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Collection Guide: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)

Overview of the individual archival collections and library materials found at the Center relating to the HIAS organization and their activities.

Arrivals at JFK Airport, 1970-1974 (Box 38, Folder 13, Image 5)

Requesting HIAS Materials from AJHS

HIAS archival materials at AJHS are from the post-war period. If you would like copies of client case files, please contact the Location Department at HIAS. Copies of case files are available from about 1940. There may be fees for search requests through HIAS.

Due to the size of AJHS' HIAS collection (over 700 linear feet), the entirety of the collection is stored off-site. If you would like to research materials from the collection, please contact with the specific box and folder numbers you are interested in. Please allow at least 2 weeks after confirmation for us to arrange a delivery.

This collection contains various audiovisual and electronic media formats that may require special equipment to access. After requesting A/V items via, reference staff will respond back whether access is possible. 

All research is done on-site in the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History.

Archival Collection Overview

The records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society housed at the American Jewish Historical Society comprise much of the history of HIAS through the second half of the 20th century, primarily through the files created by leadership based in the New York headquarters. Since the 1880s, HIAS has worked with immigrants and refugees to help them emigrate legally from their home countries to safe resettlement in the United States and elsewhere, and they continue this work today. The records focus on files of the Executive Directors and other material created by executive staff and by the Board of Directors. Also of importance is the work of the HIAS United States Operations Department in the New York office, handling immigration documentation, migration issues and resettlement activities in connection with communities throughout the United States, and in coordination with HIAS staff in overseas offices and the other departments in New York and Washington, D.C.

The AJHS HIAS records are organized into nine series:


The Executive Series contains the files of the executive leadership of HIAS, including lay leaders on the Board of Directors and professional staff in the Executive Office. The Executive Series includes the following subseries:

Board of Directors
Executive Office
Predecessor and Related Organizations


Programs as a division at HIAS appears around 2002, replacing the name Operations, which itself was an attempt to bring together the sprawling United States Operations and International Operations. All of these names described the heart of the work HIAS had been doing for decades—helping refugees and immigrants emigrate from their home countries or via a transit location to the United States, and once settled in a community, ease their adjustment to their new life, new language, new culture, and new work opportunities. The Program series includes the following subseries:

United States Operations
Overseas Operations


The Communications Series includes a large section of biographical material on board members and prospective board members, professional staff, and speakers, probably originally a part of the HIAS Speakers Bureau. Much of the Communications series is organized by creator, as the department was one of the longest-running facets of the HIAS administration. Names include:

  • Hyman Brickman, Director of Fundraising and Public Relations; Director of Public Relations 1970-1972, 1977-1982. Brickman was responsible for Fundraising and Membership 1980–1984, and Membership in 1985.
  • Miriam Cantor, Director of Public Relations, 1973-1975
  • Barbara Wachtel, Director of Public Relations, 1976-1977
  • Brenda Schaefer, Director of Public Relations/Affairs (the department changed its name from “Public Relations” to “Public Affairs in 1985), 1982-June 30, 1989
  • Roberta Elliott, Director of Public Affairs, July 3, 1989-1993; Vice-President, Marketing/Media Relations and Communications circa 2007–2015
  • Hope Rosenberg, Director of Communications, 1994
  • Judith Epstein, Director of Communications, 1995-2000
  • Morris Ardoin, Director of Communications, late 2000-2005


The main responsibility of the Membership Department is recruiting new members and retaining existing members, through direct mail campaigns. Campaigns are run through Federations throughout the country, synagogues, and personal letter writing efforts by members of the HIAS Board of Directors. The HIAS Women's Division not only provided a sense of community to new refugees but served as a strong force for new HIAS membership, fundraising, and public relations. This series includes the following subseries:

Women’s Division
Scholarship Program

Government Relations

The department of Government Relations as we now know it appears to have started under Executive Vice-President Karl D. Zukerman in 1984. At one point in HIAS' history, they engaged consultants in Washington, D.C. to handle government-related projects closer to policy-makers. Eventually HIAS opened their own office in Washington, and later rented space in the offices of other Jewish organizations. The records in this series are arranged into two subseries:

New York Office
Washington, D.C. Office


The Finance series includes HIAS audited and unaudited financial reports and extensive reporting from the Grant Management Department as they filed required documentation for each community in the United States where federal funding aided the resettlement of HIAS clients.

Financial Reports
Grant Management
Finance Subject Files


The Administration Series contains files documenting the history of the Archives and Records Management program at HIAS under Colonel Seymour J. Pomrenze in the 1980s to 1990s, including some information on the earlier HIAS archives and records on deposit with YIVO.

Archives and Records Management
Human Resources
Information Services

Artifacts, Audiovisual Materials and Photographs

The Artifacts, Audiovisual, and Photographs Series lists the audiovisual materials that are part of the collection, including audio cassettes and reels, computer diskettes, video in various formats, two boxes of artifacts and one box of photographs found throughout the collection that had no close connection with the files.

Audio Cassettes
Audio Reels
Compact Discs (CD)

HIAS Photograph Collection

The HIAS Photograph Collection documents the history of HIAS's administrative and relief work from the 1940s to the 1990s as well as images documenting HIAS’s collaborations with various affiliate organizations, including its predecessors: HIAS-ICE Emigration Association (HICEM), National Refugee Service (NRS), and United Service for New Americans (USNA), among others.  Many of these photographs were used in HIAS publications, such as annual reports, project pamphlets, and general newsletters to promote the work of the organization.

Originally, these photographs were filed by HIAS as part of their Media Relations and Communications Department. After years of being in filing cabinet drawers arranged by subject, HIAS contracted archival professionals to conserve and protect these photographs—an endeavor that included minimal conservation, physical rehousing, and digitization. 
The physical HIAS photographic prints are restricted from use.
To view the digitized HIAS photographs, please head to CJH's searchable online catalog, HERE.

Project Blog

The project blog, On The Rescue Front, encompasses many of the interesting correspondence, images, and ephemera uncovered by AJHS and Center for Jewish History archivists during their daily processing of the HIAS Records. Included are blog posts that provide in-depth explanations and historical parallels connected to the interesting photographs and documents that were rediscovered during the organization of this collection.

Some blog post highlights:

Saving the Syrian Jewish Brides

More than just a pretty facade: HIAS at Lafayette Street

When in New York…

Always Factual, Often Dazzling: HIAS Annual Reports

Barbara M. Watson and her Ardent Admirers