In Honor of Presidents’ Week – Archival Resources at the Center
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only President to serve more than two terms, appointed Felix Frankfurter to the Supreme Court in 1939. The American Jewish Historical Society has an archival collection that contains the above interesting note (from the Felix Frankfurter papers, 1916-1958, P-430, Box 1, Folder 1, American Jewish Historical Society).
John F. Kennedy appointed Arthur Goldberg to replace Frankfurter. He was the United States Secretary of Labor when Frankfurter stepped down. The Arthur J. Goldberg papers (P-409) held by the American Jewish Historical Society have speeches given by Goldberg, among other material.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was in office between FDR and JFK, also proposed that a Jew, Lewis Strauss, be part of his cabinet. Although Strauss was not confirmed, his important work as the United States Atomic Energy Commission Commissioner (appointed to that position by Harry S. Truman) lives on today. The American Jewish Historical Society has an extensive 37.75 linear foot collection: The Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss papers. There is an electronic finding aid available online here.
You can learn more about the Presidents’ relationships with the Jews and material here at the Center by clicking here.

In Honor of Presidents’ Week – Archival Resources at the Center

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only President to serve more than two terms, appointed Felix Frankfurter to the Supreme Court in 1939. The American Jewish Historical Society has an archival collection that contains the above interesting note (from the Felix Frankfurter papers, 1916-1958, P-430, Box 1, Folder 1, American Jewish Historical Society).

John F. Kennedy appointed Arthur Goldberg to replace Frankfurter. He was the United States Secretary of Labor when Frankfurter stepped down. The Arthur J. Goldberg papers (P-409) held by the American Jewish Historical Society have speeches given by Goldberg, among other material.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was in office between FDR and JFK, also proposed that a Jew, Lewis Strauss, be part of his cabinet. Although Strauss was not confirmed, his important work as the United States Atomic Energy Commission Commissioner (appointed to that position by Harry S. Truman) lives on today. The American Jewish Historical Society has an extensive 37.75 linear foot collection: The Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss papers. There is an electronic finding aid available online here.

You can learn more about the Presidents’ relationships with the Jews and material here at the Center by clicking here.

In Honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day

by David P. Rosenberg, M.P.A., Reference Services Research Coordinator, Center for Jewish History

The UN General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The children of today will be the last generation to meet Holocaust survivors.

The Center for Jewish History houses countless artifacts and archives concerning this horrific period in history. However, learning about what happened by examining yellow stars, ghetto money, transfer lists, books and other papers cannot truly replace the experience of hearing a survivor speak of the terror, seeing numbers on a human being’s arm and being shaken by someone retelling their experiences decades later.

I’ve met many survivors, and I learn more about the scale and scope of the atrocities from each experience. While technology will never replace in-person conversation and the real-life emotion it conveys, recorded oral histories can capture the testimony better than written words alone.

Oral history is defined as “the collection and study of historical information using sound recordings of interviews with people having personal knowledge of past events.”

Our partners here at the Center have many oral histories about the Holocaust. Other institutions, such as the USC Shoah Foundation or the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, are solely dedicated to this important form of documentation.

With the help of Aurora Zinder and Reference Services Research Intern Aliza Schulman, I have compiled a list of institutions that have oral histories concerning the Holocaust.

Resources Available from the Center for Jewish History

Holocaust Resources: An Annotated Bibliography

Family History: Holocaust Research

Through the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute, you can access the book Oral history interview guidelines / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. ”The guidelines were originally created for the Department of Oral History’s own interviewers … However, they also provide general advice that can be applied to a wide variety of oral history projects …” It includes bibliographical references (p. 81-84).

Leo Baeck Institute

“The Austrian Heritage Collection, a program whose specific goal is to document the history of Austrian-Jewish émigrés who fled to the USA during the Nazi years, has been centered at the Leo Baeck Institute since 1996.”

Note: LBI’s collection of unpublished memoirs also offers insights into individual experiences of the Holocaust.

YIVO

Eyewitness Accounts of the Holocaust Period (RG 104): “The YIVO Institute was involved in several projects to collect written testimonies by survivors of the Holocaust. Series I includes the earliest testimonies and consists of 1,143 items. Series II includes 500 interviews with survivors collected in 1954. Series III includes most testimonies received from the 1960’s to the present. At present there are over 300 items in this series.”

