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Letter from Willy Hellpach to Martha Kubatzki on Reichstag stationery, 1930

Out of the Archives
An Epistolary Romance
by Catherine Greer, Archival Processing Fellow, Center for Jewish History

I spent two weeks at the Center for Jewish History as a Graduate Archival Processing Fellow. The twelve-day program provided me with a wealth of theoretical knowledge, hands-on experience in archival processing—and an unexpected historical intrigue. 

On the first day of the program, we were introduced to all of the Center’s archivists, went on a tour of the building and had the first of many lively discussions about our assigned readings. The following day, my supervising archivist, Lea Lange, and I retrieved the collections she had recommended I process. My background includes degrees in German and music, and I was pleased that Lea had taken the time to find collections related to my interests.

The first collection I processed was full of surprises! The collection consists mostly of poems and love letters written to Martha Kubatzki, a young woman who worked as a secretary at the Lessing Hochschule in Berlin. I determined that the letters were written by Willy Hellpach, the sixth State President of Baden, Germany, in the early 1930s. While this fact alone was fascinating, I then discovered that at the time, Hellpach was married to another woman named Olga.

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Willy Hellpach’s business card, 1929

This relationship between a married man and a young Jewish woman in the early 1930s was extremely intriguing. Unfortunately, the letters and poems end abruptly in 1935, and there is no further information about their affair. It will remain a mystery—unless more materials surface to fill in the gaps. 

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Poem written by Hellpach to Kubatzki, 1934. The words “I love you” are written across the poem in red, a decorative touch Hellpach added to much of his correspondence to Kubatzki.

While we spent most of our time during the fellowship processing assigned collections, we also met regularly with two supervising archivists for discussions about our reading assignments. The topics ranged from processing and archival theory to a case of archival theft.

Through these discussions, I learned that archivists are not responsible for preserving a historical record, but also actively contributing to collective memory. The fellowship program gave me valuable work experience in archival processing and enhanced my skills as a researcher as well. 

The guide to the collection I worked on is now online, and the collection will soon will be digitized as well. 

About the Archival Fellowship program: 

The Center for Jewish History’s newly launched Archival Fellowship Program provides young scholars in the field of Jewish Studies with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in an archival institution, using the knowledge of language, history and culture they have developed in their studies. By working with diverse collections from our partner institutions, fellows are introduced to basic archival theory and practice, strengthening their capabilities as researchers and opening up new professional directions for them.

The primary focus of the fellowship is on archival processing. In the course of processing a collection from start to finish, the fellows organize the collection in ways that will make the materials more accessible to researchers; write a descriptive online guide (also known as a finding aid) so that potential users can determine whether the material is relevant to their interests; and rehouse the collection to ensure its long-term stability.

In the Winter 2014 pilot of the program, our Center archivists trained two fellows, Stefanie Halpern and Catherine Greer (author of this post), who boast subject specialties in Jewish Studies and the performing arts. The pilot set us on a steady course for a larger-scale iteration of the program in the summer of 2014, when we will host six international and domestic fellows with support from The Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe. For more information about this and other Center fellowships, see our list of fellowship programs or contact our Senior Manager for Archival Services, Rachel C. Miller, at rcmiller@cjh.org. 

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Dramatis personae: Addressing a playwright

Out of the Archives
How to Find Arthur Miller Without Even Trying, or, The Perks of Being the First Lady
by Stefanie Halpern, Archival Processing Fellow, Center for Jewish History

I was processing a collection on the Friends of Ida Kaminska Theatre, a foundation that existed for only a few years to raise funds and to book shows for Kaminska, the much-loved (and Academy Award-nominated) Polish-Jewish actress. In the process of processing, I came across a letter that mentioned Arthur Miller. 

More specifically, the sender of the letter (Rabbi Robert E. Goldburg) was providing the recipient (Julius Schatz, the secretary of the foundation) with Miller’s address. Here are Rabbi Goldburg’s words: “I am terribly sorry I am not permitted to give out Arthur Miller’s telephone number but he can be reached simply: Arthur Miller, Roxbury, Conn.” At first I was intrigued. (No address? No zip code?) Then I was jealous. That Arthur Miller really had it good—he was so famous that he was his address.

