Curt C. Silberman Papers
Scope and Contents
The collection documents the life and professional activities of the German-born attorney Curt Silberman, in the period of his life following his emigration to the United States, from the 1940s to the 1990s. The materials include correspondence; manuscripts of speeches; ephemera; clippings; organizational newsletters and other publications; and photographs. The majority of the materials relate, on the one hand, to Silberman's service in and engagement with social welfare, cultural and educational organizations and institutions; and, on the other, to his activities as a lecturer and speaker, both in the United States (in New Jersey and New York) and, from the 1960s on, in Germany, especially his hometown of Würzburg.
General correspondence (Series I) reflects Silberman's organizational contacts, friendships, and acquaintances in both the United States and in Germany, especially Würzburg.
Series II contains significant groupings of correspondence and other materials related to Curt Silberman's leadership of and/or engagement with particular organizations and institutions, including the American Federation of Jews from Central Europe (and its allied organizations); the alumni organization of Salia, the former Jewish student association of Würzburg; the Leo Baeck Institute, New York; Middlebury College, in Vermont; and several social welfare organizations in Essex County, New Jersey, in which Silberman was engaged with immigration issues and the assistance of refugees in the 1940s to early 1950s.
Series III comprises materials mainly related to lectures and speeches that Silberman gave in both the United States and Germany, from the 1940s on, including manuscripts, notes, cue cards, and ephemera. Also included are copies of several articles he contributed to newsletters or other publications. Among the manuscripts are those of speeches delivered in Würzburg, including a commemorative address on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, in 1978, and others at the invitation of the law faculty of the university, from 1982 through the 1990s.
Other materials in the collection (Series IV) include photographs, clippings, and ephemera related to Curt Silberman, as well as a small amount of materials related to Silberman's father-in-law Hermann Kleemann, of Würzburg; Rabbi Victor Reichert, of Cincinnati; and historian Herbert A. Strauss.
- Silberman, Curt C., 1908-2002 (Person)
Language of Materials
The collection is in English and German.
Conditions Governing Access
Open to researchers.
Conditions Governing Use
There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection.
Curt Charles Silberman was born in Würzburg, Germany, 23 May 1908, as Kurt Leo Silbermann, the son of Adolf Silbermann, a wine merchant, and Ida (née Rosenbusch) Silbermann. He studied law in Berlin, Munich and Würzburg, where he received his J.D. in 1931. Following the passage of Nazi laws in 1933 that excluded Jews from the civil service and certain professions, he could no longer practice law, but was granted permission by the German Ministry of Economics to assist prospective émigrés in economic and legal matters, especially the interpreting of the stringent currency legislation. In 1935, he married Else Kleemann (1910-2001), also of Würzburg.
Curt and Else Silberman emigrated to the United States in late 1938, following Kristallnacht. They arrived in New York on 9 December, and subsequently settled in Essex County, New Jersey. They resided for some years in Newark, and later moved to East Orange, and then to West Orange. They both became naturalized American citizens in 1944. Curt Silberman earned a J.D. at Rutgers University in 1947 and practiced international private law in New Jersey from 1948 on. Among his clients were German corporations operating in the U.S. He was active in the New Jersey State Bar Association's Section on International Law and Organizations.
Beginning in the early 1940s, Silberman held leadership roles in local service organizations concerned with immigration issues and the assistance of newly arrived refugees. He was an immigration consultant with the Essex County Coordinating Committee of the National Refugee Service (NRS), and what became the Emigre Service Bureau of New Jersey. In the early 1950s he served as president of the Jewish Family Service Association of Essex County, a cooperating agency of the United Service for New Americans (successor of the NRS). From 1942 to 1962 he also served as president of the Jewish Unity Club of Newark, a social and mutual-aid organization of German Jewish immigrants that assisted newly arrived immigrants in their adjustment to American life. In connection with these organizational activities, he was frequently a guest lecturer at Jewish organizations and congregations in New Jersey and New York, speaking on topics related to immigration, German Jewish history, and assistance of refugees.
