HIAS Collection I-363

"… HIAS [is] the international migration agency of the American Jewish community. HIAS is a national resettlement agency and an international refugee service organization with programs around the world."1

Over the course of a three-year project, generously funded by HIAS in partnership with the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), archivists at AJHS will organize, describe and make available to the public more than a thousand boxes of historical administrative files (primarily 1955-2000) primarily from the New York headquarters. These files document the work of HIAS staff and lay leadership as they fulfilled the HIAS mission to rescue and resettle refugees and migrants. The bulk of the collection contains the files of the Executive Vice-President and other executive staff in United States Operations, Overseas Operations, Government Relations and Marketing and Communications departments, and they provide an in-depth look at the day to day work among HIAS professional staff in locations around the world, with HIAS clients and those who worked directly with them, and with other immigrant rescue and resettlement organizations in the United States and around the world.

In addition, this project includes the creation of a database of clients who registered with HIAS between 1955 and 2000; it is now accessible via a search screen, through which former HIAS clients, genealogists and family members will be able to determine whether HIAS holds restricted case files on specific people. To access the search screen, click on Client Database in blue at the upper left of this page.

The history of HIAS officially begins in 1902, with the first establishment of an organization with the name Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (which quickly became known simply as HIAS). HIAS itself has celebrated its anniversaries based on earlier founding dates because of mergers and organizations with similar missions and names which may or may not have been affiliated with the HIAS we know today. There was clearly a need for the work HIAS set about to do; based on earlier attempts, HIAS proved successful at funding and fulfilling their mission, and is thriving after more than 100 years.

For a full discussion of the founding date of HIAS, see “HIAS’s Unfounded Foundings” on the project blog, and the HIAS Timeline. We believe it is accurate to say that since its founding around the turn of the 20th century, “HIAS has been the worldwide arm of the American Jewish community for the rescue, relocation, family reunification and resettlement of refugees and other migrants.”2 As stated in the HIAS mission statement, HIAS “rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are … [HIAS protects] the most vulnerable refugees, helping them build new lives and reuniting them with their families … [and HIAS advocates] for the protection of refugees and assure[s] that displaced people are treated with the dignity they deserve.”3

We anticipate completing the HIAS project by the end of 2018, when there will be links from this webpage to a completed Finding Aid to the administrative records, and a search page for client records.  (The search page is undergoing testing in summer 2017; it can be accessed from the index at the upper left of this page. Please note that the link to HIAS for more information is currently inoperative.) Please come back and visit us as the project continues. To follow our progress, please sign up to follow our blog.

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HIAS Finding Aids

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1. Melanie Nezer, Resettlement at Risk: Meeting Emerging Challenges to Refugee Resettlement in Local Communities (New York: HIAS, February 2013), 3. Senior Director, U.S. Policy and Advocacy. https://www.hias.org/sites/default/files/resettlement_at_risk_1.pdf

2. David J. Schnall and Sheldon R. Gelman, “The Jewish Communal-Service Arena”, A Portrait of the American Jewish Community, ed. Norman Linzer, David J. Schnall and Jerome A. Chanes (Westport CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 50

3. https://www.hias.org/mission-and-values, accessed 12/28/16