Passover Greetings

The staff of the HIAS archives project would like to wish everyone a “happy and joyful Passover”. In fact, an egg-cellent holiday.

Greetings for Passover – eggs “rushed from nearby farms”

From Elizabeth, Susan, Patricia and Rachel

Edward M. Benton, HIAS attorney

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.)

Edward M. Benton
Edward M. Benton

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:

Board of Directors Biographical Form, Edward M. Benton, circa 1954
Board of Directors Biographical Form, Edward M. Benton, circa 1954

And in his biographical statement from the 1980s, he lists his various positions and accomplishments in connection with his long-time involvement with HIAS:

Edward M. Benton biography, page 3 - his long involvement with HIAS
Edward M. Benton biography, page 3 – his long 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.

HIAS and the Floating Department

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.

International Intrigue: HIAS in Morocco

Found in the files of Executive Vice President James Rice are these reports of meetings in late 1961 with Colonel Mohamed Ofkir, a high-ranking official in the government of King Hassan II notorious for his extremely harsh dealings with dissidents and political enemies.

It wasn’t immediately clear to us the author of this report. Most likely it was Gaynor I. Jacobson, then director of operations in Europe and North Africa, though it could have been Rice, himself, but it’s not noted explicitly.

The meetings concern HIAS’s interest in assisting Moroccan Jews who wanted to leave the country, since prohibitions on emigration to Israel had recently been lifted. Ofkir is initially open to the program but becomes critical after the program is underway.


The first page of the report details the day leading up to the meeting with Colonel Ofkir in November at the Sûreté Nationale building in Rabat.

Raphael Spanien (Deputy Director of the HIAS branch in Paris covering Europe and North Africa) and the author arrive around noon. Colonel Ofkir is indisposed, so they meet with his assistant, a “Mr. H.” whose true identity we haven’t been able to confirm. Mr. H. drives Spanien, the author, and Habib Tayeb, Commissaire Adjoint for Tangiers, to lunch in his car. The car had been the favorite car of King Mohammed V and had been given to Mr. H. by King Hassan II after Mohammed V, his father, had died. The author writes that Mr. H. “was one of the late king’s closest collaborators, and in whom he had the utmost confidence,” which seems to suggest that Mr. H. is something more than a mere ‘assistant’ to the colonel.


Mr. H. is described as “keeping the pulse of the country and the throats of his opponents” and “prides himself on having a secret dossier on every important personality which assures their cooperation or forces their silence.”

After lunch, Mr. H refers to an incident that occurred in Casablanca where “Jews were attacked on account of their attire and because they did not demonstrate suitable warmth for their august guest, Colonel [Gamal Abdel] Nasser [President of Egypt],” of which Mohamed V declared his innocence and claimed that “suitable measures had been taken” on those assumed to be responsible.


Finally at 5:00 PM, the HIAS reps meet with Ofkir; the meeting is over by 5:45 PM.


Colonel Ofkir tells the members of HIAS that he is interested in “the successful start and continuation” of HIAS’s work in Morocco, emphasizing the dangers to himself and to HIAS should word get out about his involvement in helping Jews emigrate, which the “internal opposition” would “be inclined to exploit […] to the detriment of his majesty [Hassan II].”


After the meeting, Mr. H. mentioned his children studying in Paris and Switzerland to whom he has trouble sending money, due to Morocco’s currency restrictions. He asks the members of HIAS if they would be willing to exchange his Moroccan currency and deliver the corresponding amount in francs to his son, and Spanien and the author “indicated that [they] would be pleased to be of assistance.”


That December, there was another meeting with Colonel Ofkir in Casablanca, along with the governor of Casablanca, Colonel Driss. Again, it is not clear who the author of this report is, but it seems this time he went alone to the meeting.

In the month and a half since the very cordial and promising meeting with Ofkir in Rabat, HIAS’s work helping Jews exit Morocco apparently didn’t proceed with sufficient discretion. Okfir says that the emigration has taken on the dimension of an “exodus” and calls for an end to the HIAS program.


The HIAS official notes his responses to the Colonels’ list of issues, hoping to come to some further agreement, but there is no more information in the file if such an agreement came to pass.

A decade later, Ofkir, then appointed minister of defense, attempted to assassinate King Hassan II and take control of Morocco. He was most likely executed by royal forces, and his family was sent to a secret detention camp in the desert for twenty years.

