American Federation of Jews from Central Europe Collection: Meetings, Correspondence, By-Laws
Scope and Content Note
The American Federation of Jews from Central Europe Collection materials consist of correspondence with members, related organizations, officials, and individuals seeking help with immigration and restitution; by-laws; conference and lecture materials, including notes, agendas, pamphlets, programs, and manuscripts and drafts of talks; case files and applications for restitution; legal documents and forms; newspaper clippings; newsletters and circulars; membership records; personnel files; oral history transcripts; committee and board meeting minutes; photographs; reports; speeches; financial records and ledgers; and brochures, meeting minutes, and other materials related to various organizations around the world that were associated with the AFJCE, including the Council of Jews from Germany, Irgun Olej Merkas Europa, Association of Jewish Refugees in Great Britian, the United Restitution Office, the Jewish Philanthropic Fund of 1933, Axis Victims League, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization, and many others.
The collection dates from 1916-1918, 1928-1988 with the bulk of the materials from the 1940s-1970s. The materials are in German and English. There are a few documents in Spanish, French, Yiddish, Hebrew, Dutch, Czech, Polish, Italian, and Hungarian.
- 1916-1918, 1928-1988
- Majority of material found within 1940s-1970s
- American Federation of Jews from Central Europe (Organization)
Language of Materials
This collection is mostly in German and English, with a few documents in Spanish, French, Yiddish, Hebrew, Dutch, Czech, Polish, Italian, and Hungarian.
This collection is open to researchers.
There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact: Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011 email: email@example.com
The American Federation of Jews from Central Europe (AFJCE) was an organization that helped German-Jewish immigrants acclimate to life in the United States and advocated on their behalf. Activities included supporting restitution efforts, guarding the American civil rights of new immigrants, and providing educational and other social services. An earlier organization, called the German Jewish Center, that was founded in New York City in 1926, served many of the same needs as the AFJCE, providing help with immigration, legal matters, health care, and job referrals. In February 1939, leadership in the German Jewish Club suggested a federation of German Jews in America, which was duly organized and then reorganized in summer 1941. Incorporation paperwork for the American Federation of Jews from Central Europe was signed on November 19, 1941, and the paperwork filed a few weeks later, on December 5.
During World War II, the AFJCE focused its work on immigration for German and other central European Jewish immigrants fleeing the war. The Federation fought against immigration quotas and the assignment of German Jewish refugees with enemy alien status, which affected where they could live, what jobs they could pursue, enforced a curfew, curtailed their freedom of movement, barred them from owning weapons, cameras, binoculars, and short-wave radios, and excluded them from volunteering with or donating blood to the Red Cross. The Federation also filed legal affidavits for Jews who had become stateless after their German citizenship was revoked, worked to accelerate the naturalization process for German Jewish immigrants, fought a planned evacuation of German Jewish immigrants from the West Coast, aided German medical doctors who were barred from practicing in the United States, and proposed opening free ports that would offer temporary protection to Jewish refugees, although this did not come to pass. The Federation began its work on restitution and indemnification almost immediately after it was founded. Their fundraising campaigns to help Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution started in 1942 and their work lobbying for the passage of restitution laws began as soon as the war had ended. The Federation conducted a widespread survey consisting of thousands of questionnaires in 1944-1945 to determine the scope of Jewish communal property in Germany prior to Kristallnacht, including bank accounts, securities, jewelry, and household goods. This information aided greatly in postwar restitution claims. The Federation was also active in helping to enact legislation in Germany related to restitution and indemnification, starting in the late 1940s and 1950s.
The United Restitution Organization was formed in 1948 as a legal aid society for claimants living outside of Germany who had restitution and indemnification claims against West Germany and Austria. Lawyers in Germany and in countries where Jews had fled for refuge who specialized in indemnification law provided low-cost legal representation. The branch in New York City, located within the AFJCE office and sometimes called the United Restitution Office, handled about 300,000 individual cases. The Federation’s URO office helped survivors access their German pensions, worked on restitution claims for former and present individual and communal or collective Jewish property holders in Germany, aided Jews who remained in Germany by providing clothes, food, and shelter, and fought for indemnification legislation to compensate, as much as possible, for incarceration in concentration camps and prisons. A special Indemnification Section was later established to handle indemnification claims based on the same model as the URO office. The work of the URO eventually expanded to such a degree that the AFJCE began helping other victims of Nazi persecution, not only German Jews.
