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.
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:
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.
Below is a pamphlet in Spanish, published in Quito, Ecuador in 1946, titled “The Jewish problem and the Catholic point of view”.
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.”
A summary of the Spanish-language pamphlet was made by a staff member in the HIAS Correspondence Department in the HIAS NY office:
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 email@example.com.
* Please write a comment to this post if you are able to decipher this word!
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.
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.
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.
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:
Clipped to the memo above is a handwritten notation from Shoskes titled, “The Story Behind the Figures”, with totals by country:
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.
The HIAS Membership Department was responsible for running fundraising appeals through the mail. These fundraising appeals were known at the agency as membership campaigns. In today’s blog post, we’ll take a look at what was involved in organizing and executing a campaign, using the records of the 1993 Los Angeles appeal as a kind of case study.
In June of 1993, Carolyn Agress, Director for Membership Services & Women’s Division, wrote to HIAS board member Judith Sommerstein to follow up on their conversation at the recent Annual Meeting. It seems they had discussed membership campaigns, with Sommerstein expressing interest in participating.
In the letter, Agress explained how these campaigns worked:
The Membership Department would first provide the board member with a copy of the solicitation letter (the “ask”) for that year.
The board member would edit the solicitation letter if they saw fit, in order to tailor it to the concerns and issues of their community. The final version would be signed by the board member.
The board member would provide HIAS with the names and addresses of personal and professional contacts they wanted to solicit.
HIAS would add these names to the list of members in the board member’s geographical region.
HIAS would have the letters printed and sent out, along with a membership dues form and a return envelope.
Letter from Agress to Sommerstein:
This appears to be the solicitation letter Agress included, sent back with Sommerstein’s comments on front and back:
The records include memos and notes about the logistics of carrying out the campaign, such as this one dated August 18, 1993:
On August 19th, Agress sent Sommerstein another copy of the solicitation letter, which Sommerstein sent back with comments:
(It was not typical that HIAS would request comments on the solicitation twice; this seems to be an aberration, or we may just not have all the information about what happened.)
This appears to be the final draft of the text:
The letters that actually went out included the name and address of the member, as well as a personal salutation, as in the earlier draft. HIAS provided the printing company with a copy of the board member’s signature to place in the closing.
In September, the Membership Department sent Sommerstein an update on the results of the campaign. Many of the campaign files contain computer reports on how the campaign did, and sometimes multiple updates would be sent to the board member, but for Los Angeles in 1993, there’s just this one:
The last step was for the Membership Department to send thank you letters for the donations, whether from a new or renewing member.
Then the next year, the whole process would be repeated, with the board member adding new names to their list, and often crossing out those of any friends who had passed away. Not all board members participated in campaigns year after year, but many did. Those records are very interesting for learning about board members’ devotion to the mission of HIAS, the relationships of mutual respect they developed with Carolyn Agress and other staff, and the tireless efforts to craft the most effective “asks” possible.
Archival documents referenced in this post may be found in the 104 Los Angeles campaign files under Development—Membership—Campaigns. Final box number will most likely be 0297.
1995 marked HIAS’ 115th organizational anniversary, which included not only a larger-than-life Annual board Meeting, but various outings, tours, and galas to commemorate more than a hundred years of exceptional service to Jewish refugees around the world.
In the 1994 HIAS Annual Report, President Martin Kesselhaut and Executive Vice-President Martin A. Wenick remark how proud they are that their current mission statement has held strong over more than a century:
“HIAS instills in its clients a true patriotism and love for their adopted country and makes better known to the people of the United States the many advantages of legal immigration.”
HIAS accomplished quite a lot in 1994. They partnered with AT&T to fund production of a weekly television show produced by the Russian-American Broadcasting Company, initiated a national Citizenship Project which provided support to naturalization applicants, brokered partnerships with major corporations and Jewish communities as part of their National Corporate Initiative, and participated in their first-ever Leadership Mission to Washington.
For those involved on the Executive side of the organization, the Annual Membership Meeting was transformed from a traditional presentation-based form to one referred to as a ‘HIAS fair.’ This free-roam meeting format encouraged the Board to directly interact with the departmental staff, creating a personal dialogue to voice concerns, celebrate successes, and cooperatively brainstorm how each department could work together for a bigger and brighter fiscal year ahead.
For those on the membership side with some time to spend enjoying the city, HIAS organized two days of New York adventures.
Day 1 included:
Manhattan walking tour of notable New York Synagogues
Trip to Ellis Island, where HIAS representatives were once present to defend those in jeopardy of being deported and/or to accompany immigrants back to HIAS headquarters for shelter
Trip to Brighton Beach, which included a walking tour and dinner at a popular Russian restaurant
Tour of the Lower East Side, which included a Kosher lunch at Ratner’s
Day 2 was more centrally located at HIAS’ old headquarters, and included:
HIAS Scholarship presentations
Building tours of 425 Lafayette Street, HIAS’ home from 1921-1965
A group naturalization swearing-in ceremony
Annual Membership Meeting, including elections for 1995
Since 1995, HIAS has continued to grow and evolve in order to support those who need them most. We can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring!
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.
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”,
or that has a hastily handwritten note below the typed letter.
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.