Large Collections and Aberrations in the Finding Aid

The HIAS collection consisted of over 1500 unprocessed boxes as of January 2016. Labels at the box level were, at times, neither accurate nor consistent among boxes of related files. As a result, the first Communications boxes I received were very disorganized, to the point that they lacked a discernible, original order.

For this reason, I had to impose an order on them; I processed them as Subject Files, with Subject Headings such as “Campaigns,” “Media Placement,” and “Publications.” While this order, admittedly, will make it easier for researchers to search by subject, it is not in keeping with best scenario, accepted archival practice, which is to maintain the original order at all costs.

As a result, it wasn’t until about ten boxes in that a discernible, original order began to emerge, and by that point I had already done too much work to go back and re-do everything.

This order resided not in file type, but in file creator. The vast majority of the Communications materials were created at the behest of, or belonged to two Heads of the Public Relations/Public Affairs/Communications Department: Brenda Schaefer, Head of Public Relations/Affairs between 1983 and 1989; and Roberta Elliott, Director of Public Affairs/Communications between 1989 and 1993, returning once more in 2011.

With no time to go back and redo all the processing, I simply made sure to note Brenda Schaefer and Roberta Elliott’s names on any files belonging to them. That, at least, would retain the original order in an intellectual sense.

After completing the Communications boxes, I moved on to process the Finance boxes, and made sure not to repeat this mistake.

In between completing my processing of the Communications boxes and the Finance boxes, my coworkers discovered at least ten additional boxes of Communications files erroneously labeled as “Overseas Operations,” or “Executive Files.”

For the sake of consistency, I continued to process the materials from these “stray” Communications boxes as Subject Files. However, these boxes contained files belonging to two different Directors of PR/Public/Affairs/Communications: Hyman Brickman, Director of Fundraising and Public Relations between 1974 and 1983; and Morris Ardoin, Director of Communications between 2000 and 2005.

With these two “new” staff members, I could finally arrange some of the Communications files by creator instead of type. And that is why, in the Communications Folder List, Hyman Brickman randomly (in the eyes of the researcher, accustomed to the subject-based imposed order) appears in the hierarchy in between “Biographies” and “Campaigns,” and why Morris Ardoin does the same in between “Administration” and “Biographies.”

Folder List
Circled in red, this image demonstrates how the sections of the folder list where department head, as opposed to subject type, is the primary element of the hierarchy appear.

Thanks to the wonder of searching a folder list electronically, as our completed folder list will at the end of our projects of the Ctrl + F function, it will still be easy for researchers to locate a particular file no matter where it appears in the folder list!

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.

Date Formatting in Business Correspondence, 1980

While processing 2 boxes of biographical files created by the Public Relations Department and the Executive Office, I came across a file with a very unusual format for the date.

Unusual date format
Unusual date format

Unusual also is the way the secretary formatted the initials at the bottom left, indicating the person who worded the correspondence and the person who typed it. In the words of our colleague Tanya Elder, “It looks like a secretary gone off the deep end.”

From Tunisia, with Love

HIAS was truly an “international organization” in the sense of intrigue that the phrase suggests. Well…not really…but working in foreign countries with their particular laws and customs could put an international aid worker in a compromising position.

Such was the position in which Al Goldstein, director of operations in Tunisia, found himself when he tried to do a friend a favor. We came across records of his plight in the files of James P. Rice, Executive Vice President of United HIAS Service from 1956 to 1966.

The Jewish population in Tunisia had been in a steady decline since the events leading up to independence from France in 1954, and by 1964, the Jewish population of Tunisia had declined by 92%.[1]

Mostly this decline was caused by unemployment, but by the time of the Bizerte Crisis, in 1961, President Bourguiba’s increasing rapprochement with the Arab League nations and burgeoning anti-Israel sentiment caused many Tunisian Jews to worry about their future in Tunisia. Antisemitism, which had been largely absent in Tunisia (especially in government), became a more frequent occurrence.[2]

But the biggest threat to Jewish life in Tunisia was the economy. The lingering economic toll of the struggle for independence, the departure of many middle-class French Tunisians after independence, along with increasing government regulation and control of the economy threatened the stability of the merchant class of Tunisia, “in which Jews were heavily represented.”[3,4]

It was in such a context that Alphonse Fall, a Tunisian publisher and printer, decided to sell his business at a great loss and expatriate to Marseilles. But in order to get his money out of the country, his brother, Joseph Fall, head of the Caisse Israélite de Relèvement Economique loan kassa[5] in Tunisia, needed someone with access to foreign accounts to, in a sense, ‘launder’ 3,000 dinars (about $7,500).

Enter Albert Goldstein, colleague of Joseph Fall. As can be seen from the timeline below, Goldstein agreed to the transaction, which he said was pretty routine among Tunisians for getting money past the tight restrictions on currency exchange.