I worked on a second collection that contained correspondence between Eleanor Roosevelt and Judge Justine Wise Polier. Polier was the first female judge in New York, appointed by Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia in 1935. Besides being generally excited that I had touched Eleanor Roosevelt’s hands (using the transitive properties by which my hand + letter and Eleanor Roosevelt’s hand + letter = my hand + the First Lady’s hand), I found a few other postal-related treats in this collection. 

The envelopes Eleanor Roosevelt sent from the White House include war propaganda stamps released from 1940-42, featuring pictures of the Statue of Liberty, an anti-aircraft gun and an uplifted torch. The last stamp, released on July 4, 1942, is adorned with an eagle in the shape of a V for victory and the text “Win the War.”  

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After she left the White House, Roosevelt didn’t even need to put a postage stamp on any of the letters she sent.  Instead, using an ink stamp of her own signature, she just “franked” them herself.

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About the Archival Fellowship program: 

The Center for Jewish History’s newly launched Archival Fellowship Program provides young scholars in the field of Jewish Studies with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in an archival institution, using the knowledge of language, history and culture they have developed in their studies. By working with diverse collections from our partner institutions, fellows are introduced to basic archival theory and practice, strengthening their capabilities as researchers and opening up new professional directions for them.

The primary focus of the fellowship is on archival processing. In the course of processing a collection from start to finish, the fellows organize the collection in ways that will make the materials more accessible to researchers; write a descriptive online guide (also known as a finding aid) so that potential users can determine whether the material is relevant to their interests; and rehouse the collection to ensure its long-term stability.

In the Winter 2014 pilot of the program, our Center archivists trained two fellows, Stefanie Halpern (author of this post) and Catherine Greer, who boast subject specialties in Jewish Studies and the performing arts. The pilot set us on a steady course for a larger-scale iteration of the program in the summer of 2014, when we will host six international and domestic fellows with support from The Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe. For more information about this and other Center fellowships, see our list of fellowship programs or contact our Senior Manager for Archival Services, Rachel C. Miller, at rcmiller@cjh.org. 

Start Making Sense: Ordering the Chaos of AV Material | Preservation Week 2014

We’re honoring National Preservation Week (April 26 through May 3) with a series of posts from our archival experts about the best way to take care of your precious artifacts at home. 

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Above: An unprocessed AV collection.

by Alyssa Carver, Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History

Archivists work hard every day to preserve the historic record, but our main concern is with providing access to the information itself. This means it is necessary to care for the objects and artifacts that convey information, but we can rely on specialists like our conservator Felicity Corkill to provide guidance on complex material issues. In contrast, an archivist might describe “preservation” as an intellectual task, one that involves preserving authenticity, context and meaning.   

To do so, we must create order out of chaos—at least, we try to. The reason we maintain archival collections is so they can be used for research, but how do potential researchers know what we have and whether it’s relevant to their interests? Well, we arrange the collections (for example, by date, creator or function) to help identify what they are about, and we describe them with online catalog records, finding aids or collection guides that are available to the public.

Here in the Shelby White & Leon Levy Archival Processing Laboratory, the bulk of our collections are comprised of paper documents: letters, reports, certificates, legal forms, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, posters, photos—an astounding variety, really, once you start to enumerate the types.  

Something all these items have in common, besides being two-dimensional and thus fitting within flat folders and file boxes, is that we don’t require any special device to learn their content. Yes, we might find ourselves puzzling over a bit of difficult handwriting or having to solve the small mystery of some undated correspondence…but audiovisual (AV) media provide a whole new set of challenges. A videotape, film reel or audiocassette doesn’t “tell” you anything unless you interact with it through some kind of technology.

This creates a number of difficulties. Sometimes the format is obsolete and the required playback technology no longer exists, or is prohibitively expensive. Playback also shortens the “life expectancy” of these types of media—quite the opposite of our goal of preservation!  Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is the time it would take to interact with every individual AV item. With paper, we can generally glance at a name or date and make a decision about what the item is.  Depending on the nature of the collections, archivists at the Center process an average of several file boxes per week. 