Crafting a HIAS Bibliography

The HIAS team is busy assembling a website to accompany the HIAS Collection. This website will include access to a client database, a finding aid, a timeline, links to digital objects, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, selected to contextualize the HIAS Collection for researchers.

I spent the last couple of days selecting sources to be included in this bibliography, and then listing them in proper Chicago Style citations. There are three main types of citation formats: APA, MLA, and Chicago/Turabian. APA (American Psychological Association) Style is used in the fields of Education, Psychology, and the Sciences; MLA (Modern Language Association) style is used in the Humanities fields; and Chicago/Turabian is typically used in the fields of Business, History, and the Fine Arts. Archival repositories tend to prefer the Chicago/Turabian Style, though many—including the Center for Jewish History–will provide citations in all three styles.

Listing books in Chicago Style is fairly easy—even with multiple authors or editors or editions, books retain the same general components. Archival collections, however, are much more complex.

The Chicago Manual of Style notes that:

“It is impossible to formulate specific rules applicable to all bibliography listings of manuscript materials because methods of arranging and cataloging differ from one depository to another, and kinds of material differ as well. Librarians and archivists are usually willing and able to explain to an author what is required in citations to the documents in their collections. A publisher’s editor may add or delete or rearrange items in listings only with the consent of the author.”

And indeed, the Manual provides two distinct bibliographic citation formats for archival collections:

“The bibliographic sequence most useful for all collections of correspondence and other personal papers named for an individual or group begins with the name of the author of the collected manuscripts of the title of the collection of items being cited and ends with the depository  and, where desirable, its location.


A second possible sequence begins with the depository (or its location) and ends with the collection or part of the collection being cited. This sequence is useful when a number of collections from the same depository are cited and it is desirable to list them together in the bibliography reference list.”

Making the situation even murkier is that the American Jewish Historical Society and the Center for Jewish History (of which the AJHS is a partner agency) present two different ways of citing collections in Chicago Style.

In building the primary source portion of the bibliography, I first consulted the finding aids of the collections in question. The AJHS finding aids contained the following preferred citation format: “Identification of item, date (if known); Creator; Collection Call Number; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.”


But the plot thickens; because the collections were cataloged and assigned metadata by the Center for Jewish History staff, the citation provided in the Center-generated record details page provides the following citation format: “Contributor Name (Last, First) [First, Last for additional contributors], Contributor Organization(s).Collection title, creation date.”


So, for collection I-93, the records of the United Service for the New Americans, the AJHS preferred citation would look like “Item, date (if known); United Service for New Americans Records; I-93; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.” While the Center generated citation would look like “Dewey, Thomas E, Truman, Harry S President, U.S, European Jewish Children’s Aid, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, New York Association for New Americans, and National Coordinating Committee. United Service for New Americans Records undated, 1946-1954, 1945.”

With all of these divergent formats, none of which quite worked for the bibliography, I had to construct a unique citation format which was in keeping with the Chicago Style, but which spoke to the specific purpose of the bibliography.

As the purpose of this bibliography is to refer researcher to resources, I discounted the need to include box and folder number. Further, the center-generated format was too specific—researchers need to know the collection name and call number, not the full provenance.

Thus, the completed, customized citation took the form of “Depository, depository location. Collection Name; Call Number,” and the completed citation in the bibliography for I-93 looks like “American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA. Records of the United Service for New Americans, undated, 1946-1954; I-93.”

Note: This post refers to information contained within the 14th Edition Chicago Manual of Style.

Correspondence with AJHS

HIAS published a history of HIAS, “Visas to Freedom”, by Mark Wischnitzer in 1956. We recently found a 1957 letter from from Rabbi Isidore S. Meyer in the HIAS files we are processing, Meyer was at the time the Librarian-Archivist-Editor of the American Jewish Historical Society, and he was asking HIAS for a copy of the book for the Society’s library collection and a second copy for review in their quarterly publication.

Correspondence from AJHS to HIAS regarding the history of HIAS, "Visas to Freedom", 1957
Correspondence from AJHS to HIAS regarding the newly published history of HIAS, “Visas to Freedom”, 1957

Although there appears to be an “OK” written on the letter, it is unclear whether or not HIAS ever sent a review copy or a copy for the library to Rabbi Meyer as he requested. There is currently no copy in the AJHS library; there are copies of the book in our building, however, if a researcher is on-site and is looking for a book-length historical summary of HIAS’ work through the mid-1950s.