Goldstein had returned from Marseille, where he had made the transaction with Alphonse Fall, when he was arrested on December 19th, 1963, by a “special brigade of the economic police.”

Goldstein was released on January 17, 1964, and had to pay a fine in the amount he transferred and repay HIAS for the legal fees incurred. Needless to say, Goldstein was fired soon after.

It’s not clear from the records what became of Joseph Fall. We know that he was treated much worse by the customs authorities than Goldstein. But the date of his release, his punishment, and what he went on to do is still a mystery.

It’s no Midnight Express, but the travails of Al Goldstein are a reminder of the precarious position of HIAS officers in North Africa at a time of shifting identities and loyalties.

Finally, in the spirit of fairness, we give Goldstein the last word. Here is his own narrative of the events and motivations that got him incarcerated.

Notes

[1] http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1964_12_NSAfrica.pdf
[2] http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1962_14_NSAfrica.pdf
[3] http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1954_11_NorthAfrica.pdf
[4] http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1961_13_NSAfrica.pdf
[5] Loan kassas are free loan societies created by the Joint Distribution Committee.

Old Office Document Formats from the HIAS Archive

Since beginning the project two months ago, we’ve already run across some interesting formats from the 1950s, formats that were once common in office settings and now seem quaint. We’ll start with a random (way overstuffed) folder from HIAS’s executive office.

Overstuffed Folder

You can see how the pressure from the documents packed too tight has caused many of the documents to curl around the others. These documents are usually on very cheap paper, so overstuffed folders can lead to different preservation issues depending on the format of the document in question.

Curled Paper

Onionskin is a kind of paper we find a lot in records from the 1950s. It is very thin, lightweight, and translucent, making it a good stock for carbon copies, permanent filing, and airmail–helping businesses save money on storage space, postage, and copy typists. You can see in the photo below how thin this paper really is.

Onionskin See Through

The issue we find is that it’s very easy for onionskin paper to get mashed up by the thicker paper around it. Here’s an example of some onionskin that has been crushed up against a box for decades. Notice how the acids in the box’s cardboard have browned the ends of the sheet.

Crumpled Onionskin

Luckily, onionskin is pretty durable. It has a high content of cotton fibers, making it strong and flexible as well as containing little-to-no acidic lignin, which causes most paper from this era to yellow and crumble. At the same time, this durable paper holds a crease very well. If a sheet of onionskin falls down in the back of a slumping folder, you get something like this:

Crumpled Blue Onionskin

However durable, it’s still an incredibly thin stock, leading to some easy tears. Back before photocopiers and desktop printers, a lot of hard labor was saved with the help of scotch tape. Unfortunately, the glue in scotch tape is not particularly stable and the adhesive is often very acidic, eating its way from the back . . .

Taped Back

. . . to the front.

Taped Front

After sixty years, though, most of the adhesive has dried and the tape itself is so desiccated that it peels right off without a problem, though that’s not always the case, as seen in the photo below.

Pages Stuck

Old, acidic, wood-pulp-based paper slowly disintegrates over the decades until it is brown and very brittle.

Brittled Paper

Here you can see how easily brittle paper cracks . . .

Embrittled Paper Edge

. . . and flakes off.

Cracking Brittle Paper

There are also reproduction formats particular to this time. Thermofax was a photocopy technology introduced by 3M in 1950. The process used infrared light, which was absorbed by the black ink of the original document, heating it up, and that heat would then transfer to the special heat-sensitive paper, resulting in something like the document you see below.

Thermofax Front

The problem with Thermofax is its tendency to darken over time, due to the heat-sensitive leuco dye embedded in the paper. Over time, the dye continues to develop and is often corrosive to surrounding documents as well as the copy itself, which becomes brittle over time. You can see here how much this document has lost contrast (though, it’s difficult to say whether this is solely the work of the passage of time or of the very inexact and temperamental Thermofax process).

Thermafax closeup

And the final uniquely mid-century format we’ve run into (so far!) is Agfa Copyrapid. Introduced in 1949, Copyrapid is based on a process called diffusion transfer reversal, which is very similar to silver-halide-based black-and-white photography (in fact, the diffusion transfer reversal process was key to inventing instant cameras such as the Kodak Land Camera).

Copyrapid back

Instead of projecting light through a transparent negative onto light-sensitive paper to create a positive image (much like traditional black-and-white photography), Copyrapid uses a special negative transparency that is exposed to light reflected off the original document. The image on the negative is then physically transferred to a special sheet of copy paper by pressing them together. The transferred image shows up as a positive image.

Copyrapid Front

Don’t ask us how it works. For all we know, it’s just mid-century magic. Hopefully, we’ll keep running into interesting obsolete formats and posting them here, and rest assured we will continue to do our best to flatten curled and crinkled documents, capture fading text, and give the documents a better chance at surviving intact for the foreseeable future.