Out of the Archives: War Heroism
by Kevin Schlottmann, Levy 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, Levy 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.