When “E” Mail was New

I’ve been working on the Government Relations Department Files for the past 6 weeks. There are about 120 bankers boxes of files, which break down into two subseries and three  subsubseries. At this point in processing I can only say “about” 120 boxes for a number of reasons:

  1.  The labeling of the boxes is a best guess, based on the inventory we have of what is off-site. After a quick survey of boxes in order to group them into the series and subseries that make themselves known once we can peak inside the boxes, the actual processing  reveals evidence of whose files they actually are.
  2. About 75 boxes were labeled as coming from the office of Deborah Mark, the Director of Government Relations from 1991 to about 1998, although her files include earlier work from her 3 years working on legislative-related special projects under Executive VP Karl Zukerman; in fact some boxes were from the office of her predecessor, Phillip Saperia, and many files contained the work of a colleague, Michael Gendel. One box contains Gendel files from his years in US Operations, a separate division from Government Relations.
  3. Ultimately the Deborah Mark files turned out to encompass 69 boxes; after processing was completed last week, largely because most of these 69 were only partially full when received, the final count is 35 boxes.

The two subseries are determined by the fact that there are files from both the New York office’s Government Relations Department (Deborah Mark and Phillip Saperia, predominantly), and the D.C. office.

Many interesting subjects are covered in these files, and I plan to write more about the content in future posts. For now, I just want to mention the first use/reference to e-mail I’ve noticed in these files. Below is a memoranda from 1990, on which Deborah Mark handwrote that she had commented on the memo to RH (Roberta Herch, then Assistant Director of U.S. Operations.) by “E” Mail.

Internal HIAS memo re IOM (International Organization for Migration) in 1990 mentions “E” Mail in a handwritten note

Later in the 1990s e-mails were printed out and filed; if these messages had NOT been printed out and filed with the rest of Deborah’s subject files, they may very likely have been lost – who can access e-mail from the mid-1990s now? That’s a subject of its own, that archivists everywhere are still dealing with.

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HIAS Women’s Division

Women’s Division—Audio-Visual Mobile Unit, 1950s.

When the Women’s Division came into existence as an auxiliary group to HIAS, their original, main purpose was to raise money for larger-scale international endeavors. In addition to this task, its members also took on more personally-connecting roles with incoming immigrants.

In the early years, Women’s Division members volunteered at the Lafayette street shelter, ran a thrift shop whose proceeds went to HIAS, and began personally meeting incoming planes carrying refugees at JFK airport.

Although membership and volunteer activity with the Women’s Division surged after WWII, by the 1980s and 1990s, initiative and group attendance was waning. Many of the previously active members had grown too old for volunteering and changes needed to be made in order to maintain the solvency of the Division as a whole. With work, HIAS sparked interest in a large contingent of Russian women in particular, displaced from the Soviet Union and searching for supportive communities in the city. They found solace in the Women’s Division, providing boosting membership numbers, much-needed clerical help, and translation services. These women found for themselves a sense of purpose and strength with others in similarly isolating circumstances.

At the Women’s Division Board meeting on April 8 [1991] it became even more apparent that we will need to infuse new blood into the Division if it is to survive at all…It seems clear that developing [new] chapters of Russian women is the way to breathe new life into the WD and at the same time increase HIAS membership.  –Carolyn Agress to Roberta Elliott, April 10, 1991

There were several Division chapters in NYC, scattered around the different neighborhoods, all with their own unique roster of leadership, meeting schedules, and fundraising techniques. A representative from each of these chapters was elected to be part of the larger Women’s Division Board, and the president of this board represented everyone at the general HIAS Executive Committee meetings.

At the time of the resignation of Women’s Division President Arline Bronzaft in 1994, only two chapters were still functioning in NYC. By 1998, we know that the auxiliary group had been dissolved (or at the very least was soon to be), due to this template draft written on behalf of HIAS President Norman D. Tilles and Executive VP Martin A. Wenick:

DRAFT-Letter re Women’s Division, undated. I-363, Executive Office Subject Files, HIAS—Women’s Division.

 

 

American Values as Seen by Immigrant Children: “People from different countries live peacefully in America!”

In 1995, the HIAS Communications department held a poster contest for Russian emigre youth to artistically express their feelings about their new country. The theme was “What America Means to Me.” One grand prize winner would receive an all expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. with two family members. Three runners up would receive a special award. Twelve finalists received certificates of achievement and had their posters included in the 1996 HIAS calendar. All participants received a certificate of appreciation.

The following year, the contest was expanded to all immigrant children, and an annual tradition began.

For the 2000 contest, children were invited to look ahead to the 21st century, consider the values they felt America should support in the new millennium, and draw or paint a symbol that expressed their ideas. The winning posters would be printed in the 2001 agency calendar.

2001 was to be a special year, for it marked 120 years of HIAS’ work rescuing more than four million refugees and migrants, transporting them from oppression and persecution and delivering them to places of safe haven. The number was significant because of a common Jewish endearment: “May you live to be 120,” the age of Moses when he died.

