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.
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.
Come 2018, the HIAS Collection will be available to researchers. And some of those researchers may be surprised to come upon the term “Indochina” while perusing our folder titles.
“Indochina” is a historically complex term for the region of Southeast Asia comprising modern-day Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and parts of Myanmar.
Western intervention in the region began with the establishment of Jesuit missions in the early 17th century. This gradually evolved into more direct secular involvement, to pure imperialism under Napoleon III. French Indochina, or Indochine, reached its fullest extent in 1907.
In 1946, the Viet Minh began a war of independence against the French. As the conflict continued, and with Communist China at the northern border beginning in 1949, the United States became concerned with the outcome of the conflict.
In 1954, an international conference, called the Geneva Conference, was held to settle outstanding issues from the Korean War, and to restore peace to Indochina. In attendance were representatives of Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China, France, Laos, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, the Viet Minh (the North Vietnamese, allied with the Viet Cong), and the State of Vietnam (the South Vietnamese).
The Conference provided that a cease-fire line be drawn along the 17th parallel, giving the belligerents time to withdraw and evacuate from Laos and Cambodia. A provision known as the Final Declaration stipulated that elections be held in July, 1956 to reunify the country. The United States and the State of Vietnam rejected these proceedings in opposition to the Communist government in the North, and its relations with China.
In 1955, the United States, following its Cold War policy of containment, marched into Vietnam and began working on building an anti-communist state in South Vietnam. Thus began the conflict known in the West as the Vietnam War. This iteration of Western engagement and Cold War proxy fighting in Indochina came to an end in 1975 with the Fall of Saigon, which united the country.
However, the fact that the country was united did not mean that all Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians wanted to live under the post-1975 Communist governments–which entailed such threats as Vietnamese “reeducation camps” and the violent Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.
In the following years, over 3 million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians would flee the region. Today, this is known as the Indochina Refugee Crisis. And that is where HIAS stepped in. Seeing the humanitarian crisis taking place in Southeast Asia, HIAS got to work rescuing and resettling refugees fleeing Southeast Asia.
And that is how several folders in the HIAS collection over a variety of Series came to include the term “Indochina” and “Indochinese” in their titles.
Today, the term “Indochina” is understood as an imperialist, Orientalist one. However, at the peak year of the refugee crisis, this was the term used in international parlance.
The HIAS archives team took the implications of the term under serious consideration while processing materials related to this refugee crisis, and we decided to maintain its usage.
It is not our job to impose our own order, naming preferences, and political considerations onto the collections, but to best capture the context under which the records were created, and to describe and arrange it as best reflects the organization and its goals. Thus, in the interest in preserving the historical record and HIAS’ contextual understanding of its work, we retained use of the term, “Indochina.”
We recently received a donation from the grandson of long-time HIAS employee, Fannie G. Steiner: a folder of 1958 correspondence, mostly to and about Fannie and her imminent retirement.
One document that gave us a little background on Fannie was a memo to the Directors of Local Cooperating Agencies dated October 28, 1958, regarding Fannie’s retirement. The memo was signed by Executive Director James P. Rice and Director of US Operations Ann S. Petluck, and it gave a summary of her work with refugees and immigrants beginning years before joining HIAS.
Fannie’s refugee and immigrant aid work “began in the early Hitler period”…. she was hired by the National Refugee Service (NRS) in 1939 as supervisor of Intake and later as supervisor of a unit in the Family Services department. Fannie joined the field staff of United Service for New Americans (USNA) in 1942; In 1956, after the merger between USNA and HIAS, Fannie was appointed senior field representative at United HIAS Service (UHS) in charge of Community Services. This is the position from which she retired at the end of October 1958.
Congratulatory letters from those at Federations and Jewish Family and Children’s Services around the country who worked with Fannie in resettlement through the years comprise the bulk of the file. Letters include those from Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Detroit; Albany Jewish Social Service; Jewish Welfare Federation of San Francisco; and the Shreveport Jewish Federation.
Dora Margolis, Executive Director of Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Boston, wrote, “you should have much satisfaction in terms of the excellent work you did during a critical period in the lives of our people. Historically this will always be looked to as a momentous task – this re-settlement of Jews in the United States.”
Albert Comanor, Executive Director of Jewish Family Service (JFS) in Miami, wrote a very personal letter that began, “When I think back over the journeyings, the dramatic peaks, the interludes, the changing faces in the parade, the varying qualities in the interpersonal relationships, the disputes, the charges, the disagreements, the parties and bent elbows, the twitching ambitions, the surges and the uncertainties, the great cloud of alien voices down the gangplank or in the halls — that whole long parade — yes, I think you have earned a retirement.”
Comanor had been Fannie’s supervisor when he was assistant executive director at USNA. He doesn’t exactly apologize for having been not “always gracious”, but he clearly thought as highly of Fannie as all her other 70-some correspondents upon hearing of her retirement.
When we first received this file, not knowing anything about Fannie or her work with HIAS, we googled her name. Fannie G. Steiner is the rare name that, when googled, yields exactly one hit* – a Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) file of news clippings from 1960-1961 on the topic of Cuban refugees.