I was however able to locate a review of the book in the AJHS quarterly publication that Rabbi Meyer refers to, “Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society”, volume 48 number 2, December 1958. The review by Barbara M. Solomon at Wheelock College in Boston, is mixed. “The value of Visas to Freedom” is evident on the commemorative level … its thoroughness will make it a reference book within the narrow context of its subject … Despite a superficial attempt to describe the story of HIAS in its historical context, the book never presents a clear and cohesive account, one which might have human interest for readers unfamiliar with HIAS’ interesting and significant social contributions.”

The challenge remains to pull together the long story of HIAS in its historical context, not as a marketing tool for HIAS, but through scholarly research in the HIAS archives. The goal of our project is to make that research possible.

HIAS, Refugees and Immigration: The Hard Work of Humantarianism

For over 100 years, HIAS has worked to rescue those whose best hope for survival was a visa to the United States. There has been a lot of news about immigration and refugees in the past week, and the past few years with the growing numbers of people around the world running from unsafe situations because of war, drought, disease and poverty. HIAS works every day to safely resettle in welcoming communities those they are able to bring to the United States.

Here are three links to recent news about HIAS and President/CEO Mark Hetfield:  JTA article from shortly after the election; follow Hetfield on Twitter; see what HIAS has been working on in the past week.

Of course, what the HIAS archives project team is working on relates to HIAS’ work in past decades. Virtually every document we touch from the 1500 or so boxes that are part of this project relates to one aspect or another of the rescue or resettlement process – raising money through grants and direct solicitation, lobbying for more inclusive and welcoming immigration legislation, walking families through the application process for visas, working with representatives of communities committed to welcoming immigrants to their cities and towns. As the flow of Jewish immigrants slowed after WWII, HIAS began aiding immigrants of all religions, wherever the need was greatest. Below are three documents from the different series we are currently working with:

  1. 1951 – “Nominal Rolls” – These lists of passengers arriving by ship range in date from 1947 to 1963, with the bulk of the lists from the early 1950s towards the end of the huge influx of post-World War II immigrants. Data for each immigrant in the lists includes name, religion, country of birth, marital status and age, occupation and sponsor. The page below is from the list of passengers on the May 1951 ocean crossing of the General Sturgis. The cable that accompanied the 79 page list indicated that there were 1310 passengers on the ship, that 80 were Jewish and that 15 of those were sponsored by HIAS.

    Weber family from Hungary, includes parents and 4 children

      Page 77, lines 1334-1339, lists the Weber family from Hungary and Germany, including parents and 4 children
  2. This 1997 Grant Payment Voucher demonstrates the practicalities of HIAS’ vital refugee rescue and resettlement work.matching-grant-payment-vouchersIn cooperation with the Department of State, national UJA and local Jewish federations, HIAS awarded grants to Jewish organizations across the country. Those organizations would then use the grant money to resettle refugees in their communities.In this document, from the Finance series of the HIAS collection, HIAS is sending the Greater Miami Jewish Federation a portion of the total grant money allocated to that organization.

    These costs would go towards job training, housing, language lessons, health care, child care, counseling if needed. It was also used for job preparedness workshops, and educational materials aimed to help refugees acclimate to life in America.

    While these particular records don’t detail how the organizations used the grant money, they do demonstrate a piece of the HIAS infrastructure in place to resettle refugees.

  3. In 1974, HIAS Executive Vice President Gaynor Jacobson was serving as chair of the Migration and Refugee Affairs Committee of the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (ACVA), of which HIAS was a member group, when he received this photograph of a refugee camp in Tư Cung, Vietnam. The huts pictured were said to have been burned down by the Viet Cong a month after the picture was taken.

At this time, HIAS was itself involved in resettling Vietnamese refugees in the U.S., operating out of Fort Chaffee and Camp Pendleton. Soon after, the State Department would enlist the help of HIAS, along with the other Volags, in resettling the Vietnamese boat people.

Tư Cung, which is actually a hamlet in the village of Sơn Mỹ, along with Mỹ Lai and My Khe, is home to a memorial for the Sơn Mỹ massacre, what we in America call the “Mỹ Lai massacre.”