Following is a selection of winning artwork from the 2000 contest.

 

Rostislav from California, age 11:

Rostislav’s explanation:

On the background of the earth is drawn my symbol of America in the 21st century. This is the sailing ship that is bringing peace, freedom, and progress to the people of the world as a remembrance of the first religious freedom ship, Mayflower.

-Rostislav, age 11

 

Edward from California, age 10:

Edward’s explanation:

My drawing shows an astronaut making peace with an alien. My symbol means that we should not only take care of our country, but our world, too. There might be other life forms out there. It also shows the future hope that if we can make peace with an alien, we should try to make peace between each other.

-Edward, age 10

 

Aleksandra from Ohio, age 14:

On the left side of the flag, Aleksandra included the message: “Our home is here — our home will be in the other worlds.”

 

Aleksandra’s 12 year old sister sister Anna also participated in the contest:

Anna explained:

It is on the river of time in the boat of love and care looking to the future. I thought of that because there is no life without tomorrow. We have to be prepared for the future even if we do not expect some things to happen.

I do not want to have any wars or stealing to happen so people can think about their future. I want peace! I want for all the countries to be together, have one kind of money and give it to everyone! I want the world to have its future and for no one to be sad. I want everyone to have what they need for the future and not think: what are we going to have for dinner tomorrow? are we going to have dinner?

This is the major and common thing about life. That is why I want this to stand in the most common place in the world so everyone can see it and go for the truth! And if this happens sometime then the Earth can be happy to look into the future!!!

-Anna, age 12

 

Genya from North Carolina, age 8:

Genya’s explanation:

 

My symbol means:

People from different countries live peacefully in America!

-Genya, age 8

 

Schindelman Flying Mendonza on Nineteenth

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.

Telex to Gaynor Jacobson from “Fred”, September 18, 1970

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:

1-knowledgeable

2-capable

3-efficient

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.

Verso, with portrait

 

The HIAS Scholarship Program

From the 1977 annual report.

In 1974, United HIAS Service (as the agency was then known) announced the establishment of the Richard Alan Shapiro Memorial Awards. The $250 awards would be presented annually to two individuals – immigrants or their children – who “were making or preparing to make through study significant contributions to social betterment.” The awards, presented at the HIAS annual meeting in 1975, were the first in what would come to be known as the HIAS Scholarship Program.

Richard Alan Shapiro, son of then Associate Secretary (and future HIAS President) Edwin Shapiro and his wife Claire, was fatally injured in a car accident on January 31, 1974 at the age of 23, when he was in medical school. HIAS Director Gaynor Jacobson and President Carl Glick suggested to the Shapiros that they create a fund in memory of their son.

Records of the Scholarship Program are included in the HIAS archives collection under the Development series. Documents such as meeting minutes of the Scholarship Committee, correspondence with judges, press releases, and newspaper clippings give an idea of the the evolution of the program from the 1970s to the early 2000s. The number of awards increased from one to hundreds as HIAS actively pursued donors. Requirements for eligibility were adjusted as the program became more established. Some of these changes can be traced via the press releases:

  • 1975: $250 awards for “immigrants…who were making or preparing to make through study significant contributions to social betterment.”
  • 1983: $300 awards for “refugees who have made exceptional progress or shown outstanding promise in resettling in the United States.”
  • 1984: $500 awards for “refugees who have come to this country and wish to enter into or advance in the professions of their choosing.”
  • 1988: $500-2,000 awards for “HIAS-assisted refugees and their children who have arrived here since 1977.” Dr. Arline Bronzaft, Chairman of the Scholarship Awards Committee, noted that this was the first year that the funds were earmarked “specifically for students who are pursuing or plan to pursue, a post-secondary education.”
  • 1991: $500-2,000 Israeli awards for “Israeli students who [were] immigrants from the Soviet Union or Ethiopia, who made aliyah during 1980 or after …  Awarded on the basis of need and academic excellence.” (Records in this subseries show that HIAS awarded scholarships to Israeli olim as early as 1978, possibly earlier.)
  • 1992: $500-2,000 awards for “HIAS-assisted refugees and their children who migrated to the United States after 1977. The awards are intended specifically for students who plan to pursue post-secondary education and must demonstrate at least one year’s attendance in an American high school or college.”

 

A few of the awards at a glance:

  • The Ann S. Petluck Award – A social work administrator who specialized in immigration and refugee work, Petluck’s efforts profoundly influenced the practice of migration casework and helped reshape United States immigration law. She served as associate director of the United Service for New Americans until its merger with HIAS in 1954 and then as director of U.S. Operations for  the merged organization until 1964, when she became deputy representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Established by Meyer Poses in 1977 in memory of his wife.
  • The Murray I. Gurfein Memorial Fund – Established in 1980 by Eva Gurfein to honor her husband, the late Judge Gurfein, who served as President of HIAS from 1956-57 and from 1960-67. For more information on Gurfein, see these blog posts: Judge Murray I. Gurfein and Judge Murray Gurfein in “The Post.”
  • The Harry Ginsberg Memorial Fund – Established in 1991 in memory of Harry Ginsberg, a longtime HIAS board member, by his children. Harry’s wife Sophie also devoted her time to the cause of the agency, serving in the Women’s Division for many years (the division’s Sophie Ginsberg Chapter is named for her).
From the 1987 annual report.

