for working with Jews inside the Soviet Union”, according to an interview with Deborah Mark in Soviet Changes are ‘welcome challenge’ to Jewish aid agencies by Rita Gillmon in the San Diego Union, November 17, 1990.

Deborah Mark interview, 1990

After six months at HIAS Mark’s position became permanent. In 1991 Mark became the Director of Planning and Government Relations, 1991-1994, and from 1995-1997 the Director of Government Relations and Public Policy. Her voluminous files – 35 boxes – cover the 8 years of her involvement with HIAS, and document HIAS’ broad reach in many areas:

  • Working with legislators to affect positive change in the field of immigration and refugee resettlement in US communities and ensure adequate funding for government programs
  • Teaming with colleagues in other immigrant aid organizations and umbrella organizations such as InterAction, the National Immigration Forum and the Council of Jewish Federations
  • Establishing working relationships with governmental departments such as the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Immigration & Naturalization Service
  • Understanding the finer points of the continually evolving legislation on immigration, naturalization, citizenship and the asylum process
  • Reacting to global events and the need for immigrant and refugee assistance in Haiti, Cuba, Bosnia, former Soviet countries, African countries, Mexico and elsewhere.
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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

 

 

When “E” Mail was New

I’ve been working on the Government Relations Department Files for the past 6 weeks. There are about 120 bankers boxes of files, which break down into two subseries and three  subsubseries. At this point in processing I can only say “about” 120 boxes for a number of reasons:

  1.  The labeling of the boxes is a best guess, based on the inventory we have of what is off-site. After a quick survey of boxes in order to group them into the series and subseries that make themselves known once we can peak inside the boxes, the actual processing  reveals evidence of whose files they actually are.
  2. About 75 boxes were labeled as coming from the office of Deborah Mark, the Director of Government Relations from 1991 to about 1998, although her files include earlier work from her 3 years working on legislative-related special projects under Executive VP Karl Zukerman; in fact some boxes were from the office of her predecessor, Phillip Saperia, and many files contained the work of a colleague, Michael Gendel. One box contains Gendel files from his years in US Operations, a separate division from Government Relations.
  3. Ultimately the Deborah Mark files turned out to encompass 69 boxes; after processing was completed last week, largely because most of these 69 were only partially full when received, the final count is 35 boxes.

The two subseries are determined by the fact that there are files from both the New York office’s Government Relations Department (Deborah Mark and Phillip Saperia, predominantly), and the D.C. office.

Many interesting subjects are covered in these files, and I plan to write more about the content in future posts. For now, I just want to mention the first use/reference to e-mail I’ve noticed in these files. Below is a memoranda from 1990, on which Deborah Mark handwrote that she had commented on the memo to RH (Roberta Herch, then Assistant Director of U.S. Operations.) by “E” Mail.

Internal HIAS memo re IOM (International Organization for Migration) in 1990 mentions “E” Mail in a handwritten note

Later in the 1990s e-mails were printed out and filed; if these messages had NOT been printed out and filed with the rest of Deborah’s subject files, they may very likely have been lost – who can access e-mail from the mid-1990s now? That’s a subject of its own, that archivists everywhere are still dealing with.

Schindelman Flying Mendonza on Nineteenth

The most fruitful subsubseries in the HIAS archives may be the files of the Executive Vice-Presidents (EVP). Not only is the heart of the work HIAS was doing in the 1960s and 1970s contained in the EVP files; in addition, these files are exceptionally easy to access, at least until the early 1980s, because of the detailed and remarkably consistent subject headings and arrangement of the folders.

Our EVP files begin in earnest with James P. Rice, 1956-1965. In 1966 Gaynor Jacobson became EVP, and his files continue through 1979. This telegram from 1970 turned up during processing and caught our attention because of the doodling on the front and the back.

Telex to Gaynor Jacobson from “Fred”, September 18, 1970

The content of the telex itself is normal HIAS business – refugees arriving in Latin America, poor communications, help is needed – sent and received as a telex. Mendonza (spelled elsewhere as Mendoza), a city in Argentina, is mentioned. Also mentioned is DAIA – Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations). I have found no other references to Schindelman; he may have been engaged by HIAS to help settle refugees arriving from Eastern Europe, North Africa, or possibly the Soviet Union. Jacobson’s files from 1970-1971 include Overseas Country Files for 55 countries of emigration and immigration, from Algeria to Yugoslavia, where HIAS was involved during those two years.

The “Fred” who signed the telex is Fred (Ephraim) Weinstein, Director for Latin American Affairs and Operations and based in Rio de Janeiro for about 30 years, 1958-1988. We’ve spotted him in correspondence in the archives referred to as both Fred E. Weinstein and Ephraim F. Weinstein. After retiring in 1988 and moving back to New York, he was the Latin America consultant in the New York office of HIAS from 1990 to 1993; he died in 1996.

 

Interesting are the handwritten notes – “Joel Saible” is written across the top and bottom of the telex. (We cannot locate any information about him – please comment if you know who he was.) At the bottom of the page, 3 points are also handwritten, not all of which are legible in the scan above:

1-knowledgeable

2-capable

3-efficient

He sounds to me like a good hire, if that is the meaning of Jacobson’s notes.

