As of Monday, August 17, I will no longer be working on the HIAS Archives Project—I’m moving horizontally into the position of the Photo & Reference Archivist and Social Media Manager here at the American Jewish Historical society.
Since my last post, I have begun to process boxes from the Development department. The set of boxes I’m currently working with contains records regarding HIAS membership campaigns run by HIAS Board members in their local synagogues and organizations. While processing these materials, I came upon a folder labeled “#125 – Greenburgh Hebrew Center.”
It seems fitting that I should find that folder during my last week on the HIAS project; the Greenburgh Hebrew Center was my first Synagogue, and where I first attended preschool in the early 1990s.
In 1954, shortly before the official merger between HIAS and the United Service for New Americans (USNA), Mildred Tuffield, a files consultant, was hired to survey the file systems in use by both agencies.
Tuffield’s general findings included the fact that “each agency [has] a departmentalized structure organized along functional lines”, and then went on to say that the Survey and Report on HIAS/USNA Files Integration, “had to concern itself with the major problems of the central records used by all departments”.
10 pages of the report deal with the system each agency used to maintain their case files prior to the merger; 5 pages deal with their respective systems for indexing and filing what Tuffield refers to as “General Files” – files that we refer to as “Administrative Files”; these would have been the files maintained by the central filing department, separate (although often duplicative of) individual department files. Subject headings included Executive Overseas Files, US Branch Files, Congregations and Federations.
While there were many specifics in the 15 pages of Tuffield’s report, she advises in her cover letter, above, that a staff committee be appointed immediately, with representation from both agencies, to negotiate a records merger plan.
There are just a few boxes of files from just after the merger in the 1950s that have become part of the HIAS archives project, and these early files, so far, are scattered through the US Operations department in New York, and in some of the files from the Paris office. (Many more of the USNA and HIAS files from this era can be found in the HIAS collections at YIVO.) I recently completed the processing of European Personnel and Administrative files from the HIAS office in Geneva, and many of those files begin at the time of the merger in 1954, so it is not possible to directly compare indexing systems from before and after. I would guess, however, that Tuffield’s recommendations were followed, and ultimately were successful in categorizing at the very least the documents and files created post-merger.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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”,
or that has a hastily handwritten note below the typed letter.
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.
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 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:
“… 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.
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.
An article this week in The New York Timesdiscussed a recent Supreme Court decision, that of children born overseas when one parent is a United States citizen and one is not. For a number of years the rules governing the children’s citizenship when the parents are not married have been different for children depending on whether their mother or father was the US citizen.
The specifics are different, but the general issue of citizenship for children born overseas is one that I recently came across in the European Personnel files from the 1960s.
Nearly 100 small boxes labeled as “European Personnel” files were sent from the HIAS European headquarters, then in Geneva, in 1995. These files were included with the other administrative files that became part of our HIAS archives project last year. The files range in date from about 1954, the year HIAS merged with United Service for New Americans (USNA) and with the Migration Department of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to the mid-1980s.
Many are personnel files for staff from HIAS and JDC offices in Europe and North Africa which will not become part of the archives. The remaining files are predominantly those of Irving Haber, the Director of Administration and Finance in the Geneva office which had moved from Paris during his tenure. Haber’s files contain three kinds of records: general administrative matters including policies, manuals and correspondence; files of correspondence and administrative documents relating to senior professional staff in all of the European and North African offices, titled by employee name; and country files containing general business issues in specific countries and cities.
At different times the HIAS offices supervised through headquarters in Paris and, by 1962 Geneva, included Munich, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Vienna, Paris, Tunis, Casablanca, Algiers and others. As the number of emigrants and refugees grew and shrank in specific locations, HIAS opened and closed offices, and dealt with administrative issues to be expected in the European headquarters of an immigration organization. Sprinkled through the files are documents that give a brief look at the actual migration work that the staff was doing; because few other files from the European offices are specifically those of the people actually doing migration work, these files should prove of great interest to researchers.
One of the many issues HIAS helped its overseas personnel deal with was the status of the United States citizenship of children born to staff while stationed overseas – in many cases for their entire lives until leaving for college. Irving Haber was worried in 1971, for example, about a recent Supreme Court ruling that might affect his children if they weren’t able to live in the United States for 5 consecutive years before they were 28.
Other documents discuss possible outcomes to the 1971 ruling, including bills pending in Congress with shorter lengths of time to live in the United States, and involve not only leadership from the HIAS office in New York but other HIAS and JDC staff living overseas with the same worries about their children’s citizenship status.
Clearly this is a situation that has existed for decades and that is still being clarified and adjusted based on changing global situations. It is startling to learn that children of a US citizen devoted to aiding those in need of resettlement might find themselves without the option of inheriting the citizenship of their parent.
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.”
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!