Thank-you notes from scholarship recipients (excerpts):

From a pre-med student originally from Syria:

“It is not the first time that I or my family receive support from the HIAS. When we arrived in the USA, the HIAS department for new immigrants took care of our asylum application. They made sure that we have a work authorization and Social Security.

When my parents moved to Israel, HIAS took upon themselves the responsibility to provide me with the proper legal documentation such as Social Security and political asylum.

It is an endless chain of efforts and accomplishments by the HIAS to provide each and every Jew with everything they need to live a decent life in the USA.”

From an NYC student from the former Soviet Union:

“Were it not for the one-thousand dollar scholarship I received from HIAS, I honestly may not have been able to go to college. It is important to understand that for recent immigrants, every little bit helps. I am most grateful for the opportunity HIAS has given me.”

 

 

Always Factual, Often Dazzling: HIAS Annual Reports

Each year, HIAS Executive Board members as well as members of various Committees and Sub-Committees convene to discuss the year’s financial status, track contributions to their cultural missions, resolve issues, and plan for the year(s) ahead in the form of Annual Meetings. Although these meetings may not seem that exciting from the outside, they serve as valuable roundtables for discussion, decision-making, and organizational networking.

Every year, just in time of the Annual Meeting, HIAS releases their Annual Report. These publications serve as handy take-aways, highlighting many of the topics discussed at the Annual Meeting as well as other entertaining articles and interviews.

Throughout our processing, we’ve had the pleasure of coming across many of HIAS’ Annual Reports and marveled at the impressive, creative art styles that were chosen to represent one year or another.

Below, we’ve selected some of our favorites. Please enjoy the artistic inventiveness of HIAS throughout the years!

Which year is your favorite? Let us know in the Comments section below!
Images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Soundex and Family History Records

Soundex – it hardly exists anymore. But if you are interested in family history, and plan on using census records, or HIAS client files (among other Soundex-coded collections), it can either be annoying or a real time saver.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which holds the census records, created the Soundex system beginning with the 1880 census. Many of the 1890 census records were destroyed in a fire in 1921 when they were being held by the Department of Commerce; a “small percentage” of some the 1890 records survives in an alphabetical index which does not use Soundex. 1900 and 1920 records are completely searchable using Soundex; 1910 has a Soundex index for about half the states.

NARA observes a 72-year delay in the release of census records (the 72-year rule was mandated by Congress in 1978); by the time the 1930 census was ready for release, in 2002, database software had made Soundex obsolete – except for conducting research with records from 1880 to 1920.

A pamphlet found in the HIAS collection (Administration series, Heather Halliday archivist files, box 121), from NARA, “Census Soundex”, gives the above history and then has several pages on how to use Soundex, pictured below.

National Archives and Records Administration Soundex Coding System – looks pretty complicated

What is Soundex and how does it work? The simple explanation is that “Soundex is a coded surname (last name) index based on the way a surname sounds rather than the way it is spelled. Surnames that sound the same, but are spelled differently, like SMITH and SMYTH, have the same code and are filed together … you can find a surname even though it may have been recorded under various spellings.”

Anyone who has done much family history research can tell you that the variant spellings as names originating in other countries changed once in the United States, and is a common problem when hunting down relatives. Soundex is even more helpful when the various spellings of a last name include examples that are spelled with different first letters. Because census records were searched for many years using microfilm, searching throughout the alphabet was incredibly time-consuming.

HIAS developed their own version of the NARA Soundex system, because so many names were Eastern European and there was a need to accommodate certain letters. According to Appendix A in “Genealogical Resources in New York”, edited by Estelle Guzik, the NYC Health Department for the most part used the NARA system.The HIAS Soundex Filing System differs from the NARA system in small ways that have proved helpful to the staff in HIAS’ Location Department. With thousands and thousands of client files, filed by last name and created over decades, being able to locate all the versions of a particular surname in one place was helpful – both in the paper files in their vast Hall of Records, and later (even now) on microfilm.

HIAS Case Name Indexing System, page 1. Not easier than the NARA system, but it works well
HIAS Case Name Indexing System, page 2

Some of the HIAS Arrival Cards were scanned from the microfilm to provide the 1955-1980 data for the database created as part of this archives project, which we’ve mentioned before. (Another post here) If you haven’t had a chance to search for family members who were brought to the United States by HIAS from about 1955 to 2000, please try a search. Because ultimately, the goal of all these systems is to find what you’re looking for.