But the main reason for posting about this telex is for the doodle on the back, which can be seen through the thin paper of the telex in the scan above. Below is the doodle itself, quite a lovely portrait. Of Saible? Weinstein? Jacobson? Drawn by Jacobson? We’ll never know.

Verso, with portrait

 

“The Jewish Problem and the Catholic Point of View”, Quito, 1946

In several previous posts I’ve written about HIAS in Latin America – Dr. Henry Shoskes in Latin America, and “Your representatives just disappeared from Sao Paolo”, HIAS’ work in Brazil has been discussed. Only a few boxes of files in our HIAS archives collection are directly related to this Latin American work, but – as with so much in the HIAS collection – there are many interesting stories.

Below is a pamphlet in Spanish, published in Quito, Ecuador in 1946, titled “The Jewish problem and the Catholic point of view”.

“El problema judio …”, 1946, Quito, Ecuador

Two copies of the pamphlet were sent to the HIAS Board of Directors in New York by Oscar Rocca, the HIAS representative in Quito. Elsewhere in the collection he was described as the president of HIAS-Quito, or as the head of the “committee”. Through the files on the Quito office, we’ve noted correspondence from Mr. Rocca in various positions of authority within the Jewish community in Quito from about 1944 to his death in 1950.

The letterhead used for this memo states, “Comite de Proteccion a Los Immigrantes Israelitas Afiliado a la ‘HICEM’ “. Mr. Rocca’s main reason for sharing the pamphlet with HIAS leadership in New York may be in his fourth paragraph: “We think the pamphlet to be very interesting, because a clear standpoint to our problem is taken therein, what nowadays in such clear a form is seldom to be found.”

1946 memo from Oscar Rocca, president of HIAS-Quito, to the HIAS Board of Directors

A summary of the Spanish-language pamphlet was made by a staff member in the HIAS Correspondence Department in the HIAS NY office:

Summary of Spanish-language pamphlet

I have read the enclosed pamphlet containing a lecture delivered by a Catholic priest in Quito under the auspices of a local general welfare society. [according to Mr. Rocca, the speech was delivered to the Jewish “Associacion de Beneficencia Israelita”.] The lecture is a denunciation of anti-Semitism and is sympathetic toward the Jews. It is significant 1) because the author is a Catholic priest, 2) because it ch….s* to set forth the Catholic thesis on anti-Semitism, and 3) because the pamphlet has the imprimatur of the vicar-general of the Quito archdiocese.

Through this correspondence and other memos and reports in the Quito file, a picture of the Jewish communities in Quito and other Latin American countries emerges. Also described is the leadership in those communities, the fundraising they were doing for Israel and HIAS and the JDC, and how communication, although difficult, was indeed possible between the various HIAS offices. Many of these leaders, like Oscar Rocca in Quito, Dr. Marc Leitchic in Rio de Janeiro, Jacob Feuermann in Buenos Aires and Dr. Aron Benchetritt in Bogota were immigrants themselves and spoke, read and wrote many languages. Often, during the years of the these files, the late 1940s to the 1950s, the easiest language in which to communicate between offices was in Yiddish.

These files will be available for research by the end of 2018 along with the rest of the HIAS archive at AJHS. For access before then, please contact reference@ajhs.org.

* Please write a comment to this post if you are able to decipher this word!

“We Demand the Immediate Emigration to Israel of All Ethiopian Jews”

This blog post is the first of several posts about HIAS and Ethiopian Jewry.

HIAS, the Jewish Defense League, and Ethiopian Jewry

On the afternoon of September 8, 1981, approximately 15 members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a far-right religious-political organization, took over the main offices of HIAS in New York and forced the staff out, while barricading themselves inside. At the same time, 15 additional JDL members chained the front doors of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization-American Section building. These actions were done in protest of American Jewry’s perceived lack of action to rescue the estimated 25,000 Ethiopian Jews, also called Falashas, meaning “landless” or “wanderers,” or Beta Israel, “House of Israel,” then living in 500 remote mountainous villages in northern Ethiopia.
Headline from the New York Post, September 9, 1981
The JDL presented HIAS officials with two demands: that HIAS initiate an immediate rescue effort for the Ethiopian Jews, and that HIAS spearhead, as a priority, an awareness program about the plight of Ethiopian Jewry in conjunction with all Federations across the United States. Irving Haber, head of HIAS administration, agreed to bring the first demand to the next meeting of the HIAS board and also agreed to send telegrams to the Council of Jewish Federations and to four Federations.
The JDL members then left the building, having been inside for two hours.

A Brief History of the Jewish Community in Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Jewish community may descend from the Tribe of Dan, one of the ten so-called “lost” tribes, and could have originated as long ago as the break-up of the United kingdom of Israel, circa 1020 to 930 B.C.E., or the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.E., or the Babylonian Exile in 586 B.C.E. Based on various medieval responsa concerning Ethiopian Jews, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the newly-elected Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, ruled in 1973 that the Beta Israel were Jews and should be brought to Israel. He was later joined in this ruling by Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel. On March 14, 1977, Israeli officials decided that the Israeli Law of Return applied to the Beta Israel.