Resources Available from Other Institutions

This select list is intended to highlight major repositories and projects that showcase materials for educational purposes.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) website contains an excellent list of institutions that hold oral history collections. The “International Database of Oral History Testimonies” is meant “to provide a tool for all those interested in the location of Holocaust oral history collections worldwide. There are over 125 entities represented in this catalog.”

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: “The US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s oral history collection is one of the largest and most diverse resources for Holocaust testimonies in the world.”

USC Shoah Foundation: The Institute for Visual History and Education: Started in 1993, recorded over 50,000 oral testimonies of survivors. The Foundation is now halfway through digitizing these interviews.

Yale University Library: Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies: The Fortunoff Video Archive has around 4000 oral Holocaust testimonies. In addition to “single-witness programs” which focus on one person’s story, they have “thematic programs,” which weave more than one person’s story together. Includes testimony of bystanders as well. 

Museum of Jewish Heritage:  A Living Memorial to the Holocaust: Includes many exhibits about the Holocaust and the persecution and annihilation of Jews from all over Europe. Additionally, they have about 4000 audio and video testimony from survivors, rescuers, liberators and Jews in the Allied Armies. 

Yad Vashem (Israel) has collected over 36,000 testimonies since 1945. 11,000 have been digitized and can be seen at their Visual Center.

Museum of Tolerance: The museum has a “Hall of Testimony A specially designed room of witness where visitors can see and hear unforgettable stories of the courage and sacrifice of Holocaust victims and Survivors.” 

Letters from the Front: Jewish War Heroes Focuses Russian Jewish War veterans and the persecution Russian Jews during WWII. It has Audio and Video resources available online.

Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive: “The Voice/Vision Archive promotes cultural, racial and religious understanding through unprecedented worldwide access to its collection of Holocaust survivor narratives.” 

Telling Their Stories: “High school students at the Urban School of San Francisco conduct and film interviews with Bay Area Holocaust survivors in their homes. Students then transcribe each 2-plus hour interview, create hundreds of movie files associated with each transcript, and then post the full-text, full-video interviews on this public website as a service to a world-wide audience interested in Holocaust studies.“ 

Voices of the Holocaust is a collection of interviews with Holocaust survivors and other displaced persons conducted by Dr. David P. Boder in Europe in 1946. 

The Virginia Holocaust Museum The Oral History Archive contains over 230 digitized testimonies from people who witnessed genocide firsthand. 

Wisconsin Historical Society - Wisconsin Survivors of the Holocaust collection: Archivists from the Wisconsin Historical Society interviewed 22 Wisconsin Holocaust survivors and two American witnesses between 1974 and 1981. The scope of the collection includes 156 hours of audio and 3,400 transcribed pages. These interviews are available digitally, in their entirety, for the first time.

——

For more Center-based resources about the Holocaust, see these previous blog posts.

In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
by David P. Rosenberg, M.P.A., Reference Services Research Coordinator, Center for Jewish History

Jews have had a long history of supporting the civil rights movement. From heavily Jewish leadership during the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, to Jews participating in the March on Washington in 1963, to efforts of Jews today, there has been strong support for the movement among the American Jewish community.

Instead of trying to highlight all of the archival holdings related to civil rights in the U.S., I’m going to focus on three documents I found in the American Jewish Congress archival collection (call number I-77) that is held by AJHS here at the Center. The collection itself is large at 750 linear feet. There is a finding aid for the collection here.

The first historical document is pictured above. It is a report published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People with the American Jewish Congress: Civil Rights in the United States 1952, A balance sheet for group relations. The publication is significant because it was issued in a collaborative effort – even the advertisements for other publications are the same size – and because both groups thought it was important to document and report the current situation formally. This work is in Box 594, Folder: “Civil Rights in the United States” 1952.

In 1989 a librarian for the Commission on Law and social action conducted an audit of civil rights enforcement agencies. There is an entire folder in Box 222 (“CLSA Administrative: Audit of Civil Rights enforcement agencies correspondence, 1989”) devoted to the related correspondence. In her letters, Rhonda Rigrodsky asks various government officials if there has been a report on the effectiveness of states civil rights enforcement agencies, and if she can have a copy. The seemingly simple act resonated with me. The lack of reports and the responses – many scribbled on the original letter and returned – were even more poignant.