In 1945, the Council of Jews from Germany (Council for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Jews from Germany) was founded in London as an umbrella organization to represent German Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution in restitution efforts. The Federation was one of the founding member organizations, along with the Association of Jewish Refugees in Great Britain and the Irgun Olej Merkas Europa in Palestine. The Federation, along with these other organizations, was also involved in the founding of the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO) in 1946, which helped distribute heirless property, and the Jewish Trust Organization in 1950, both founded in the United States zone of Western Germany; the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany in 1951; and the Research Foundation for Jewish Immigration (RFJI) in 1971. The RFJI conducted oral histories and published several works on German Jewish immigration to the United States, including the multi-volume International Biographical Dictionary of Central European Émigrés, 1933-1945. Through cooperation with the Leo Baeck Institute (1955), United Help (1955), Inc., the Jewish Philanthropic Fund of 1933 (1958), and other aid and cultural organizations, AFJCE provided legal, social, and cultural support for German Jewish immigrants in the U.S., including through day-long academic symposia called Lerntage as well as other public lectures and discussions. The Federation was also instrumental in the founding of old age and nursing homes and acted as the central representative and coordinating body for local and national member organizations, including congregations, fraternities, clubs, and welfare agencies.
59 Linear Feet
The American Federation of Jews from Central Europe Collection consists of the Federation’s office files. This includes professional correspondence, by-laws, materials related to meetings and lectures, newspaper clippings, photographs, meeting minutes, reports, speeches, drafts, financial records, legal documents and forms, materials related to immigration and naturalization, newsletters and circulars, membership records, personnel files, restitution materials, oral history transcripts, and items of various related organizations and synagogues. There are also some personal documents sent to the AFJCE by members of the public.
The collection is arranged in 1 series. Materials are in loose chronological order and many boxes are in alphabetical order.
Other Finding Aid
Dr. Susanne Feld wrote a German item-level inventory for boxes 1-47 of the collection in June 2001.
Herbert A. Strauss brought the first 46 boxes of the collection to the newly founded Center for Research on Anti-Semitism in Berlin, Germany in the 1970s.
In November of 2021, the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism in Berlin deposited the original archives of the Federation with LBI in New York.
Two audiocassettes were removed to the A/V Collection from Box 29, folder 12.
The collection has been rehoused in archival boxes and legal-sized folders. Duplicates within folders have been discarded, although duplicates remain across folders. Box 5 contained cancelled checks and check stubs, bank books, and receipts from 1954-1957, 1959-1973. This box has been discarded. There is an item-level inventory for boxes 1-47, and box and folder numbers for these materials were maintained. Folders that were slightly misfiled have been corrected, for example Box 13, folders 2 and 3 have been switched so part II now precedes part III. Overfilled folders have been divided into folders 1 and 1A, for example, and are represented in the container list as (1 of 2) and (2 of 2), respectively. Folder titles were maintained and occasionally expanded to add more information and clarity, and folders were given more precise dates when possible. Materials in Boxes 48-61 have been maintained in their original order, although overstuffed folders have been divided and contents placed into new folders.
- Archival materials
- Aufbau (New York, N.Y.)
- Callmann, Rudolf, 1892-1976
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany
- Council of Jews from Germany
- Financial records
- George, Manfred, 1893-1965
- Germany -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 1933-1945
- Gruenewald, Max, 1899-1992
- Jewish Restitution Successor Organization
- Jewish refugees
- Jews -- Persecutions -- Germany
- Jews -- United States -- Social life and customs
- Jews, German -- Acculturation -- United States -- 20th century
- London (England)
- Manuscripts (documents)
- Minutes (administrative records)
- Muller, Herman
- New York (N.Y.)
- Publications (documents)
- Research Foundation for Jewish Immigration
- Silberman, Curt C., 1908-2002
- Simon, Hermann E., 1900-1990
- Strauss, Herbert Arthur
- United Restitution Organization New York Office
- World War, 1939-1945
- Writings (documents)
- Guide to the American Federation of Jews from Central Europe Collection: Meetings, Correspondence, By-Laws, 1916-1918, 1928-1988 (bulk 1940s-1970s) AR 25936
- Processed by Rachel S. Harrison
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Processed and digitized as part of the CJH Holocaust Resources Initiative, made possible with assistance from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, sponsored by the Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, supported by the German Federal Ministry of Finance, as well as the Alice Lawrence Foundation.