For libraries and archives that specialize in AV media, it makes sense to invest in the equipment and the staff time, but it would be terribly inefficient for us here. Of course, we provide the proper housing and environment for these items to last as long as possible, but this doesn’t fulfill the most important part of our job: to provide access through description. What this means is that the information associated with the media becomes very important—the labels, the packaging, the dates of nearby items. 

The creator of the collection pictured in the image at the top of this post provided labels for most of the tapes, including dates, names or locations. There are a few ways in which she could have been more consistent, but having even this much information makes a world of difference. It’s those details that make this an “archival collection” instead of a box of random tapes you might find at the flea market. As you can see from the examples below, it’s considerably less daunting to survey a neat stack of labeled tapes than a mysterious container of media.

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Above: Unidentified AV material—a challenge. 

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Above: Labeled AV items—a great help!

Some things you can do at home to help your future archivist? Besides proper storage of AV media, get those items labeled—and don’t wait until you’ve forgotten the important names, dates, places, occasions and purposes. Find ways to keep track of and maintain all of this information (also known as “metadata”), and you might find you enjoy remembering your own personal history—and knowing precisely where those memories are stored. 

More posts in our National Preservation Week series:

Your Digital Family Album: A System for Safekeeping
For Delicate Books, Safe and Snug Houses
Defending Precious Artifacts from Mold and More
Organizing Digital Files: Getting Your Photos and Scans in Shape

Out of the Archives: War Heroism
by Kevin Schlottmann, Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History

Fred Lederman (born Manfred Ledermann, 1918-2003) was a baker by trade. After he fled Neckarsteinach, Germany for the United States, he was drafted into the Army and returned to Europe in 1944, where he earned a Bronze Star for convincing a German unit to surrender. The details of his heroic act are in the commendation letter above. From the Leo Baeck Institute’s Prölsdorfer – Lederman Family Collection (AR 25554). Also pictured above: Fred Ledermann’s Bronze Star, Army dog tag with prayer scroll, and service ribbons.

Conservation: Flattening Documents

by Felicity Corkill, Associate Conservator, and Kevin Schlottmann, Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History

All physical objects change over time. Whether accelerated through exposure to light, changes in temperature and humidity, poor handling, or just natural decay, things break down. At the Center for Jewish History’s Collection Management and Conservation Wing, we attempt to address some of this inexorable decay through good storage environment and housing. We also try to repair and maintain the treasured documents, photographs, books and other materials of the Center’s partners. 

An interesting example of the type of work performed in the Werner J. and Gisella Levi Cahnman Preservation Laboratory is the flattening of documents and photographs. A previous owner of this long portrait photograph had rolled it for storage:

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Once rolled in this way, the photograph cannot be unrolled without cracking the gelatin emulsion every few inches and irreversibly damaging the image. Unfortunately, a rolled photo will often exhibit this sort of damage, as people have previously attempted to peek inside.  The proper way to treat such an item is to humidify and then flatten it. Humidification relaxes the gelatin emulsion and paper support that make up the photograph. This process is performed in a special chamber that allows a controlled amount of water vapor into an enclosed space.  

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As the photograph relaxes, it can be slowly unrolled until it is lying flat. Then it is placed between layers of blotting paper and weighted. After a couple of days, the item is dry and flat and can be viewed (and, in this case, eventually digitized as well). Additional repairs help stabilize the tears in the photograph. It is not perfect, as some damage is irreversible, but the photo can now be handled and viewed – a usable object once more.  

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This particular photograph is a portrait of Company A, 56th Signal Battalion at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, from August 9, 1941. One of the men who served in this company was Fred Lederman, a German Jew who arrived in the United States in 1940 and was promptly drafted into the Army and sent back to Europe to fight the Nazis. From the Leo Baeck Institute’s Prölsdorfer – Lederman Family Collection (AR 25554).