A memo from 2005 recounts 14 specific actions the American Jewish Congress performed to support the civil rights movement. The original document is preserved in Box 222 folder “CLSA Administrative: American Jewish Congress Civil Rights Record, 2005.” The actions ranged from legal and legislative to support for research on the effects of racial segregation. It is also mentioned that Will Maslow helped plan the March on Washington in 1963, where American Jewish Congress President Joachim Prinz spoke, and that Dr. King spoke at the national convention of the American Jewish Congress multiple times.

If you are interested in learning more, read these previous blog posts:

Reflecting on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—50 years ago today

Mining the Archives: Jews and the Civil Rights Movement

Above images: Civil Rights in the United States 1952 A balance sheet for group relations. From AmericanJewish Congress archival collection (Call number I-77, Box 594, Folder “Civil Rights in the United States” 1952). American Jewish Historical Society here at the Center.

Reflections on My “Jews and Social Justice” Project

by Ilana Rossoff, Reference Services Research Intern, Center for Jewish History

This post is part of the Jews and Social Justice Series. To view all posts in the series, click here.

Over the course of eight weeks of research and writing, I used some of the many resources offered by the Center for Jewish History for my independent project as a Research Intern. In the beginning, I sought to write a series on major Jewish-American leftist organizations, eager to dive deep into the AJHS archives of the Jewish Labor Bund and the Workmen’s Circle. Very quickly I came against a large obstacle in my research: language. Almost all of the Bund and Workmen’s Circle archives are in Yiddish, and I unfortunately do not read Yiddish. Thus I decided to look at organizations from the second half of the 20th century, presuming that many of the archives of the organizations I wanted to explore would be in English.

Initially I framed the project as a survey of Jewish New Left organizations, but I soon came to realize that the scope of the term “New Left” was temporally and demographically narrower than I had originally thought. For the purpose of joining together the various groups in which I was interested, I expanded the banner of the project to “Jewish social justice organizations.” The result was profiles of four organizations who considered themselves committed to social justice causes—the International Jewish Labor Bund, the Jewish Labor Committee, Jews for Urban Justice, and American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism—featured as posts on this blog. These organizations’ archival material is all housed in the AJHS collections at the Center for Jewish History. You can access it through the Lillian Goldman Reading Room.

My choice of these organizations stemmed from my interest in histories of groups of people who come together to collectively work for social change, be it social welfare or transformation of social/political structures. Throughout my research and writing, I sought to understand and highlight the underlying relationship between each organization and the Jewish community, asking, for whom did the social justice organization workfor their Jewish community, for their general community, or for the world at large?

I found that the organizations that initially sought to overcome issues directly affecting the Jewish community—the International Jewish Labor Bund and the Jewish Labor Committee—eventually expanded their work to encompass other social minority groups that experienced similar violence, disenfranchisement, or exploitation. The organizations that addressed issues directly impacting non-Jewish communities—Jews for Urban Justice and American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism—did so by engaging Jewish communities/audiences to challenge their participation in what they considered to be oppression and engage them in efforts against it. As such, the evolution of their work highlighted the impossibility of separating Jewish concerns from those of broader society and broader social concerns from Jewish communities. These organizations’ efforts to challenge social injustice from a Jewish vantage point blurred and bent the boundaries between Jewish and non-Jewish communities and, through political action, contributed to connections between Jews and non-Jews.

As an intern, I got to taste the experience of doing sustained research at the Center for Jewish History. I became very familiar with the CJH Library Catalog system and the process by which you can access any of the thousands of materials held in the libraries and archives of the Center’s five partner institutions. As a hopeful historian, I learned a crucial lesson about archive-based historical research and writing. While archival documents can provide a lot of essential information about the content of organizations’ programming, newsletters and press coverage, they are not sufficient for understanding the lived experience of these documents. For this, one needs a better understanding of the human dynamics that surrounded the documents, the circumstances out of which they were created and the ways in which people put these documents to use.

As my research was limited by geography and time constraints, I relied upon historical literature (accessed through the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center) to provide me with broader contexts for the archival material I examined. This internship provided me the opportunity to flex the historical research and writing muscles I gained from college and add to them numerous new skills for conducting research in a major historical institution, which will invaluably benefit my future work.

My experience interning here was very unique. I found that the staff members of the Center are highly committed to ensuring that interns have meaningful learning experiences. Here, the intern’s learning experience is just as important as his/her contribution to the operations of the institution. I am grateful for having received the opportunity to research and write on subjects of my personal interest with the guidance and immense resources that the Center for Jewish History offers.

American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism: Part 2

 by Ilana Rossoff, Reference Services Research Intern, Center for Jewish History

This post is part of the Jews and Social Justice Series. To view all posts in the series, click here.

