Abraham Shoenfeld Papers
Scope and Content Note
This collection was generated primarily in connection with two of Shoenfeld’s activities: fiction and memoir writing and American Jewish Committee (AJC) investigative work. The types of materials present include reports, manuscripts, notes, photographs, reel-to-reel tapes, correspondence, printed ephemera, government documents and books.
His writing, both autobiographical and fiction in Series I, draws from his experience as a detective in the 1910s and 1920s New York crime world. These writings are what the collection has to offer on his years with the New York Kehillah, in addition to his oral history interview with Arthur Goren. There are no known materials in this collection created by Shoenfeld during the Kehillah time itself. His weekly vice reports for Kehillah are in the Judah L. Magnes Papers (see Related Material).
His AJC work is documented in Series II by his daily investigative reports, which represent more than a third of the entire collection, and by the anti-Semitic literature in Series III and in the Subject Files of Series II, which he collected in connection with AJC investigations.
The largest gap in documentation is the period between his 1920s writings and the 1948 start of his AJC reports. There is a notable lack during the World War II years, with the exception of correspondence regarding his interest in going into the Army Administration in 1943 (Box 2, Folder 8), a journalist thanking him for information in 1944 (Box 5B, Folder 1), and a letter from fellow undercover investigator, Avedis Boghos Derounian (alias John Roy Carlson), at the Friends of Democracy (Box 7, Folder 3).
- 1892, 1920-1978, 2010
- Majority of material found within 1927 - 1964
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For reference questions, please email: email@example.com
Private investigator and writer, Abraham (Abe) Herman Shoenfeld, was born on April 24, 1891 to Meyer and Dora Shoenfeld, Hungarian Jews. Because his father was a political and labor organizer, Abraham grew up surrounded by major political figures and labor leaders. The Shoenfelds lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and in 1899, Meyer, with aid from the Baron de Hirsch Fund, helped form a New Jersey agricultural colony, now known as Kenilworth, where he resettled his own family and other Lower East Side Jewish families, mostly those involved in the tailoring business.1 Abe Shoenfeld attended P.S. 20, graduating in 1905, and entered Stuyvesant High School, but dropped out at the end of his first year at age 15.2
Young Shoenfeld developed an intimate knowledge of the Jewish criminal subculture on the Lower East Side. He first became an investigator for John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s Bureau of Social Hygiene, under George Kneeland in 1912, and on the foundation of Shoenfeld’s research into New York City’s vice and crime scene, Kneeland wrote the report, “Commercialized Prostitution in New York City,” published by the Bureau.
In the wake of the media stir caused by the July 1912 murder of Herman Rosenthal, Judah L. Magnes hired Shoenfeld, based on his work for Kneeland and his growing expertise on the crime world, to be Chief Investigator for the Bureau of Social Morals of the New York Kehillah. The Kehillah, also known as the “Jewish Community of New York City,” had been founded in response to New York City Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham’s controversial statement in 1908 that Jews were responsible for half the city’s crimes. The aim of the Kehillah’s Bureau of Social Morals, overseen by Magnes, Jacob Schiff, Felix Warburg, William Salomon, Adolph Lewisohn, Louis Marshall and Samuel Greenbaum, was to diminish Jewish criminal involvement by providing criminal intelligence to politicians and the police department and pressuring for action to be taken based on this intelligence.3
Shoenfeld, together with a team of police officers and a network of informers, infiltrated criminal organizations and establishments. Undercover for his first year, Shoenfeld posed as a writer in order to gather information directly from the criminals. He and his team created an extensive index card file of details on individuals, and he wrote voluminous reports, documenting in detail Jewish criminal culture and social problems from 1912 to 1917 for the wealthy overseers of Kehillah. After 1917, he conducted vice work on a less formal basis, no longer paid a salary by Magnes and without the help of a regular team. He informally passed information along to the police.4
Shoenfeld was simultaneously giving information to the Narcotics Division of the U.S. Department of Justice between 1912 and 1921. In his unpublished memoirs, he states that he “served the Government from 1912 to April 1964,” but did not receive any direct payment from them.5
In the early 1920s he worked out of a private office at Felshon Service Investigators on Rector Street.6 Following that he began writing and doing “ghost jobs,” the term for “assignments of an ultra-private nature.”7 He wrote the novel The Joy Peddler, which was published in 1927 and incited considerable controversy for its provocative content.
