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Ernest W. Michel (1923-2016) Papers

 Collection
Identifier: P-901

Scope and Content Note

The Papers of Ernest W Michel consist of correspondence, newspaper clippings by and about Michel, autograph files, photographs of various events, and two mounted photographs. Many of these files relate to the conference that Michel helped organize in Israel in 1981, the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, as well as Michel’s work with the United Jewish Appeal, with which he has been involved since UJA helped to bring him to the United States in 1946. The newspaper clippings come from periodicals from different countries, mainly the United States, Germany, Israel, France, and Denmark. Many of these articles were written by Michel and there are also newspaper announcements of American talks and appearances which relate to his experiences during the war as well as his coverage of the Nuremberg Trials for the German news agency DANA.

There are also materials relating to the Auschwitz-Buna Scholarship Fund and Memorial Dinner that Michel helped organize. The collection also contains autograph files that consist of signed correspondence from various important individuals, mainly politicians and academics, copies of lectures that Michel gave, an expense report from the World Gathering, clippings relating to the Israel-Egyptian Peace Treaty of 1979, some official documents from World War II, and some research files, including information about Josef Mengele, Soviet Refuseniks, the Holocaust Memorial in Battery Park, antisemitism, UJA fundraising, and President Reagan’s visit to Bitburg Cemetery, among other topics. The mounted photos may have been from an exhibit.

The materials in this collection date from 1938-1996, as well as a single letter from 1698, with the bulk dating from 1946-1987. The majority of the collection is in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and German, with various documents in French, Polish, Romanian, and Danish. The collection consists of 2 manuscript boxes, 1 OS1 box and 1 OS2 box comprising 4.7 linear feet.

Dates

  • 1698, 1938-1996
  • Majority of material found within 1946-1987

Creator

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 mmeyers@ajhs.org.

For reference questions, please email: inquiries@cjh.org

Biographical Note

Ernest Wolfgang Michel was born in Mannheim, Germany on July 1, 1923, to Otto, who owned a cigar factory, and Frieda (Wolff) Michel. In November of 1938, Michel’s father was arrested during the deadly Kristallnacht pogrom. Michel’s family tried to get him out of Germany and into America, but without relatives in the United States, he couldn’t get the required affidavit of care needed to obtain a visa. In September 1939 Michel was sent to the first in a series of 11 concentration and Nazi labor camps, among them Buchenwald, Birkenau, Dachau, and Auschwitz, in which he spent the following six years. While in the camps, Michel met and became close friends with two other prisoners. Together, they managed to survive the selection process at the different camps to which they were sent. After almost six years as a slave laborer, Michel and his two friends were able to escape a forced march when the Berga camp in Thuringia, Germany was evacuated in advance of the Allied forces in April 1945. Farmers named Ernst Max and Augusta Anna Hunger hid the men in their house in Schneeberg-Lindenau, Saxony, Germany. Soon after the war ended, Michel learned that none of his family had survived.

After working briefly for the United States Military Government, he became a special correspondent for the German News Agency DANA at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial. From less than 20 feet away, Michel watched as the heads of the Third Reich, including Herman Goering, whom he had declined to interview, were tried for war crimes. The byline on his articles, which were published in all the German newspapers, was Ernest Michel, Auschwitz Survivor #104995 and he became known as the Holocaust Survivor Journalist.

In 1946 Michel arrived in the United States as a displaced person, brought over with help from the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) under the Truman Refugee Relief Act. He went to Chicago and then to Michigan, where he spent a short time as a reporter and columnist for a small-town newspaper. A local college in Michigan invited him to speak about his experiences in Nazi Germany. He began speaking at various local organizations and was given a news column where he could discuss his thoughts about being a new immigrant. The UJA hired him as a speaker and, starting in 1947, as a member of staff. In 1967 Baron Elie de Rothschild invited Michel to France in order to help organize the French UJA, which he continued to do until 1970. He was the executive vice president of the UJA-Federation of New York from 1970 to 1989 and later the CEO of UJA-Federation-New York, the largest citywide fundraising organization in the country. After his retirement, he maintained his connection with UJA, serving as a consultant and speaker, mainly about Nuremberg and what he learned from that experience.