The Ethiopian Civil War began on September 12, 1974 when the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police and Territorial Army, known as the “Derg,” (which means “committee” in Ge’ez), a Marxist-Leninist group, staged a coup d’état against Emperor Haile Selassie. The civil war lasted until 1991, when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of rebel groups, overthrew the government, by which point at least 1.4 million Ethiopians had died. Insurrections against Derg rule were particularly violent in the northern regions of Eritrea and in Tigray, one of the regions, along with Amhara, where the Beta Israel were centered.

Since Israel did not have full diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, which was surrounded by several member countries of the Arab League, and since the Communist Derg government officially banned Beta Israel immigration to Israel, any rescue operations had to be done secretly. The Mossad contacted Sudanese officials, who allowed thousands of Beta Israel into refugee camps on the Ethiopia-Sudan border, with the understanding that they would be ultimately taken to Israel. Hundreds, possibly thousands, died on the walk to these camps, which often took up to a month. Conditions were poor and many in the camps, which at one point housed one million refugees, died of disease, thirst, and hunger. Possibly between 2,000 and 5,000 of those who died in the camps were Jews. Between 1977, when Israel recognized Beta Israel as subject to the Right of Return, and 1984, when the first airlifts to Israel began, approximately 8,000 Beta Israel immigrants traveled from camps in Sudan to Israel by boats belonging to the Israeli Navy, by airplane, or on foot. Of these 8,000, only half survived the journey, due to disease, hunger, and violence along the route.

HIAS and the Beta Israel

The issue of the Falashas, or Beta Israel, was a thorny one and most of the progress that was made was done in secret and at a very high government level. HIAS, as a member organization of the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (ACVA) and of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), was involved in some of the rescue activities, starting in 1977 and continuing into early 1980’s. However, it was a race against time.

Some of the 37 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants who made aliyah in 1979. HIAS president Edwin Shapiro is in the center.

Numerous Ethiopian Jews, as well as international aid workers, were jailed, tortured, and killed for attempting to emigrate and international attention on the plight of the Beta Israel only seemed to inflame the issue further. Rallies and protests were held and aid organizations were formed in the United States, Canada, France, Great Britain, and elsewhere. Public debate raged regarding the policy of “quiet diplomacy” counseled by Israeli leaders and the Jewish Agency and newspaper articles and editorials argued both for and against increased pressure on Israel and World Jewry. The public accused American Jewry, and HIAS in particular, of ignoring the problem and allowing another Holocaust. According to NJCRAC statistics, between 1,000 and 1,100 Ethiopian Jews emigrated to Israel from 1980-1981, but that still left 25,000 remaining in a precarious situation. It would be three more years until the first airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

 

Dr. Henry Shoskes in Latin America, 1947

In the ten or so years following the end of WWII, Dr. Henry Shoskes was the HIAS Overseas Representative to Latin America and other parts of the world where Jews were able to resettle legally.

Our HIAS files include a few of Shoskes’ files in his role as Overseas Representative for HIAS, from about 1947-1956. Included are folders on Australia and New Zealand, Canada, and Latin America. Most of the correspondence in these folders is between Shoskes and others in the New York office of HIAS while he was traveling, and with representatives of the Jewish communities in the countries he visited.

In his folder “Latin America – Memoranda and Reports”, there is a printed memorandum addressed “To: Everyone”, issued by HIAS in New York, with statistics on immigration-related activities for 1946 and 1947; because there is very little information in our HIAS collection from this early, we are saving every scrap:

1947 statistics on immigration
1947 statistics on immigration

Clipped to the memo above is a handwritten notation from Shoskes titled, “The Story Behind the Figures”, with totals by country:

The Story Behind the Figures - statistics from Latin America, 1947
The Story Behind the Figures – statistics from Latin America, 1947

One of the few other sources of information from the post-war years in our HIAS collection are in the annual reports. Checking in the 1947 annual report, in addition to the statistics listed in the memorandum, is a statement of income and expenses – which reveals a deficit of $685,357.54. “The deficit tells the story of the extreme urgency of the work that HIAS was called upon to do.” Adding to the deficit situation was the  knowledge that the following year, 1948 would again “throw a burden of unparalleled magnitude upon HIAS”, including the resettlement of Jews from Europe as well as those in North African countries, whose situations were exacerbated by the November 29, 1947 vote in the United Nations to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, and the proposed establishment of the state of Israel.

Many HIAS officers, board members and professional staff were thanked in the president’s report in the 1947 annual report, including “Dr. Henry Shoskes, who undertook an arduous mission to South America, where they succeeded in obtaining promises from governments in those countries for a more liberal interpretation of their immigration laws. All of them have ably and unselfishly labored to make HIAS a harbinger of good tidings to the sorely troubled Jews overseas.”

The Shoskes files are a rare early glimpse into HIAS activities in the years after WWII. The bulk of the records in our HIAS collection begin in 1954 with the merger of HIAS with United Service for New Americans (USNA) and the migration department of the Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC). HIAS files prior to, during and immediately after World War II can be found in the collections of YIVO.