Records of the National Refugee Service
Scope and Content Note
The records in this collection are a small portion of what the National Refugee Service would have created during its seven-year existence. Included are files related to its predecessor organization the National Coordinating Committee (Series I), department and committee files (Series II), a small amount of case files (Series III), correspondence and related materials reflecting contact and partnerships with other organizations (Series IV), and publications (Series V).
- Creation: undated, 1935-1947, 1953
- National Refugee Service (U.S.) (Organization)
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.
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The National Refugee Service (NRS) was formed in June 1939 to serve as a central agency to coordinate assistance and relief efforts across the United States for refugees fleeing Europe. It ran until 1946, when it merged with the National Council of Jewish Women’s Service to the Foreign Born Department to form the United Service for New Americans.
The NRS grew out of several predecessor organizations. Throughout the 1930s, several agencies handled the increasing influx of refugees from Europe, particularly those fleeing the Nazi regime. Of these agencies, the direct predecessor of the NRS was the National Coordinating Committee for Aid to Refugees and Emigrants Coming from Germany (NCC). The NCC was formed in 1934 by the American Joint Distribution Committee at the suggestion of the U.S. State Department and served as an umbrella organization for regional and local refugee relief organizations. Following the pogroms of November 1938, the urgency for expanded services to refugees and those wishing to emigrate from Europe increased, pushing the limits of what the NCC could provide. In early 1939, a study was conducted by Harry Greenstein of the Baltimore Jewish Community that called for a central service agency that could better coordinate services to refugees. The National Refugee Service (NRS) was formed in June 1939 to serve this role on a national level. Thanks to funding from the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), the NRS was able to take over the work conducted by the NCC at an increased capacity.
In any given week, thousands of individuals came to the NRS offices in person for assistance. The 1939 NRS Annual Report states that 6,000 people came to the offices per week and that over 25,000 applications for assistance came to the migration department in 1939 alone; in later years, the filing department reported that more than 1,000 requests came in per day.
The NRS developed quickly and adapted to needs as they arose. The names of its exact departments and divisions shifted over the organization’s existence, but the functions generally remained the same: migration, economic adjustment, social adjustment, and resettlement. The Migration department handled issues of deportation, affidavits, and visas. Under the umbrella of Economic Adjustment were employment, retraining, and work relief. At some point, Employment was its own division. The Social and Cultural Adjustment department offered language and citizenship classes and connected refugees to local organizations to better integrate new arrivals in the social, cultural, and religious life of their new communities. Resettlement of refugees to communities outside of New York was also a large focus of the NRS. New York was the main port of entry, and many refugees tended to wish to remain in the city. Efforts were made to connect refugees to communities around the country that could offer them better economic and social opportunities. In 1939, partnerships with some 700 local communities were established, and these local communities were given support through the NRS to welcome refugees. Resettlement activities expanded beyond this in following years.
The NRS offered further services as well. Although most refugees were supported by relatives, friends, or affiants, the NRS offered temporary financial assistance to refugees who did not have adequate support from other sources. The NRS also provided small loans from their Central Loan Trust to refugees wishing to start businesses, as reflected in reports on refugee enterprises. Committees and partnerships were formed to assist special groups including children, physicians, scientists, scholars, musicians, rabbis, and farmers.
The NRS worked with and alongside several other organizations that offered relief to refugees coming to the United States. The other major players on the national level were the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and the National Council of Jewish Women. Many other organizations around the country had regular or loose ties to the NRS. According to an organizational chart from the Annual Report published in April 1941, independent organizations receiving subventions from NRS included German-Jewish Children’s Aid, Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Medical Scientists, Committee for Displaced Foreign Social Workers, and both the New York and Brooklyn Sections of the National Council of Jewish Women.
The leadership of the NRS consisted of an Executive Committee that included an Executive Director and officers as well as a Board of Directors of around 75 individuals from across the country. William Haber served as the first Executive Director from 1939-1941. Arthur D. Greenleigh was the Acting Executive Director until Albert Abrahamson took over as Executive Director in July of 1941. His successor was Joseph E. Beck, who served as Executive Director from May 1943 until August 1946. Cecilia Razovsky, the former head of the NCC, served as Assistant to the Executive Director at the NRS. Joseph P. Chamberlain was Chairman of the Board, and William Rosenwald (formerly of the NCC as well) served as President.
In August 1946, the NRS merged with the National Council of Jewish Women’s Service to the Foreign Born to form the United Service for New Americans.
2.75 Linear Feet (5 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript box)
Language of Materials
This collection contains records of the National Refugee Service (NRS), including committee files, correspondence, publications, and project files organized by partner organization and location. A few case files and a small amount of materials on predecessor organizations, notably the National Coordinating Committee, are also included. The records cover the major functions of the NRS related to migration, resettlement, retraining, employment, and social adjustment of refugees. Other subjects of note include affidavits, deportations, internees and enemy aliens in the United States, the refugee ship SS St. Louis, and the Fort Ontario refugee shelter in Oswego, New York. A few pieces of correspondence with Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Attorney General Francis Biddle are included.
The collection is arranged into five series as follows:
Located in AJHS New York, NY
The collection was selectively digitized, primarily boxes 1-3, and made available in its entirety with the exception of box 2 folders 39-45, which are restricted due to privacy concerns.
This collection was processed by Marvin Rusinek in November 2007. It was reprocessed in July 2016 by Leanora Lange to shift the description from one single-level container list into a more structured arrangement in series. During reprocessing, folder titles were changed as necessary to either more accurately reflect folders’ contents or to standardize description and ease discovery. The 2007 folders were retained, but materials were rehoused into new boxes in 2016. A concordance that lists the 2007 folder titles and numbers alongside the updated folder titles and numbers is available as an Excel file and can be downloaded here: Concordance for I-92.
- Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971 (Person)
- Biddle, Francis, 1886-1968 (Person)
- Razovsky, Cecilia, 1886-1968 (Person)
- Abrahamson, Albert (Person)
- Greenleigh, Arthur D., 1903-1993 (Person)
- Petluck, Ann S. (Person)
- Gomberg, Ephraim R. (Person)
- Haber, William, 1899-1988 (Person)
- Shomre Hadath (Organization)
- National Refugee Service (U.S.) (Organization)
- Ellis Island Immigration Station (N.Y. and N.J.) (Organization)
- Guide to the Records of the National Refugee Service, undated, 1935-1947, 1953 I-92
- Processed by Marvin Rusinek and Leanora Lange
- © 2016
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
- July 2016: Container list updated and description expanded by Leanora Lange.
- December 2016: Added dao links by Eric Fritzler.
- January 2021: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.