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Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter Collection

Identifier: P-317

Scope and Content Note

The collection is comprised of papers generated or received in the course of Jack Cohen’s role as the B’nai B’rith representative to the Coordinating Committee for Fort Ontario, and Rabbi Mosco Tzechoval’s role as the spiritual leader at the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, NY, 1944-1946. The papers document the religious, educational, cultural, and medical needs of the refugees; the working and living conditions inside the shelter; and the contributions of B'nai B'rith and other organizations to the shelter.

Jack Cohen’s materials, representing two thirds of the collection, consist of correspondence with Joseph H. Smart, director of the shelter; leaders and members of the Coordinating Committee for Fort Ontario, including Joseph Archibald Berger, Lotta Loeb, Monte Kandel, Alexander E. Holstein, Isaac Asofsky of Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society, and Isaac Lewin of Agudas Israel; minutes and reports of the Coordinating Committee; clippings and reports regarding B’nai B’rith’s contributions; and a few photographs. Cohen is often cc-ed on the material, and the bulk of Cohen’s papers are not original documents, but photocopies.

It’s not clear how Mosco Tzechoval’s papers came to be mingled with Jack Cohen’s, but his correspondence and sermons, much of them in handwritten Hebrew and Yiddish, represent a third of the collection. There is substantial correspondence from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson and Max Rosen. While Tzechoval’s papers are concentrated in folders bearing his name, more of his materials can be found in other folders in the collection. as well.


  • 1944-1947, 1960, 1975


Language of Materials

The collection is primarily in English, with a substantial amount of material in Yiddish and Hebrew, and a few items in German, Italian, and Croatian.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

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

For reference questions, please email:

Historical and Biographical Notes

Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter

In June 1944, the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter was established in Oswego, NY by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was operated by the War Relocation Authority, a government agency. In August 1944, the shelter received 982 refugees of predominantly Jewish descent, and of Yugoslavian, Austrian, Polish, German, and Czechoslovakian nationalities. Because of their immigration status as “guests,” the refugees could not work, and they could not travel beyond Oswego. Upon release many were granted permanent or temporary status. The shelter was closed in February 1946.

B’nai B’rith, Coordinating Committee of Fort Ontario, and Jack Cohen

The Department of the Interior requested that B’nai B’rith help provide recreational and religious facilities at the shelter. This was carried out by the War Service Activities Department of B’nai B’rith, the Upper New York State Council of B’nai B’rith, and its local lodges. Jack Cohen, Secretary of B’nai B’rith Zerubbabel Lodge No. 53 in Rochester, NY was appointed as the local B’nai B’rith representative to the Coordinating Committee for Fort Ontario. The Coordinating Committee was established to coordinate efforts by different organizations to give aid and provide services for the shelter refugees. The committee was composed of Jewish institutional representatives from Buffalo, Oswego, Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica, New York. Jack Cohen oversaw much of B’nai B’rith’s donations, as well as the dispersal of materials to U.S. Veterans hospitals when the shelter closed. Items donated included furnishings, arts and crafts materials, religious equipment for congregations and the chapel, and athletic equipment.

Mosco Tzechoval

Rabbi Mosco Tzechoval (also known as Moses Checkoval or Czechoval) was a spiritual leader at the shelter. Tzechoval had formerly been the director of Yeshivath Etz Chaim Talmudical Seminary in Heide-Antwerp, Belgium.


0.5 Linear Feet (1 manuscript box)


The collection consists of Jack Cohen and Mosco Tzechoval’s papers relating to their involvement at the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, New York, 1944-1946. Materials include correspondence, sermons, minutes, reports, notes, clippings, and photographs.


This collection has been arranged as one series.

Acquisition Information

Jack Cohen donated this collection to AJHS in October 1977 (accession # 1977.019) and August 1978 (accession # 1978.028).

Digitization Note

All materials in the collection were digitized with the exception of duplicates.

Related Material

The Leo Baeck Institute Archives has the Arthur Lehmann Correspondence (AR 25381), the Fort Ontario Refugee Center Collection (AR 5313), and the Henry Heinz Brecher Collection (AR 11701). The LBI Library holds the Ontario Chronicle (B318), a newspaper published by the Fort Ontario refugees.

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research has the Joseph Perkins Chamberlain Papers (RG 278).

Other Archives

Records of the War Relocation Authority: Records of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter (210.3.5), National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Joseph H. Smart Collection, RG-10.056*01, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives, Washington, D.C.

Fort Ontario Records, MS#0444, Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New York, NY.

State University of New York at Oswego, Penfield Library, Archives and Special Collections, has digitized oral histories of Fort Ontario refugees.

Processing Information

Between 1977 and 1978, an AJHS archivist processed the collection and created a box list. In 2012, Rachel Miller enhanced the collection description, wrote a full finding aid, and outside of folder shifts made in order to maintain alphabetical order, largely kept to the physical and intellectual arrangement given to the collection by the previous archivist, including folder titles.

Guide to the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter Collection, 1944-1947, 1960, 1975 P-317
Processed by Rachel Miller
© 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Processed and digitized as part of the CJH Holocaust Resources Initiative, made possible by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.

Revision Statements

  • June, October 2020: EHyman: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States