“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!

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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.

A Happy and Healthy New Year from Raphael Spanien, 1961

In August 1961 Raphael Spanien, Deputy Director of HIAS headquarters in Paris, corresponded with Ann Petluck, at the time the Director of US Operations for HIAS in New York, about the difficulty in scheduling charter flight schedules, as well as travel by ship, for clients otherwise prepared to immigrate to the United States during the Jewish holidays in the fall of 1961.

Raphael Spanien to Ann Petluck, page 1
Raphael Spanien to Ann Petluck, page 2

“… I have tried to arrange an earlier booking in order that this family should not arrive on the first day of Succoth. The only possibility was an arrival Erev Yom Kippur. I think it is better … to arrive the first day of Succoth …”

Spanien reveals several things in the space of this two-page letter. First, that he is doing all he can to be respectful of his clients’ religious needs and also the urgency to complete their long transition to a more permanent home as soon as possible. He also reveals his personal limited first-hand knowledge of the holidays and when travel would be problematic for an observant family (and also for HIAS staff and volunteers in Europe and in the United States). The following sentence in particular is in its way charming, as well as illustrative of the logistics involved in booking passage, after the hard work of obtaining visas was completed:

… I really believe that to postpone these departure arrangements now would mean serious hardships for these families, since their tickets have been delivered and their baggage sent to the boat. Moreover, since the[y] arrive on the Friday preceding the second days of Succoth, I don’t really see any reason why this departure should now be changed. The Sunday, October 1st, being Hoshano Rabo, which by no means is a holiday, and as far as I remember the only obligation Jews have on this day is to ‘eat kreplach’, why can’t these people be entrained Saturday evening and arrive at their destination during the day of Sunday, Erev Shemini Azereth?

In closing the letter, Spanien also reveals how fond he is of Ann Petluck. By 1961 they would have worked together for at least a few years and possibly much longer. (Petluck had worked at the National Refugee Service (NRS) from at least 1943, continued at United Service for New Americans (USNA) when it took over NRS projects and staff in 1946, and then at HIAS when it took over USNA projects and staff in 1954.) Through all of these years HIAS held an annual Migration Conference which they both would have attended, and where they most likely met each other for the first time. Between conferences they communicated constantly on specific cases; they clearly worked hard to make the transition from a HIAS European transit office to HIAS care in the United States (or elsewhere) as easy as possible for their clients. Even in the post-war year of 1961 these clients might have been between permanent homes for months or years.

Those of us working on the HIAS archives project join Raphael Spanien in his traditional words (with the Ashkenazi pronunciation) at this High Holiday season:

… I don’t think that there will be any better opportunity for me to wish you and your family, your staff, and all our friends in New York a happy and healthy Year. Leshono tovu tikusevu …

 

 

 

 

 

Elaine Winik

We learned last week that Elaine Winik, life-long leader of United Jewish Appeal (UJA) of New York had died last Wednesday. Elaine was a major part of her family’s 4-generation involvement in UJA of New York. Elaine was known as a dynamic speaker and fundraiser* for UJA, a talent she first discovered when recruited to the local UJA ranks while living in Rye, NY in the 1940s, when her name was Elaine Siris. Elaine will also be remembered as a memorable story teller. An interview with Elaine in 2010 can be found here.

Elaine Winik, President of United Jewish Appeal of New York, circa 1982

Some of us at the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) first became acquainted with Elaine’s work while working on the UJA-Federation of New York archives. Elaine was the first woman to become president of UJA of New York, 1982-1984, just prior to the 1986 merger with the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. Her oral history, part of the UJA-Federation oral history program, was digitized during our 4-year archives project to make the UJA-Federation of New York archives accessible in time for this year’s centennial. In addition, Elaine donated many of her albums and photographs to AJHS as  part of the UJA-Federation collection. Information about this collection can be found here.

But what is the connection between Elaine Winik and HIAS? The only evidence of Elaine we have come across so far in the HIAS archives collection now being processed by AJHS, was a surprise. Evidently, Elaine and another leader from UJA of New York visited the HIAS office in Vienna in 1968. Read about the connection on the HIAS project blog.

We send our condolences to the entire Winik family.

Elaine Winik Death Notices

* Pictured left to right in linked photograph: Alvin H. Einbender, David Brenner, Elaine K. Winik, Alan S. Jaffe, Peter W. May and Danny Aiello.

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

Telex

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.

1971 Telex regarding situation in Egypt

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”,

1971 letter beginning, “My dear Jean”

or that has a hastily handwritten note below the typed letter.

1975 memo from the HIAS office in Paris to Jean Goldsmith in the Geneva office

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.

 

Vienna, 1968

Lottie Levinson was a Canadian who moved to Germany at the end of WWII to work for UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) in Germany. Lottie is pictured in this photograph, visiting a DP camp in 1948 with other Canadians. From about 1946 to 1954 Lottie worked for the Joint Distribution Committee, when her department merged with HIAS; she worked in the Paris office of United HIAS Service (UHS) from 1954 to 1958 when she became director of the HIAS office in Vienna, and was replaced in Paris by Ivor Svarc who moved from the HIAS office in Tunis.

In 1968 Lottie was the Director of the Vienna office for UHS, in charge of the UHS work in Germany and Austria. On November 22, 1968 she wrote a letter to the Executive Vice-President of HIAS in New York, Gaynor Israel Jacobson, relaying the details of a meeting she had had the day before. She had met with two women who were apparently involved with UJA of Greater New York, Elaine Siris (later Winik) and Patricia Gantz.

Lottie Levinson 1968 letter to Gaynor Jacobson page 1

Lottie told them about the HIAS program in Vienna at that time, including the number of Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia and Poland leaving through the HIAS office, and whether the emigrants preferred to resettle in the United States or in Israel. The two visitors from New York were also interested in how involved HIAS was with potential emigrants, in terms of counselling and what Lottie referred to as “interventions”. I understand this term refers to an intervention with another agency on the applicant’s behalf – all in addition to the “technical” work of obtaining visas and permissions and transit details.

Most fascinating was Lottie’s description to Mrs. Gantz of HIAS’ particular interest in working with as many of the Jewish refugees as they could:

Lottie Levinson 1968 letter to Gaynor Jacobson page 2

“… we preferred registration to be made with our agency, where Jewish refugees were concerned, as in this way we had some control and there was identification with a Jewish agency and that this identification would continue in an overseas country through our introduction of the cases concerned to our cooperating committees overseas.” (“Cooperating committees” refers to the local community Federations and other Jewish councils who assisted immigrants in every aspect of settling in their community.)

Lottie continues, “In this way many of the refugees who had little Jewish identification in their countries of origin would tend to become part of the Jewish communities in their countries of emigration.

Lottie Levinson 1968 letter to Gaynor Jacobson page 3

The alternative is that the process of assimilation, which had begun in their countries of origin, would be continued overseas.”

Today HIAS works with mostly non-Jewish immigrants and refugees, and it remains important that whoever they are helping find a welcoming community that will respect their customs, culture and religion, whatever it may be.