Out of the Archives
When Facebook Was an Actual Book
by Alyssa Carver, Project Archivist, Center for Jewish History

This pretty bouquet comes from a circa 1828 Poesiealbum in the Pinkus-Peters Family Collection (AR 25520) held by the LBI Archives. Once belonging to Ernestine Fränkel of Neustadt (now Prudnik, Poland), the small, handmade volume contains personal greetings, drawings, embroidery, paper-cut art, handwritten poems and other mementos. The German word Poesiealbum literally means “poetry album,” but in English we would probably call it a friendship book, album amicorum, autograph album, or scrapbook—formats that, in any case, are rapidly being replaced by digital and web-based media. Interestingly, the paper-based friendship book remains relevant in German-speaking countries, which is where the tradition seems to have originated sometime in the 16th century.  See a contemporary twist on this old idea in the music video for German hip-hop artist Samy Deluxe’s song “Poesiealbum” (and a link to translated lyrics here, via the Goethe-Institut).

One of the biggest issues facing the archival profession right now is the question of how to deal with the digital scrapbooks, online photo streams and ephemeral media being created in vast quantities every day. Ernestine’s friendship album is 185 years old—maybe a little faded, but in remarkably good condition. It is unlikely that electronic media today will be compatible with tomorrow’s software or as-yet-unimagined devices. So how do we preserve it for future generations? The Library of Congress is currently working on establishing standards for digital stewardship and offers some advice for personal archiving here. Local nonprofit organization Rhizome is dedicated to the study of “computer age” media and digital preservation, and is notable for pioneering community-sourced projects like the current XFR STN exhibit at the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the upcoming panel discussion on Born Digital Conservation.

Returning to 1828 for a moment, the Poesiealbum presents technical difficulties of its own, although the software involved in this case is the archivist’s. On the page opposite this ornate floral illustration is a personal dedication from the artist, stained slightly by the aging pigment of the bouquet. (See image above.) What makes the text difficult to read, though, is that it’s written in an antiquated German script.

Transcribed, this reads: 

Die Freundschaft ist die schönste Blume
Die auf der weiten Erde blüht
Und die sich frisch erhält, zum ew’gen Ruhme,
So viel auch Neid und Stolz des Giftes um sie sprüht. 

Zur freundschaftlichen Erinnerung Ihres Freundes und Musiklehrers.

Many Americans today (including educators and archivists) have expressed concerns that students who are no longer learning cursive in school will soon be incapable of reading historical documents, let alone birthday cards from Grandma. 

But perhaps that’s what we archivists are here for?

Our of the Archives: 
Amerika, A Musical Tragicomedy in Three Acts and Eleven Scenes, After the Novel by Franz Kafka. Music by Ellis B. Kohs.

The above sheet music is from the collections of the Leo Baeck Institute, one of our five partners here at the Center for Jewish History. 

The Ellis B. Kohs Papers, 1916-2000, can be found at the NYPL’s Performing Arts Library, specifically the Music Division. Click here for the finding aid. 

For more in honor of Franz Kafka’s birthday, see the previous post!

Submitted by Kevin Schlottman and Rachel Tutera, Archivists, Center for Jewish History.

Out of the Archives: Early Collaborationsubmitted by Michael D. Montalbano, M.A., M.L.I.S., Institutional Archivist / Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History
Some 25 years before the American Jewish Historical Society, Leo Baeck Institute and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research came together as three of the five partners of the Center for Jewish History, they were meeting to discuss potential for institutional collaboration on different initiatives. This invitation was found in the institutional records of the AJHS.
To search the partner collections now, click here.

Out of the Archives: Early Collaboration
submitted by Michael D. Montalbano, M.A., M.L.I.S., Institutional Archivist / Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History

Some 25 years before the American Jewish Historical Society, Leo Baeck Institute and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research came together as three of the five partners of the Center for Jewish History, they were meeting to discuss potential for institutional collaboration on different initiatives. This invitation was found in the institutional records of the AJHS.

To search the partner collections now, click here.