Michel was the initiator and chairman of the highly publicized World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Israel in 1981, which brought together, for the first and only time, 6,000 survivors and their families from 23 countries and four continents. In 1995, he successfully negotiated with the Mormon Church for the withdrawal of almost 400,000 names of Jewish Holocaust victims from the church records who were posthumously baptized by the Mormon Church. As a direct result of his initiative, U.S. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, U.S. Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman and Tom Lantos introduced a resolution in both Houses of Congress which “deplores the persistent and malicious efforts by persons in this country and abroad who deny the historic reality of the Holocaust.”

Michel was a founding trustee of the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Lower Manhattan. His critically acclaimed autobiography Promises to Keep: One Man’s Journey Against Incredible Odds, was published in 1993.

Ernest W. Michel died in Manhattan on May 7, 2016 at age 92. He was survived by his children, Lauren Shachar, Karen Daniels and Joel Michel, from his marriage to Suzanne Stein, which ended in divorce, his wife, Amy Goldberg Michel, his sister, Lotte Rein, who survived the war in France, and six grandchildren.

Extent

4.7 Linear Feet (2 manuscript boxes, 2 OS1F folders and 1 OS2 box)

Language of Materials

English

Hebrew

Yiddish

German

French

Polish

Romany

Danish

Abstract

This collection contains the papers of Ernest W. Michel, Holocaust Survivor Journalist and public speaker,including clippings of newspaper articles written by and about Michel, correspondence between Michel and many important Jewish and political figures and autograph files, which Michel collected. Many of these files concern Michel’s Holocaust experiences, speaking engagements, the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, and Michel’s work with the United Jewish Appeal.

Arrangement

When the materials came to the AJHS Archives, they were in binders that had been organized into series and labeled as such. This series order has been retained as Michel devised it, so that there are several series that consist of only one folder. Similarly, the original order had a Series II and a Series II-A, which perhaps reflects Michel going back at a later date to insert new materials into his arrangement scheme. Series V, Subseries 3 was originally labeled as Official Event Files 1974-1980, although the materials date until 1987. The subseries name has been changed to reflect the correct date range. Many of these binders had contents lists in the front giving bibliographic information and page organization for the clippings and correspondence. Materials that were loose within the plastic sleeves have been removed and are loose in the folder. Materials that were glued to paper backing have been left on that backing, some of which has been cut down to fit into the folders. Every attempt has been made to keep the materials in their original order, although this does not always correspond to the contents lists as some materials are not listed and some of the listed materials appear to be missing. In addition, not every binder had a contents list. The materials are arranged in rough chronological order, except for the autograph files, which are in basic alphabetical order. The collection is arranged into ten series, some of which have been further divided into subseries.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Ernest W. Michel in August 2006.

Related Material

The AJHS and YIVO Libraries have copies of Michel’s autobiography Promises to Keep. Michel is represented in the UJA Federation of New York Oral History Collection, I-433, in the AJHS Archives. The Leo Baeck Institute Archives have an Ernest Michel collection, AR 6620, which consists of a 1993 article by Timothy W. Ryback from The New Yorker on the preservation of Auschwitz. Michel is also mentioned in the Joseph A. Bamberger Collection, AR 6906. The LBI Library has a manuscript by Michel, “The First Year of My Second Life 1946-1947,” which is available on microfilm, as well as a copy of his autobiography.
Title
Guide to the Ernest W. Michel (1923-2016) Papers, 1698, 1938-1996
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
Date
© 2010.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from Michel_P-901.xml

Revision Statements

  • May 19, 2016.: Date of death and information about his survivors was added. Rachel Harrison.
  • January 25, 2017.: Box 3 of oversized materials converted to OS1F Shared Folders, 2 folders. Tanya Elder.
  • November 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States