Throughout its near 20-year history, the  American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism organization served as a channel for Berger’s writing, traveling, and testifying before Congress.

About twice a year, Berger (President) and his team of Mrs. Arthur Gutman (Vice President), Mrs. Isaac Witkin (Secretary) and Harry Lesser (Treasurer) produced a report to summarize important political events in the Middle East and the United States related to the “Israeli/Arab/Zionist conflict” and offer Berger’s and others’ commentary. Some of the recurring topics included U.S. media coverage of the conflict, American diplomatic and military aid to Israel, Palestinian organizational leadership, oil politics between the Middle East and Europe/the U.S., activities of American Zionist organizations, conflicts, peace negotiations, the debate around anti-Semitism, and arguments about Zionism’s role in the conflict.

Additionally, Elmer Berger, in the name of the organization, gave numerous talks around the U.S. and around the world. These talks were held in Australia, Ireland, Lebanon, England and various cities in the U.S. including Memphis, Cincinnati, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and others [4].

According to my email correspondence with author Jack Ross, Elmer Berger identified himself with AJAZ in a letter published in The New York Times in 1990 about Thomas Kolsky’s book; however, the last serious output of the organization was around 1988. It is safe to assume that the organization’s gradual decline occurred between those times [5].

The impact of the American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism is difficult to measure. In a 1986 review in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Andrea Barron writes of American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism that as the “the only Jewish anti-Zionist group which exists,” “its impact has been so miniscule that other Jewish groups do not even bother attacking it” [6]. As Ross explains, the AJAZ was never meant to be a membership-based organization [7]. However, most AJAZ reports list 13-15 people from all around the country under its Board of Directors (presumably comprised of its main financial supporters), which changed slightly over the years [8]. One of the organization’s long-time supporters was Moshe Menuhin, emigrant to pre-Israel Palestine and author of The Decadence of Judaism in our Time and Jewish Critics of Zionism.

AJAZ is listed in a 1990 list of U.S. organizations “involved in the struggle for Palestinian/Israeli peace” in a Middle East Report publication, but after the time it was most active and with a New York address [9]. Though the group did not engage in direct organizing or political work to create the conditions for Middle East peace, Berger’s speeches and writings received notable press coverage and the organization’s reports provided critical information and commentary for anti-Zionist understanding of the issues of the time.

Most of the organization’s reports, as well as accounts of Berger’s various speaking tours around the world and reprinted news coverage of Berger’s work, can be found in the American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism’s archival collection, which is held in the American Jewish Historical Society archives here at the Center for Jewish History.

Notes:

 [1] Jack Ross, Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism. Washington D.C.: Potomac Books, 2011.As quoted on page 147.

[2] Report #1, 1969, Page 3. Folder: Report #1-11. American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism archival collection, American Jewish Historical Society here at the Center. (Finding aid.)

[3] Report #2, undated. Folder: Report #1-11. American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism archival collection, American Jewish Historical Society here at the Center.

[4] Various publications and newspaper article reprints, 1969-1981. Folder: Berger, Elmer: Articles, essays, lectures, n.d., 1969-1981. American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism archival collection, American Jewish Historical Society here at the Center.

[5] Ilana Rossoff, email correspondence with Jack Ross, 24 May 2013

[6] Andrea Barron, “Winning American Jews to Zionism.” Review of The Political World of American Zionism by Samuel Halperin and All My Causes by I. L. Kenen. Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Autumn, 1986), Page 159. This article can be found in JSTOR and accessed here at the Center for Jewish History.

[7] Ross, Page 151

[8] Reports, Folders 4-14, American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism archival collection, American Jewish Historical Society. 

[9] Steve Niva, “US Organizations and the Intifada” Middle East Report, No. 164/165, Intifada Year Three (May - Aug., 1990), page 72. This article can be found in JSTOR and accessed here at the Center for Jewish History.

Further Reading: 

American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism archival collection, American Jewish Historical Society. (Finding aid.)

Elmer Berger, The Jewish Dilemma. New York : Devin-Adair, 1945.

Elmer Berger, Judaism or Jewish nationalism: the alternative to Zionism. New York : Bookman Associates, 1957.

Elmer Berger, 1908-1996. Who knows better must say so! New York: Bookmailer, 1956.

 Jack Ross, Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism. Washington D.C.: Potomac Books, 2011.