In a Miami Herald article titled, “Top Jewish Agency Opens Office Here For Cuba Refugees”, Fannie is identified as “an experienced resettlement worker” from New York, who in December 1960 took over the management of the HIAS office at the Cuban Emergency Center in Miami from Frederick Fried, head of HIAS’ Community Service Department in New York.
One mystery that remains are the details of Fannie coming out of retirement two years later to take over this work in Miami. Perhaps she maintained a relationship with HIAS as a consultant after her retirement, because the work of aiding refugees and immigrants never ends.
* Her name received one hit on google in March 2017; this week it received at least two.
The HIAS archive project is twofold in nature. The first part–the part this blog is concerned with–relates to the processing of HIAS’ last 40-50 years of administrative files. The second part has to do with improving access to case files regarding those assisted by HIAS between the Second World War and the turn of the twenty-first century.
To handle the second part of this project we hired a database manager, Janet Yerokhina. Her job is to determine how to pull a massive amount of data stored in multiple formats into one database. Janet has been extracting and cleaning data, and creating a search screen for the public-facing interface. When completed the database will include fields of information about tens of thousands of HIAS clients.
As Janet went through the thousands of client files recovered from an old, out of date HIAS database, she would sometimes check for familiar last names. For, Janet and her family were HIAS clients themselves in the 1990s as they emigrated from Russia to the United States. One day, Janet came upon her mother’s fairly unique first name, followed by their surname, their first address in New York City, and information regarding other family members.
Part of the American Jewish story is one of immigration, so how fitting it is that a staff member of the American Jewish Historical Society should find her own story in our holdings.
Janet is still perfecting the database, but you can check it out here.
As a note, because much of this data is confidential and restricted, only certain pieces of information will be publicly available.
Edward M. Benton was born into HIAS royalty – his father was John L. Bernstein, a founder in 1902 of the what we on the HIAS archives project understand to have been the first real predecessor organization of today’s Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. * John L. Bernstein remained on the HIAS board until his death in 1952. He was a lawyer, and provided pro bono legal services to HIAS for half a century.
Edward’s uncle was James Bernstein, a doctor in Brooklyn connected with Zion Hospital. He was director of HIAS activities in Europe approximately 1924-1947, having replaced E.W. Lewin-Epstein in the HIAS Warsaw office. (Followers of this blog may recall a previous post on E.W. Lewin Epstein.)
John’s son Edward was an attorney like his father, and seems to have officially become counsel to HIAS in 1952. Edward’s biographical form submitted as a member of the HIAS board of directors is below:
And in his biographical statement from the 1980s, he lists his various positions and accomplishments in connection with his long-time involvement with HIAS:
We have processed a small collection of Edward Benton’s files in the HIAS collection (Executive series/Executive Office/Other Executive Staff/Legal – Edward M. Benton), about one linear foot of files. There are a few files related to his father John’s work with HIAS (in HIAS president Ben Touster’s files and Executive Vice-President Isaac Asofsky’s files), and two files on John’s brother James (Program series/U.S. Operations/Location and Family History Service). Researchers will be able to locate these files on members of the Bernstein/Benton family when the completed finding aid is posted online at the end of 2018. Until then, contact the HIAS team through this blog if you are interested in seeing the files or browsing the related folder lists.
* Some credible sources give the history this way: the Hebrew Sheltering House Association (formed 1889) merged with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (1902) in 1909 to form the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). More detail will be available on the HIAS timeline, soon to be live on the HIAS archives project webpage.
One of the complexities of processing an institutional collection is that the institutions themselves do not function with the intent of making life easy for future archivists (shockingly enough). While the goal of the archivists processing this type of collection is to represent the internal organization of the institution as clearly as possible, sometimes organizations can become so complex that archivists must make difficult editorial choices in the name of accessibility and ease of use.
As I have previously discussed on this blog, HIAS—typically in cooperation with the Department of State and the UJA-Federation of New York—awarded grants to Jewish organizations across the country, which in turn used the money to resettle refugees. It was the Matching Grants Department which handled and kept careful record of that money.
Matching Grants comes across as a department that rather intentionally made itself difficult to trace. It would be reasonable to assume that Matching Grants existed within the Grant Management Department, which itself was situated within the Finance Department. However, that assumption would be incorrect.
Before 1993, Matching Grants was handled by an organization outside of HIAS; between 1993 and 2000, Matching Grants existed as its own department, separate from both Grant Management and US Operations; after the year 2000, Matching Grants existed under the umbrella of US Operations, a department which handles refugee resettlement. Complicating the picture is the fact that the staff names and handwritings attached to Matching Grants papers remained stable, even as the department floated around the HIAS organizational structure.
To represent this movement in the collection and finding aid, while aligned with the goals and practices of processing a large institutional collection, would prove confusing and unintuitive for future researchers. Therefore, we made the decision to organize Matching Grants into the Finance Series, as the vast majority of materials from Matching Grants are financial in nature.