On October 22, 1934, Shoenfeld married Annie Evans, who was 38 at the time.
From 1938 to 1964, Shoenfeld investigated anti-Semitic organizations and individuals for the American Jewish Committee (AJC). In 1938, as part of member Richard Rothschild’s six-point plan and mobilization against Nazi propaganda, the AJC had shifted resources towards investigation of fascist, pro-Nazi organizations and individuals generating virulent anti-Semitic propaganda. Shoenfeld served as the Chief of Investigation under the Legal Division (also known as the Investigative and Fact-Finding Division and the Legal and Fact Finding Division). Shoenfeld coordinated a network of agents who worked undercover within the scrutinized organizations, and he wrote detailed reports for the AJC based on intelligence gathered by his agents and other sources. Some of this information was then utilized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, military intelligence and the House Committee on Un-American Activities.8
Shoenfeld died in Roosevelt Hospital in New York on September 27, 1977.
16.75 Linear Feet (30 manuscript boxes, 3 half-manuscript boxes and 1 card box.)
Language of Materials
Under the employ of the New York Kehillah, detective Abraham Shoenfeld infiltrated and documented Jewish crime rings, prostitution houses and gambling establishments from 1912 to 1917. For the American Jewish Committee from 1938 to 1964, he investigated anti-Semitic organizations and individuals. He also authored a controversial book about the New York crime world, The Joy Peddler, and he was at work on other pieces of fiction and his memoirs. The bulk of his papers consist of investigative reports and research for the American Jewish Committee, his manuscripts, and his collection of anti-Semitic literature.
- Series I: Personal, undated, 1920-1978, 2010
- Series II: American Jewish Committee Investigations, 1943-1964
- Subseries 1: General, 1943-1964
- Subseries 2: Frederick Charles F. Weiss, Conde McGinley and Common Sense, 1946-1962
- Subseries 3: Daily Reports, 1948-1964
- Subseries 4: Subjects, 1946-1964
- Series III: Literature, 1892, 1926-1974
- Series IV: Audio Materials, undated, 1963-1965
- Series V: Photographs, undated, [1920s], 1952-1964
The collection was donated by Sarah Jane Debra Sickles Nishioka and Ellen Sickles James, Shoenfeld’s great nieces (the daughters of his sister Rebecca Green’s daughter, Thelma Sickles), on July 6, 2009. The accession number is 2009.018. Ellen Sickles James added to the collection with a May 24, 2010 mailing of more of Shoenfeld's personal effects, the contents of which are mostly to be found in Box 5B.
Four large boxes of books were separated into the AJHS Library or donated elsewhere. They included books on undercover investigative work, World War II, anti-Semitism, and international diplomacy, and many were published by the Devin-Adair Publishing Company. Books with any notes in them or author inscriptions to Shoenfeld were kept in the archival collection under Series III: Literature.
Shoenfeld’s John Birch Society publications (American Opinion and society bulletins, 1958-1964), most of which were likely given to Shoenfeld by his investigator known as “W,” were moved to AJHS’s John Birch Society Records, unprocessed as of April 2010.
Only those government documents were kept which Shoenfeld notated or with which he had some discernible or likely research involvement. The rest were discarded. A list of the discarded documents is in the Appendix.
- American Jewish Committee
- Anti-Jewish propaganda
- Antisemitism -- Arab countries
- Antisemitism -- United States
- Christian Educational Association
- Common Sense
- Crime -- New York (State) -- New York
- Hate groups
- Jewish Community of New York City
- Jewish criminals
- League of Arab States
- Manuscripts (documents)
- McGinley, Michael Conde, 1890-1963
- National Socialist White People's Party
- New York (N.Y.)
- Printed ephemera
- Shoenfeld, A. H. (Abraham H.)
- Undercover operations
- United States
- Weiss, Frederick Charles F.
- Zelig, Jack, 1888-1912
- Guide to the Abraham Shoenfeld Papers, 1892, 1920-1978, 2010
- Processed by Rachel Miller as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
- © 2010.
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- Description is in English.
- Edition statement
- This version was derived from AbrahamShoenfeld.xml
- October 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.