In 1949 Silberman traveled to Germany for the first time since his emigration, on professional matters as an attorney. In the course of the following years he was a guest speaker at educational and cultural institutions in Würzburg and elsewhere in Germany on a number of occasions, addressing topics related both to international law and to reflection on the era of National Socialism in Germany. Several times he was a speaker at the Law Faculty of the University of Würzburg, including in 1982, in connection with the festivities on the university's 400th anniversary.
Silberman played a leading role in a number of American and international Jewish organizations. He became an honorary trustee of the Leo Baeck Institute, New York, in 1962. From 1962 to 1986 he served as president of the American Federation of Jews from Central Europe (AFJCE), the central representative agency of over thirty national and local organizations of victims of National Socialism from Central Europe. From 1971 to 1987 he was president of the Jewish Philanthropic Fund of 1933, a charitable offshoot of the AFJCE. From 1974 to 1998, he served as co-chair of the London-based Council of Jews from Germany, an umbrella organization representing the interests of former German Jews in matters of restitution and indemnification, legislation, and social work activities. He also chaired the Research Foundation for Jewish Immigration (founded under the auspices of the AFCJE in 1971), which published a six-volume history of Jewish immigrants of the Nazi period in the United States, and collaborated with the Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Munich, to publish the International Biographical Dictionary of Central European Émigrés.
Beginning around the early 1960s Silberman and his wife Else, on a seasonal basis, spent time in South Lincoln, Vermont, and developed connections to campus life at nearby Middlebury College. In the 1990s the couple donated funds to establish a chair of Jewish Studies at the college, which was named in their honor.
Curt Silberman died in West Orange, New Jersey, 9 September 2002.
1.25 Linear Feet
The collection documents the life and professional activities of the German-born attorney Curt Silberman, in the period of his life following his emigration to the United States, from the 1940s to the 1990s. The materials include correspondence; manuscripts of speeches; ephemera; clippings; publications such as organizational newsletters and anniversary booklets; and photographs. The majority of the materials relate, on the one hand, to Silberman's service in and engagement with social welfare, cultural and educational organizations and institutions, including the American Federation of Jews from Central Europe and allied organizations; and, on the other, to his activities as a lecturer and speaker, both in the United States and (from the 1960s on) in Germany, especially his hometown of Würzburg, on topics including the commemoration of Kristallnacht, German Jewish history, and aspects of international law.
The collection is arranged in the following series:
- Series I: General Correspondence, 1939-1999
- Series II: Organizations and Institutions, 1939-2000
- Series III: Speeches and Writings, 1940-1997
- Series IV: Other Materials, 1937-1998
The following publications were removed from the collection: Skizzen von einer Fahrt nach Israel by Hermann Maas (Karlsruhe: Evangelischer Pressverband für Baden, 1950); Zum Gedenken an Kurt Alexander (memorial booklet, New York, 1967); offprint of the Introduction to the Sabbath Prayer Book, First Edition (The Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation); offprint of "Reconstructionism As a Method for Jewish Living" by Mordecai M. Kaplan (from The Reconstructionist magazine, February 7, 1958); The Reconstructionist magazine, vol. XXV, No. 1, February 20, 1959; Informationen zur Politischen Bildung, no. 141, 1 October 1970, Das Jüdische Volk in der Weltgeschichte, Teil 2; Joseph Oppenheimer: Kabinett-Ausstellung, 4. September - 11. November 1987, Städtische Galerie Würzburg (exhibition brochure); Middlebury: Prospectus, 1999-2000 (Middlebury College promotional brochure); and several newsletters of the International Law and Organizations Section, New Jersey State Bar Association, 1989-1991.
The materials were received loose, with no discernible arrangement, except for a handful of files containing particular groupings. Building on the latter, the materials have been arranged in general categories reflecting Curt Silberman's activities and the types of materials; and have been placed in acid-free folders.
- American Federation of Jews from Central Europe
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Council of Jews from Germany
- Freie Schlagende Verbindung Salia (Würzburg)
- Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
- Jewish lawyers
- Jewish refugees
- Jews, German
- Kristallnacht, 1938
- New Jersey
- Printed ephemera
- Restitution -- Germany
- Speeches (documents)
- Würzburg (Germany)
- Guide to the Curt C. Silberman Papers
- Violet Lutz
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States