Out of the Archives: “The Ritchie Boys”by Kevin Schlottmann, Levy Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History
Werner Erwin Stark (1921 – 1995) was born in Munich, Germany, into a Jewish family of textile merchants. Together with his older brother Walter, he escaped to the United States via France in 1938. 
During World War Two, Stark enlisted in the US Army and was trained in counterintelligence at Fort Ritchie, Maryland. He served in Europe as one of the so-called “Ritchie Boys,” a group of mostly Jewish German and Austrian young men whose language and cultural skills proved valuable to the Army in Europe.
Stark performed a variety of counterintelligence tasks, including being dropped into Germany behind enemy lines and there assuming a false name. According to a summary of an oral history, which Stark provided to the Holocaust Memorial Center, Zekelman Family Campus, in Michigan, he also “[served] as an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials of war criminals, … [interrogated] the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, and [provided] surveillance of the former girlfriend of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of the German Security Service as related to her associations with American army officers.” 
The above image is Stark’s counterintelligence ID card, from the Leo Baeck Institute’s Werner Erwin Stark Collection ([AR 11946; click here]).

Out of the Archives: “The Ritchie Boys”
by Kevin Schlottmann, Levy Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History

Werner Erwin Stark (1921 – 1995) was born in Munich, Germany, into a Jewish family of textile merchants. Together with his older brother Walter, he escaped to the United States via France in 1938.

During World War Two, Stark enlisted in the US Army and was trained in counterintelligence at Fort Ritchie, Maryland. He served in Europe as one of the so-called “Ritchie Boys,” a group of mostly Jewish German and Austrian young men whose language and cultural skills proved valuable to the Army in Europe.

Stark performed a variety of counterintelligence tasks, including being dropped into Germany behind enemy lines and there assuming a false name. According to a summary of an oral history, which Stark provided to the Holocaust Memorial Center, Zekelman Family Campus, in Michigan, he also “[served] as an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials of war criminals, … [interrogated] the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, and [provided] surveillance of the former girlfriend of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of the German Security Service as related to her associations with American army officers.” 

The above image is Stark’s counterintelligence ID card, from the Leo Baeck Institute’s Werner Erwin Stark Collection ([AR 11946; click here]).

Out of the ArchivesYiddish Artists Relax in the Catskills, circa 1938by Rachel Harrison, Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History
The Adler Family Papers (P-890) at the American Jewish Historical Society contain a wealth of photos of figures from the heyday of the American Yiddish theater, from the 1880s and running to the 1970s. These include Jacob P. Adler, the patriarch of the Yiddish acting dynasty, his second wife Dinah Shtettin, and their daughter Celia, his third wife, Sara, and several of their children, as well as various spouses, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and in-laws, many of whom were involved in Yiddish theater. There are also myriad photos of groups of family members and friends, as well as numerous pictures of actors in costumes from various productions.
In the above photo, Yiddish actors, singers, playwrights, poets, and theater owners relax at a bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains in the late 1930s. Among them are Shmuel Niger, David and Adele Pinski, Jacob Ben-Ami, Peretz, Esther Shumiatcher and Omus Hirschbein, and Lazar Freed, who was the first husband of Celia Adler. For more information about the Adler family and their impact on Yiddish theater, including numerous wonderful photos, please see the Guide to the Adler Family Papers.

Out of the Archives
Yiddish Artists Relax in the Catskills, circa 1938
by Rachel Harrison, Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History

The Adler Family Papers (P-890) at the American Jewish Historical Society contain a wealth of photos of figures from the heyday of the American Yiddish theater, from the 1880s and running to the 1970s. These include Jacob P. Adler, the patriarch of the Yiddish acting dynasty, his second wife Dinah Shtettin, and their daughter Celia, his third wife, Sara, and several of their children, as well as various spouses, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and in-laws, many of whom were involved in Yiddish theater. There are also myriad photos of groups of family members and friends, as well as numerous pictures of actors in costumes from various productions.

In the above photo, Yiddish actors, singers, playwrights, poets, and theater owners relax at a bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains in the late 1930s. Among them are Shmuel Niger, David and Adele Pinski, Jacob Ben-Ami, Peretz, Esther Shumiatcher and Omus Hirschbein, and Lazar Freed, who was the first husband of Celia Adler. For more information about the Adler family and their impact on Yiddish theater, including numerous wonderful photos, please see the Guide to the Adler Family Papers.